Saturday, January 10, 2015

Harry Potter World!

After a restful night in our swank room, we were ready to finally hit Harry Potter World!  The hotel not only had a free water taxi going over to Universal Studios, but you also were allowed to enter an hour before the official opening time.  The gates opened, and we were part of an excited crowd jogging through Universal to be the first to Diagon Alley.  From a distance you could see the white tower of Gringott's Bank with the escaping dragon perched on top.

You walk past King's Cross Station, duck into a gap in the brick wall--and you're walking onto the movie set.
Everything contributed to the feeling of aged fantasy.  None of the walls were quite straight; the
colors were originally vibrant (blues and purples) but now faded and subdued.  Music from the sound tracks filled the air.  We dropped off our bags (you're not allowed to carry anything onto the rides, but lockers are provided) and walked into Gringott's bank.
Our timing for this visit was perfect--after Thanksgiving, but before Christmas breaks.  All of the attractions are designed to have the lines be part of the experience--but it's even better when there actually aren't any crowds there.  We could walk through at our own pace and explore the richness of the details.  Slowly we walked down to the basement, and then . . . got on the ride.  I knew I was in for an experience when we picked up 3D glasses.  We fell over cliffs, followed the dragon as it broke through the walls, and felt the heat as Voldemort threw a fireball straight into our faces.  It was quite the wild ride--and, when we got off, we looked at each other, giggled, and walked right back it for another go at it.
Then we just wandered around and admired everything.  We were startled by a grumbling roar, and then a blast of fire from the dragon.  You could feel the heat wave from it--which was nice, because it was a bit cool and drizzling.  We checked out the display of wands, and walked through Ollivander's wand shop.

At other wand shop (Gregorivitch's) we watched a number of people selecting their "working wands".  These turned out to be interactive wands--they came with a map of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.  At various places you could wave your wand, and watch window displays come to life, fountains shoot water, and a suit of armor pull itself out of a metal jumble on the floor.  I didn't indulge in a wand myself, but enjoyed watching the magic all around.  And enjoying all the sights--such as a drinks kiosk
And the mermaid fountain.
And speaking of drinks--it was time for our first butterbeer.  I knew you could get it cold, or frozen, but the elf at the bar took a look at our slightly damp and chilly selves and said "would you like to try it hot?"  Oh--what a mouthful of bliss.  I'm not certain what is in it (guesses on the web usually suggest a cream soda base) but it's rich and butterscotch and had a cream topping (we ended up having four each during our two days there).
And of course our favorite place was  Nocturn Alley, where the dark wizards shop.  This is where the camera and notebook came out, because we are always looking for inspiration for our haunted trail.

By now, we were ready for lunch--at the Leaky Cauldron.  Nice little pub, straight from the movie, with basic pub grub (I had a cottage pie, Bob had toad-in-the-hole).

In the afternoon, we got on the Hogwarts Express and rode over to Hogsmeade.
And it was there that we made the one mistake of the trip.  In our defense, it was sprinkling, which meant that the Dragon Challenge Ride was briefly closed.   So we saw the big looping roller coaster tracks, but didn't actually see the ride operating.  But we decided to go down into the Dragon's Lair anyway, just to look around.  And the ride started running again, so on we got.  Just as we started to roll, we realized that we were hanging from the track, not riding on it.  And in the hollow voice of the doomed, Bob said "Ann--it goes upside down."  It was too late to bail out.  It not merely went upside down--it corkscrewed.  We now know what a tether ball feels like.
In retrospect, we *had* been warned.  We were used to the usual warning signs--don't ride if you have heart problems, neck or back problems, are pregnant, etc.  Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the line that suggested removing any prosthetic limbs . . .
We survived, and staggered back to the lockers.  And at that point we decided that we had had enough fun for one day.  We headed back to the gates and the boat dock and were happy to get back to our room.  First, the longest hot shower, then a nap.  Woke up, raided the crackers and cheese, and went back to sleep.  Woke up awhile later, and had some tea and cookies--and went back to bed.
Thus ended Day 1.

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