♫ merry christmas, ring the hogwarts bell

During December of 2010, I visited Orlando with two of my cousins and my sister, Yusra. Orlando, to be sure, was a lovely city to be in during the winter; the weather was perfect, strolling downtown in the relative quit was beyond peaceful, and the greenery still lining the trees was a welcome contrast to the skeletal branches of Virginia.

But the real gem, and purpose, of our visit was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I’m quite certain I may have actually teared up when  I first caught a glimpse of the castle. I man, it was more or less my entire childhood bursting to life before my eyes.

Between the quaint replica of Hogsmeade to the castle interior, every detail was accounted for and nothing went unnoticed by my keen, knowing eye. I entered the park expecting to spend the weekend scrutinizing this and that – Ollivander’s isn’t nearly cluttered enough, the Three Broomsticks looks nothing like it did in the films, they’re certainly going to leave some of the candy out of Honeydukes – but was pleasantly surprised to find absolutely nothing to criticize.

Well, I suppose, aside from the fact that the park isn’t within walking distance of my apartment, but I’ll give them a pass on that one.

Snow-topped roofs, buildings of all shapes and sizes clustered together cozily, cobblestone streets, Butterbeer stands around every corner, familiar shops, British accents. It was, in short, perfection.

Our first stop was, of course, Honeydukes Sweets. Which, upon entering, we realized was combined with Zonko’s Joke Shop. It was delightful. And colorful. And delicious. It was also packed. There was actually a line to enter. Only at Harry Potter World would I spend 45 minutes waiting in line to enter a store.

But even so, the wait was entertaining, as each window display [of which there are many] is filled to the top with familiar treats from the books, and I stood there reminiscing, mostly to myself, out loud, about the significance of each and every thing in each and every window.

I felt what I assume 7-year-olds feel when they unwrap Christmas presents. Times a hundred.

We kept it simple and familiar, food-wise. A pack or two of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans [and let me tell you, they mean every flavour], Cauldron Cakes, and Chocolate Frogs.

I recall us grabbing our haul, plopping down with our backs against the stone wall of the shop, stretching our legs across the cobblestone street, and going through the treats, each bite taking us back to moments spent on the Hogwarts Train with the sweets trolley weaving in and out of compartments, or the trio’s adventures in Hogsmeade over Christmas term, warming up with pints of Butterbeer.

Speaking of, the Butterbeer at the park was itself a delight. We probably drank a glass of it each time we stepped foot in the park; carts adorned every entrance and corner to the park, selling the drink in adorable plastic mugs, full to the brim with a combination of fizzy drink and warming foam.

I spent a considerable amount of time later in the year, with the release of the final film looming, trying to devise my own version of the drink. The recipe I constructed was perfect, insofar as it represented the idea I always had in mind when I read the books, though was drastically different from the one dreamt up by Universal. Theirs lacks any sort of butter or milk at all, and instead is offered vegan, so that any of their guests have the pleasure of enjoying it.

Nevertheless, they both have a similar warming quality about them, and feel nothing short of delightful going past the tongue and down the throat.

The rest of the shops were just as lovely; Ollivander’s was perfectly messy with boxes upon boxes of wands stacked from floor to ceiling, an almost-sinister darkness cloaking the interior of the store, and a distinct sense of magic hidden among the dusty shelves. Ollivander himself greeted us upon our entrance, and with his soft-spoken, whimsical voice, it was a somewhat surreal experience. It would have been more surreal if he had selected me instead of Joey up there to give a wand out to, but still enjoyable. After his little skit, we got to browse his shop, which is combined with Dervish and Banges.

We all picked up wands from D&B, of course, as they sell them according to one’s birth month [using a Celtic calendar], and I’m pretty sure there were occasional wizards duels happening in the back seat of the van as we made the 800-odd mile trek back up north.

The rides themselves were fantastic fun, particularly the Journey through Hogwarts, were amazingly done. The castle interior was a sight to behold, looking exactly how I always pictured while reading the novels, and a very crafty way to keep everyone entertained during the near 1-hour wait to the actual ride.

Aside from the rides, we had selected the perfect time of year to visit; Christmas. There was already a wonderful feel of festivity in the air emanating from the other visitors which left permanent, giddy grins on our faces for the duration of the trip, but the park itself went to surprising lengths to bring some of the novels’ Christmas to us.

Most notably, the arrival of Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beuxbaton students for a cappella renditions of Hogwarts music and Christmas carols, and a wonderful performance of gymnastics and dance. A lovely break from waiting in lines, and pleasant against the gentle breeze of Florida winter.

Three full days were spent at the park, and even then, we couldn’t get enough. Butterbeer, a few meals at the Three Broomsticks – which was beautifully constructed and every bit as homey and comforting as you’d imagine – copious amounts of money spent on overpriced scarves, wands, and Honeydukes sweets, and we still could have happily spent weeks roaming Hogsmeade’s crowded streets.

It’s been a year and a half since our visit, but I’m just as bit in love with the park as I was that weekend.

Perhaps one day I’ll be back.

If I haven’t been already, of course.

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