“Is this the line for Harry Potter-land?” Sean asked the Universal Studios guide, who directed the growing line of tourists now stretching the entire length of the park. “Or is this just for some one of the rides?”
“If you want to piss in Hogwarts, this is the line,” she muttered back to him thrusting a wad of stand-by tickets into our hands before moving further down the queue. Sean was left speechless for several seconds, a true achievement had the guide known it. I would have shook her hand, if I didn’t think that she might bite it.
“Universal must hire all the rejects from Disney World,” he frowned back in line. “All the ones that refuse to smile, assist the elderly and lie blatantly to the tourists.”
Of course, we would not have to worry about the lines at all if I had managed to wake everyone a half-hour earlier. We had spent much of Monday night and Tuesday morning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: riding deserted mine carts to Everest, encountering yetis, waiting for the resort bus to arrive and cart us back sweaty and claustrophobic to our rooms. Sleep was a rare commodity. However, traveling in Disney World always demands a certain degree of strategy: late to bed, early to rise. Otherwise you risk both the Florida heat and the Orlando crowds, the equivalent of walking on hot coals after showering in gasoline.
Normally a few extra minutes of sleep would not have mattered, the difference of an extra person or two, a missed bus, another ten minutes standing sweating but nothing more. Yet, today the winds of fate (and one over-sized blue van) had carried us the recently opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. Fifteen minutes could be catastrophic.
One by one I shook the troops from their beds. Charley, usually a corpse in the morning, exploded from beneath his sheets, already in shorts and a pink ‘Talk Ugly to Me, Baby’ t-shirt, humming some off-key tune that resembled the Tebbybears’ “Cobrastyle.” The others proved far more resistant; I nearly rolled my sister and cousin from their bed before their eyes flickered; Kevin smacked me on the nose. Sean, I suspect, never truly awoke until we jumped into the family van. But Charley, ah . . . obsession gives man a certain energy. . .
I was tying my shoes when he popped out of the bathroom and pointed his finger at the table.
“Accio hat!” he commanded. I pushed his hat, shaped like Pluto, across the table. He scooped it up and placed it on his head with a wave.
“I hope to use that same spell once we get to the park. If Emma Watson is anywhere in the vicinity, she’ll come flying into my arms.” He smiled, tossing the hat’s floppy ears behind his head.
“Who?” Sean cries with a yawn from the pull-out sofa.
“Hermione in the movies,” I answer. “Charley has a thing for her.”
“Oh my God, she is so hot.” Charley shudders as Brigid and my cousin Kathleen emerge from the rooms, their hair a tangled bird’s nest.
“Do we have time for a shower?” they ask together. “Or breakfast?”
“Neither. We’re late already. But grab me a glass from the shelf over there. Charley is drooling on the floor.”
“Murph,” Ryan said striding into the suite with his shirt tangled like a cat’s cradle between his arms, ears and nose. “Do you think they’ll give away any details about the last few books? I mean on the rides and stuff. If they give anything away like who dies . . . or the ending I . . .”
“Don’t worry, bud. The whole park is based off the movies so I doubt they’ll give too much away.”
Ryan had been reading Rowlings books since high school, but in part of his dyslexia and ADHD, he never procured the patience to finish the series. Still he refuses to watch any of the movies until he has finished the books, a Catch-22 considering the popularity of the series. Yet in recent months, he has availed himself of the marvelous audiobook series, growing more and more excited with each subsequent volume. At this moment he – like the rest of us – is a complete book-hoarding Snape-hating Pot-head.
“ ‘Cause I’m not done with the fifth book yet, and I’ve heard someone important dies . . .”
“Harry dies. Hermione dies. Ron dies. Gandalf dies in a horrid love tryst with Gargamel. The whole lot ends up cursed and dead,” Sean yawns again. “Come on. Let’s get going before the legion of nerds attacks the park.”
Judging from the crowds, the nerd-legion had besieged the park overnight. The twisting paths swelled with middle-aged men in Hogwarts robes and teenage girls adorned with lightning scars. As we walked, Ryan and Charley dueled with each other, having procured two sticks . . . er wands. However, upon reaching the entrance, we found it barred and a trail of humanity extending from the ironclad gates. Following the crowds through the enormous wooden portcullis of Jurassic Park, the adjacent ‘island’ of animatronic dinosaurs, we came to the realization that the line stretched all the way back to the park turnstiles, the entrance to Universal, behind a mob of several hundreds. We stopped before the model of a smiling Spinosaurus, frozen emerging from the foliage, to weigh our options:
- a) Walk back to the entrance like good boys and girls to wait patiently behind several hundred people
- b) Forget Harry Potter; enjoy the rest of the park’s attractions, now veritably empty
- c) Insert ourselves into the flow with little to no consideration for others
Easiest multiple choice ever. We formulated an impromptu plan. Brigid – not as eager for wizardry as the rest of us – was whining about food and water for much of our trek through the jungle landscape. Spying a concession stand near the visitor center, we bought a small supply of snacks (water, Gatorade, and apples) and slowed in the shadow of a large palm to watch for gaps. Down the hillside, the crowd slowed behind a large man in a black ‘Muggleborn’ t-shirt. Casually the eight of us walked away from the stall’s counter and into line.
I kept my head down somewhat nervous lest one of the more indignant parents should shout or protest. No one cared. The guy behind us, still red of face, seemed more concerned with breathing than citing a complaint. Sean patted me on the back with a wink. An old man in front of us shot us a smile: “Nice work! I don’t blame you.”
