The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A Guide for the Thrifty, Impatient, and Clever Visitors

After spending hours reading blog posts and articles recounting others’ visits to the Wizarding World, I thought I was prepared to visit Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in all their glory. Friends, I was wrong; the Wizarding World was even more magical than I hoped for, and while I can’t in all honesty say that I want to go back to Orlando again any time soon (heat, crowds, and gaudiness galore do not a happy Shortlatte make), I do so wish that the Wizarding World wasn’t quite so far away, because I would be holding season passes if I lived within a hundred miles of it.

Yet while my trip was as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, I have a feeling that I might have been slightly less enamored of my experience if I hadn’t done so extensive research beforehand. As I mentioned before, many have written about their own trips to the park and have provided some useful tips to help get the most out of your visit. Unfortunately, most of these articles spend their time extolling the benefits of staying in an on-site Universal Studios hotel, as hotel guests get free express passes for the Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff rides as well as entry to the park an hour before the general public. Yet, when the boyfriend and I sat down to make travel plans, the pricey Universal package simply wasn’t an option, so I was forced to come up with some strategies of my own.

1. Do your research.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: there are a lot of useful tips that others have written about that will help you to navigate the park with the least amount of hassle and frustration. I won’t rehash what others have already said, but I will add that your research should span all aspects of your trip to the Wizarding World, including shopping. You might not realize it, but as exciting as the prospect of shopping in Hogsmeade might be, it also poses some serious logistical problems for park-goers. Shopping bags aren’t allowed on the rides, so if you’ve got something that doesn’t fit in a pocket, you’re going to have to rent a locker. Though lockers are free for a certain amount of time, there’s no guarantee that you will be through the waiting line and off the ride before the time is up, so you might wind up having to pay to stash your stuff. Not to mention the fact that the locker line is separate from the actual ride line, adding more time to your overall wait. Then there’s the pesky little problem of buying candy from Honeydukes in ninety-plus degree heat: many a Chocolate Frog have suffered a miserable melty fate from park patrons who insist on toting them around the park all day.

Obviously, visiting the Wizarding World without buying something isn’t an option, so my advice is this: don’t be afraid to do some shopping ahead of time online. I don’t suggest that you make any purchases, but the online shops give a good idea of the range of items available for sale, so you can get a sense of the souvenirs you simply have to take home with you. This leads to step number two: take advantage of the Potter merchandise for sale throughout Orlando. From the airport to the Universal shops in City Walk, most of the stuff available for sale “only” in the Wizarding World is actual available at other locations as well. My boyfriend and I stocked up on the items on our list, including those pesky Chocolate Frogs, upon arriving at the airport and visiting City Walk the night before. Not only did we not have to worry about the problems mentioned above, but we also didn’t have to wait in ridiculously long lines as we would have had we waited to buy our souvenirs at the park. That’s not to say that we didn’t make some purchases there as well, but we were able to wait until just before we were ready to leave the park.

2. Get up early.

Harry and company weren’t afriad to forego a little sleep when the occasion called for it, and neither should you be. As I mentioned already, if you don’t stay at a Universal hotel, you will be forced to wait in line at the turnstiles until the park officially opens. We got up at six and were at the park before seven, over an hour before the park opened to the general public. We were the first in line and were treated to an hour-long wait during which hordes of hotel guests breezed through the gates right in front of us. You will want to apparate all of those early entrants out of there, but it’s alright. The good news is that by the time you enter the park, the hotel guests have likely already ridden the Forbidden Journey, paving a clear path for you. So when you finally get in, powerwalk straight back to the Wizarding World and resist the urge to take pictures. Those shots of the castle will still be there in an hour, but the lack of line won’t be. We went straight to the Forbidden Castle and rode it without a wait, then went straight to the Dragon Challenge and did the same for both rollercoasters. By the time we got to the Flight of the Hippogriff, there was an hour-long wait, but we managed to experience the most popular rides relatively hassle-free.

3. Have a gameplan.

Ours was mentioned above. Yours might be different (though I highly encourage bumping the Forbidden Journey to the top of your list). Nevertheless, you need to have an idea of where your priorities lie and do those things first, or else the crowds will swamp you.

4. Once you’re inside the castle, slow down.

You can always go back through the castle on the single rider line or on a castle tour without having to wait on the monstrous line, but those only give you a limited view of the castle. So when you go through the first time, let people pass you as you go along and take pictures to your heart’s content. Stop and absorb everything, because unless you want to wait on the uber-long line more than once, this is the closest you will get to the good stuff.

