Sunday, June 27, 2010

Harry Potter Florida!!!

We just got back from Universal Orlando where the new Harry Potter exhibit opened last week - all I can say is if you are a HP fan (and frankly even if you're will become one while you're there!) - you will be blown away (as we found out - figuratively and literally)!! Make a point of getting there - it is that cool and that unbelievable!!! The exhibit is so incredibly true to the books and the movies that you feel like you are stepping back in time and space to the hinterlands of England, to a world inhabited by magical witches and wizards in flowing cloaks and pointy hats, singing frogs, flying dragons and bowing hipppogriffs, owls that bring mail, and all other kinds of things you can't explain but can only appreciate. Take it all in as I try and bring you along on a magical mystery ride through Hogwarts and Hogsmeade....

As you enter the park at the City Walk, your first sight of the Hogwarts castle is breathtaking - it is perched atop towering rocks across a still lake visible through a strategically placed clearing (the only thing weird are the palm trees in the foreground - all HP fans know the castle is situated in cold northern climes!)
Hogwarts Castle from the Park Entrance
As we (and thousands of our newest bestest buddies) made our way around the park to the HP exhibit, the excitement continued to build - everyone around us sported the crimson and gold of Gryffindor, the green of Slytherin or other HP attire (we were seriously underdressed - although given the heat, I was seriously questioning some of those in Hogwarts colored scarves!!) We passed through Toon Town (complete with the Incredible Hulk roller coaster (can you say not in a million years!)) and Jurassic Park.....and then we were on the bridge with Hogsmeade laid out before us - the slanted roofs of the stone Hogsmeade village were even covered in snow. TOO KEWL!!
The Bridge into Hogsmeade
The Archway into Hogsmeade
As you pass through the stone arch, you can bear left towards the castle or right into the town of Hogsmeade. The castle is amazingly imposing with it's stone hog gargoyles guarding the gates to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so of course it was there that we went first - to experience the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.
The Castle
The Guardians of Hogwarts
Before we got to the castle though we were serenaded by the Hogwarts' frog choir and regaled by the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster.
The Frog Choir
Entrance to the Castle
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Your entry into the castle is in the dungeons where you experience the dark, dank, drafty stone corridors that are home to the potions classroom where Snape tormented Harry for so many years.
Entering the Dungeon
Potions Classroom
You see the mirror of erised, various gargoyles and the kitchens where Dobby labored as a free elf once Harry rid him of the Malfoy family! You emerge from the dungeons into Professor Sprout's green house (which is all part of the waiting line - but once you reach the castle, the line moves pretty well) - you see the mandrake plants that played such a role (once their acne cleared up) in the Chamber of Secrets as well as other plants maybe only Neville could name.
The Mandrakes
When you finally enter the castle proper, immediately inside the door is a statue of Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time,
Statue of Albus Dumbledore
followed by the columns registering the score in the house cup (Gryffindor is ahead!!).
Gryffindor Winning the House Cup
Ahead of you is the phoenix that guards the stairs to Dumbledore's office
Entrance to Dumbledore's Office
- we mentioned the password (which is lemon drops or fizzing whizzbies - depends on Dumbledore's mood) and we were allowed to enter his office where we saw the portraits of all the former headmasters (the pictures even move and talk!! Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor argue over muggle borns and half-bloods!!)
Talking Headmasters
Dumbledore greets you as you wander past Fawkes and his gadgets including the pensieve!!
Dumbledore's Office
Next it is on to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where Harry, Hermione and Ron greet you
Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom
- seriously weird stuff is strewn around the room - just as you pictured it in your mind!!
Dark Arts Stuff
Dark Arts Skeleton
You pass the portrait of the fat lady
The Fat Lady Outside Gryffindor's Common Room
and the sorting hat which warns you of the terrors of the upcoming ride
The Sorting Hat
and then it's time to strap everything down, buckle up, and hang on tight for the ride of your life!!!!!

There are no pictures of the ride itself because, let's be real, you are moving so fast and half the time you are upside down or spinning around being scared out of your mind by huge spiders that spit liquid at your face, dragons that breath hot fire at you (OK not real fire but it's amazingly lifelike in that it's hot smoke!), towering black dementors that exude cold air and try to suck your soul out your mouth, a giant basilisk that stares at you from huge red eyes, and a whumping willow that aims for your head - all while swooping steeply up, over, around, down and through the castle, playing quidditch while followed by a rogue bludger, and following Harry down through the Chamber of Secrets that is collapsing.....getting it yet?? You are flying along with Harry, Ron and Hermione on a broomstick ride through their seven years at Hogwarts!!!! One ride is just not enough to take it all in - especially since for half the ride, your eyes are closed (especially if you are a wee bit nervous about heights...not mentioning anyone by name!) WOW!!!!

