Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Journey to Hogwarts

A couple years ago, a friend of mine described her first visit to Harry Potty World and said as she walked in she started to cry. A little incredulously I said, "Really? You cried?"

"Yes! It hit me that I was walking into this world that only once existed in the mind of this incredible woman. It was amazing and it overwhelmed me."

Last weekend my oldest daughter, PSP and I, made a pilgrimage to Harry Potter World and while I didn't cry, I understood where my friend was coming from. I thought about the incredible imagination of JK Rowling, her brilliant writing and the joy she has brought millions of people around the globe who have immersed themselves in a world of witches and wizards, hippogriffs and time-turners and quidditch matches all for a little orphan boy named Harry Potter.

It was amazing and remarkable and I felt a sense of awe. But I also felt a sense of awe for personal reasons. These books will always represent a special bond between my oldest daughter and I, a time where we set aside hours and hours, over the course of 2+ years, to venture into this world of magic together. And it was (forgive me) magical.

Here's how it all started for us: I was in my mid-twenties when the original Harry Potter mania struck. Many of my friends and co-workers were reading the books and seeing the first few movies, but for whatever reason I didn't get into it. I guess I figured one day. In 2007, the 7th and final Harry Potter book was published, and it was the same year I became a mother. I don't remember when exactly, but at some point I told myself I wouldn't read the books until I could read them together with my daughter.
Finally, one day in August of 2014 as PSP was just about to start 2nd grade, we decide to sit down and read the first chapter of the first book. I had zero expectations, other than hoping it would be something we would enjoy together. Little did I know this would be the beginning of a major childhood love for my daughter, and a fantastic way for us to spend time together bonding over which characters we loved, guessing plot lines and even crying when some of the books--like life--didn't go as we hoped they would.

It became our thing. Because I read the first 5 books out loud, PSP often had to be very patient with me as I didn't always have time to read when she wanted to read. Other times, I learned to say OK, and drop whatever I was doing to make the time. It would have been so easy for her to read ahead on her own, especially when her friends passed our pace and were talking about Harry and all his adventures in front of her. I'm sure she wanted to read ahead at times, but she never did. She waited for me. And I made time for her.

After each book we would then have a family movie night, and watch the movie of the latest book we had read. Lamp sometimes listened in on our reading, but mostly we just kept her updated on what was going on. Sometimes it would be two months or more before we picked up the next book, but again and again my girl waited, and again and again I made the time.
Finally, by book 6 we decided to listen to Harry Potter on audio book and this made our reading time much easier. She liked the voices and the reading, and I could do the dishes or get dinner ready while we listened. Although I found myself getting lost quite a bit more and needing to stop and ask her what just happened or who was talking, but she ALWAYS knew what was going on and filled me in. PSP became well versed in all things Harry Potter. She lived, breathed, and dreamed Harry Potter.

In second grade, at the end of the year, her teacher (a fellow Potter head) gave everyone a pretend name for the day (it was a school wide thing) and she decided to give everyone in her classroom a Harry Potter name. PSP was Hermione. I think that will remain one of the highest honors ever bestowed upon her in her young life. When I told her teacher how much she loved that she said, "Well how could I not? She IS Hermoine!" I beamed with pride.

It took over 2 years, but finally last winter we finished book 7. One of my favorite literary journey's of all time and I took it with my oldest daughter.

*****

The husband and I had decided a while ago that I would take each of the girls on a solo trip when they turned 10 and he would take them on a solo trip when they turned 14. When PSP turned 10 this year, there was no question where we would go for her trip. Harry Potter World.

The anticipation, the plane ride, watching a movie on the plane and eating snacks, getting the rental car, checking into the hotel--every single part of this experience was fun. Finally, last Thursday evening we made our way to Harry Potter World, for just a few hours before closing. (I originally planned on only purchasing a 2 day pass to go on Friday and Saturday, but it was just $20 more per person for a 3 day pass, so even though we were only there a few hours on Thursday it was worth it.)

I prepped her beforehand, "Listen kid, we need to really take our time. Just go slow. We're going to see everything because we have a lot of time, so lets just savor it all." She agreed.

As I said, I didn't cry when we walked up to Hogsmeade that first evening, but it felt BIG. We were stepping into JK Rowling's dreams. Of course all ideas start out as someones dream, but stepping into this dream of a once single mother on the brink of poverty, who became the most successful writer of all time... well it's pretty special.  But also this was about us--mother and daughter--stepping into a world we discovered and enjoyed together. One of us waiting for the other, and one of us making the time.

****

Here's a little of what we did.
As I said, we decided to take things s l o w l y. Hogsmeade is a charming little village and we walked around and took in all the details--both big and small. The pitched roof skyline with snow laden roofs, the train station and the Hogwarts express replica, all the little shops with the amazing shop windows where magical spells could be cast.

