Like any good later 80s baby, when Harry Potter was first published, my afternoons and way past my bedtimes were spent perched on my bean bag chair next to my lava lamp with a Harry Potter book in hand. Over the years, as each subsequent book was released, I became more and more engrossed... until yearbook editing, cheerleading practice, and Spanish homework took priority (and truly Harry was a bit too angsty for me in book 5). The years passed, and I moved on from the series, feeling like it was a bit too daunting to begin again and play catch up.
Chip, on the other hand, didn't start with Harry Potter quite as young, but once he began, he was hooked. He may have even gone to the midnight release party for the 7th book... we have no shame in our nerdiness.
A few months ago Audible released the entire series of Harry Potter audiobooks, and suddenly it seemed a possibility for me to dive back in. With lots of travel for shoots I spend quite a bit of time in the car, so I thrive on audiobooks & podcasts mixed with long catch-ups with friends!
When we decided we'd be cruising the Caribbean and discovered we'd have an extra day to spend on vacation, there was no doubt where we would spend it: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando. Therefore, I've been binge listening to the books any chance I get! Yesterday afternoon on my way home from a wedding in Atlanta, I officially finished the final book. Truly, I'm sad to see my time with Harry and his friends go! What an amazing story full of creativity, bravery and friendship!
When we went to the park, we had high expectations, but nothing could have prepared me for the awe-inspiring creativity there. Y'all, I love nothing more than seeing someone's dream come to life and the way creatives produce unforgettable experiences when in their elements. Harry Potter World was a perfect example of this! I'm still blown away by how no detail was left untouched - it really made the story come to life even more. I'm still totally geeking out over here! Here are a few iPhone photos from our adventures!
If you are a Harry Potter fan in the least bit, you must visit Harry Potter World! Regardless of your love of the magical stories, there are certain things that can be appreciated by wizards & muggles (non-magic folk) alike! Here are my top 5 takeaways and tips for Harry Potter World!
- Attention to detail is key. If you can imagine a designer making a bullet pointed list of every detail in the book and then making that come to life, that's basically what Diagon Alley felt like. From the rows of shops & signs, to the line for the ride at Gringotts, the wizarding bank, every detail was perfect executed. In Hogsmeade, the "icicles" even actually dripped! I mean, what?! They could have been fine with "good enough," but they took everything to the next level to be truly remarkable!
- If you're going to do it, do it right. What we didn't know before booking tickets is that Diagon Alley & Hogwarts/Hogsmeade are actually in two different parks. Yes, you have to pay more for a park-hopper pass, but our theory was that if we were there for one day only, it was worth it to have the full experience. And we were so thankful for that hunch! We wanted the "experience" that Harry and his friends would have in each book, so we began at Diagon Alley, and then took the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Finally, we enjoyed a meal at the Three Broomsticks, where Butterbeer is a must! We recommend the frozen because, what's better than something of a butterscotch cream soda slushie?
- Some things are worth the wait. We arrived early and beelined to Diagon Alley to discover that the Gringotts ride was already an hour wait (hello a Sunday with nice weather on a 3-day weekend!). About 30 minutes into the wait, the ride broke down, at which point we risked the wait for about 20 more minutes before the attendants let us know that we would have to come back - however... they gave us free express passes to return! Wow! What could have been a bummer was quickly turned into a positive customer service experience! And what a difference the express passes made! We were literally on the ride within minutes of entering! It was well worth our earlier wait, but almost made it even more special that we benefitted from being patient. (As a note, you can also buy express passes, but our vacation budget won out in this case! In case you're like us, there is an app that lets you know the wait times for each of the rides so you can plan accordingly!)
- It's fun to see through the eyes of a child. I have found that when I'm truly in awe of something, I peer around wide-eyed with a giddy smile on my face. I essentially had that look the entire time exploring the park. One memorable portion is when the kids get to "do spells" with their wands. In various spots, visitors with interactive wands can say spells to levitate a feather, make it "rain," and even turn on the water fountain. Without fail, every child was thrilled to see their magic at work. As adults, we tend to see the reality of the situation, but for one day, seeing the world with child-like fascination was pretty magical.
- Leaving an element of surprise adds to the magic. We have had friends visit Harry Potter World previously, so knew generally what to expect, but the elements of surprise and specific details we experienced added to the magic! It was a great reminder in business that we must manage expectations for our clients, but a little fun surprise here and there makes the experience all that more memorable! More than anything, I recommend getting yourself an Audible account to listen to the books and then popping down to Orlando to see them come to life for yourself! It's just not the same until you're actually walking into the wizarding shops with a Butterbeer in hand next to your favorite muggle! :)
And now that I've officially shown just how nerdy I can get over something like a theme park (ha!), to see more travel photos & hear takeaways from those adventures, check out these posts: