Azzara: More than magic at new ‘Harry Potter’ park

By Katie Azzara

Last week, I visited the village of Hogsmeade, drank goblets full of butterbeer and took a… Last week, I visited the village of Hogsmeade, drank goblets full of butterbeer and took a magical journey with Harry Potter himself.

No, I didn’t finally get my letter from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry inviting me to begin the magical education that I’ve always wanted, but I did the next best thing: I took a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the new amusement park at Universal Studios in Orlando.

The park comes complete with an entire village straight out of the book series, including a majestic replica of Hogwarts castle. For Harry Potter fans, the theme park was one of the most anticipated events of 2010.

But my visit was not without difficulties. I woke up at 5 a.m. and waited in an endless line of fervent Harry Potter fans for hours on June 18, which just so happened to be the grand opening of the park. Obsessive fans short on sleep, crammed in lines and facing Florida’s summer heat hardly sounds like a magical combination. But by the end of the day, I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Everything about the park, from the Dragon Challenge roller coaster to the perfect replicas of stores like Zonko’s Joke Shop, Honeydukes Sweetshop and Ollivander’s Wand Shop, was the realization of any Potter fan’s fantasy, myself included.

Yet it wasn’t until I was well past the gates of this new world that I realized that this theme park was enchanting in more ways than one. I began to notice that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter had a way of bringing people together.

Despite the crowds and the lines, the heat and the sleep deprivation, everyone at the park was in the highest of spirits, and we were all connected through a mutual love — fanaticism, might be more appropriate — for the world J.K. Rowling created. Somehow, everyone managed to stay friendly, patient and courteous despite the long lines and the hot sun. And that, I think, is pretty unusual, at least based on my previous amusement park experiences.

But there’s a simple explanation behind this. All of us were as close as we’d get to the wizard world. We were reminded that it’s never too late to live out a fantasy, no matter how impossible it might seem. The park was a dream come true for some fans, and moping over long lines, crowded rides and strenuous heat would ruin the fantasy.

For one day, I, and all of the other fans that were present, forgot about their stress, worries and other “Muggle” problems and were able to enter a world that had previously only existed in the pages of books, movie screens and the best of dreams. Something about being in the land of Harry Potter seemed to change people, at least temporarily, for the better. And whether that change involved overcoming their fear of adventure rides, like my mother, who rode the thrilling Forbidden Journey twice, or just permitting some skimping on dieting — all that butterbeer — I couldn’t help but think there was a touch of magic involved.

Some, like me, had been Potter fans for literally half of their lives. Others, even longer, while some were newer to the series. Potter fans from all around the country showed up to celebrate the opening of the park. Infants, elementary schoolers, pre-teens and teens, college students, parents and grandparents alike were all brought together to join in the official opening of the Wizarding World.

That’s one of the unique traits of Rowling’s genius: Harry Potter appeals to so many age groups.

Of course, I am grimly aware that the great hero of the wizarding world is a fictional character. Yet I can’t help but feel that Harry Potter is managing to save the muggle world, too. And if not, he has definitely succeeded, and will continue to succeed, in saving the day for all of those who wish to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

E-mail Katie at [email protected]