You might have noticed we did not post anything for a week. It's not that we weren't reading. We were. When we could. You see, we went on a small vacation as an early birthday present for our very own Meghan who will be celebrating her Sweet 16 next week. In lieu of a party she wanted to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the newest park within a park at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure. Our family boarded a Jet Blue plane at seven o'clock on Saturday morning and headed to the very green and palm tree filled warm and sunny Orlando, Florida, last week. We had a wonderful time and think Meg has some unforgettable birthday memories. (Thanks to Caity for her pictures.)
As we walked around the two parks we kept noticing one major thing: so many of the rides were based on books. There was Seuss Landing, a park filled with the zany creations of the beloved author Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham anyone? The Cat in the Hat ride was cute and so nostalgic, especially for our mom who has read a collection of Seuss titles to the three of us over the years. Caity accompanied her brother on the One Fish, Two Fish ride (and you do get wet). There were superhero rides, our favorites being Spiderman and The Hulk, and they're based on comic books. We know comics haven't received enough respect over time but with the increase in popularity of manga and graphic novels, not to mention the success of comic-based movies, we believe comic books are now receiving some book lover admiration.
The most outstanding part of our trip had to be The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When we saw the spires of Hogwarts standing proudly in the sunny sky our hearts began to pound faster. As we walked across a bridge separating Jurassic Park from the world of J. K. Rowling's imagination, we felt as if we'd stepped onto the movie set. We didn't spot Chris Columbus or any of the other directors though.
The majestic school stood high on a hill in all of its splendor and we couldn't wait to get inside. The park was packed but we made it through to stand on line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. It took almost ninety minutes to get inside (there were technical problems with the ride), but when we made it through the maze outside and passed through the gardening room into the hazy, darker section of the building, we felt the magic. We spent three full days at Universal and no other place held such a special part for us than inside Hogwarts. The first sight we beheld were the paintings we've seen in all of the movies hanging up in their haphazard stacked upon each other way on the walls. To our delight some talked. There was the unicorn tapestry. There was the fat lady. Once again we wove our way through a maze taking in the wonder of Rowling's printed page creations now displayed in front of our eyes. As we neared the ride itself and we waited for the attendants to place us into groups, the Sorting Hat began to speak. No matter your age, if you have read the Harry Potter series (and we have, all seven) and watched the movies, this is NOT to be missed.
The Forbidden Journey ride is in one word: EPIC! The floor moves much like The Haunted Mansion ride in Disney and you have to sit down quickly. After you're locked in the magic, the splendor, the joy of everything Potter is unveiled for you. Instantly you're involved in a fast moving quidditch game, soaring after Harry, flying upwards, swooping down, bypassing a fire breathing dragon. Harry is always talking to you, which was cool, as you dip low among the grounds of Hogwarts, pass by Hagrid's hut, and then it turns scary. But scary in a good way. Dementors--huge, gray and chill inducing, they even breathe on you--float menacingly in front of you, prepared to suck away your breath.
Huge spiders hang down, ready to pounce on innocent riders. Don't worry, Harry's there. And Ron and Hermione too. The dragon from The Goblet of Fire breathes flames and its heat hits you in the face. Again, you go flying around trying to escape this winged monster as scenes from the movies play out around you all in glorious sound. The screams we heard (and we joined in too) only added to the sheer magnitude of this simulated heart-pounding adventure.
At the end of the ride the Hogwarts community celebrates (on three different scenes) as you enter unscathed and quite alive. I bet your heart rate will be accelerated as ours was (and your throat may be hoarse), but this ride has to be experienced. We instantly loved it and went back on again the next day. The second time was better simply because we kept our eyes open for everything! We laughed at the pictures taken of us on the ride but we won't embarrass ourselves by making them public.
The town of Hogsmeade was spot on, just like in the books, but we found the stores small inside and very crowded (many had long lines waiting outside). We wished the stores were made larger to accommodate the legions of fans Harry has. We made it into the candy store, Honeydukes, and bought chocolate frogs and Bertie's flavored jelly beans. We also picked up a replica of Harry's wand at Ollivander's. Lunch was a special occasion as some of us sipped Butterbeer (quite good, very foamy, and on the sweet side) and pumpkin juice (also scrumptious) while we ate inside The Three Broomsticks tavern. When we returned home and sat through The Half Blood Prince, we laughed and pointed at a scene in the restaurant. We were there and it felt so real! We took a walk through Zonko's and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods. There were a few other rides (the fast moving roller coaster Dragon Challenge, the quick and easy Flight of the Hippogriff), the Frog Choir, a short show complete with costumed Hogwarts students who remain after the show to pose for pictures. And we saw the Hogwarts Express (the first car) which carries our friends from Platform 9 3/4 safely to school.
We saw faces of all ages and races, heard an array of dialects from all over the world, and we were amazed and enchanted by what can become reality from the mere pages of a book. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure was spectacular. We only wish it could be bigger! Our first flight back home was cancelled so we were able to lengthen our trip with one-and-a-half more days of Florida sun. At least we were able to enjoy go kart racing and took in Tron Legacy in an IMAX theatre. What a treat! We then took an evening flight back to New York where we were greeted by freezing temperatures and a snow covered car. Happy Birthday Meg! We hope you enjoyed it!