Later I realized that the line for the Wizarding World stretched halfway across the entire park. I suppose for the sake of movement, Universal decided to regulate how many guests they would allow into Hogwarts at one time. With the Wizarding World forming the newest Island of Adventure and Harry Potter attracting more adulation than most religious figures and Elvis, nearly all the early arrivals made a beeline for the snow-steeped castle to buy Marauder’s maps and suckle butterbeer. Still as Hogwarts encompasses only a small fraction of the 110 acre park, crowd control proved quite an endeavor. In true Orlando-style visitors entering the park were ushered immediately from turnstile to queue simply to walk through the streets of Hogsmeade. That more lines awaited them inside for the rides, the food trolleys, hell . . . the privies, yet few seemed to care.
“This is by far the single most awesome moment in my life,” Ryan sobbed offering the pink-faced guide his tear-stained ticket. Charley said nothing but gazed through the crowds, scanning the collection of tawny mop-headed girls for Emma Watson look-a-likes while I fired shot after shot with my camera; Kathleen stared hungrily at the various carts and wagons serving butterbeer and pumpkin juice, her empty stomach growled menacingly. Brigid and Kevin appeared less than impressed. Sean yawned.
To those unexposed to the novels and movies, I suppose that the collection of close-knit shops, dreary and ashen, frosted with faux snow clumps, like frosting dribbling off burnt toast. I gazed at Zonko’s Joke Shop, but crowds had already started to form outside the single door; crushed faces pressed tightly against the inside glass scoured the waiting lines for gaps and hope for escape. Before the advancing crowd could pack us in, we jumped into the line for the Dueling Dragon coaster, an old Universal ride recently inducted into Harry Potter-land as the First Challenge of the Tri-Wizard tournament.
What the ride lacked in originality, it made up for in Potter-memorabilia. Standing in line we photographed ourselves before Hagrid’s hut and Mr. Wesley’s demolished flying car. Even the ominous Goblet of Fire made its appearance, prompting Kathleen to hurl balls of signed paper into its foaming mouth.
“Oh come on,” she stammered. “Like you weren’t thinking the same thing.”
But the best vantage point was that of Hogwarts Castle itself, peeking out from behind the evergreens; two winged boars guarded the metal gates, keeping watch over the mob pushing and shoving outside. The scene reminded me faintly of Frankenstein. Charley paused to stare at the castle, blocking the path for a group of Nicaraguans in orange t-shirts; his eyes glistened with such longing I thought he might start drooling again (He had already scared half the patrons at the gate when he brandished a stick from his jeans began shouting “Accio Hermione! Accio Emma Watson! Accio for the love of God . . . please!”).
“Take my picture, Murph!” he said breaking from his trance. “Hogwarts . . . It’s like a wet dream . . . so beautiful.”
After the roller coaster, the boys set their sight on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a moving roller coaster/movie that took visitors through and around Hogwarts grounds. Spying the seventy-five minute wait time, Sean and Bree opted out and ventured to the rest of the park. The rest of us were left to brave the crowding mass of human bodies, pushing and shoving one another to enter the castle. Luckily a portion of the wait involved a tour of the castle: we saw the Mirror of Erised, the Potions classroom, the Great Hall, lifelike paintings holding council and the Greenhouse, in which we played several games of twenty questions. The wait proved shorter than expected, little less than an hour, and the eager excited shouts from the other guests kept spirits high. One group began singing:
. . . double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Something wicked this way comes!
Other songs were far more disturbing:
Harry is brave
Harry is great
It’s with Harry
I’d choose to mate
Yeah, fangirls scare me: shrieking, screaming, sighing over magical propaganda, torrid fan fiction, and imagined couplings (Harry x Hermione, Ginny x Malfoy, Harry x Malfoy). Kathleen tutted next to me and for half a moment I entertained the fragile hope for the survival of our nerd-species.
“Hmph,” she scoffed. “Malfoy is ten-times the man Harry is.”
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride itself was surprisingly awesome, contending with Spider-man for the best attraction at the park. Sections of the ride involved realistic flight scenes across cinematic castle tops, interspersed with animatronic monsters and landscapes. We faced dragons, spiders and even a swarm of dementors, which launched themselves at riders spraying cold chilly air at its victims. Courageous in the face of danger, Ryan and Charley shouted “Expecto patronum” at the skeletal shrouds and argued afterwards on the corporeal shapes.
“Mine was a eagle, dude,” Ryan chanted. “It swooped down and collided with that hag-shaped one before it could consume your soul.”
“No way, man. Mine saved your life at least three or four times. Once just before a total soul suck. And a velociraptor is way stronger than some stupid eagle.”
Before finding Sean, a task which would require a permanent vacation from Hogwarts for the rest of the day, Charley bought us all butterbeer. I shared a pumpkin juice, which tasted of caramel apple and nutmeg. We paused along the exit bridge to pose before the castle, butterbeers in hand, foaming cream-soda mustaches around our lips. A line of waiting tourists watched us from across the moat, their eyes almost willing us to leave. Little kids stared hungrily at our cream sodas; adults sighed impatiently and checked their watches.
Kathleen handed me her butterbeer as Ryan ran over to the concession stand to grab a pizza.
“Don’t like it?” I asked.
“No,” she winced. “Its good, but right now I just need some water.”
I smiled and finished off her beer. After a few slices of pizza we jogged off into the shade, eager to hunt a dinosaurs.