I visited Hogwarts. Any student looking to go away to school, can do themselves good by first visiting prospective schools. I already knew I was going to go to Hogwarts, but what a great excuse for a visit. We packed the SUV, narrowly missing the need for an extension charm, and we headed south.
We drove, we slept, we ate, we drove some more and 2700km later, we were standing in a relatively short line to enter what the Muggles call Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Witches and wizards among us know it as the place where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was built. After some technical difficulty at the gate, we were bee-lining our way towards Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. I vaguely remember passing through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent, but there was really only one place I wanted to visit, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We arrived around 10am to a mostly empty park and knowing that it is always best to get the rides in first, I opted to take on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. I quickly wove my way through where the line would be when the park got busy, passed by the Weasley’s Flying Ford Anglia (which had a run-in with a tree), and waited all of 30 seconds for my seat on the back of the Hungarian Horntail. Although the Chinese Fireball is faster than the Horntail, the Horntail is regarded as the most ferocious of dragons and the Fireball quickly admitted defeat, screaming like a little girl as it flew away. Well, I heard screaming as it flew away, I assume it was the dragon.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was our next ride, where the line actually walks you through Hogwarts Castle. Amazing. The line takes you into Dumbledore’s office, through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, past moving portraits, the Mirror Of Erised, the Sorting Hat and of course through the Gryffindor common room. As the park was fairly quiet, the line moved rather fast, making it difficult to take it all in. The ride itself was incredible, and like no other. Four witches and wizards are seated beside one another, moving along on a mechanical arm, all the while surrounded by projected images and decor aimed at giving you the feeling as though you are flying on a broom with Harry. After leaving the castle via floo network, you fly the grounds, run into Hagrid, spiders, get chased by a dragon and are met by Dementors on the Quidditch pitch and much more. An impressive ride, but not meant for the weak of stomach. The ride was so impressive we decided to do it again, but this time we jumped in the single-rider line to cut down on the wait. The single-rider line doesn’t weave through the castle quite like the normal line, and you basically fill in empty foursomes created by smaller groups of riders. We waited about 3 minutes to ride a second time and were welcomed off the ride by a few kids who couldn’t hold their Butterbeer. The ride exits into Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, aka the “gift shop”, and of course we took our time to look at everything more than once.
As we headed from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade, we skipped on riding the Flight of the Hippogriff, opting to come back at a later time. After a quick stop to see Moaning Myrtle in the men’s washroom, we found ourselves in line for Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Ollivander made an appearance and helped both a young witch and wizard find their new wands. Of course, we made our way into Dervish and Bangs to purchase our own wands. A Hawthorne wand, 13 3/8″ mistook me for a Weasley, but it was quick to jump into my hands, as was my money into the cash register. What’s unique about the wands is that you can purchase an interactive wand, that allows you to cast spells around Hogsmeade. There are a number of locations identified on the map that comes with your wand, that allows you to move your wand in a specific way to cast a spell and trigger a reaction, such as using Alohomora to unlock/open a copy of Tales of Beetle the Bard in the Tomes and Scrolls storefront window. Using my wand to cast spells, was one of the most entertaining features of Hogsmeade.
As hunger began to set in, we decided to head to the Three Broomsticks for lunch, but not before stopping in at Honeydukes for some Pumpkin Juice and a Cauldron Cake appetizer. Pumpkin Juice was pretty good, best described as an apple / pumpkin juice concoction, which I would actually drink from time to time. The Cauldron Cake was a chocolate cupcake; filled with chocolate mousse, covered in chocolate with a chocolate handle, and like most other chocolate cupcakes was quite fantastic. Having quelled our immediate hunger, we jumped in line at the Three Broomsticks. It took us 30 minutes to make our way to the cash to place our order and finally sit down with our food. The interior of the Three Broomsticks is nothing short of amazing, quite like that of the movie; aged wood interior, giving it the feeling of a rustic medieval pub & inn. The food was OK, nothing special, but the Frozen Butterbeer was fantastic! A rich butterscotch slushy drink, topped with a whip cream foam, brilliant.
After lunch we walked around Hogsmeade casting spells and taking our time to ensure that we didn’t overlook any of detail and design that went into building Hogsmeade. We eventually made our way to the outdoor stage to see the Triwizard Spirit Rally; a live re-enactment of the embellished entrances made by the Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in The Goblet of Fire. The show was pretty good, not as exciting as the Frog Choir though, but pretty good. </sarcasm>
By now it was around 3pm, we had spent the last 5ish hours at Hogsmeade and decided we take the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to King’s Cross Station (located at Universal Studios). The train is available for those who purchase the Park-to-Park pass. We waited in line about 50 minutes, before we were seated on the train. The train is built to look like that of the Jacobite Express, a steam locomotive in Scotland that was used to model the Hogwarts Express. Having been on the Jacobite Express, I can confirm they all look the same. Looking out the “windows”, or or as non-magic folk call them, “computer monitors” as the train heads for London, we waved goodbye to Hagrid, were chased by Buckbeak and are given the experience of actually leaving Hogwarts.
We arrived in London and made our way through Universal Studios Florida, passing through San Fransisco, New York and finally Hollywood, before exiting the park en route to purple Spider-Man where we parked. That’s right, parking isn’t done by letter/number combination, but by color / superhero.
A more than successful visit to Hogwarts and I’m ready to attend full-time. Thankfully tuition is paid for all witches and wizards to attend, because we had already spent quite a bit visiting for just one day. As we sped our way down the interstate towards our hotel, an owl chased us down to deliver the list of books and supplies I would need for the following year. I can’t wait!
Stay tuned for our adventures in Diagon Alley.