I don't know about you, but I'm thirsty just reliving it - think how we must have felt having lived the real thing!! Off to Hogsmeade we went in search of the Hogs Head tavern - we needed real beer not just pumpkin juice or butterbeer!! Passing Ollivander's wand shop, Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post,
The Owl Post
we spied the Hogs Head up a bit from the Three Broomsticks.
The Hogs Head Pub
Inside the Hogs Head Pub
A couple Hogs Head ales sitting out on the terrace overlooking the castle in Hogsmeade was the perfect thing
Beers at the Hogs Head
The Three Broomsticks
to get our courage up enough to try the Dragon Challenge roller coaster ride - are you kidding me????
The Entrance to the Dragon Challenge
Well - we did it (and no one hurled!!) As Triwizard champions
A Triwizard Champion
we passed the magical Weasley muggle car,
The Weasley's Magical Car
signs for the Hungarian Horntail and Chinese Fireball we would face and prepared to compete -
The Dragons
I'll let the ride picture speak for itself (obviously that's not us but it's the ride we went on - once!!!)
The Dragon Challenge Ride
Feeling more than a little queasy (although very proud of ourselves), we stumbled over to Honeydukes sweet shop - it just wasn't the same without Bob and Stephanie.
Inside Honeydukes
They would have been in heaven with all the chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's every flavor beans (no, we didn't find any boogie or vomit flavored ones although we ran into a couple people who had!!)
Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans
Now that's a candy store!!! Right next door was Zonko's joke shop - but we couldn't find any extendable ears or Peruvian black out powder - cool nevertheless although we're sure Fred and George's soon to be opened joke shop will rule!!!

Finally needing a little easier ride, we headed back through Hogsmeade
sampling the butterbeer along the way as we passed the Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express
- believe it or not, butterbeer just may be better than beer (did I actually write that - or even think it??) Butterbeer is THE nectar of the gods or at least the absolute best thing that magical witches and wizards could invent!!! Part cream soda, part caramel slushy, part whole fat whipped cream, you can get it cold or frozen - we of course had to sample both!!! Then it was on to the Flight of the Hippogriff
The Flight of the Hippogriff
where we passed Hagrid's home
Hagrid's House
and bowed to Buckbeak.
After two hair-raising rides, this one was just plain fun!! Well hopefully I've brought the wizarding world of Harry Potter to life for you a little - you really need to see it to believe it though. We planned on heading back the next day to once again ride the Forbidden Journey - this time maybe with our eyes open!!

But the day was not done - we had to work our way back to the park entrance so we figured we might as well take advantage of the rides along the way. It being hotter than Hades in the park, we chose to partake of many of the water rides. First the Jurassic Park river ride where we battled stegasaurus, raptors and the iconic T-Rex chased us over the falls for a dramatic (and very wet) plunge down into the river. Next it was on to Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges ride - they warn you about getting wet, but not enough!!
Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges
The Ride
We could not have been wetter at the end of the ride, had we jumped in and swam back to the park entrance - not that it wasn't tons of fun and not that it didn't feel good enough for us to turn around and do it again!!!!!
A Drowned Bilge Rat
Sopping wet we passed up the rides in Toon Town for happy hour at the Lone Palm Airport, part of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville - his plane the Hemisphere Dancer is part of the scenery! What a day!!!!
Hemisphere Dancer at Lone Palm Airport

Back to the park bright and early the next morning we made a beeline for HP and the Forbidden Journey - what an unbelievably cool ride (even better when your eyes are open - although the spitting spiders still freak you out!!) There is so much going on in the castle and the ride that you see new stuff each time (yes we went back the third morning for yet another go - it's really that cool!!!!) More Hogs Head ale, butterbeer, etc - you get the picture!!!
Got Butterbeer?
This time though we were treated to the march of the Triwizard Champions from Durmstrang and Beaux Batons - each decked out in full costume performing their school routines. Fleur and Viktor Krum never looked so good!!!
Durmstrang and Beaux Batons
Beaux Batons
We decided to forego the wettest of the rides the second day as we wanted to watch the US world cup match - OUCH!!!

Anyways - no need to bore you with the rest of our rides, snacks, etc but suffice it to say that Universal and Island of Adventure are two seriously cool parks. We have FL resident annual passes so I see many return trips to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in our future - whenever we need a HP or thrill fix!! At our new home in Aventura, we're 3 1/2 hours to Orlando and 3 1/2 hours to Key West - decisions, decisions, decisions...... Time for me to sign off as I have an overwhelming urge to re-read all the HP books - Sorcerer's Stone here I come!!!

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