I have to admit, my heart was racing a mile a minute when it looked like me and my boyfriend (Revy) were about to get into the gates of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park had been doing their "sneaky, we don't know wheeeeen we're going to soft open" dance for a couple of days, so we decided to take a shot. Thanks to our fellow Potter fans (as I've rightly named, in all the nicest intents and purposes, the Potterwatch Nerd Coalition) for keeping us in the loop. We fans gotta stick together :)
So there we were...8:00AM...on a Saturday...when I could have been sleeping in. But if we got in, it would have been worth it. By the luck of the draw, we were the first people in one of the lines at the main-center-gate. Hotel guests had already been going in. Revy and I met a couple behind us that were in from out of town. I teared up after talking to them: I saw me and Revy in their eyes 40 years down the road. He was all excited with books and travel guides in his explorer vest, and she had her arm looped around his, just checking out the crowd.They had taken a shot in the dark and decided to come and were highly anticipating the journey.
Hope dawned as the gates opened at 8:45 and the team members (TM's) started scanning. We pass through, and watch people starting to run. Most of these people running are the ones who had already gone in. See, we're cool. We don't run...we hasten. The TMs were yelling for the runners to not run, "it's not going anywhere". Well, they've been closing around 10:30/11, so yeah..it IS going somewhere, people. They stop us on the bridge right in front of the eagle statue. Hotel guests are still going in, but the TM is not telling people to go away. Five minutes later...the ropes move. Revy and I look at each other and start...hastening. The walls are down in Hogsmeade---the walls. are. down. This is what we've been waiting for...FOR. EV. ERRRR.
The first couple of moments were a blur. Seriously-if you look at our digital photos, they're all quite blurry. We had already decided that Forbidden Journey would be the first stop. We raced through and when Hogwarts appeared right in front of us, we both lost our breath for a moment. Man, did it give Cinderella Castle a run for its money. We get in line, I take a couple pumps from my inhaler, and the next couple of minutes are filled with statements like, "I can't believe it!", "We made it in! We made it in!", and "Holy shit, we're finally here." ::gasp gasp breath breath::
[SPOILER WARNING] The line for the Forbidden Journey is nothing short of fantastic. When you first get in, you see the dungeons (The Mirror of Erised, the gate to where Fluffy lives, etc.), then out you go to the garden house with lots of hanging plants and a rusty cage of buried mandrakes. At this point, I'm looking around in line, and who do I see, but the older "us" couple a few people behind us. Like true fans and appreciators, they wave to us with huge smiles and thumbs up. Love and fan-gushing knows no age. We walk into the castle to greet some statues, the house points (Griffyndor is winning of course), and then the eagle from Dumbledore's office. Around the bend, lies the moving portraits--definitely the most impressive thing I've seen in a long time. The house heads bickering back and forth was entertaining. I loved how different things floated from picture to picture. Dumbledore's office and the Defense of the Dark Arts rooms were spectacular with the projections of the cast talking, making it snow, etc. The Fat Lady....reminds me of Delta Burke. I'm not sure why...but next time you see her, don't tell me you don't see it too..Griffyndor common room was SO detailed, the paintings and set ups of the furniture...to the T! We see the sorting hat in the background...and we also see quite a few people walk the Exit of Shame for not fitting on the bench seats. I feel horrible about this: so many people from around the world, and many of them won't be able to see this fantastic ride (for a good read, visit Banks Lee's blog). The ride itself was so smooth and fun. A great cross between Spider-man, Soarin', with the frights of a haunted house. SO. MANY. CLOSE-UPS (holy dragon in my face and spider spit!). Didn't like the dementors though...creepy as all hell, but just as cool. The movement of the ride is so fluid and effortless...you take off and land and you don't even realize you're on the ground again. Amazing. The emporium after the ride had the coolest stuff, including the Marauder's Map enclosed in a glass case ($65, what!!) and some great magical creature themed clothing.
Side note: Dear TMs, I'm so, so, so, sorry that you have to wear those thick robes in this dreadful FL heat...but us fans sincerely do appreciate it!
