Orlando Vacation, Day 2: Butterbeer!

Nirvana for Harry Potter fanatics the world over. (Pretty neat for the rest of us as well.)

Nirvana for Harry Potter fanatics the world over. (Pretty neat for the rest of us as well.)

Note: Diamondqueen notifies me of corrections after she reads my post. Cross-outs indicate corrected mistakes, which immediately follow.

Everyone was up bright and early eating the various breakfasts we’d purchased at the supermarket the night before. I forget exactly what time we were out at the shuttle stop, but we arrived at the Universal gates before the 8 a.m. opening time. That included the shuttle ride, making our way up the escalators and through security, and hiking through all the restaurants and attractions of the CityWalk night life area.

The day before, when we were striding through the airports, I noticed a painful pull in my right hip. At that point it was nothing to worry about; I have new sets of pains and aches just about every day. As we were hurrying to get in line at the theme park gate, I realized the pain in my hip was just as bad as on Sunday, matched by another pain in my right knee–sort of like a pair of power drills boring into my joints.

When the gates opened and we were officially in the park, Diamondqueen and the Hooligans shot off like rockets to try to beat everyone else to Hogsmeade Village in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Understandably, Diamondqueen wanted to get us into Hogwarts Castle for the self-guided tour before the line for the ride grew hours long. I couldn’t, though, even begin to keep up. Besides the pain, which was slowing me down more than usual, I’m under 4’11”–a dwarf compared to the Hooligans in particular. My short, stubby legs were no match for the pace of the other three. They kept pausing and waiting for me with an air of impatience and the occasional frustrated, “Come on, Chester!” I kept saying to go on ahead and I’d find them, but they lagged behind temporarily, then charged ahead again.

Meanwhile we were passing through some interesting theme park scenery–exotic Middle Eastern-style shops and restaurants, then surrealistic creations in the Dr. Seuss section. At last we came upon the iron gates that admitted us to Hogsmeade.

I read the first two Harry Potter books, and this past spring I re-watched the first two movies and caught up on the ones I’d missed so I’d have a broader frame of reference, but I’m not the Potter fanatic Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan are. Some website sorting hat had sorted them into Gryffindor Hufflepuff; they each wore pendants with the Gryffindor Hufflepuff crest I’d made for them at Diamondqueen’s request, and Diamondqueen sported a headband she’d knitted in the Gryffindor Hufflepuff colors.

Without that level of enthusiasm, I was afraid the Harry Potter attractions would leave me underwhelmed. I was wrong. Immediately I was taken with the level of craftsmanship that went into creating the imaginary attractions. Hogsmeade Village was astonishingly real, not just in a movie set way. The towers of Hogwarts Castle loomed from above impressively. We found there was no line at all for us to enter the castle just to look around (as opposed to getting in line for the ride, which Diamondqueen had chosen not to attempt during daylight hours).

Again, everything was expertly and realistically done. It was almost too dark for me to appreciate all the details, and walking through went much quicker than I anticipated, but I had a good feel for what they were presenting.

It was too early to get on Hogwarts Express, the “train” that shuttles park-goers between the two Harry Potter worlds. Diamondqueen and the Hooligans got into line for some kind of coaster ride, and I contented myself with resting my sore body in the sheltered area in front of one of the shops. It reminded me of places I’d visited in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. I looked up into the rafters and saw a number of realistic owls perched on aged beams that dribbled with owl poop. Such was the level of authentic detail attempted in the park.

I snapped some pictures in the vicinity till the others returned. By then we could board Hogwarts Express. I’d read up on the Harry Potter parks in advance, and the train was one of two features I really wanted to experience. (The other was to try Butterbeer.)

I wasn’t disappointed. After a remarkably brief wait, we were able to enter one of the train cars. We found ourselves in an old fashioned compartment that so recalled the one in A Hard Day’s Night that Diamondqueen and I

In our compartment on the train. (Is that look on S.Hooligan's face for me or the train? Who knows?)

In our compartment on the train. (Is that look on S.Hooligan’s face for me or the train? Who knows?)

started exchanging lines. (“‘allo, Grandfather!” “Hallo.” “I fought the war for your sort.” “I bet you’re sorry you won.”) The exterior windows and the door to the passageway were designed to act as projection screens, so that the train appeared to be passing through the countryside near Hogwarts, with appearances by various characters along the way. Meanwhile, it looked as if Harry, Hermione, and Ron, as shadowy silhouettes against the compartment glass, attempted to peer in at us from the passageway. There were other goings on as well before we “arrived” at King’s Cross Station. another deft and realistic recreation.

