My Alanna, once a below-grade, struggling reader who was nurtured by the best teachers and reading support staff, is now an above-grade reader, possibly one of the strongest writers in her fifth grade class. She's a kid who feels lost without a book in her hand, a story in her mind, taking her to new worlds, revealing life beyond her rural walls and affixing to her imagination. After reading - and completely falling for the fantasy world created by Bruce Coville in The Unicorn Chronicles, I knew she was ready for another magical world.
I kept placing J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone in her view, on her bedside table and offering gentle nudges, but she resisted me again and again. Finally, one night, frustrated that she didn't have anything new or interesting to read, I offered Harry Potter to her yet again. I gently suggested, "Why not just read the first chapter and see if you like it." My dear friends, I am happy to report, my devious literary plan worked like a spellbinding charm because she was hooked!! And by "hooked" I mean she became literally obsessed. I had no idea where this love of Rowling's magical, mystical world would take her, but after reading ALL seven of the Harry Potter books at least three times (maybe four now), plus the newer releases of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my husband and I knew we had to take her to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando!!! And take we did!
Our previous days spent visiting Disneyworld's Epcot and Magic Kingdom were quite thrilling and wonderful fun for all of us, but NOTHING could prepare us for what lie ahead at Universal Studios! Now, Universal Studios Orlando has two different parks! There's Universal Studios Florida (where we started our quest with Diagon Alley) and Universal's Islands of Adventure (where Hogsmeade is located). The two parks are connected by railway, the Hogwart's Express. It was necessary to purchase park-to-park tickets for us to get the full magical experience of both parks and both wizarding worlds and quite happily we did! The buildup, the anticipation for this day spent reveling in the wizarding and witchcraft world of Harry Potter and all of his friends (and some foes) and familiar magical creatures left us awestruck with reckless abandon...
I entered Diagon Alley ahead of my family so I could get their immediate reactions upon entering... I'm so glad I did!! :)) Alanna, proudly representing the house of Ravenclaw, is doing a happy dance!!! Emilia, proudly representing Gryffindor, couldn't hide her enthusiasm!!! :)
Our first stop, Ollivander's, makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.! The girls couldn't wait to find their very own wand in this floor to ceiling stacked boxes and boxes full of wands!
Ah, I think Alanna was a bit overwhelmed...
The curator or guide to help young wizards and witches discover their very own wand chose a member of the audience at random to come forward and try out each wand until the wand itself chooses the recipient. It was a magical delight of mishaps and of the shining moment when the wand reveals its chosen owner.
The Ivy wand won over Alanna's heart and the Hawthorn chose Emilia.
Inside Gringott's Money Exchange we met this salty-looking character. We asked multiple questions of him and he had plenty of matter-of-fact style responses for us. Such as, "How much money do you have?" The goblin banker's reply, "More than you'll ever know." ;) Another question we had for him was, "Are those your real ears?" His reply, "Well, of course!"
Street performers dazzle the crowd with a magical puppet show!
After taking in as much as we possibly could of Diagon Alley, we were all set to take to the rails for the Hogwart's Express departing from King's Crossing Station, 9 3/4 platform to our destination, Hogsmeade Station. The train ride itself is another magical experience! It's about a 5 minute ride with plenty of fun surprises and a magical view as we traveled through the countryside!!
Seriously, what a fun juxtaposition to arrive Hogsmeade with snow littering the quaint village rooftops while folks are dressed in sleeveless shirts, shorts, sun hats, doing everything they can to stay cool. Wild!
Inside the Owl Post we found quill pens, journals, postcards, wax seals and more! The girls found trinkets to their heart's content!! Me? I found trinkets to photograph to my heart's content!
There it is! Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!! It is amazingly grand!!
We had no idea how thrilling and surreal the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride would be! Serious stuff. When they tell you that you must lock everything you are carrying up in a secure locker before entering, that should have been our first clue. Hey, how scary could this possibly be, right?! We're looking around us and notice that there are lots of kids of all ages, so we went for it. Little did we know that our girls were not quite ready for this one. Kurt and I loved it! My overall reaction was a mixture of wide-eyed shrieks of outright laughter and terrified screams!! I mean, when a dragon breathes smoke and vapors in my face, just inches away, okay, I'm screaming!!! It was INCREDIBLE! Our girls, however, were scared out of their wits and cried uncontrollably afterwards. They did eventually calm down, but... it took a lot of reassuring hugs to get there. This ride is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Universal has outdone themselves with this nonstop thrill ride!
Here's the excerpt about the ride and the experience from Universal's website:
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
"Enter through the towering castle gates and make your way down the familiar passageways and corridors of Hogwarts™ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Visit iconic locations such as Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor™ common room, the Room of Requirement, and more.
Then get ready to soar above the castle grounds as you join Harry Potter™ and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of magical creatures. This amazing attraction uses groundbreaking, state-of-the-art technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind ride."
After all that excitement and literally coming back down to earth, we decided to get ourselves a sweet treat of frozen Butterbeer (there isn't a drop of alcohol in this beer). The girls stamped their approval on it!
It was a full day of exciting thrills! We had to catch the Hogwart's Express back to King's Cross Station. It did not disappoint, nor repeat the first ride. And we traveled with more smiles on our faces!!
Outside of Diagon Alley's entrance we found the Knight Bus, otherwise known as "Emergency Transport For The Stranded Witch Or Wizard." The girls had an opportunity to chit-chat with the talkative shrunken head which hangs over the steering wheel, and the bus conductor, too.
This, my friends and family, is one happy, tired, overall satisfied family right here. A group of young women noticed me struggling to get an "usie-selfie" family shot with the turning sphere in the background before leaving the park, and took pity on us. They got a few pics for us, attempting to time it just right. I'm grateful they did! They had all of us giggling with their remarks and friendliness. Thanks so much ladies! We gave them our 4 Fast Passes we hadn't used in exchange for their kindnesses. :)
What an - I can safely say this - AWESOME DAY we had together among the mystical, magical creatures and people and rides and shops and witchy, wizarding FUN!!! We all want to go back!
Sincere gratitude to Universal Studios Orlando for the imagination, the joy, the smiles you put on my family's faces. Most especially, my deep gratitude to J.K. Rowling for stirring the heart of a ten-year-old girl to dream in fantastic colors, for transporting her imagination to an all new level. You have my utmost respect and admiration.