Clearly I’m not Malinda, but I got tapped to sub today so I thought I’d share a few reflections from one of my recent trips. I had the pleasure of making my second trip to Universal Studios in Orlando in July as a delayed birthday present to myself. The overall experience was amazing, but I should rewind to explain how this trip came to fruition.
Several years ago I heard the first rumors that Universal was going to build The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I have been a #potterhead since the release of the books in 1997. I didn’t come to Harry Potter as a child and my love of the series was never really about Harry. I fell in love with the character of Hermoine Granger.
The smart girl, a little awkward and very uncomfortable in her own skin desperately trying to prove that she’s worthy to belong to this world that she loves. She studies, she practices, she gives up everything from the muggle world heritage she was born into (including her parents) for the sake of her adopted magical world.
I can relate to that story far more than growing up an orphan because of my experience.
At 8, my two parent, two kid family uprooted ourselves from all we knew of what was our lives in Savannah, Georgia, and moved to the far far away land of Iowa City, Iowa. I dealt with new schools, strange accents, different value structures and apart from visits back to Georgia once or twice a year, I lost my connection to the land of my birth.
I was a clever child. My parents gave me books and I gobbled them up. Books were far more constant companions that the other kids around me who looked at my skin and my hair and, until I learned to suppress it fully, my southern accent and treated me as alien or exotic (not in a good way).
After a time, there were other kids who treated me friendly who I can look back and call friends, but I learned at an early age to maintain two lives, the one people outside of my family could see which was heavily filtered and my true self that very few people were allowed to see.
As an adult, I look back at those choices and realize what it cost me. Many people probably think that they “know” me, but in truth, they are only vaguely familiar with me. Similarly, there are a great number of people who I have held in the “friend” category who I don’t really “know”. This becomes obvious when I see a status update where they are talking about a sibling I didn’t know they had or I see a picture of a parent I never met.
I “met” Hermoine Granger as a 17-year old preparing to go to college at an #HBCU having lived in virtually all-white communities as an African American since I was 8 years old. I connected with this #AwkwardSmartGirl.
Then in 2001, the first movie was released and I was enchanted with this amazing wizarding world. Eight movies later, I had a complete world to escape to whenever I needed a break from this oftentimes “mugglely” world we live in. I understood the difference between that fantasy and my real life but I enjoyed moving between the two worlds.
That brings us back to my hearing about Universal Studios decision to build that fantastic Wizarding World so that fans like me could step into the experience.
I had to find a way to experience this for myself so I hatched a plan to travel to Orlando in May 2014.
Those plans were almost derailed when early one April morning a Ford F-250 truck ran a stop sign and t-boned my car while I was on the way to work. By the grace of God, I walked away from that accident with only two physical bruises. I’m so thankful for my husband who helped me push past the instinct to hide away from the world after a frightening experience line that. He drove me to Orlando and insisted that I go experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and at the risk of being clichéd, it was magical.
In May 2014 they had only completed the Hogsmeade and Hogwarts half of the world in the Islands of Adventure. I explored every part. I remember tasting Butterbeer for the first time and experiencing Hogwarts Castle. Riding the simulator was a challenge for me because of my then recent accident, but I decided then and there that I would NOT let that accident stop me from living so I strapped in and let go of everything. I tackled the Flight of the Hippogriff on that visit also.
I was dissapointed that the Hogwarts Express train ride wasn’t open for me to experience that trip, but I vowed to come back and to complete the rest of the experience as soon as I could.
In Spring of 2015 I made up my mind that I was going back to Orlando to finish what I’d started. I booked a room and started recruiting friends to come with me. Only one ended up seeing it thru and it worked out perfectly. This time we started out in London.
When you first step into that section of Universal it really is like being transported into another world. It’s the music that draws you in first. We passed King’s Cross Station and skipped our way to The Knight Bus. Yes, two thoroughly grown women with 5 degrees between us skipped like happy little girls through the park. 😆 We saw Grimmald Place and were shocked. We thought, this is it?!? So we turned around and walked the street again. We started to head back to King’s Cross to board the train when we saw someone walk out from behind a brick wall and we thought, hmm… that’s interesting. As we moved closer to that spot in the wall we passed through the wall into Diagon Alley. It could not have happened more perfectly.
I don’t want to give any more away because this is something you should really allow yourself to experience. I joyed in the childlike wonder that this magical world has inspired in me from the books to the movies and now to the “real life” manifestation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience at Universal Orlando. I can’t wait to go again!