Magic for Muggles - My Family Travels

My heart was beating fast as I speed walked through the entrance of Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, my family struggling to keep up. I ignored Seuss Landing’s whimsical atmosphere as well as the Lost Continent’s exotic landscape. My face broke into a ridiculously huge grin as I rounded the final corner and an archway, emblazoned with the word “Hogsmeade”, loomed over the path. At last, I thought, as I stepped into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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The cobblestone street was lined with snow-dusted shops. People bustled about, stopping occasionally to gawk at a cloak being altered by a floating needle or at the Hogwarts Express as it billowed steam into the chilly air. The best way to move was to drift along with the crowd through the narrow store shelves, which were crammed with all manner of wizarding ware, from Honeyduke’s iconic chocolate frogs, to Extendable Ears, to wands. I was able to mail letters to several friends from the Owl Post, a Hogsmeade postmark included free of charge. There was a long line to peruse Ollivander’s, so I entered through a back door and, though I missed the movie-replica portion of the store, I was still able to purchase a wand. The detail was meticulous, truly making the world of Harry Potter come to life. It was as if I had stepped into pages of J.K. Rowling’s novels and any moment I’d see Harry, Ron, and Hermione come strolling down the street.

We planned our visit for a random week in early December, and I cannot stress enough that other travelers should do the same. Despite how crowded Hogsmeade seemed to have been, the lines for the rides were very short, about five minutes (for the rollercoasters) to no more than thirty minutes (for the main attraction, the “Forbidden Journey”). And, judging by the numerous switch-backs the metal dividers forced us through, the waits could have been outrageously long.

After lunch at the Three Broomsticks (which offered relatively inexpensive and surprisingly tasty food), we headed for Hogwarts, a massive castle situated atop a mountain, towering over everything.  We meandered through Hogwarts’ halls, and even if you don’t have to wait, I suggest taking your time. Each room is intricately decorated to appear just as they do in the Harry Potter movies, and holograms of Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and several talking portraits, greet you as you pass. In the three times I traversed the halls, I never heard them say the same things twice. The ride itself is a mixture of digital and real-life effects as Harry, Ron, and Hermione take you on a disastrous airborne tour of Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds.

As I wandered through Hogsmeade for the last time, I passed a family speaking a language I didn’t recognize, looking as entranced with the park as I was. I realized then that, over the course of the day, I must have heard a dozen languages, whether Russian or Spanish, Japanese or French. However, I don’t think that it was merely the novelty of a theme park with rides (although that aspect was admittedly amazing) that drew all of those people to congregate; it was the appeal of the fictional world of Harry Potter that had inspired it all. Books and movies provide places where we can leave everyday life behind in favor of a more magical one. They can bind people together in a unique way that surpasses cultural and ideological barriers. A planet of extremely different muggles can connect through a common love for a certain character and his magical world.

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