5. Explore the shops.

The stores in Hogsmeade are crowded pretty much morning, noon, and night, but not unmanageably so. The only one that has a truly off-putting line is Ollivander’s, and we opted not to wait for the wand-choosing ceremony. Instead, we ducked through Dervish & Bangles into the adjacent store and checked out the wands there. If you’re really craving the ambiance of Ollivander’s but don’t want to brave the line, there’s a good wand set-up in the Owl Post that gives much the same feel.

6. Chow down.

You woke up at the crack of dawn and have been walking or standing for hours, so chances are you’ll be hungry early. We headed to the Three Broomsticks around eleven and were seated instantly. A few minutes later, the crowds stormed in, so if you can, eat early to beat the rush. You’ll get a great seat and be able to eat in peace. If you get thirsty, resist the urge to get a Butterbeer from one of the carts and head to the Hog’s Head instead; there’s rarely a line and you can buy the collectible mugs there as well. You can get pumpkin juice (and the delicious Hog’s Head Brew) there too, as well as in Honeydukes.

7. Explore all the nooks and crannies.

The designers did a bang-up job with this park. It feels like a real locale rather than a recreation, and nothing shows that off more than the details. Take the time to notice the subtle touches. Look up everywhere you go, because so much of the good stuff is hidden above your head. Duck out back entrances to the Three Broomsticks and down alleyways for unique angles of the castle not visible from the main road. Even the ATM’s and the bathrooms have little touches that bring the world to life.

8. Don’t neglect the kiosks.

Had I not taken my own advice and done some shopping research beforehand, I wouldn’t have known about the amazing Skele-Gro keychain sold only at the Wizarding World. As it turns out, it really is sold only in the park, as it’s one of the items not available in other Universal gift shops. Unfortunately, it also didn’t seem to be available in the Hogsmeade shops, as after several passes through I still couldn’t find it. Thankfully, I thought to check the outdoor kiosk outside the Castle, and I found it in all its glory.

9. Go back at night.

The Wizarding World is a totally different experience when as the sun goes down. The heat isn’t as intense, and the crowds die down a lot. Most importantly, the setting sun gives the town a beautiful glow that makes for great photo ops. Hogwarts truly is stunning in the dimming light.

Meandering Around the Interweb

In my various hours of wandering through book blogs far and wide, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic posts lately, so I thought I would spotlight my favorites. Hopefully I can make this a semi-regular feature, although my laziness will test the bounds of my determination to do so, so stay tuned for now.

  • Ever have difficulty picturing a character as you read? Well, next time you’re puzzling over how to visualize the characters in a steampunk work, have no fear. Prada has done all the work for us, producing a gorgeous photo-shoot starring Gary Oldman, Garrett Hedlund, Willem Dafoe, and Jamie Bell wearing all manner of gorgeous steampunk duds.
  • Obviously I’m unforgivably late in realizing that J.K. Rowling wrote this brief Harry Potter prequel. I know I’m not the only one upset that she has stated her intentions not to write a Maurauders-era book, but this just compounds the disappointment.
  • In more Harry Potter-related news, it seems Daniel Radcliffe is the latest of the films’ stars to hop on the music video bandwagon. I tend to agree with the writer of this article in finding DanRad’s performance a benefit to his resume. What do you guys think of Radcliffe’s, Grint’s, and Watson’s performances? Should they stick to film?
  • And since there’s never too much of a good thing, this weekend I’m hoping to try out some of these Harry Potter-inspired cocktails. Thankfully, there are plenty to choose from, because I’m having a hard time choosing which to try first.
  • If you’re like me, you tend to collect unusual words. Well, this article on 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist in English will give you a few more for your collection. I’m particularly partial to Forelsket and Waldeinsamkeit.
  • I’ve been reading a lot lately about New Adult, how it differs from Adult and Young Adult fiction, and whether it should be classified as its own genre. For the Love of Contemporary, Chachic, Megan Burke, and Catie at The Readventurer have all had their say on the topic. I’m still undecided on my stance; I’d say around half of my favorite “young adult” books technically fit the description for New Adult, but I’m not sure segmenting out a new genre would be a benefit or a hindrance.

