Several friends joined me over the course of my birthweek to celebrate, and we went to several ball games and also out to dinner.  But today was nothing less than pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

It’s yours truly’s birthday today, and my friend “N” and I made the 2-plus-hour drive to Orlando to check out Universal’s newest addition to their Islands of Adventure park, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  This particular section of Islands of Adventure isn’t large (there are only 3 rides), but it’s just beyond amazing.  You can see Hogwarts Castle on a hill before you see the archway leading into Hogsmeade (Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are combined here, but I’m not so nitpicky that I’m going to complain about it), but when you walk through the arch, there it is: Hogsmeade. Every single person in the vicinity had the same reaction to seeing Hogsmeade – they were bowled over at how realistic it is.  All of the buildings are covered with “snow,” and you can see Ollivander’s wand shop, Honeyduke’s, Zonkers, etc.  Some of the stores are not real, but you can look in the windows and see a shop that supplies cauldrons, or a shop that sells quills, or the shop where Hermione bought her lovely pink dress for the Yule Ball (the dress itself is in the window).

I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos – the place was packed, and I did my best to get as few strangers in the pictures as possible.  Quite a few of the nation’s children are already in school, so it wasn’t quite as packed as it had been  but, based on the amount of Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets apparel I saw, it seems that fully half of the New York Metro area was there today. And that’s in addition to people with British accents, Indian accents, Spanish accents, Italian accents, German accents and Portuguese accents.  Pottermania’s reach is global, and the park’s attendance just proves it.  As always, click on the pictures to make them larger.

This is the archway leading into Hogsmeade:

Here is the Hogwarts Express:

And here is Hogwarts Castle:

The ride inside the castle, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” is outstanding.  You walk through the castle on the way to the ride, and get to hear the pictures of Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor talk about you while you’re waiting.  Dumbledore greets you and then you get to meet Harry, Ron and Hermione, who take you on the ride itself.  The ride is supposed to give you the feeling of riding behind Harry and Ron on your own broomstick.  It’s incredible.  The first time we did it, it was great, but the second time it was even better because we knew what to expect, and could pay more attention to what we were seeing.  So, what did we see?  Spiders, Dementors, the Quidditch pitch, the Forbidden Forest, etc.  We’d arrived at 8:30 and they opened the gates at 8:45 instead of 9, so we were in and out the first time before 9:15.  They provide free lockers for any loose items while you’re on the ride, and part of the line goes through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse.  Alas, we did not see any mandrakes until we were window shopping in Hogsmeade.

Here are some photos of the Flight of the Hippogriff.  This is a fun roller coaster that we also rode on twice.  The first picture shows the front of the roller coaster:

Here are the “train” and Buckbeak:

This Hagrid’s house, which you pass while waiting to get on the ride:

The last ride is the Dragon Challenge.  It is 2 coasters that take off at exactly the same time and that meet up along the way (yes, that should be taken literally).  It is, simply put, the scariest coaster I have ever been on.  The Incredible Hulk coaster looks even scarier, but you are not going to get me on that one.  Ever.  This is the entrance to the Dragon Challenge ride.

We were on the red coaster.  Warning – do NOT sit in the front row unless you want to take even more years off your life than this coaster already does.

Here are more photos of Hogsmeade, including the exterior of Honeydukes:

Honeydukes

An unidentified shop in Hogsmeade

Hogsmeade rooftops

Hogsmeade skyline

Honeydukes and Zonker’s are connected inside, and you can see some chess pieces that look very familiar.

Chess set

I bought Dark Mark lollipops for my nephew and niece, and some chocolate toads for myself (OK, OK, I’ll go back on Weight Watchers tomorrow!).

And here are the 4 house banners, followed by the Hogwarts Choir (including the singing frogs):

Choir with frog accompaniment

Here is the Weasleys’ car:

We never made it into Ollivander’s because the line was longer than that for some of the rides.  You can buy wands on the street, and chocolate wands at Honeyduke’s.

I had so much fun today.  We enjoyed some butterbeer (hint – get it frozen!!) and bought some pumpkin juice to enjoy later (it’s chilling in the fridge as I type).

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