What you really need to know about Harry Potter World: a realistic view of the park

Everywhere you look there are pins and posts about the “25 Things You Have to Know About Harry Potter World” or “What only True Harry Potter Fans Notice.”  It’s true there are minute details all over the park, but in reality it’s too crowded to see everything unless you have weeks to spend at the park. (So congrats all of you people that have season passes and live locally). I however had 3 days, 2 kids, and 1 husband that’s not a Harry Potter Fan. So I had limited time to fit everything in, but being the super nerd I am I wanted to hit all the high points.

Let me just say– it is amazing. It took me 10 hours to get there stuck in a car with a 5 and an 8 year old and it was worth every second. It looks just like how I imagined it and everyone that works there does a great job staying in character. We went straight to Olivanders and got our wands, but even though I thought I’d researched how it all worked it was super confusing.

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What’s awesome

You get to go through and meet a wand maker and a couple of lucky kids get chosen to select a wand. For an adult this feels slightly cheesy, most the of the dialogue is straight from the book, but the look on my kid’s faces when they though the wands really were doing all of that was priceless. We went out into the main store and quickly threw down $50 a wand for interactive wands (btw some of the wands they sell don’t activate the special stuff they have set up throughout Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade– they don’t explain that well).

What could make it better

The kids that get chosen have the light shine on them and the wind blow a little and my kids were a little disappointed that when they chose their wands the same didn’t happen to them. Now I know it would add another line, but maybe just in the Olivanders main show they could have an area where you could “check” your wand to see if it was a good fit. To go along with this vein of though it would be super helpful if you had a short (optional) “class” to learn how to do basic spellwork (aka how to activate the special areas throughout the park). I spent $150 on wands and then had to stumble through a few attempts before someone who worked there gave us a 20 minute tutorial.

Also those areas are crazy specific. You can see the sensors if you know where to look and you have to point your wand very specifically at them and then move your wand in the exact precise way that the medallions show. That’s great for a 32 year old (although even I had trouble at a few spots), but my kids had issues getting them to activate. They weren’t the only ones and that caused long lines at every spot.

Come on Universal– an “intro to spell work class” would be yet another attraction and the people you’re paying right now as already doing this on a much smaller scale.

After we got our wands we wondered around Diagon Alley for a while and I got some Wizards Money (which wtg Universal on that idea

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 Then we watched the Dragon on Gringotts breathe fire a few times, looked at robes, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw $100 each at robes when I could totally make my own– you know in the event that I need robes– which might 100% happen (plus it was wayyyy too hot to wear the robes around the park at this point), then after a quick trip to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (which was cool to look at, but didn’t have as many practical joke items as I expected) we decided to take the train over to Hogsmeade— after a photo with the Knight Bus.

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That was really well done and my daughter totally wanted to get a shrunken head like that (which I would have gotten her if it was available– once again Universal– sell that crap in Knockturn Alley with maybe a few Hands of Glory.

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The Train was evidently the hottest ride in the park as it was the lonnnnngest line we encountered the whole time we were there. After about an hour wait we finally made it to the train (there was even a snack bar set up mid line– really??) and the train ride was cute. It helped make the trip over to Hogsmeade much more magical than just walking (which is what we did the other days after that wait), but I was sad it wasn’t really a steam train. It’s just a coaster track with a fake train that makes synthesized train noises. Which if you’ve never seen a steam train in person you’d probably not notice the difference, but I’ve been to Dollywood too many times to be fooled. A real steam whistle is a beautiful thing that you feel in your core when it goes off.

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It was really cool though getting to board the train and ride it to the station. It did sound like they didn’t get Emma Watson to do her voice for the sound work on the train though which was odd.

We were worn out at this point (did I mention that I have 2 small kids? Yeah they can only do so much and slow everything down) so we went back to our rooms to get to bed early so we could take advantage of our early entry passes (that came with our room package). We stayed at Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel which was gorgeous and we spent the extra to get the minon suite for the kids (it was our 10th wedding anniversary vacation so I didn’t want to have to sleep with my 5 year old every night) and that was also worth every penny. The kids were thrilled with their own private space.

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We tried to have a nice dinner that night too, but the service at Mama Bella’s was so insanely slow and half our food was cold when we got it. Not what I expected for a $150 meal. Then after waiting an hour for food the kids fell asleep right before the food got there. Really made me wish we’d just grabbed a sandwich as we were leaving the park.

