If you are wondering how in the world we managed to get to Florida with six kids then you can read the much too long background story here. In a nutshell, we wrote on our Facebook page about Ben’s wish list and an anonymous amazing someone decided to make one of Ben’s dreams come true.

SO, where to begin… it was FANTASTIC. (Click the More to see the gallery and explanations.)

The timing worked out that we were able to visit Harry Potter world and have our first day in the park be ON C’s 12th birthday. We flew in the night before, got everyone tucked into bed between the two hotel rooms (connecting door) and then I pulled out some of the goodies I had hidden. C didn’t know I had managed to sneak in his robe and white dress shirts (despite our limited baggage space) so I set those out for him along with the new tie. When he woke up in the morning he was really excited to see them – and when I opened the curtains for their hotel room over the tops of the trees you could see Hogwarts Castle! They were absolutely giddy.

Because we stayed onsite at one of the hotels at the resort we got admission into the park one hour before it opened to the public. We were up much too early and headed down to take the boat, since we didn’t know for sure how long the walk would be (it was about 6 minutes.) We walked into the park alongside other little kids and families in costume and you could sense the excitement!

I had done a lot of online reading about kids and Harry Potter world and I knew that (a) it gets crowded FAST (b) lines for the most popular spots can be up to two hours during peak season. TWO HOURS. Thankfully we were not peak season, but it was a holiday (veterans day) and we didn’t know how bad it would get. First we met Mom’s demand and got some photos before the crowds came surging in. You can see the outside of the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the train, looking into Hogsmeade, the kids watching the picture (video) of Sirius Black… Then we headed to Olivander’s wand shop (which Livy did NOT go for) so I stepped out with her while the kids watched the show entranced. None of our kids were chosen which I thought may be a good thing – I didn’t want to have a riot start.

In a nutshell you step in with a group of about 20 people, the room is very dark, and Olivander comes downstairs and picks a child to be chosen by their wand. There are some false starts, you try a few wands that cause funny mishaps (boxes flying off shelves, flowers dying) and then the correct wand chooses the child – complete with spotlight and music and burst of air blowing the child’s hair up. It was so fun! You then get ushered into a shop where your child begs you to buy everything on the shelves. There is a lot of fun stuff to see, including the monster book which really snaps and growls. There’s also the triwizard cup (turn one on – they light up) and lots of stuff I was tempted by but resisted. Look up – you’ll see the broomstick donated by Draco when he came to visit the park (picture included below.)

After the wand shop we walked up the hill to Hogswart to tour the castle and try the Forbidden Journey ride – which I did NOT try, we did the child swap option where one parent rides and the other waits in a room with a bunch of other families (watching Harry Potter 1) and then you can trade out to ride and skip repeating the line. However, our kids came back in tears which let me know I wouldn’t enjoy the ride so we just headed out!

The child swap line was MUCH shorter than the regular line at that hour, we had no wait. In future visits to the castle we either were called ahead and bumped or we would ask to just tour the castle, which lets you do a condensed tour – but you miss some of the basement and greenhouse sights, so we tried tours both ways. The line did get much, MUCH longer so the shorter tour was fantastic, we could go at our own pace and get up closer to things and take photos. (Photos of that below, the pictures are in order so my explanation is jumping around.)

At this point it wasn’t even 9am and the park wasn’t open to the public so we seized the chance to visit the shops, which I also read get so packed later in the day. The big kids were happy to just look at everything, the little kids wanted to eat everything. The windows of all the shops are fun – the frog box opens and makes sounds, for example. There are only four shops – candy, trick, one in the castle, and the wand shop. There are also a couple carts around to buy things, but the rest of the “shops” are just window fronts with different things to see – the bludgers shake in the box, the dress of Hermione’s from the ball raises and lowers, the instruments play themselves.

There’s also a little alley behind the candy shop that lets you see the dishes washing themselves from the Three Broomsticks but you may not even notice – so explore the little alleyways!

The train conductor comes and goes and a line forms for pictures so if you see him, grab him!

And come back in the evening – the village lights up and it’s so pretty. I felt homesick for Christmas in Germany! And as the park gets ready to close all the workers come out (in costume) and start breaking down tables and moving things and it feels like you are really there, immersed in the magic. I just wanted to sit and watch and listen to the music and see the beautiful moon.

Day Two – we had planned to visit the other park (Universal Studios) then come back on day three for Harry Potter world again. After looking at the rides and events at the other park we decided to just stay at Harry Potter world! And I’m so glad we did – we got there early again and this time Kit sent me in to watch the wand show and Ben got chosen! He was so excited, I cried seeing his expression. E had just told me she really hoped to be chosen and I wasn’t sure how she would react when B got picked instead, but she leaned in and told me how glad he had the chance. And Kit and I had already discussed – if one of our kids got picked I wanted to get the wand. Inside the shop next door you can buy wands for various characters – Harry, Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Sirius, Snape. But the Olivander wand that chooses a child is different, they have a few they rotate through and it was neat to get THAT one. (It’s $35 for a wand that chooses you, I think the other wands are $40 something.)

Oh, another neat thing – the gift shop in the castle has some items NOT in the other store so do explore all the shops. It has a marauder’s map with wand that they were demonstrating how it lights up with footprints for different characters. Very cool!

On our last day we planned to catch both shows (singing frogs and triwizard rally) and eat at the Three Broomsticks. If you don’t want to eat inside (but you should at least check it out) then you can walk down an alley behind the pub/restaurant and get a pretty few of the castle with covered seating and it was usually empty back there for us. It’s where the picture of Kit and I is taken with E clutching his arm – it was nice having the kids there to get some pictures of us. 🙂

The shows (frog and triwzard) alternate every hour but there is a lunch break. After the brief shows (about 5 minutes each) you can pose for pictures with the group – stand towards the right of the stage and you’ll be first in line. When the frogs started the song from the movie (Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble) E turned around to me at the stage and said, “THIS IS FROM MACBETH!” The triwizard rally uses the song from the Christmas ball and the school entrance and really matches movie four well.

The dark photos are inside the castle – the mirror, house counting “beans”, various statues, the talking pictures. The castle tour was very well done, I just wish it wasn’t so dark as it was tricky for B to see much.

The park does not have any characters from the books besides Olivander and the train conductor – I believe that was a stipulation of Rowling. Employees are dressed as villagers in Hogsmeade or students from Hogswart.

There’s an expansion opening in summer 2014 that will include the Hogwarts express connecting the village/castle with the London part, which will be over in part of the other park. It will have the Leaky Cauldron restaurant, Weasley’s joke shop, Diagon Alley, and the Gringott’s bank ride. I’m sure there will be more but that’s all that has been announced so far, and the employee I was interrogating was doing lots of winking and nodding and smiling and avoiding answering officially. 🙂

More to come as I remember details…

Oh, jelly beans I need to write about, and the food, and butterbeer…

I’m trying something new with the gallery, if you click in the photo or the arrow on the bottom right you can just click through all of them. I’ve not figured out how to caption them directly yet – maybe next time!

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