Since I left New Zealand in August 2011 I have been on the move. As I’ve previously written about, 2 months around Australia was a whirlwind trip. Over 20,000 kilometres, many days on a train, lots of new friends and many an instant noodle.
From Australia I got the pleasure of America, for the 4th time. Some friends and I drove from Maryland all the way to Orlando where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter awaited me.
Stopping in Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA before arriving in Orlando.
Whilst on the road trip we ate a lot, along the way..
Devouring a “marshmallow pop” in Charleston, SC.
Stayed at the Thunderbird Inn, where they had all you could eat doughnuts for breakfast (I managed a hearty 3 in total)..
Ate at the famous Paula Deen’s “Lady and Sons”…
With a pitstop in St Augustine for some of the best mexican food I’ve ever had..
Finally we arrived in Orlando, with much excitement at seeing the Harry Potter poster boards everywhere.
We got some dinner inside us, a good nights sleep and started our day early, to make sure we got the most magic out of our day. It was to be known as THE Day of Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We rushed through the park, eager to get to the entrance of the Harry Potter section, and find Hogsmeade.
As a disclaimer, I really wasn’t sure what I would make of a whole Americanised theme park dedicated to Harry Potter. Most of my friends are aware that I really bloody love Harry Potter, and things like the movie inaccuracies cause me much chagrin. My desire to visit the park was just for shits and giggles. My expectations were low, though I was undoubtedly excited, and had my suspicions that it could well be on the tacky side of things.
Well, any reservations I had were soon thrown out the window. First walking through Hogsmeade, seeing the butterbeer barrels and the houses, and the Hogwarts express, and all the shops. I was overwhelmed. Then I got to the castle (our first target of beating the queues), and I walked through the corridors and saw the hundreds of moving portraits..
They look stationary in the picture but in real life they really do move, and sometimes talk, with astoundingly life like abilities.
Then I was speechless. As the day wore on I became more and more amazed. After we visited the castle, we went to Ollivanders, where I literally jiggled with excitement as we waited in the queue.
I was pretty much screaming with “OH MY GOD WE ARE HERE AND LOOK AT IT, IT’S SO AMAZING, I AM GOING TO DIE WITH EXCITEMENT, OH MY GOD!!” when this photo was taken
Once inside Ollivanders, I had to do all I could to not continue jiggling as we cast our eyes around the room and saw the floor to ceiling boxes of wands and cobwebs and just everything that represents Ollivanders.
It was just perfect. We then wand-ered (excuse the pun) into the first gift shop. Also part of the Owl Post department, which was rammed full of people looking at all the amazing merchandise for sale. Normally I hate that sort of thing, but I couldn’t help enjoying browsing the replica wands for sale and excellent decorations (like the photo below).
There was just so much take in. Now the first big ticket crowd pleasers were out the way, we decided to have a walk around Hogsmeade, whilst I took in all the sights. Peering in the shop windows and marvelling at the astounding attention to detail that had been paid. Just things like even the cleaners wandering around had to wear replica outfits and wheel around rubbish carts that were in keeping in the style of Harry Potter.
For lunch we stopped by the Three Broomsticks, where I ordered ribs, and gazed around at the ridiculously accurate replica of the pub. Attached to the Three Broomsticks is a version of The Hogs Head, where they also serve a special Hogs Head beer. All of which I had to try, of course. Along with the pumpkin juice (fizzy and none fizzy), butterbeer (frozen and none frozen).
Needless to say, the butterbeer was out of this world. Something worth flying back to Wizarding World for on its own. Though they sell pumpkin juice in bottles, there’s no way to transport the butterbeer so you’ll just have to go if you want to try it or use your imagination to envisage the cream soda and butterscotch concoction, that tastes every bit of the magical world.
Surprisingly, another stand out part of the trip was visiting the bathrooms. Even these had the sounds of moaning Myrtle piped through. Or even the ATM which had Gringotts Bank emblazoned over the top, to disguise the usual American logos.
Before heading off towards the other attractions in the park for a little Potter-relief, I did one more loop of Hogwarts. This time taking the walking through that’s there for those who don’t want to do the ride. It’s quite special as you get to see a few extra bits and can enjoy all of the little details, instead of being jostled along in a queue (one of the luxuries of not going at peak times - fast moving queues!).
