On Oct. 15, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime: traveling from Des Moines to Orlando, Fla., to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new part of Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure, which opened on June 18 of this year.
My travel companions, Kyle Schura and Justine Ahle, were a veritable Ron and Hermione (without the awkward romance).
After sprinting through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent, we stopped suddenly in front of the gateway arch into Hogsmeade. Familiar melodies from our favorite movies played from invisible speakers, and the spires of Hogwarts castle were just barely visible over the sparkling snow-dusted roofs of the quaint town.
Eyes wide and mouths agape in wonder, we walked slowly through the threshold, spotting the Hogwarts Express, a tankard of butterbeer, fully costumed smiling workers complete with accents and some of the most dedicated costumed muggles the franchise has ever known. Colorful shops like Honeydukes and Zonko’s advertised chocolate frogs, pygmy puffs and any magical swag mentioned in the books.
Upon entering the Three Broomsticks—our breakfast destination—we gazed into a tall, dimly lit vaulted ceiling with precarious rafters. Our trio enjoyed a breakfast that consisted of the traditional eggs, bacon and fruit, as well as magical butterbeer and pumpkin juice.
Butterbeer, served cold with a tantalizing froth, is a super-sweet cream soda-esque beverage while pumpkin juice is subtler with hints of cinnamon.
We passed the Hog’s Head on our way to the theme park’s signature ride: the Forbidden Journey.
A vast cobblestone walkway separated Hogsmeade from Hogwarts castle, where we stood staring at the intricate towering castle before hurrying to the queue. Starting in the Herbology greenhouses, the queue led guests through Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor Common Room and finally to the Room of Requirement to begin our forbidden journey.
Kyle, Justine and I have decided that sharing the details of the ride would be a disservice to true HP fans, but we can reveal the premise: Hogwarts has opened its doors to Muggle tours for the first time, but of course, some nasty magical creatures throw a hitch in the plan.
The Forbidden Journey is described as a “robocoaster.” That is to say, it is a unique hybrid of a theme park ride and a scripted short film.
The other two rides at the Wizarding World are the Flight of the Hippogriff, a rollercoaster for the younger crowd, and the Dragon Challenge, an inverted dueling rollercoaster.
The Dragon Challenge allows “champions” to choose between “battling” the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball, the two sides of the coaster, in a reenactment of the first task of the Triwizard Tournament.
After riding both sides multiple times, we came to the conclusion that the Dragon Challenge was best experienced from the front row of the Chinese Fireball, with arms in the air while screaming obscure spells and enchantments.
As we left the park with the setting sun, full of sugar and memories, we concluded that this trip could very well become the pilgrimage of our generation, the culmination of our obsession with The Boy Who Lived.
We weren’t glad to return to the reality of Drake University, school of neither witchcraft nor wizardry, but we were glad to have caught a glimpse of life outside the Muggle world, where magic isn’t only for the young.
Photos courtesy of Cara Pratt