Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 27, 2015
"I wish it was real!"
Daughters Mariya and Katie, Mariya's girlfriend Miriam and I entered a magical world on our recent Spring Break trip. For three days, our mission was to "nerd out" at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Potter and his friends Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger are the central figures in British author J.K. Rowling's series of seven books about witchcraft and wizardry.
We arrived at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando, Florida late Saturday night. The hotel harked back to the 1950s and '60s with its decor and music. It even had two pools. But we weren't there to swim. Instead, off to bed we went in anticipation of what the next day would bring.
At 8 a.m., we headed to Universal Studios. It was warm - in the 80s and muggy - and crowded. At the entrance, security workers checked bags and fingerprinted everyone.
Once we entered the village of Hogsmeade, wizards roamed the streets and cast spells. Shopkeepers sold magic wands, candy, robes, owls and trinkets. Inns served full English breakfasts of eggs, toast, sausage, beans and fried tomatoes. Butterbeer, which tastes much like cream soda, flowed freely. Fish and chips tempted visitors.
The girls wanted to ride the Dragon Challenge - a pair of roller-coasters that twist and turn at high speeds.
"Nope, not for me!" I said.
While they headed over to the entrance line, I sat and watched people at the nearby covered train station. Whole families of "wizards," complete with flowing black robes, passed by. Owls perched in the rafters above seemed to look right at me.
It was almost an hour before the girls returned, grinning from ear to ear. They wanted to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey roller-coaster and this time I agreed to join them.
It began with a walk through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In our hour in line, we were entertained by talking portraits, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore's office and skeletons hanging from the ceilings. The ride itself was an action-packed adventure with gigantic spiders, fire-breathing dragons and soul-sucking Dementors.
After, we checked out Ollivanders Wand Shop. All three girls bought wands used by some of their favorite Harry Potter characters. At times, Katie could perform "magic" with her wand. If she moved it just right, a tape measure moved up and down in a dress shop window, a snowman decoration on a cake twirled around and water spurted from a well guarded by a mermaid. Mariya also tried her hand at several spells.
We visited Honeydukes, a candy store filled with chocolate frogs, cauldron and pumpkin cakes, and Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. I suggested we should buy some for grandma, but Katie said she wasn't sure that was a good idea. She explained that "every flavor" meant just that and some tasted like dirt!
From Hogsmeade, we headed to the Hogwarts Express, a train that took us to Diagon Alley, a jumble of winding cobblestone streets and shops of all descriptions, including Madame Malkin's Robes for all Occasions, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. Most impressive was a giant dragon perched atop Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Every 15 minutes or so, the dragon would rumble and then belch out fire. We could feel the heat on the street below.
For the remainder of that day and the two that followed, there was one adventure after another. Miriam particularly liked the rides and shopping.
It was an opportunity to go on an adventure and be a part of Harry Potter, and who wouldn't like that? ... Seeing the overwhelming variety of things you could buy was pretty interesting. You could even buy the sweaters Mrs. Weasley made for Harry and Ron.
Mariya couldn't decide which "house" robe - Gryffindor or Ravenclaw - she wanted to buy, but eventually settled on Ravenclaw. Katie wanted to buy a Ravenclaw robe too, but, ever one to watch her money, she hesitated. Big sis Mariya encouraged her.
"Just think of it as an investment in future nerdery," she said.
Miriam chimed in, "You have to get a robe. Otherwise, if you have a wand but no robe, you're just holding a stick."
Katie also has a sharp eye for detail and was thrilled with the attention paid to small things.
Once you entered, you were in a totally different world. Everything was so detailed and accurate to the books and the movies, which I really appreciated as a huge Harry Potter fan. Even waiting in line for rides, you got to see things that were in the books or movies, so you were never bored. ... It was truly an immersive experience.
Mariya was equally enamored.
I got the chance to wander into the world of Harry Potter ... One minute I was in a muggy overpriced theme park, and the next I was in the magical land of wizards. The details - from the shop signs to the cobblestone street - made it seem all the more real and interesting ... Going on adventures with Harry, Hermione and Ron, seeing young kids be chosen by their wands at Ollivanders, all made the kid in me, which is never too far from the surface, squeal with joy. Even the workers ... added a dose of magic ... questioning why we were wearing bathrobes at King's Cross ... and asking about my relation to the Weasleys. I'm their distant American cousin now and no one shall ever prove otherwise. It was one more chance for me to experience Harry Potter in a new way for the first time. I loved it!
While I expected the girls to have fun, I was a bit surprised how much I enjoyed it. For three days, we were in Harry Potter's world and we didn't want to leave. Katie said it best - “I wish it was real.”
Top-left: Katie, Gloria, Miriam and Mariya in front of Hogwarts School; bottom-left: entering the village of Hogsmeade; center-top: Mariya enjoying her full English breakfast; top-right: enjoying butterbeer with Hogwarts over the shoulder; bottom-right: pumpkin cakes were one of the sweets offered at Honeydukes.
Left: A dragon breathes fire while wrapped around a bank building; top-center: Katie and Mariya in their Ravenclaw robes in front of the Hogwarts Railway car; bottom-center: the group slipped over to the Simpsons Park to see Homer and Bart; right: some of the 45,000 visitors enjoying the parks.