The next two days we tried to cram as much Harry Potter fun (and we explored the rest of the park too because my husband for some reason thought we came there for more than just Harry Potter– weirdo). The greatest thing we got that I didn’t realize we needed was the Express Pass. It came “free” with my hotel room and we rode rides multiple times in the time it took the regular line to get on the ride. I think they are about $60 extra, but it allowed us to do the park much quicker and was amazing since we were cramming everything into 3 days. Also you totally need the lanyards, but unlike all the “25 ways to do Universal on a budget” I don’t think you need to buy those ahead of time. They are only $10 or so and I totally bought mine before and left them in my sewing room so had to buy another set when we got there. I don’t think I saved any money on Amazon anyway.

Off to Hogsmeade this area was just as amazing looking as Diagon Alley, but didn’t seem as fleshed out. There were multiple store fronts that were just false fronts. but I hope that Universal plans on filling those up eventually. It looked like a nice large area, but in reality there were just a few shops and a lot of the wand stations (with long lines of people having issues making them work).

The most amazing thing there of course though was the Castle. This was a long line too, but you don’t really notice the line since you’re busy looking at all the set dressing. The ride itself was cool although if that’s how hanging out with Harry goes I totally want to just hang out with Luna and talk about nargles.

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 Of course I didn’t visit Harry Potter World without trying the Butterbeer. The books make it sound delicious and I have to say it looked good so I ordered a cold version and a frozen one. Verdict? The Butterbeer was disgusting. It wanted to be good– the cream on top was yummy, but overall it was nasty. Never fear though! A few of us get together every few weeks for Harry Potter Trivia nights (proof of this) and my friend Heather makes an amazing Butterbeer and a Butterbeer milkshake that will make your head explode. She follows this recipe which is supposedly modeled after Universal’s, but actually tastes really good. For the milkshake version– add ice cream before putting on the topping. Believe me it’s life changing.

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I do now own 2 Butterbeer mugs though which makes drinking the nasty version worth it.

I may have lost control in Honeydukes though and bought way too much candy. The candy did not disappoint in anyway though.

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The Sherbet Lemons were delicious, the Fizzing Whizzbees I expected to be gross, but the mixture of pop rocks and chocolate was actually really good, and my son thought the jelly beans were hilarious. I was really impressed. Whatever I felt Universal was lacking they definitely made up for in the candy department.

 So totally read all the posts about all the little details you “can’t miss”, but just enjoy the park. Also don’t be those adults that crowd the little kids out of the way so you can try out your wand. I had a couple do that to my kids a couple of times. Seriously– I understand you have your wand and your robes, but dude you’re 30 and my kid is 5– it’s going to take her a sec to make the water shoot out of the fountain.

Pay the extra for the Express Pass– or stay on site, it’s totally worth it.

Relax and have fun!

I look forward to going back in 5 or so years, or whenever they add the Ministry of Magic with it’s ride that you enter through the toilets and exit through the fireplace (I totally made that up, but it’s the next logical step). Ohhh or Grimmauld Place that is full of moldy furniture, a creepy Kreacher, and dark magical objects everywhere. The cave to get the horocrux with Dumbledore will probably have to wait until they can add another water ride like the Jurassic Park one. But I’ll be back when my kids are older, or when they add one of these rides. Whichever comes first.

Why do book Readers think “It’s not as bad as what happened in the books” is an excuse for violence?

After the Sansa wedding night episode I had friends on Facebook going crazy (along with a ton of other people throughout the Internets). They were done with Game of Thrones!  They were shocked and appalled that once again the show used rape to as a plot/character development device. On a particular thread a friend of mine had expressed her outrage at this and I had responded that, “It’s not near as bad as the stuff that happened to the woman he married in the books.” My comment triggered an angry response from another person who questioned why that was OK? Just because something is worse in the books that it was based on why is that an excuse for that action?

That got me thinking. Why did I think that excused what was shown for entertainment purposes? I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t think it being worse in the books is an excuse, but more that I came into the show informed as to what to expect. Also that reading about something happening isn’t the same as watching it played out in front of you.

I knew going into watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince that Snape would eventually kill Dumbledore. But reading it in the books and watching it on the big screen are two different things. In someways it was more emotional to actually see the look in Snape’s eyes and the corresponding look on Dumbledore’s face at the moment of death, but you also don’t get the whole thought process of each of the characters. You are relying on facial expressions instead of getting to hear an inner monologue or having the author explain a back story on the character.

