April 14, 2012 by Ray Yanek
I wrote before about my daughter’s love of Harry Potter. That post is over here. My first-grade son also enjoys the occasional romp through Hogwarts and, as fans, they were well aware of the Harry Potter world at Universal Studios in Orlando.
My daughter finished all the Potter books quite some time ago, and she has the movies memorized. She starts junior high next year, contacts have replaced her glasses, and I know more changes are a comin’. My wife and I decided that if we were going to Potter Land in Orlando, it would have to be this summer. We had to strike, we knew, while the iron was hot.
We started vacation club accounts. The kids saved money from Christmas, birthdays, allowances, and whatever they could find in the dryer. We planned on driving to Orlando after my high school semester ended and before the summer semester at the college, where I also teach, began.
I seriously miscalculated the number of days available in that span.
Spring Break then, looked to be the best time to go.
This will be my second cliché in this post, I know, but really, it is funny how things work out sometimes.
What to say about Harry Potter world? It was packed with people, chaos, and stress. But I was amazed. We wondered into Hogsmeade with its snow-capped cottages, bent chimneys, and shops that advertised all sorts of wonders. We waited in line for an hour to watch Ollivander help a young girl (who sadly was not mine) choose the proper wand. We drank Butter Beer, bought snitches, and had lunch at the Three Broomsticks. At times, I would ask my daughter to clarify certain things from the books, which she happily did. At other times, I would simply glance over to see if her eyes were as filled with as much wonder as my own must have been.
They were. At times. When she wasn’t ogling the roller coasters in the distance, side-stepping the crowd, or fighting with her brother. I expected more, though. I expected a little more wonder from this girl with the life-size cut-out of Ron Weasley in her bedroom.
Truth be told, with the crowd, it was pretty overwhelming, though.
Still, the little twinge of something I felt inside bothered me just a bit.
Throughout our wonderings, Hogwarts—huge, dark, imposing—sat high above the town square, waiting.
Finally, we headed that way.
The line for the ride inside Hogwarts was, predictably, the longest we encountered at Universal, but it moved fast.
Too fast, I thought.
We followed railings into the school’s cavernous rooms. We met Harry and Ron and Hermoine in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. They hatched a plan to sneak us into a Quiddich match on a bench Hermoine would enchant. We spoke with Dumbledore in his office. We saw a field of floating candles. The subjects of the portraits on the walls moved and talked amongst themselves. One especially crotchety painting complained about the invasion of Muggles in those hallowed halls.
The line came to a halt. In the crowd that surrounded us, I heard my daughter whisper: “Good thing I’m not a Muggle” to no one in particular.
Then the line moved on.
Seemingly even faster than before.
The ride was intense. Half 3-D movie-half roller coaster, Hermoine’s enchanted bench whisked us after Harry on his broom. We zipped over the Quiddich field, fought off the Whomping Willow and were spit at by giant spiders. I screamed. My wife screamed. My daughter screamed and laughed. At one point, when the bench spun us into the face of a Dementor no more than three-feet away, I thought we’d have to buy my son a wizard’s robe to replace his pants.
I said my son’s pants. Not mine. Really.
I did though, leave the ride queasy and off-balance. My daughter? Not so much. She was ready for the Dragon’s Challenge—a more traditional roller coaster without the virtual reality elements, but it was still filled with twists and turns and loops and drops.
I took a breath, reminded myself that I was a man (I may have even cracked my knuckles) and figured I could recover my bearings as we waited in line.
A five minute wait for the Dragon’s Challenge.
Five minutes. At an amusement park. In Orlando.
Only five minutes before I’m screaming louder than my daughter and praying to sweet Mary and Jesus. We went upside down. We sped through corkscrews and turns. We spun through something called a “cobra twist” We went upside down. Again. We even went underground once or twice.
And we did it fast. Very fast.
But I survived. I wobbled off the ride and did knuckle punches with my daughter as we laughed and talked about how great it had been.
Awesome, she said.
Despite my urge to hurl in the Tri-Wizard’s Cup, I was happy and content.
Yet there was something about her choice of descriptor. She’s used the word awesome a million times before, but it was different this time. The tone maybe. Perhaps the inflection.
I felt that twinge one more time.
My son had been too short for the Dragon’s Challenge, and he was itching for an adrenaline rush of his own. My daughter was still buzzing from the last ride, and we had a blast the day before on the log rides at SeaWorld, so the two of them talked us into trying the water rides at Universal.
And with that, we left the Harry Potter section of the park.
As we did, I again snuck glances at my daughter, wondering if she would look back over her shoulder to get one last view of Hogsmeade.
With her brother in tow, she raced far ahead of me and my wife, excited for the next adventure.
On the long drive home, my daughter started reading another book. She refused to put it down. That was about three weeks ago now and since then, the Harry Potter posters on her bedroom wall have started to come down. Ron Weasley now stands guard outside in the hallway.
She needed more wall space, she told me, for her new posters and drawings of another fictional character named Katniss.
And of Peeta.
A whole lot of Peeta.
It’s funny, really, how things work out some times.