Call us crazy, but we made the trip to Orlando during Christmas Break, along with every other family in the Central and Eastern timezones. Boy, was it packed! by lunchtime you could hardly move up the main thoroughfare, but with the help from some websites, and a little pre-planning, I can officially dub our first Harry Potter experience a success.
I remember years ago attending an Early Childhood conference with Bev Boss. She suggested foregoing the whole "Disneyland thing" and taking your children to a pond or on a hike, where the memories they make are just as lasting, if not more so, and your wallet stays a whole lot fatter. While I wholeheartedly support this perspective, I also think there is a time and place for Disney/Universal. We won't be making a yearly pilgrimage, but it was worth the one day expense to see Ben's face as his wish for his eighth birthday came true a month earlier than he'd expected.
We chose the one day/one park option. We got there before the gates opened at 8:00 a.m. and we were one of 10 cars in the parking lot. They let us in early because we needed to rent a wheelchair for Grandma JoJo, who was feeling a bit under the weather. With the surprise early entry I sent Dean and kids running to the line at the Hogwarts ride and then I pushed that wheelchair (and my momma) up the nearly deserted streets of Hogsmeade to get in line with them.
We found them standing outside the castle gates waiting for us because there literally was no line. What? after everything I'd read on line about the hours and hours of waiting and the horror stories of the park shutting down because of overcrowding? We walked right on, even letting others in front of us so we could enjoy the walk through Hogwarts a little more. They really did it right. You feel like you are a part of the wizarding world. It's beautiful and exciting and thrilling all at the same time.
So, we joined Harry, Ron, and Hermoine in a Quidditch match and battled Dementors and the Whomping Willow. We saw Snape and Dumbledore and Prof. McGonnigal. We chose a wand at Ollivander's and sipped Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. We bought Chocolate Frogs and saw the Hogwarts Express and flew with a Hippogriff and then we looked at our watch and realized it was 9:30 a.m. The streets were already filling up and it wasn't quite as magical as it had been for the hour and a half we'd had it mostly to ourselves.
The entrance to Hogsmeade
The other side of platform 9 3/4.
Grandma JoJo's fond memories of Harry Potter's ride.
Creamy and delicious, Butterbeer!
Ollivander and his wand shop.
Little did we know it, but this photo op would be next to impossible just a few short hours later.
We came back for lunch and hardly recognized the place. It didn't matter. Like Dean said, we did what we came to do, the rest was just icing. Thanks Harry. We'll be back, probably not for a long time, but you'll lure us in again with your Butterbeer and the promise of new adventures in The Diagon Alley Theme Park they're building next door, complete with a Gringotts Bank roller coaster and a moving Hogwarts Express, so that next time we'll have to break down and purchase those parkhopper passes. Oh Universal, you know how to part us from our Muggle money...