On Columbus Day, I made a return trip to my golden days of youth, no thanks to a time machine. Instead, three friends and I traveled to the recently opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. Amanda McGeough (COL ’12), Margaux McGrath (COL ’12), Hannah Klusendorf (COL ’12) and I know this much is true: In one Saturday afternoon all of our childhood dreams came true.
The park is, for lack of a better word, magical. Universal has recreated Hogsmeade and Hogwarts with stellar attention to detail, boasting all the fan favorites: Honeydukes sweets (replete with chocolate frogs), Zonko’s joke shop (extendable ears hang from the ceiling), Ollivander’s Wand Emporium and even the Three Broomsticks. Moaning Myrtle’s voice echoes in the bathrooms, steam puffs out of the scarlet Hogwarts Express and carts selling butterbeer line the streets.
In terms of more traditional theme park fare, Harry Potter World boasts two standard roller coasters. But its crowning achievement is the ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is the thrill everyone is curious about. Going into the weekend, all we knew about it was that it was set inside the model of Hogwarts that the park had constructed and that visitors would have the chance to take a tour of the castle before getting on board. It would be a bold-faced lie to say I didn’t have high expectations.
With butterbeers in hand, we snagged a place in line and settled in for the 75-minute wait – although, arguably I’d been waiting for this moment for 12 years. After about an hour of standing in line, we finally entered the castle. We marveled at tall stone walls covered in talking portraits who peered down at their “Muggle intruders,” sidled up to the Mirror of Erised, passed the Portrait of the Fat Lady, and brushed up against the tapestry that hangs outside the Room of Requirement. Remarkably lifelike holograms of Harry, Ron and Hermione met us in a classroom, and we even toured Dumbledore’s office while he stood at his desk and welcomed us to Hogwarts. From there we wound our way to the loading dock for the ride itself, where the Sorting Hat sat perched on a platform reviewing safety instructions. The vehicles for the ride sat four across; we clambered onto them as our excitement was at fever pitch. I was determined to like the experience no matter what – but I needn’t have worried.
It’s impossible to adequately explain the logistics of the ride – it was literally a roller coaster of the future. Each bench is lifted onto a robotic arm that allows the bench to swoop, pivot and essentially fly all while moving along the track of the ride – which takes place entirely in the dark. It seamlessly blends IMAX-sized projection screens with animatronics. I felt as if I’d been thrown into one of the Harry Potter movies – only better. For us, it was a total suspension of disbelief. I was actually soaring to the Astronomy Tower, over the Quidditch pitch, even into the Chamber of Secrets with Amanda, Margaux and Hannah. We breezed past Hagrid and all four of us shouted, “Hi, Hagrid!” in unison and waved feverishly before rounding a corner. When the dementors showed up, Margaux leaned forward and screamed, “Expecto Patronum!”
So much happens in the course of the ride that it has all blurred together in my mind; we disembarked bleary-eyed and in awe. No doubt, I was thoroughly impressed with the technology. But more than being impressed, for those four fleeting minutes I had recaptured a feeling of elation I hadn’t felt in some time: the kind of pure, unadulterated joy that I thought was snuffed out with the introduction of PSATs and orthodontia. It’s corny to admit, but I half expected the photo of us taken on the ride to show four 9-year-old girls, wide-eyed, white-knuckled and absolutely enthralled.
Harry Potter books were my childhood. Like so many current college students, I was 7 when I read the first one, 17 when I read the last. I have grown up sharing this world with my peers and friends and it was always the shared experience of the books that imbued them with such significance: the midnight book openings, followed by the midnight movie viewing, the races to finish first, the breathless conversations over what will happen next. I can remember how badly I always wanted to delve into the book – to be a character, to live in this world even just for one day, and to have the chance to bring my friends along with me. Last weekend, for four minutes, with a little help from robo-coaster technology and the imagination, I got to do just that. I just wish I could head back for another spin.
Margaret Delaney is a junior in the College. She can be reached at [email protected] I Know This Much Is True appears every other Tuesday.