“I want to live here,” my children whispered to me in awe as we entered The Wizarding World of Harry Potter last week at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure.
We were blessed to be part of a private group that night, the entire area closed off to the lucky attendees of the Family Forward retreat. We enjoyed a dessert buffet in the Three Broomsticks, drank our first Butterbeer, and ran through empty turnstiles to ride the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Dragon Challenge.
I cried steady, silent tears during a wand ceremony at Ollivander’s. Seeing something I’ve held so dear for so long – the magic and emotion of the world of Harry Potter – come to life in front of me, hearing words I’ve read and treasured now spoken out loud, and seeing the wonder on a young girl’s face as her wand “chose” her, I couldn’t do anything but cry. A gentleman assisting in the ceremony patted my shoulder and with great warmth and understanding said, “It really is a special moment, isn’t it?”
I’m not sure there’s anyplace else like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Any other place where the world of your imagination so realistically comes to life. Every last detail in The Wizarding World is so authentic, and every single park staff member is engaged 1000% in the experience. I agree with my children – I want to live there.
Our first visit to The Wizarding World was at night, and while still spectacular, there’s nothing like seeing it in the daylight. We went back two days later and spent our time going through every nook and cranny of Hogsmeade. We bought Every Flavour Beans at Honeydukes and U-No-Poo at Zonko’s. We ate a huge and hearty breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, and washed it all down with more Butterbeer. We talked – and laughed – with the conductor of Hogwarts Express, a fabulous fellow wholly committed to his role, with just a pinch of Ricky Gervais thrown in (oh, he was SO funny!!). We marveled at the little touches – shops for potions, brooms, cauldrons, and more. Howlers being heard from the Owl Post, the whistle of the Hogwarts Express piercing the morning air. A mandrake in a shop window here, a chocolate frog in a window there. Even a certain melodramatic ghostie haunting the public conveniences. And it seemed like every step revealed a different, striking perspective of the Hogwarts Castle. Inside Hogwarts Castle, we were mesmerized by various artifacts of the Harry Potter world – talking paintings, the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore’s office, complete with Pensieve. We saw the Mirror of Erised and walked through the Griffyndor common room.
Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time is a memory I will always cherish. I’m excited to see what the future holds, as Universal Orlando expands the attraction to include London and Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios park, and an actual Hogwarts Express that will connect the new feature to the neighboring Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure. London and Diagon Alley are set to open in 2014. If Universal Orlando is as true with the new expansion as they have been with Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, then I look forward to more amazing experiences to come!
**My non-disclosure disclosure: as attendees of the Family Forward retreat, we received an amazing package price at a steep discount, which included entrance into the Universal Orlando parks (express pass and all), and wonderful exclusive experiences like the private evening in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Still, I paid out of pocket for this trip and am under NO obligation to post and have not and will not receive any compensation for doing so. I am deeply grateful to Universal Orlando for this incredibly meaningful experience and wanted to share my thoughts and photos with readers.