Created by droll to echo

  • Tor’s newsletter is always a goldmine of goodies, and this week was no exception. Check out the amazing Sherlock-inspired medieval tapestries at droll to echo’s blog.
  • Emily at Emily’s Reading Room recently wrote a lovely article on what it means to be a member of the book blogging community.
  • Kathy at A Glass of Wine wrote a great post about whether characters have to be likable or not in order for us to sympathize with them as readers. While my initial inclination was to say yes, I have to admit that I do love many of the decidedly unlikable characters she’s mentioned.
  • Courtney Summers recently wrote a great comparison of the book and movie versions of The Woman in Black for The Readventurer. I’ve only seen the movie, and I quite liked it, but after reading what she has to say, I’m on the lookout for a copy of Hill’s classic novel to compare for myself.
  • And finally, I come across a lot of bookshelves that I covet, but this one is in a league of its own.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

I see you there, watching your British TV

We are readers. We delight in the heady escape into the endless possibilities of the written word. We live vicariously, we invest our emotions in characters who we love too much to admit to their inexistence outside the confines of the page. We live for the moment when we grasp a shiny new novel in our hands and crack the binding.

So am I the only one who feels more than slightly guilty when I would rather curl up in front of the television and let it do my imagining for me? We book bloggers are a dedicated bunch, but we are more than our blogger identity would suggest. We are students, we are professionals, we are mothers who barely have time to breath, let alone indulge in our every literary whim. And sometimes, when we are just too tired to do what we love, we welcome the shallow comfort of regularly scheduled programming. I know I’m not alone in this, though we might not like to admit it too often. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I would share some of my guilty television pleasures in return for suggestions of shows I should check out. Be forewarned: British TV makes up the majority of the list below, though I doubt this will be a problem for most.

Misfits
I’ve pimped it recently, so I figured I’d lead off with this one. I’m dismayed to learn that the upcoming fourth season will actually see the departure of not two, but three of the original cast members. Still,  I’m looking forward meeting the new characters and seeing what crazy adventures the writers come up with for these young offenders.
 
Sherlock
I’d followed the progression of this show for a long time on Tumblr before I finally found out what all the fuss what about for myself. This was prompted in no small part by the fact that literally EVERYONE I know was telling me how absolutely amazing it was, and oh were they right. It will be a long, cold winter until the third season brings us back our two favorite mystery-solvers.
Game of Thrones
Speaking of a long, cold winter…I was completely unprepared for the epic sprawl of this show and how completely invested I would become in the slow unraveling of motivations and machinations. I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired to such absolute loathing toward a character before (Joffrey, I’m looking at you, you sick sick boy-king). What really keeps me enthralled, though, is how very much my feelings toward most characters have evolved into a murky ambiguity as the show has gone on.
Mad Men
Serving as another nice seque, perhaps the epitome of murky ambiguity this year was the unexpected evolution of Don Draper. Don is not a moral man; we knew this going into the show’s long-awaited fifth season. Yet in an odd turn of events, Don was in many ways the most moral of the bunch this season. How long it stays this way is anyone’s guess, but it’s time to realize that, underneath it all, Don isn’t a bad man. I’ve got my qualms about many secondary characters in that regard, but that’s what makes Mad Men so compelling.
The Syndicate
And once again, the BBC proves to all American broadcasters that a fantastic story can, in fact, be wrapped up in only five episodes. I became completely engrossed in this show about a group of supermarket workers whose lottery win irrevocably alters their lives. Unfortunately, though the show was picked up for a second season, it will follow a completely different cast of characters. I’ll tune in nonetheless.
Bones
After years of being jerked around by Hart Hanson and company, this past season finally saw many fans’ dream plotlines come true, though many complained about the manner in which they were executed. Still, after six years’ worth of foreplay, I’ll take what I can get; Booth and Bones are together, and that’s all I can ask for. Well, no, that’s not strictly true, as I’d also love a more pronounced return to the sharply-written, humor-laced crime plots that characterized earlier seasons (along with more Hodgins screentime, some more guest appearances by Gordon Gordon and Caroline and, hell, the return of Zack while I’m at it).
The Office
Once you’ve written fanfiction for a series, you really can’t divorce yourself of your love for it. I was never actually a huge Michael fan, and so his departure this season wasn’t the calamitous event for me that many found it to be. In fact, I wish James Spader were staying on as undeniably creepy Robert California, but instead we’re stuck with Nellie. Still, I’ve stuck with it this long; I think I’m in for the long haul, however much longer that winds up being.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
My first, my forever favorite. I could go on for ages about how witty, wonderful, wacky, and completely relatable Buffy and the Scooby gang are, how much better off Buffy is with Spike than with Angel, how Buffy serves as the foundation for every YA paranormal written today whether the author wants to admit it or not, and countless other things that make this series one of the best in recent decades. Instead I’ll just go back to my Season 6 marathon and cry as Buffy saves the world- again.
Skins Generation 1
I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Skins (UK, of course), and I got sucked in despite myself. It was only after finishing the storyline for the first generation that I realized how much I cared about certain characters. It’s a bit uncomfortable at times, usually completely irresponsible, and not at all realistic (unless I led a much more sheltered teenage life than I am aware of). It’s also replete with moments of cheeky brilliance (see the out-of-left-field musical number in the first season finale).
So what should I add to my watch list? Should I attempt to tackle Dr. Who? (And are there any brave souls out there willing to give me a primer guide to how, exactly, that should be done, which season to start with, etc.?) Are there any other shows I’m missing out on? Being Human? Castle? Revenge? Merlin? (Though from what I’ve seen, I rather think not). Come one, come all, bring me your suggestions!