Now, onto Hogsmeade...
First stop--The Three Broomsticks for some Butter beer. Ooooohhh, butter beer, sweet, sweet Butter Beer, how you deserve an entire blog dedicated to your sweet wonderfulness...the concoction itself would be best described as a light, almost diet cream soda, and the froth on the top--the froth SO makes it!--is a rich, thick, butterscotchy-vanilla cream that doesn't go away...it goes down to the last drop of the beer and doesn't waver. It was glorious, and the frozen kind was even better, especially in, you know, 98 degree weather. I ended up being a Butter Beer slosh, walking around Hogsmeade with a big ol' mug in my hand but it was so worth it. Next, was the Owl Post, nothing too fancy here, but I loved the screaming Howler, and how they painted owl feces all over...that's dedication folks.
And then there was Honeydukes. Oo0o0ohh, Honeydukes. How you make my teeth ache with pre-destined cavities. It was so pretty in there, like they cut and pasted it from Suess Land-lots of bright pinks, turquoises, and yellows. Candies, candies, candies and ten buck chocolate frogs. Holy crap. Best deal you could get...the candy bar where you just fill up your bag of whatever you want and pay by the weight. Good stuff. The bottom of my Honeydukes bag is now filled with sugar like a bag of sand. (Try the fruit slices, they are awesome!!)
Zonko's...well, Zonko's is weird. But it's supposed to be! Had almost everything you could imagine. Reminded me too much of clowns so I couldn't stay in there for very long without getting creeped out, especially when an eerie laugh utters sometimes when you open the door to exit.
The Hogwarts express train was beautifully constructed and was greatly complimented by the conductor. He was jolly, full of vigor and full of even more knowledge: he "remembered" certain students of Hogwarts, what they studied, what kind of wands they had, etc.
Ollivander's, I have to say, was my favorite spectacle...they had dust on the boxes. Seriously? That's amazing detail, and a GREAT way to sell the merchandise. My only problem is that the Ollivander's "shop" where you see a guest get picked for a wand (or rather when the wand picks them) is much bigger than the actual room where you buy the wands. The actual wand store is probably the size of Harry's cupboard under the stairs. What they need to do is just take the cashier out of the middle of the room and have people pay in Dervish & Banges (which is connected). However, that was my only gripe, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around in the shop(s).
My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thing, out of the whole wizarding world would be the "window" shops. The ones, where you just stare into the windows and things come to life, move and play music. The writing quill? Great. The measuring tape cat? Cute! Gilderoy's moving portraits? Hilarious. The jittering quaffles and the flying golden snitch in the background? Frickin' awesome.
The rest of the morning (before they started closing everything down) was spent taking hundreds of pictures and enjoying every last moment there was before the security came out. It was hard to say good-bye, as crazy as it sounds. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see everything so clear and new, and without the huge crowds. One thing that I will miss, that I'm sure will slowly dissipate with the oncoming onslaught of rude Floridians, was the politeness and generosity of the TMs. On three separate occasions, when Revy and I were trying to take a picture of ourselves, a TM was quick to offer to take a photo (and not a crappy one at that!). The servers that were getting your food at the Three Broomsticks actually striked up conversations with you while you waited and while they sat you. Cashiers made jokes about how they couldn't use their magic during working hours (<--lol). And everyone said hello and goodbye with a smile, wave, and thank you. Man, I'll miss that... The next weekend was the first time WWOHP was open to the public at night, and the pictures were even better during the sunset. Crazy, but even in the god awful heat of the FL sun, the sunset and glowing lights of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade made it feel like Christmas. I'll certainly miss it...I know it won't be the same with the big crowds and the agoraphobic within me knows that it'll definitely be at least a few weeks/couple months before I could brave that craziness, but either way it will undoubtedly be worth it. Sometimes it pays to be a dedicated fan. Thanks again to PotterWatch and all the dedicated TMs that have made all this possible for nerds like us. Let the magic continue on!! :)
Coming up: Etiquette in the parks, aka don't walk in front of my picture asshole!