A Peek into Harry Potter’s Magical World

photo 1Day 27.

Miles Driven (back and forth to parks): 146

Today is the day to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. I first began reading the Harry Potter collection when I was in fourth grade and in a way, I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They were my friends and I joined them on their adventures. When the movies can out, that was even better! Harry’s world came to life! Two years ago, when mom and I were in London, we visited the Warner Brother’s studios and their preserved collection of sets and costumes.

And now, NOW, we get to see the theme park inspired by the world J. K. Rowling created. I’m so EXCITED!

I was a little disappointed when I heard that the new section of Harry Potter world, Diagon Alley, would not be opening until July 8th, but that’s ok. I’ll just have to come again some day.

We waited in line for our entrance tickets and requested one park passes. The ticket agent whispered to us, “Are you here for Harry Potter?” “Um, yes. Yes we are.” “I heard they might be opening Diagon Alley around 2pm today for an early run. You should get a park hopper so you can ride the train too.” – What! Really?! We can see the new part early? Yes please!

photo 2With tickets in hand, we set off for Hogwarts (the school Harry goes to). We ventured through Jurassic Park and had lunch before crossing the bridge into Hogsmeade Village. The Hogwarts castle loomed above us. I felt like I was in a little snow-covered village in England, only it was 95F. All of the employees were in character and enthusiastic. First shop was Ollivander’s Wand Emporium where we watched two sisters receive their wands (they had to buy them of course).

photo 5There was so much to look at. Each shop window was detailed with items and props from the books and movies. All around the village were interactive windows where someone with a wand can practice a charm and cause something to happen in the window. It was very fun to see what magic would occur at each window.

I rode the ride inside the castle, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It was like Disney’s Sorin’ on speed. A combination of video and built scenes, we were chased by a dragon, played quidditch, and fought off hp4dementors.

My favorite part was riding the Hogwarts Express to London. We sat in real train cars and watched the English countryside zoom past while Hogwarts students pressed their nose against the glass of our compartment. Everything felt so real!

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photo 4The train dropped us off at King’s Cross Station and we exited onto platform 9¾. We could even see people disappear through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 (magic or illusion?) and walked through the London underground onto Piccadilly Circus. We could see no. 12 Grimmauld Place (Kreature the house elf would look out the window) and the Night Bus. Ernie the conductor was a hoot! We passed through the secret passage into Diagon Alley. Everything was there from Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes joke shop to Gringotts bank complete with fire-breathing dragon and live goblin. Knockturn Alley was just as spooky as described!

We spent the day just looking at everything and inspecting all of the details. I was so impressed!

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At 6:30 we met up with our friends, Brandon and Korie, from church who had recently moved to Florida. Brandon got a job at Disney and just loves working there. We had dinner at the Universal City Walk and talked about everything Harry Potter and Disney (we received some insider information!) A great end to an excellent day!

Total Miles: 4,442

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Feeling Patriotic and how EPCOT helped me realize that

photo 1It is now day 26 of our great American road trip! We are in Florida, it’s Independence Day, and photo 5who has the best fireworks? Disney of course! Lets go!

We had been on a Disney only trip to Florida before and we really wanted to see EPCOT again. The rides are easy and fun but the best part is the World Showcase, featuring many countries along the shores of the central lake.

From the minute you step out of the car, you are showered with Disney magic starting with the background music, a quick tram ride, and you are whisked in through the gate. Disney recently started new FastPass+ tickets that are linked to your entrance ticket and allow you to reserve rides days ahead of time. I think this really helped keep the wait relatively short.

photo 4Our first ride, Spaceship Earth, inside the EPCOT sphere, brings you on a journey through time visiting all of the great inventions that helped develop today’s civilization, culture, and technology. At the end of the ride we were asked questions on what parts of your future are most important. Disney sees my future as living in a floating house in the city with lots of trips to my under water vacation home, plus I’ll have a robot to take care of the cats when I’m away. The future looks bright!

We rode Mission to Mars and Test Track, but the informational boat ride, Living with the Earth, was fascinating! It brought us on a tour of some of Disney World’s growing grounds and showed some of the newest technology for growing crops. Did you know that Disney World grows almost all of its produce on the Disney property? Anything they can’t grow, they source locally. We had no idea that the orange groves we drove through to get to EPCOT would eventually become the juice available at the restaurants.

photo 2The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring the World Showcase. We had a lunch of wurst in photo 3Germany and crème brule in France for dessert. I was so impressed with how detailed the architecture was. As we passed from country to country I felt like I was in San Marco Square in Venice or a little street in Paris. We enjoyed watching all of the short films that showcased the beautiful scenery and customs from each country. In a way, EPCOT is the perfect example for America. It is a land full of many foods and cultures all living together. They share their customs and history and welcomes everyone.

In the evening, Disney presented the most fantastic fireworks accompanied by patriotic music. The finale was so intense and close, I almost ducked!

The past years, I have been so anxious to get out and go somewhere new. I got the chance to study abroad and travel all over Europe and it was so hard to come back. But now, on our Great American Road Trip, I notice that the USA has so much different scenery, cultures, and food than what is in my little hometown. I can appreciate, travel, and learn about this beautiful country that is America. On the way out of the park, I could not get one of the songs that was played during the fireworks out of my head:

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.”