Shout-Out to Shirly Henderson

Last night was a big night for me, as I introduced the boyfriend to the chickflick classic that is Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve been a fan of Bridget ever since stumbling upon Fielding’s book back in high school; who can resist the delightfully disheveled account of Bridget’s ever fluctuating weight, alcohol ingestion, and love life? While watching Bridget gave me the usual girly thrills that can only be brought on by Firth As Darcy, I took particular pleasure this time around in pointing out all of the Harry Potter alums that can be spotted mingling with Bridget’s crowd. Aside from the unlikely coupling of Madam Pomfrey and Professor Slughorn as Bridget’s kooky parents, one can’t overlook Moaning Myrtle as Bridget’s best friend Jude.

Introducing someone to a beloved favorite truly does allow you to view it through fresh eyes, as I discovered last night while whispering “That’s Moaning Myrtle” at Jude’s first appearance. No sooner had I uttered the words than my boyfriend and I simultaneously realized the irony of Bridget’s voice-over introduction: “Daily call from Jude. Best friend. Head of investment at Brightlings Bank, who spends most of her time trapped in the ladies’ toilet crying over fuckwit boyfriend.”

The coincidence was enough to make us both exclaim out loud. Apparently, such is Shirley Henderson’s lot in life, as we all know that Moaning Myrtle, too, spends her days crying in the second floor girls’ bathroom at Hogwarts. Since I love me some parallels in fiction (and fiction-inspired film), I couldn’t resist this shoutout to Henderson. Had anyone else noticed the similarity in characters, or was I slow on the uptake?

Review: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I am not a graphic novel reader. Sure, I’ve tried them out on occasion, but by and large, I’m not a fan of pictures and thought bubbles in lieu of text that I can sink my teeth into. Had I not seen the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim before spotting this title on NetGalley, I likely wouldn’t have requested it. However, I’d enjoyed the movie’s quirky coolness and so decided that Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life would be a good candidate to test the waters of the storytelling capabilities of the graphic novel.

It’s been a while since I watched the film version, but from what I remember, it appears that the filmmakers adapted the story quite faithfully. It almost seemed as if I were reading the screenplay, as I could recall having heard most of the dialogue before. That’s not a bad thing, considering the fact that O’Malley’s witty way with

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: Volume 1 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

words is the best thing about this book. I’m no expert on comic book artistry (in fact, I’m not really a fan of cartoonish artwork), but the format seemed to fit Scott’s story rather well. Still, I can’t say that the novelty of viewing another artist’s interpretation of the author’s depictions is intriguing enough to lure me away from the standard novel. That being said, I doubt that Scott Pilgrim’s story is really meaty enough to sustain an entire novel’s worth of narrative, unless perhaps O’Malley grouped all the volumes together into a single book. Suffice it to say, Scott Pilgrim’s story is rather as precious as the title implies. The events are improbable, insufficiently explained to this avid reader of explicit fantasy worldbuilding, and the characters are for the most part unlikeable layabouts. However, if you are able to look past all that (or, in fact, are partial to the humorous layabout type), the dialogue is quite funny and the premise unique.

I can’t say that I’m eager to procure the remaining installments in Scott’s tale. Perhaps if Verona were just a little bit sympathetic or even interesting in her unwarranted confidence, I would have more incentive to witness Scott achieve his happily-ever-after. As it is, I’ll probably just rely on what memory I have of the movie and assume that the screenwriters didn’t change that much of the story. Scott Pilgrim is probably a really good graphic novel; unfortunately for Scott and O’Malley, I’m just not among its target audience.

Misfits Alert: It’s Coming to American TV!

Normally, I would include news like this as part of my Meandering Around the Interwebs feature, but this is simply too exciting to bury amidst other news items. Frankly, I’m shocked I hadn’t learned about this before today, and am sad to say that I spent the better part of an hour convinced that the relevant date was today, June 19, rather than July 19. To say that I’m upset to have to wait an extra month is an understatement.

