Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Favourite Experience of 2010

I had a lot of fun experiences in 2010, but I think the best one was going to Universal Studios and seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before it was open to the general public. It was one of those things I wanted to blog about all year since I did it, but sadly, didn’t get the chance to. So I will now!

I went to Universal Studios immediately following my Slayage trip, which I blogged about back in June (well... all except for the last day, which I sadly never got around to talking about!) On our first day at Universal Studios, my friends Sue, Ryan, and Ian were joined by Cynthea, who had delivered an amazing paper at Slayage a couple of days earlier. Ian had been following the Twitter feed that was telling people how to get into the Harry Potter portion of the park, and he said you just hang around and the guards will tell you it’s closed, but they’re just trying to thin the herd before they let the hangers-on in. So we did that, standing in the burning sun with the perspiration trickling down our backs, when finally a manager came out to say that no, they weren’t lying, there was something wrong with one of the rides. So a bunch of angry people went up and began screaming and yelling at him about how they’d come from miles away (one woman had flown from England and this would be her only chance) and he apologized. I stepped up and began chatting with him and he said to come back the next day, and explained they’d signed some agreement with JK Rowling that they would never open a portion of the park; if a ride was down, they’d close the entire thing. Fine. We decided we’d return the next day, but sadly, Cynthea was only with us the one day.

So instead we went off to Universal Studios and since we were all dying of the heat, we hit the water rides. Here’s Cynthea, Ian, Ryan, and myself after going on the Popeye water canyon the first time.

But they all complained that while my body was soaked, my hair was relatively dry, so we hit it again. And sure enough, my side of the boat got stuck under a waterfall... so here we are after THAT happened.

Even my underwear was soaked. And the Dudley Do-Right ride was even more fun. Dr. Seuss Land is possibly the happiest place on Earth (or maybe I was just so giddily and childishly happy to be walking through it). And The Simpsons ride... there are no words for how much I loved this ride! Here I am with my best friend Sue hamming it up with the Jaws shark.

The whole park was incredible. The rides were amazing, the rollercoasters were a ton of fun, and I felt like a kid again.

The next day we headed back to Harry Potter Land, and the guards at the front gate were mumbling about the park being open this morning, but they were yelling at the people in line (we’d shown up at the crack of dawn so we were first) that we could NOT run through the park, we had to walk. We looked at each other and squeed, thinking this was it. We were SO getting in. Doors opened, and we passed through and began speed-walking towards the Wizarding World. At one turn the couple in front of us asked a park attendant if the Harry Potter world was open and he said, “Yup, it is,” and Ian and I looked at each other and just tore off, to the sounds of, “DON’T RUN!!” behind us. Poor Sue and Ryan... we just left them in our wake. Sue said after it was so funny watching us running. We were as giddy as children, holding hands and practically skipping the entire way there.

When we got there, we walked through the doors and right in front of us was the Hogwarts train. “Magical” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of walking through this world. It was 100 degrees outside, yet the village was snow-capped and it actually made it feel cool as you walked through. Well... I shouldn’t say “walked.” See, for the “soft opening” of this exhibit, they were only keeping it open for about two or three hours in the morning, and Ian and I were desperate to get on the big ride that was inside Hogwarts, so we were racing all the way through Hogsmeade and figured we’d see it later. We got there, and we ended up about 20 minutes in line ahead of Sue and Ryan, who were happily waving at us from where they were. The lineup for the ride takes you through Hogwarts, and you pass through Dumbledore’s office, and a room where the kids are whispering on a balcony (the actors were filmed in three-dimensional film so it looks like they’re actually in the room with you, which is amazing) and Ron starts a thunderstorm and Hermione switches the spell to snowflakes, and suddenly snow begins falling on you from above. It was just jaw-dropping.

In the hallways the portraits were arguing with each other, and then... the ride. The ride seats four (I wish we’d had all four of us on it at once!) and your legs dangle below you. It’s a mix of the ride moving and film rushing past you making you feel like the ride is bigger than it possibly is. You’re involved in a Quidditch match (I honestly feel like I’ve played Quidditch) and you pass through the Forbidden Forest, where things happen that elicited blood-curdling screams from me (I won’t say what they are... go see for yourself!) and then the Dementors come and the smoke and mirrors that happen when they show up are just astounding. By the end of it, Ian and I were out of breath and just delirious with happiness. I was thrilled to have done it.

And then we all met up at the Three Broomsticks, where we had Butterbeer, which I think is a mixture of cream soda and ginger ale to give it a bit more bite, and then they put this butterscotch foam on the top that swirls down into the drink. It was AMAZING.

At the post office you could get postcards stamped with the Hogwarts stamp. In the wand shop there were special effects that swirled around you as you tested out wands, and they told you when you’d found the wand that had chosen you. Ian and I also went on the kiddie Hippogriff rollercoaster, which was a laugh and had a couple of surprisingly steep drops. In the window of the bookshop, copies of Magical Me – complete with moving pictures of Gilderoy Lockhart gracing their covers – were in the windows. There were posters throughout that moved as well. A Quidditch ball set sat in a window of a sporting shop, with the Bludgers jumping around in the box, desperate to escape. And in the sweets shop, two attendants dressed as wizards squealed when they saw my t-shirt, and begged me to tell them where they could get one, too.

In the past few months I’ve reread the first Harry Potter book to my daughter, and we’re now on Chamber of Secrets. I’ve also seen the latest Harry Potter film. And as I read the books and watch the movies, I feel like I’ve actually been there now. I’ve walked the halls of Hogwarts, I’ve played Quidditch, I’ve rubbed shoulders with people in The Three Broomsticks. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World at Universal Studios is a must-see experience. It’s truly amazing, and something I will never forget.


humanebean said...

Sounds awesome, Nik! My sweetheart has been itching to go since we first heard about it and I'm pretty sure that your description sealed the deal. She had tried to get me to read the books for some time before I finally caved (I think the first 5 had come out before I started them). I thought they were freaking FANTASTIC and unsurprisingly better than most of the films. Prisoner of Azkaban was the film highlight for me - but I have to say that the first installment of The Deathly Hallows ranks second for me.

Thanks for sharing!

Erin {pughs' news} said...

That is so awesome, Nikki! One day I'll go... Can't wait!

Austin Gorton said...

I can't WAIT to check this out. So excited.

And I know all too well the drenchings you can receive via that Popeye ride. My wife and I rode it whilst at Universal on our honeymoon and got SOAKED. We spent like half an hour in front several large fans trying to dry off enough to not be sopping wet by our dinner reservations. It was awesome.

Rebecca T. said...

I am SO dying to go there! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us :D

Cynthea said...

I want to go back!

Unknown said...

ohmygoodness... That sounds Amazing! :D I so want to go one day. *drools and is jealous*