July 14th, 2015

a nerd in harry potter world.

I’ve been absent from the Internet for a week whilst exploring Orlando based theme parks with the unwashed masses, and my family. Of course we went to Disney World, however, pre-Disney I had the rarified opportunity to obtain a VIP experience at Universal Studios. I just happen to know a guy who knows a guy, and it was his birthday, so he took his friends and family to Universal. The innocuous VIP pass appears, at first, to be simply an inoffensive piece of monogrammed plastic, but its implications are both magnified and multifaceted. First, we were allowed to skip ahead in all the lines — I felt moderate guilt as I jumped ahead of a multitude of wide-eyed children, thankfully it wasn’t a lingering guilt as I literally did not wait in one line. Our group could re-ride rides, explore the backlots, eat free food, and we had a tour guide (Kendra) who ushered us around, peppering us with interesting park facts all day. Finally, and most importantly, this line skippage also applied to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — coincidentally, the only place in the park where you can’t use your (overpriced) expedited tickets — and this experience came with a complimentary Butterbeer tasting. I acknowledge that this was a once in a lifetime experience, unlikely to every be replicated, and it was awesome.

We visited Hogmeade first. The snow-capped rooftops looked particularly out of place in the sweltering Florida heat, but a storm rolled in mid-afternoon which provided an adequately moody backdrop. Once oriented, I hopped straight into Ollivanders with a single purpose — to find my wand. The rest of the group was not as enthusiastic at the prospect of wand shopping and I went solo through the stacks. While browsing, I discovered that some of the wands are interactive! How did I not know this before? The interactive wands come with a map of spell casting locations and the proper wrist-flicking combination to cast each spell. I chose a 15″ reed wand because the description spoke to me: “Reed wood is associated with scholarship and knowledge. Reed people are good with words, and steadfast in their beliefs. They are deeply rooted and extremely flexible. Reed people should trust in their ability to adapt to new situations without ever losing sense of who they are.”

Wand in hand, I set off to ride the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley. I only though Hogsmeade was impressive, Diagon Alley actually blew my mind. I tripped because I was blatantly gaping at the carefully created setting, every minute detail intended to spark both memory and imagination in the mind of any HP fan. Predictably, Escape from Gringotts was my favorite ride — because, dragons. I get motion sick fairly easily, so I didn’t enjoy the virtual broom flying ride inside Hogwarts (sorry Harry). In the inevitably awkward ride picture, I was leaning against the side of the cart looking particularly green — and it wasn’t from Gillyweed. Eventually, the rain started up in earnest and I retreated back to the Hogshead tavern where I procured another frozen Butterbeer (although they do have Firewhiskey as well), and then de-camped to Honeydukes for some chocolate frogs. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but if you like Harry Potter (the books or the movies) even a little bit, then this is a must-visit destination. Now, if I could only make it to Mordor…