By Bryan Johnson & Maranda Leggs
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The adventure began the minute we entered through the gates. We could feel the cobblestone through the soles of our shoes, and we were surrounded by charming, snow covered cottages. It felt like we had jumped right into Hogsmead Village.
“Oh grandma, look at the spires jetting out from the stone walls! Look at how high those towers are in the sky! There it is the castle! This is going to be an incredible adventure,” Maranda exclaimed.
You see, our family—cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, too—have been planning this family vacation to Universal Orlando’s, Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the past six months. Matter of fact, my cousin, Bryan and I have been saving our money, so we can buy something special along the way.
The Forbidden Journey
While waiting for the ride, we wound our way through the castle. We visited Snape’s dungeon, passed through Dumbledore’s study, walked into the herbology green house and passed through the classroom for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Finally, we went through the Gryffindor common room where we boarded the ride.
After being securely harnessed into our seats, we moved sideways into the interior of Hogwarts Castle on “couches” enchanted by Hermione to follow Harry as he flew through the air on his broomstick. We traveled through areas complete with a fire-breathing dragon where you really feel the heat. Occasionally, we were sprayed with spider venom, which was really just water. Our enchanted couches jerked forward, backward and almost upside down as we flew through the castle and across the castle grounds. This virtual reality scene was incredibly realistic.
The Dragon Challenge
Although this ride was not new, it has been renovated to resemble the first challenge of the triwizard tournaments. Rather than being strapped into a seat, the Dragon Challenge is a hanging coaster and a harness suspends riders. The ride takes you upside down at times. It was still as thrilling as it was before.
Olivanders Wand Shop
The first stop we made after leaving Hogwarts Castle was Olivanders Wand Shop. Unfortunately, we did have to wait in a rather long line to get into the popular wand shop. However, after entering into the cool air of the wand shop (this was great) we had a short presentation by a wand maker, which was nice. He chose a small boy in the group to demonstrate the process of selecting a wand. After this, we were ushered into the shop; an actual store where we purchased our own wands. Each wand could be a custom design or a replica from the movies. We were upset that their selection did not include Hermione’s wand. Every other main character was there, even the evil ones, but not Hermione.
Honeydukes Sweet Shop and Zonko’s Tricks and Jokes
After securing our wands, we ventured over to Honyedukes Sweet Shop and Zonko’s Tricks and Jokes. These two stores were combined into one. The sweet shop had many recognizable delicious treats from the movies. Perhaps the most famous were the chocolate frogs. We had to buy some. As it turns out they were each a delicious, five ounces of milk chocolate. The chocolate frog boxes also included a famous witch or wizard card just like the movies.
One treat we completely enjoyed was the butterbeer. This sweet treat was sold at a vendor located in the street just in front of Honeydukes. The weather on this day was extremely hot and this cold treat was very welcome. You could purchase butterbeer as a cold drink or as an icy treat. It was delicious.
The entire attraction really stayed true to the Harry Potter books and movies. You really felt like you were in Hogsmead Village. It was just as much fun as we thought it would be. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, it is almost necessary that you go see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Things Moms (and Grandmas) Want to Know!
Where to Stay
Universal Orlando Resort has three hotels right on the property that offer Harry Potter packages. The hotels are: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and the Hard Rock Hotel. www.universalorlando.com
Where to Eat
A visit to this rustic tavern is a must. Here your family can share in a pint of Butterbeer. It is like root beer with a kick of birch, then it is topped off with a creamy froth—what an amazing treat. The tavern offers fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, or turkey legs. Don’t worry, Universal understands a kids palette, they offer mac and cheese, as well as, chicken fingers. Not only did they take care of the kids, the parents can slip into the back of the restaurant to Hogs Head pub where beer, wine, and many more fancy adult-only drinks are served.
Where to Shop
Honeydukes Sweet Shop
A great place to experience those famous chocolate frogs, acid pops, and cauldron cakes. Each little box of goodies comes with a collectors’ wizard trading card. Of course, for those not interested in Hogsworth faire, they make traditional treats as well.
Olivanders Wand Shop
In this dusty shop, your family can enjoy an interactive experience where a wandkeeper can help a wand choose YOU. There are countless wands to choose from, matter fact, the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with them.
Big fans of the Harry Potter book series, cousins Bryan Johnson (high school senior) and Maranda Leggs (high school freshman) visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with their grandparents this past summer during the grand opening of the attraction. They are both exceptional students and hope to someday follow in their grandfather’s footsteps to become engineers.
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