Accio Adventure! A Grown-Up Trip to a Wizarding World
The first time I saw a commercial for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I was furious. It consisted of two children getting their letters to Hogwarts, magically acquiring brooms, and flying into Harry as he beckons them to follow him on what is surely going to be a marvelous adventure. Cut to me, pissed. The people really excited about Wizarding World were people like me and my friends who were losing our 20-something year old minds at the thought of the fictional place we’d loved for years becoming a reality. A better commercial would have been a college grad sifting through his mail of student loans, about to start another night of drinking alone when his door gets kicked in by Hagrid apologizing for being so freaking late.
But Hagrid never showed and my letter to Hogwarts apparently went to some tweens, so I took action. I got a plane ticket, some time off, and my best friend Swen, and, projected demographics aside, took my adult ass to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
I can’t overemphasize the amount of focus and disregard for human life that was our walk through Islands of Adventure getting to Hogsmeade. People were leisurely walking through the theme park in the rising Florida sun, and we were speed walking like we were late for Snape’s Potions class. There was also a lot of I’m-the-Juggernaut-esque banter, just “I’m gonna get a wand, I’m gonna ‘accio’ a broom, I’m gonna fly all over this bitch!”. People probably thought we were insane. They were proven correct when we actually reached the entrance to Hogsmeade and stood just outside the threshold mumbling “We made it” between fits of hysterical laughing. But honestly, it was pretty cool: the steaming engines of the Howarts Express, the snow-covered rooftops, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry looming in the distance. We may have stood in front of it for a full minute before we decided to stop being ridiculous and go inside.
The first stop we made was Zonko’s which was just sensory overload. There were whiz-bang sounds going off and streamers blowing, and laughter that would just come from nowhere, which would be terrifying if it wasn’t in Zonko’s and therefore awesome. The best part was the detail in the packaging of all the things you could buy. Everything looked like an actual product: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans were in this striped paper box that could have come out of a British confectioner’s shop in 1890. There were these elaborate storefront windows with mechanized toys that would have made Uncle Drosselmeyer cry. The fictional products were made to look real and that killed me. I loved the fact that someone had to sit down and think about the design for a puking pastilles label. Yay, more fodder in my constant fight against reality!
But this was also our first introduction with what would become the theme of the day: Small spaces and masses of people. The creators of the Wizarding World wanted their visitors to feel like they were in the cozy village of Hogsmeade. That means the walkways are tight and the stores are like European boutiques. Great. However, when a family of four, still wearing their Mickey shirts (grrr), a Brazilian tour group, and you are all trying to look at a Sneakoscope, you kind of want to torch the place.
With the amount of people trying to get in, we thought our time would be confined to the growing fire-hazard that was Zonko’s, but with considerable and unfortunate shoving we made it out. It was then that we decided in get in the forty minute line for our chance to get a wand at Ollivander’s.
Waiting in line for Ollivander’s turned out to be pretty entertaining. First, we were standing in front of a man who was all alone (yes), wearing a shirt that read, “Snitches be cray” (HELL yes!). Then next to us, on the other side of the line was a man crouching down to his daughter going over spells with her. Oh, did I mention they were British? We. Died. “Father of the Year” goes to this guy. THEN, in the distance, the Frog Choir had come out on stage and were singing “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Perfection. When we actually got in the store, our Ollivander’s assistant was awesome and the kid he picked to get a wand was eleven and said his birthday was on July 30th. He was probably lying but commitment to detail my friend, I appreciate it.
This brings me to the actual Hogwarts ride. The queue for the ride was one of the coolest I’ve ever been in. Everybody makes an appearance: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, the house founders (Rowena’s Irish, who knew!), and the Fat Lady. It’s awesome. I really can’t tell you about the ride because it’s just too good to spoil but I can tell the “plot”: you’re visiting Hogwarts and about to sit in on a boring history lecture that Harry, Ron, and Hermione want to spare you from. Our trio whisk you away to give you their version of a Hogwarts tour and it proves to be much more entertaining. This was my favorite part of the entire park. I would have ridden this as many times as my inner ear would allow but there were souvenirs to buy!
Now, Swen and I are a proud Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw respectively. Yes, we are the forgotten houses but we don’t care; I don Rowena’s diadem with pride and if Swen’s complexion would allow her to wear yellow, she would! We were so stoked to get every piece of merch with our houses on it but alas, even though this is supposed to be the place to buy everything Harry Potter, there was still a lack of Huffle/Raven merch. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not completely disenfranchised but the coolest things like Quidditch shirts and Head Boy/Girl pins fell to the Gryffindors and Slytherins. A little deflated, we bought nice glasses with the Hogwarts crest on them. It’s something, but a note to the badgers and eagles out there: Etsy is your best friend if you want to show your school spirit. But at least there were robes! Of course, they cost a small fortune so I couldn’t buy one but Scott, a great guy working in the gift shop, let me try on a Ravenclaw robe and got me Remus Lupin’s wand so I could take a picture that would give me joy in my quiet moments.
The only thing that would have made my Wizarding World experience any better would be seeing characters from the actual wizarding world. I know Daniel Radcliff’s face is all over the park and having a kid dressed up as him would be kind of weird, but no: I wanna meet Harry Potter and take a picture with him! I wanna meet Dumbledore and Snape and whole bunch of people who…died…in the books. Huh. I can see why we skipped this idea.
On the whole though, we had an amazing time in the park, despite it’s ridiculous name (how exactly does one go a-wizarding?). And the great thing was that Swen and I didn’t really feel that weird about melting down over mandrakes and plotting in the Three Broomsticks (which we totally did!) ’cause where else are you going to do that but in this huge homage to everything Harry Potter?
So I don’t know if any of you out there know people who work for marketing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure but if you do, tell them I think they need to incorporate another angle to their campaign. Yes, kids are going to go to their park because they’re kids and their park has rides and candy. But there are also adults who have spent far too much time thinking about socio-economic prejudices against the use of floo powder. Adults whose timeless love of Harry Potter will overpower their cynicism…just long enough to buy things.