So when Snape takes out his wand and kills off another main character I wasn’t shocked or emotionally crippled. I was when I read it the first time, but by the time the movie rolled out I was used to the idea. I knew it was coming so it didn’t pack the same emotional punch.

This is true for so many things in literature. There are things added and taken away by knowing what is coming and seeing it acted out on screen for the first time. Yeah you know that Mr. Darcy is going to fall for Elizabeth, but seeing Colin Firth say the words out loud brings a whole new emotion to the scene. Or a better example for me is you don’t really see how annoying Elizabeth’s mother is until you see her.

But why have I talked about Harry Potter and Austen when Game of Thrones was the culprit? Seeing emotions and knowing back stories is one thing, but this is rape that we’re talking about. Here’s where I come to my conclusion about why people use “it was worse in the books” as an excuse.

If they’ve read the books and then chose to watch the show they know what’s coming. They know (for the most part) who is going to be raped, tortured, enslaved, killed, stabbed at their wedding, etc. They’ve read it, accepted it and kept reading for one reason or another.

I’m sure there were readers along the way that said– wait– they just killed my favorite character– this series is depressing– I’m out!  Or I’m tired of the sex scenes that are written like a twelve year old’s fantasy– I’m out!  (Seriously– GRRM has words for female genitalia that make me want to vomit. He talks about sex like a pubescent boy). So many things happen in the series (and the show has left out a lot of disturbing crap) that would be horrific if they happened in real life that as a reader I skim those parts. Jaime and Cersei having sex again? Cool– I’ll just skip the in depth description of her “sex” and just remember that it happened. Theon getting flayed again? Alright– gross–but instead of reading the full description I’ll just skim over the super gross parts and realize that Reek has a fewer toes/fingers than he did before. Skimming is the only way I got through some of the parts of these books (and the only way I got through the Wheel of Time books after Robert Jordan lost his mind and until Brandon Sanderson took over).

I may not have read every single disgusting detail of the bad things that happened in this series, but I know what happened. I’ve already processed that Ramsey is the most disgusting person ever, I know that Cersei thinks she’s the smartest person in the world, and that Sansa is an idiot. Still I wouldn’t have wished Jeyne’s fate (the girl Ramsey married in the books that was pretending to be Arya) on anyone. That’s why book readers were upset that Sansa had returned to Winterfell. They knew that if she married The Bastard that things would not be pretty for her. I know people who just had seen the show were probably excited to see a Stark in Winterfell again, but believe me Sansa should have kept her butt in the Eyrie.

So do I think it’s OK that Sansa was raped? NO! But that was what she was doomed for the second Littlefinger took her there to marry Ramsey. If he had treated her like a lady that would have been completely out of character. He is insane and likes to inflict pain on everything and everyone he can. Obviously his wife would be subject to that as well.

What I am saying is reading about a horrible act and seeing a horrible act visually acted out is totally different. Knowing what is coming allows the reader to prepare themselves for what is to come (and even you non-readers– seriously what did you expect from Ramsey?).

So if seeing Sansa get raped makes you no longer want to watch Game of Thrones stop watching. I have family members that refuse to watch the show because they don’t want to relive everything that happens to these characters (as well as family members who have refused to watch or read because of what these books entail). I’ve left some shows mid series because I didn’t like the direction they went in. With everything else that has happened in the series though I question your surprise at this violence. Dany was raped in the first episode (which by the way didn’t happen in the books– Drogo was very kind to her and besides the fact that she was disgustingly young for him it was not violent like that), Ned was beheaded by a psycho with too much power, and Theon was brutally tortured. All of that plus everything else that I’ve left out should have clued you in that this wasn’t going to be a happy, peaceful show.

I don’t think that rape, torture, incest, or zombies are acceptable things, but as a reader I came into this show informed as to what I was going to see. If you don’t want to continue watching the show because of the horrible violence it shows, stop watching it, but don’t expect the show runners to make an insane torture loving character nice and sweet all of a sudden.

Harry Potter Baby Shower

What other kind of baby shower would you have?? (OK maybe I’d have taken a Narnia, Supernatural, or any of my other obsessions, but Harry Potter is very high on my list).  A group of us get together every few months and play Harry Potter Scene it, eat Harry Potter food and generally nerd out.  So now that one of us was pregnant it’s natural that we should have a Harry Potter baby shower.  Right?  To be fair, this lovely lady’s Mother in Law organized everything.  So I can’t take credit for anything, but I’m going to share the awesomeness in this post.