So what is this fantastic news? Well, my friends, perhaps you’ll remember this post from a few months back in which I extolled the wonders of British TV show Misfits. Until now, Misfits has been available to American audiences for viewing on Hulu only. But that’s soon to change, as LOGO has purchased the rights to air the first four seasons starting Thursday, July 19 at 10 p.m. As of now, only three seasons have been filmed, with the fourth scheduled to air on the BBC later this year. However, I can fully endorse these first three seasons as some of the best television viewing I’ve seen in years. Misfits doesn’t shy away from the unsanitized, gritty humor that can be found in the mundane aspects of life- even if mundanity is now defined in the context of supernatural-storm-induced powers. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s wonderful.

If you love urban fantasy, miss the witty pop-culturisms of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hide X-Men comics under your bed, or are a closet Anglophile, then I guarantee this is the show for you.

Meandering Around the Interweb

In my various hours of wandering through book blogs far and wide, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic posts lately, so I thought I would spotlight my favorites. Hopefully I can make this a semi-regular feature, although my laziness will test the bounds of my determination to do so, so stay tuned for now.

While I’m drowning in the tears that can only be brought on by The Reichenbach Fall, perhaps I’ll drink away my sorrows with some of these delightful Sherlock blend teas. I’m particularly curious to try Moriartea.

Heroes and Heartbreakers had some interesting television news this week. Apparently, come fall we will have a new Beauty and the Beast adaptation, this time with an update of the classic 80’s TV show. I can’t help but be rather disappointed with the trailer (and not only because I was an adamant Lana hater during the Smallville years). I’m sorry, but a little facial scar does not a beast make, especially when the monstrous attitude is replaced with a penchant for altruism. From the snippets we get here, it looks like he might become a tad more beastly when he’s in angry mode…but, no, wait- scratch that, he’s still handsome. Oh, well. At least we still have time to hope that the Anne of Green Gables modern update is better. But honestly, I’ll take Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie any day.

The Piper’s Son happens to be my favorite Melina Marchetta, and Kat Kennedy over at the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog recently wrote a wonderful review that expresses all the reasons I love this book more eloquently than I could. In other Marchetta-related news, according to Goodreads, the fourth book in the Lumatere Chronicles has a name, and it’s…Ferragost. Thoughts? Do you think this the official title, as it doesn’t really fit in with the first three.

There’s some interesting discussion of late about just what dystopian actually means, and how it differs from post-apocalyptic fic.

I’m guaranteed to track down this Princess Bride-inspired wine pack for my next dinner party. And don’t worry, according to the website, the Inconceivable Cab holds no traces of iocane powder.

I can’t help but love reading Amber at Down the Rabbit Hole’s reactions to recently completing her first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While I don’t agree with everything in her post about why Buffy and Spike are meant to be, she makes some good points nonetheless. I’m even more interested to hear what she has to say about her foray into the world of Season 8 comics, as I’ve abstained from them myself. Personally, I love how Whedon ended the show, and while I’m somewhat intrigued by what I’ve read of the comic continuation, I’m also too apprehensive to delve in myself.

The world lost a wonderful writer last week. As always, Neil Gaiman’s words regarding the love he held for Ray Bradbury’s work are beautifully poignant and a lovely tribute.

A Spell of Vengeance by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been salivating for D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker since spotting the gorgeous Chris McGrath cover last year, and was so excited to receive an advance copy from NetGalley. The short story, “A Spell of Vengeance,” written for Tor.com makes me all the more excited to read it this weekend.

Once again, the scientific community has made a discovery that has gone shockingly unremarked-upon by the general populace. Bulgarian archaeologists have uncovered human remains from the Middle Ages with iron stakes protruding from their chests. These skeletons serve as evidence of actual vampire hunting back in the day. Beware, ye squeamish; the link leads to some relatively graphic images.

Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews had a Twitter battle on behalf of their respective heroes, Bones and Curran. I think this speaks for itself.

Lynn Flewelling has written a short story in which Seregil from her Nightrunner series and Bast from Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind have a cage fight. I’ve never actually read Rothfuss (I know, I’m getting on it), but regardless, my money’s on Seregil every time.

And possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen, Super Mercado has graced the world with Game of Thrones of Muppets. While they’re all super clever and fit in with the real cast surprisingly well, I think I stopped breathing when my eyes landed on Petyr Beakish and Dr. Varys Honeydew.