In 1998, my mother came back from work one day, a book for me nestled in her bag. This was not an unusual occurrence, as I was a voracious reader from a young age, reading everything from well, books, to the back of shampoo bottles in the bathtub.
My mother worked as a teacher and had befriended the librarian at her school. This wonderful woman knew how much I loved literature and would often give Mum books to take home for me to read before they became available in the school library. As a youngster, I was better connected than the Italian Mafia.
The events of this particular afternoon are still vivid in my memory, as are any monumental moments in one’s life. My mother’s green Mazda Astina pulled into the driveway and I ran out to meet her. She hugged me in greeting.
“I’ve got something for you,” she said and pulled the book out of her bag. It was by a British author, she told me. Published last year, it was already getting rave reviews in the UK and had just become available in Australia. The librarian had read it and recommended it personally for me.
The book in question was, of course, a copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.
I kissed my mother in thanks and ran to my room, nose already buried in the book. I still remember reading that first line – Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. That was it. I was hooked. My life would never be the same again.
I was nine years old when I started reading Harry Potter. At eighteen, I was in my first year of University in 2007, when the final book was published. These books saw me through two big and scary moves; from Sydney, to the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW, then to the costal town of Newcastle. As I settled into each new place, I could count books as my only friends, having to continuously take up the task of making new ones every time we moved
The release of a new Harry Potter book was a quiet affair in rural Australia. By the time the seventh book became available, I had a system in place. I would line up early at my local department store and purchase the book, along with a microwave meal and the now discontinued Cadbury’s Marble Chocolate (which is upsetting for me, but great for my waistline.). I would then lock myself in my room for the next seven to eight hours, leaving only to use the toilet and heat up my meal, neither of which would deter me from my reading. When I read the last word of the last page, I would stop, reflect for a few moments and then begin it all over again.
I was continuously jealous of the fanfare overseas, namely in the UK and USA, surrounding the book releases. People lined up from midnight, dressing up in costumes, waving their wands around. It was certainly a group affair, a social activity. It seemed so much fun.
Although the fanfare from the books and movies had come and gone, there was still the odd opportunity to get involved in Harry Potter related fanfare. Living in London, I could have gone to see the Harry Potter Studio Tour in the UK, but decided to go the extra mile. Or 4,000 odd of them.
So, in early 2015 I flew to New York to catch up with Sarah. I would spend a week in New York, then we decided we would go off to explore a city within the USA that neither of us had ventured to before.
“Is there anything specific you want to do while you are here?” Sarah asked, over Skype.
“Go to Harry Potter world! Go to Harry Potter World!” I chanted as I jumped around my bedroom.
Sarah was game. This is why we are friends.
So eighteen years after the Harry Potter books first came out, we were finally going to Hogwarts! Neither one of us could contain our excitement.
We booked flights and accommodation for Orlando in Florida over what ended up being the Easter Weekend, although we did not realise this at the time. It was decided that we would purchase the two park one day tickets and go on Easter itself. This ended up working greatly in our favour. Although the park was still busy, it was nowhere near as jam packed as it would have been on a normal weekend. The longest we had to wait for a ride was around 40 mins and I had heard on any other day, the wait could be up to two hours long.
We started off in Diagon Alley. From there you could catch a ride on the Hogwarts Express, to disembark in Hogsmeade.
One of the joys of reading books are the worlds you get to create in your head. This always upset me whenever I went to see the Harry Potter films at the cinema.
“Harry has green eyes! NOT BLUE.” I would shake my fist at the screen, every time Daniel Radcliffe had the nerve to grace it.
Walking now, through the streets of ‘Hogsmeade’ and ‘Diagon Alley’, I felt a little uncomfortable. So many of my most loved novels standalone as books, not franchises. I had thought it would be exciting to see my favourite series ever, translated into real life.
What shocked me most about Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, was the rampant consumerism prevalent. Everywhere you turned, in a park that was already costly to enter, was someone trying to make a dollar off you. Each shop was brimming with overpriced souvenirs. Most popular of all, were the plastic wands that you could buy from Ollivanders. There was an interactive set up at the park so that if you took the purchased wands to designated spots and waved them around, it would set off various installations – appearing to have been enforced by magic. It seemed neat at the time, but it was the sort of thing that kids would end up discarding upon returning home in two seconds flat.
The park did me one great service. As I walked around it, the resentment I had long felt, faded. I began to value all those times I had lined up for my books, with little to no fanfare. It meant that for me, Harry Potter had remained pure; simply a wonderful tale that I lost myself in, time and time again. I remember those moments now as the story of a young girl, her books and the intense joy that reading them brought her. It is a solitary tale, but sometimes this is okay, if not necessary.
Sarah and I ended up having a great day. We went on almost all of the rides – the Triwizard Tournament was my personal favourite. We each had two Butterbeers, which tasted unreal. You could choose between liquid and frozen. It tasted like liquid butterscotch, which goes all right in my books. We joked to each other that we had finally received those long-awaited letters, inviting us to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And it was more time I got to spend with my lovely friend.
Eventually, we ditched Harry Potter’s Wizarding World and went to Jurassic Park. Because, dinosaurs.
The Small Stuff
We paid $147 USD each for a one day ticket, two park ticket. I would recommend timing your arrival with a weekday or holiday, if you value your sanity. Definitely book online and bring a print out if you can. If not, they will print it out at the park, but it involves more lining up. Sarah and I spent all up, around $50 USD each on food. We did not buy any souvenirs.
Staying in a hotel near the parks is a great idea, in theory. Universal Studios is in walking distance from most of these hotels; you really do not need to catch a shuttle to the park. Please note, there are no shuttle buses from what I could see from the hotels to the airport and one trip in a taxi costs over $50 USD with tip. Upon the recommendation of a friend, I booked an Uber back to the airport and it cost me half the price.