Ever since I was a tiny little girl, I have been obsessed with the magical world of Harry Potter. I'm sure many people have, but I'm serious when I say it's been a giant part of my life for twelve years now. And of course, like any other uber-fan, I'd longed to go to Hogwarts, and to be able to experience the world for myself.
So, when Universal Studios announced that they would be opening a theme park in Orlando that promised just that – total immersion into the world of Harry Potter – I simply HAD to go experience it for myself.
Luckily enough for me, I got my chance about six months after the park opened. My family had a trip to Florida planned, and I was presented with tickets to the park as my seventeeth birthday present – eleven years after I'd first fallen in love with the books.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
We made our way by plane – Allegiant Airlines from Grand Rapids, MI to Orlando, FL to be exact – the first week in March 2011. We spent an entire week in Florida, doing various things, and visiting various people, as part of my family used to live there (me included!) and part of it still does.
The wednesday of that week was the day we went to Universal. I was beside myself with excitement. When we got to the entrance of the Wizarding World, I felt like I could hardly catch my breath. Here I was, walking into places that came directly off the pages that had defined my childhood and adolescence.
As we passed each shop, and it became more and more difficult for me to hold in my child-like squeals of glee, a profound though struck me. I felt so at home. These were the places where I'd made myself so comfortable within the pages of my childhood fantasies, and now they'd been brought to life with real bricks and mortar. It made the magic seem all that more real to me.
When I got my first glimpse of Hogwarts, the place I'd been secretly wishing, hoping, and praying to go to since the age of six, I'm not ashamed to admit, I teared up. To many people, it may seem as if I were overracting – it's only a book, only a make-believe land, why get so emotional about it? Well, that's perfectly fine for them to think, they're entitled to their own opinion, I suppose. But this book series, and these characters at times have felt more real to me than the people I knew in the realm of reality. J.K. Rowling's books have helped me through numerous things, as trivial as puberty and as deep and encompassing as death. Maybe it is silly, maybe they are only words on a page. But never in my life, since I'd become enchanted with the first book, had I ever thought that. And as long as I'm living, I'm sure I never will.
I had my first taste of impossibly sweet butterbeer, picked out a wand at Ollivander's, and ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Afterwards, I toured the castle, and took in a show by the students of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. I shopped at Honeyduke's and Zonko's, and got to see things such as Hermione's Yule Ball gown, which I have coveted since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released in cinemas.
For anyone who is a fan of the series, you will know how momentous these things are. The entire day, I felt a sense of child-like wonder and awe not matched before or since. I truly, really felt as if I were finally living out the reality I'd wished for in my mind for over a decade. Every minute detail, down to the trimmed shrubbery, the false storefronts with moving magical pieces, and the glittering, plastic snow that adorned the rooftops in the eighty degree Florida heat screamed authenticity. I truly felt transported to the pages of that magical storybook.
I highly reccomend this park to any fan of the book series, and even anyone who isn't. I went with my father, who really knows nothing of the series save for whatever he'd picked up during a decade of my ramblings about it. Even he said at the end of the day that it was one of the neatest things he'd seen, and he would go again (which immediately started my inquries about next year's trip).
Be prepared to spend a lot of money, though. The souvenirs are awesome, but most of them don't come cheap. I spent the better part of $150 on trinkets and, admittedly, toys for myself. Granted, I didn't necessarily have to do so, but I'd been saving for two months so I could go on a spending spree in Dervish and Bange's.
All in all, it was one of the best experiences in my young life thus far, and I simply cannot wait until I am able to go again. I will always cherish the feeling of happiness and serenity I'd had while there, and I long for the time when I can feel that much at home again.
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