John's been to Hogsmeade once before, but embarrassingly enough I'd never been to either of the new Harry Potter areas. I've watched tons of walk-through videos online, clicked through every slideshow, listened to the stage shows, read all the ride reviews, drooled over the merchandise and menus, and generally fangirled over every detail. Yet, somehow, I never got the courage to go. I just didn't want to spend all that money to get in when I knew I couldn't go on any rides! So, I put it off.
Now that I'm working on overcoming my agoraphobia, though, I decided It Was Time. And to take the pressure off, John and I bought season passes - which were only $50 more than a 2-park day pass, anyway - so I won't feel so bad skipping the rides for now.
We started with Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure, and as we walked towards the Hogwarts Express, with the castle looming so beautifully on the horizon, I realized to my horror that I was so stinking happy I was actually going to cry. ("NoooOOOooo!!") Yep. I'm THAT PERSON now, you guys. I'd built up this visit in my head so much that I was completely overwhelmed, and all I could do was stagger around wide-eyed and sniffling. Gah.
John and I both brought heavy cameras, but they hung around our necks, forgotten, for most of the day. There was just too much. I couldn't take it all in!
As luck would have it the park was practically deserted - at least by Universal standards - so I was able to stagger and sniffle in relative ease. We walked the castle queue - quickly, because urrrg enclosed spaces - and then wandered up and down the street, gawking. Lunch at the Three Broomsticks (rather lackluster, but the Pear cider was nice), a quick Frog Choir concert, and then we were off to Diagon Alley.
I'm not ready for the train yet, so we had to take the looooong way 'round. That means walking all the way out of Islands, over to Universal, and then to the very back of the park. Good exercise.
Diagon Alley was even more of a rush, since Universal really cranked the detail and atmosphere there up to 11. And I thought there was a lot to see in Hogsmeade! WOW.
I finally remembered I had a camera, though, since I think it's park policy that you HAVE to take a picture of the dragon:
We wandered, we shopped, we ate sea salt caramel ice cream (SO GOOD), John went on Gringotts (a 5 minute wait, if you can believe it!), and we stood in the street and giggled & clapped like little kids over the booming roar of the fire-breathing dragon. Late in the day we even went to Ollivanders, where we had an almost private show, with only 4 of us in the audience! (And I was so captivated I didn't even mind being "trapped" in the show room for those few minutes.)
Time zipped by, and since the park closed at 6 we ended with dinner at the Leaky Cauldron, which was WAY better than lunch. (Try the Toad-in-a-Hole. Trust me.) I also had my first official Butter Beer! It tasted like the homemade version some friends made once, but the cream was much thicker; positively buttery. And yes, GOOD. (I heard they're offering hot butter beer now! Next time, I'm totally trying that.)
After dinner we spent our last few minutes watching the dragon:
And clapping for his final roar:
Then we dashed around taking a few more photos in the growing dark. It's so lovely there with all the lights on; it's a shame the park wasn't open later. Most of my pics were terrible, but here are a few that turned out:
And my favorite:
This statue is amazing, and just as I got down on one knee for the photo the end-of-night fireworks started, bathing the whole street in red light. Next time I'd love to bring a tripod, for better focus - oooh, and maybe try some HDR? I can see spending ALL the time here, just taking pictures.
But as wonderful as the day was, the best part was this: for the first time in maybe two years, I went on a ride. And better yet, I didn't panic. Sure, it was just The Cat in the Hat, and sure, I experienced real, honest-to-goodness terror getting into that ridiculous little car - but I did it.
I almost didn't, to be honest. I got up to the loading dock and totally choked. But as I hesitated, thinking I couldn't do this, thinking I'd just try again next time, I had another, louder thought. I thought about how proud you guys would be of me. I thought about how proud *I* would be to tell you I did it. And then, dangit, I CLIMBED INTO THAT SILLY SEUSS CAR.
Ok, maybe my victories are kind of ridiculous. But at least they're mine.
And next time, I promise more pictures!