There was a London street outside the station with various attractions from the books, such as the triple-decker Knight Bus, townhouses where important plot scenes took place, and so forth. These were entertaining enough but nothing compared to what we discovered when we entered Diagon Alley.

It made me a little sorry that I wasn’t a Potter fanatic; I couldn’t indulge in the glory of the setting the way the true fans could. It was still pretty wonderful, even for a Muggle like me. We delved into the wand shop right away and enjoyed the presentation of one specially designated wizard-in-training being chosen by the ideal wand. The shop was so crowded we decided to return later. The rest of my party went off to get into line for the Gringott’s ride, and I gratefully found a shaded bench where I could rest, take pictures, and soak up the atmosphere. I made short forays into nearby shops but mostly took it easy. It was an entertaining place just to sit and watch.

When our group got back together, we returned to the wand shop. J.Hooligan had his heart set on an interactive wand that allowed him to “cast spells” all over the two Harry Potter worlds. While he made his selection, I looked at various wands as well. I was intrigued by the designs and even felt “chosen” by one, but I couldn’t justify the expense. (Diamondqueen tried to buy me one, but I put my foot down.)

J.Hooligan mapping out spells with his new wand.

J.Hooligan mapping out spells with his new wand.

Outside, J.Hooligan examined his wand and tracked down the different spots where he could make magic happen (various whimsies activated by a sensor in the wand, such as causing toys to dance, lamps to light in a store window, or water to pour from a grotesque gargoyle-like creature).

Around the corner, under the gaze of an enormous perched dragon who  growled and periodically breathed fire, we located the emporium that sold Butterbeer. When I’d first heard Butterbeer was something you could actually drink, I wasn’t that intrigued. However, everything and everyone said it was a don’t-miss. Diamondqueen read that frozen Butterbeer was supposed to be especially good, so we bought a round and stood on the cobblestone street to partake of our treat.



Oh my God. It was so good. On many hot days this summer I’ve yearned for a frozen Butterbeer. It was like an Icee or Slush Puppy, only more refined. The flavor was incredible, although I’m not quite sure how to describe it. Definitely butterscotch but other things as well. Late in the morning, with the day heating up, the crowd getting heavier, and many hours having passed since breakfast, that Butterbeer was one of the most delicious and rejuvenating things I’ve ever consumed in my life.

We still had plenty of exploring to do: the dark and creepy Knockturn Alley, various shops and businesses, a quick peek to see what the Leaky Cauldron looked like. At last we reached a saturation point at which time we headed back to King’s Cross Station and Platform 9-3/4. It was a long walk through the station, and we had a bit of a wait on the platform. The ride back to Hogsmeade presented a whole new set of experiences outside the train and inside, including a freaky visit by some Dementors.

Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan wanted to look around Hogsmeade some more. At this point everything started to become hazy. I was still hurting, plus my right heel had become inflamed with all the walking, and I was dead tired. And it was hot. And very crowded. It was only early afternoon but seemed much later because we’d gotten such an early start. Our final visit was to a candy store before we turned our weary bodies in the general direction of the park exit.

I’d thought maybe I’d like to stop on our way back and see some things, such as the exotic shops in the Sinbad section of Islands of Adventure, but I was beyond any activity except dragging my sorry carcass to the stop for the shuttle bus. J.Hooligan didn’t seem to be in much better a state, eager to go back to our hotel and crash, although he still was able to stay many paces ahead of me as we limped along.

Fortunately, there was a shuttle waiting. At that point I wished there was a shuttle to whisk us through the long garden walk to our room. I don’t remember much more of that afternoon except flopping down on the sofa and putting my feet up. Somewhere along the line we’d agreed to order pizza for dinner in our room (S.Hooligan’s preference, I think). It was early evening by the time we were awake and moving around again, chowing down on some so-so pizza.

I don’t know where they got their reserves of strength, but Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan headed back out to the shuttle stop to revisit the Harry Potter attractions. S.Hooligan and I were only too happy to stay behind in the room. I railed at S. about shutting the sliding door, which made me feel claustrophobic, but it wasn’t worth the effort to continue to battle with her. I soaked my sore body in the tub for awhile and watched “Antiques Roadshow” and some of the political shows while I indulged in some hand quilting. Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan arrived home late, delighted with their after-dark adventures, including riding some things they’d skipped during the day. There were chocolate frogs and a big chocolate-dipped apple (which I’d requested) as snacks. I think we all were in bed by midnight, but I can’t say for sure. I don’t even remember whether I pulled out the sofa bed that night. I do know the noisy crowd in the room across the hall seemed to be gone, and whatever sounds arose in the night didn’t disturb my sleep.

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