She got a ton of Harry Potter baby gifts, we had Harry Potter BINGO, and Butterbeer milkshakes.  Yeah it was pretty awesome all around.  Flip through the slideshow to see all the cool stuff.  And please– if you know a pregnant Harry Potter fan– do this.  My baby showers were very bland in comparison.

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One last thing to leave you with– Holly’s MiL called in the cake order and the person at Food City definitely wasn’t a Harry Potter fan– or someone who knows how to spell the name Russell, because here’s what they made her first:

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Needless to say they called for a replacement and got one that actually said Muggle and Russell.

Wade's cake

Wade’s cake

Much better.

The Mortal Instruments, Good Young Adult Fiction?

I’m a sucker for a movie based on a book. So when my close friend (who runs this awesome blog) recommended that I read The Mortal Instruments series and I saw that there was a movie about to come out I couldn’t resist.  I hurried and read it finishing it just before the movie came out.

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My thoughts?  The books had promise.  I had hopes that the author could develop the story line into something pretty good.  I wasn’t hooked like with series like Harry Potter, Mistborn, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire or even, ahem. . .Twilight. (Confession time:  I included some of those series in my list to let you know I don’t always sit at home reading sappy young adult love fiction).

The movie however, as happens most of the time, was not on par with the book and I wasn’t super impressed with the book.  There were quite a few painful moments and times when the ferocious shadowhunters didn’t seem too bright (I mean really?  You froze the demons and then tried to squeeze past them instead of stabbing them with your demon killing angel blade?)  It still was better than the first Twilight movie.  Having a lead actress with more than one facial expression probably helped.  So I trudged on.

The rest of the series was a quick read.  I averaged about 3/4 a book a day and I was genuinely interested to find out what happened.  Time and again though I was disappointed in where the author took us.  It started out as a dark mix of Harry Potter (a young person finds out that they are part of a magical world– not only part of that world, but an important, slightly famous, part) and Twilight (girl falls in love with bad boy with a soul and their love is dangerous).   Although it was somewhat an obvious plot line I thought it had promise.  The author tried to tackle more adult subjects than I expected in YA fiction: homosexuality, premarital sex, incest, murder.  However, she approached them in such unrealistic and immature ways it ruined the attempt.

Homosexuality: OK, Alec is gay.  That’s cool.  OK he hasn’t come out yet.  I’m sure he’ll work up to it.  OK he does that and gets in a relationship.  I’m even cool with the fact that he became obsessive and basically the worst boyfriend ever.  I’m not cool with the fact that the author felt the need to shout “DON’T FORGET THEY ARE GAY!” every chance she got.  I totally hadn’t forgotten.

Premarital sex:  THIS is the subject that bothered me the most.  None of the characters had a problem with having sex.  In fact almost all of them WANT to have sex, but conveniently something happens to stop it.  Somehow it’s never morals or parents that stop it, but “I just want to make out a cuddle” ’cause teenage boys TOTALLY go for that.  Do I think it’s a good idea for a bunch of 15 year olds to be having sex every chance they get?  No.  Do I think unsupervised 15 year olds will have sex every chance they get?  Most definitely.  So don’t pretend they won’t.

Incest:  Is it just me or did Clary and Jace have more sexual tension when they thought they were brother and sister than after they found out they weren’t related?  It was almost as if once they found out they could have a relationship they weren’t that into each other anymore.  That only works in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Lannisters were messed up enough to pull it off; Clary and Jace, not so much.

Murder was really just brushed upon.  Jace murdered while he was under a spell so it’s all cool.  Clary only kills demons and Simon just almost killed someone so once again we’re all good.

Do I think these books are worth the read?  Yes, but check them out of the library and read so many other series first.  OK here’s where I’m going to say something that will piss many of you off.  I think Twilight is a better series. The characters are developed better, the villains are scarier, and the love story makes more sense.  So if you’re looking for a YA cheesy love story pick up Twilight again or if you’re looking for a YA series that has a little more meat to it read the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.

How do I think this series could have been saved?  If it had been written about Simon.  Simon was the only realistic character.  He dealt with issues like a real person would,  I wish he (and all the other characters) had been at least 5 years older than they were to make all of their independence believable, but he was the most real character in the book.

So I’m sorry if I blasted your favorite book.  If you disagree let me know why.  Back up your argument.  I didn’t hate the series I just got distracted by what I saw as unrealistic events or circumstances (no I’m not talking about portals or magic, I’m talking about unsupervised teens running around New York  or teens in charge of their hormones).

Once again if you have an argument that could change my mind– throw it at me.