Our first big stop was the Three Broomsticks. We took some pictures out front and went in for our first ever Butterbeer. We were not disappointed. PSP proclaimed butterbeer her favorite drink of all time.
PSP had wanted to go to Olivanders to choose her wand first, but since Harry Potter World is actually split into two different parks--Diagon Alley is at Universal and Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure--and Diagon Alley actually closed at 5 we thought we missed our opportunity. Then she turned around and said, "Look mom! Olivanders!" Of course there were wand shops in both villages because eventually the realization washed over me that IT'S 2017 AND THE ENTIRE WORLD IS LINING UP TO BUY WANDS WITH THE EXACT SAME SERIOUS CONSIDERATION THEY USED FOR BUYING AN INFANT CARSEAT OR LIFE INSURANCE. PEOPLE WERE LOOKING AND TESTING AND TRYING OUT AND ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT FAKE MAGICAL WANDS. And we did the exact same thing because yesitisactuallythatimportant.
But before the actual purchase of the wand we attended a wand choosing experience with Olivander himself and if you are going to HPW in the next little while be sure to do that. It's delightful. And of course the wand my girl choose, the wand that most certainly would have chosen her, was Hermoine's wand. Admittedly I can't remember the first spell she cast but I will say in all seriousness, girlfriend can cast a spell. There were many, many times when I went to cast a spell when it simply wouldn't work for me, even after several tries. Then PSP would get in front of me and cast her spell on the first try. You can only imagine how much this delighted her. (And me. I mean bruised ego aside, we were both delighted to see her spell casting skills on point.)

When we walked through Honeydukes time my offspring said, "Mom! What are you doing? Take more pictures!" for the first time ever and my love for my daughter grew even more.

We had a great time on the rides. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was both our first ride and most frequent ride. In all seriousness I don't think I've ever seen my daughter this excited as when we got off that ride for the first time. It's a "motion based dark ride" that also incorporates virtual reality and it is amazing. You get to fly with Harry and Ron and I've never experienced anything like it. I can see why it ranks as the best dark ride in the world. We could not get enough!

MOM! That was amazing! I was flying and playing quidditch with Harry and Ron! Oh my gosh mom!!! Oh my gosh!!! And lots of jumping up and down and again, I have NEVER seen her that excited. Not on her birthday, not on Christmas morning.... never. Also, you get to walk through Hogwarts while in line and that itself is a part of the experience! Talking paintings, Dumbledor's office, a meeting with Harry, Ron and Hermoine and snowing indoors! It's uh-maze-ing.

And this was just our Thursday evening visit.
The next day, on our first full day--OUR 11 HOUR DAY AT HARRY POTTER WORLD--we were all business. Full robes, a shirt and tie for PSP + her time turner necklace, and wands in hand because WE WERE NOT MESSING AROUND. It was 85 degrees ya'll and we didn't take those robes off once. Not once. We did however spent a lot of time posing for pictures like this:

And this:

And this:
Aaaaaaand this:
And those robes stayed on all the live long day because we are committed to our craft.

We also got to go to Diagon Alley for the first time via The Hogwarts express. The Hogwarts express is delightful and full of fun little surprises. You really feel like you are riding the real thing and you have to ride it both ways to get the full experience. *Tip: When at Kings Cross Station ask the park workers where platform 9 3/4 is...they look at you like you're crazy, pretend they have no idea what you're talking about... it's these delightful little touches that really make this experience fun.
 Look at her! She's legit going to Hogwarts!

Diagon Alley proved to be just as delightful as Hogsmeade. The look, the feel, the spells, the details...everything from a dragon that intermintenly roars and breaths real fire--the heat of which is felt in nearly every direction--to the playful Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop where you can buy extendable ears, Pygmy puffs, love potion and more. And of course the ride inside of Gringott's is also really fun, but we only got to go twice as this was always the longest line.

Here's the thing. All in all there are only 4 rides in the entirety of HPW including the Hogwarts Express. A lot of what you do there is wandering through shops, watch some small shows (the puppet shows were very cool), take photos with all the sights like the Knight bus, 12 Grimmauld place, drink butterbeer and eat at the Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade) or the Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley).
Saturday, our last day there, we had already experienced everything a couple times at this point. I asked PSP if she wanted to go see some other areas of the park. Not really she said. It was then that I realized she just wanted to stay in this world as long as possible regardless of the fact that we had already seen everything. So that's what we did. We stayed until closing time--each night actually--walked out with achy feet and happy hearts. This time, I had waited for her.
Worth every minute.

6 comments:

  1. I love this! I am reading the Harry Potter series out loud to my six year old son right now, and it has been such an incredible bonding experience for us too! And we have a mother/son movie screening after each book, just like y'all. We are on Book 4. I am wondering if we should stop for a year or two and allow him to mature before we tackle Book 5...so much boy/girl stuff (snogging!) and of course Sirius dying (sob) in Book 5. I guess PSP was a little older when she reached those books...how did she handle it?

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  2. We went there last year and made sure we watched the first movie before going so it would've cool. We then audio booked and watched movie afterwards like you and are about to start book 4.
    Also loved the gringotts ride - tip for next time. Go in the single rider line. SO much faster and though our son was 8 it was his suggestion to do it because it meant you got out and ran through and basically go almost right back on. You miss the magic of the lineup views (ie bypassing the bank foyer) but if you did it once it doesn't matter. Each time we ended up on the same cars just behind each other or all on different cars but leaving at about the same time. Wait where you get off to meet up. Amazing.

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  3. Ahh this is so amazing and awesome. I can't wait to re-read the books with my kids!

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  4. This is amazing! I've been eager to start reading the books with my daughter. She just started 2nd grade, and is a strong reader. Did you find that content-wise, PSP was ready for some of the heavier stuff, especially in the later books? I've wondered what the right age to start is to get that timing right. Such a fun memory!

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  5. So fun! Word to the motion sick, I have never felt as sick on a ride as quickly as I was on HP and the Forbidden Journey. If you tend to get motion sick at all, just skip it. The dragon roller coaster is fun and far less nausea-inducing, and the rest of the World is a delight.

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  6. I love this so much! I got into the books when I was 11 and aged right along with Harry Potter as the last book was released when I was 18. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to start reading the books with me. I love that you were able to experience the books and Harry Potter world together as mother and daughter.

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