When we moved on to the world of Dr Suess, where we got silly on all of the Grinch related things, rode a carousel and enjoyed the more kiddie designed rides.
We then terrified ourselves senseless in one of the funniest theme park experiences of my entire life to date. I convinced my none rollercoasting-loving friends of braving the Jurassic Park log flume, they were sold on the fact I told them it was a log flume and how scary can it be? Because we were stood beside it and looked tamed. Oh how wrong I was.
I could give an even longer winded explanation but the short(ish) version is you’re tricked into thinking you’re not very high up and the ride will take only a minor splash, when in fact you reach the climax of the ride to be faced with a terrifying T-Rex in the dark (which left me squealing like a 4 year old who’d had their sweets taken) and then you do an almighty plunge of 84 feet/26 meters/a bloody long way. Did I mentioned we were front row? No? Well, we were. My friends were sceptical about this but the man was hurrying us in the boat and we had no choice. Of course, in my original confidence I didn’t think it’d be too much of a problem. When we splashed at the bottom, and I turned to see my friends faces, both of whom were drenched, I started laughing and could not stop until 5 minutes later. I was double over, to the point of nearly being able to get out of the boat, with tears rolling down my cheeks. It was absolutely priceless. Thank goodness I cajoled them onto it, it was the single most terrifying and funny ride we did all trip!
After that commotion, it was time to head back to the safety of Harry Potter and absorb ourselves in the atmosphere. We braved the Duelling Dragons ride (taking both coloured dragons, of course) and enjoyed taking lots of pictures of the triwzard tournament paraphernalia.
We were then suitably exhausted and needed a sit down, and a drink, at the Hogs Head beer garden.
To top off the day, it was time for the shopping to commence. So I explored Honeydukes to try lots of unusual goodies, like Fizzing Whizzbees, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Peppermint Toads, Acid Pop and a chocolate wand!
From a variety of shops, I purchased a very exciting wax seal with the Hogwarts crest on it (dream come true to own this!), Harry Potter socks (!!) - different colour and badge for each house, writing set, journal, embroidered badge and a few gifts. Plus I sent some postcards to friends, which bear the Owl Post logo, with Harry Potter stamps, very cool. Oh and I just had to buy a cauldron cake from Honeydukes! Which was adorable. It never occurred to me that they’re sweet not savoury but it makes sense, since pumpkin pasties are the savoury food on the food trolley.
All in all it was a very exhausting day of fun, where I felt like a small child filled with excitement. A dream come true!
The next day we ventured around the other part of the park, I enthusiastically threw myself on a variety of rides, the best by far was Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. A very whizzy and exciting rollercoaster that was the closest thing they had to riding a motorbike, with some excellent corners. I loved it so much I went on it about three times and even got to ride the front on one turn, which was so much fun!
Another highlight was the Jaws ride, where the exhaustingly enthusiastic woman spent the entire time shouting about our impending danger. It was quite amusing. There was the very realistic “Disaster!” ride, where you’re part of a disaster movie. The most terrifying part was being on a fake subway and then it suddenly filling with water around you (because there’s been a disaster), a little too realistic for my liking!
Before we knew it, it was time to leave Orlando behind and make our next stop on the road trip. We decided to venture to Clearwater Beach for some seaside time, and see what Clearwater had to offer. We took an impressive drive and then found the sea! We stayed at a relatively reasonable ocean side hotel, where we met a bizarre man from Oklahoma, which has suitably put us all off people from Oklahoma for life, though did coin us the phrase “om-gee” which he actually said, in real life, so we adopted it because it’s quite literally hysterical.
After a few days of sunning ourselves it was time to head north towards the relatives we were to visit (my friends, not mine!). Along the way we made the most excellent stop at Wakulla Springs.
It’s one of the most impressive natural springs in the world and feeds a massive eco system of life. We arrived just in time to catch a boat trip, where our narrator and boat driver had one of the best southern accents I have ever heard in my life (on TV or in real life!). On our boat trip we saw a lot of alligators (close up!), snakes, cormorants and best of all, manatees!!
The water was also so clear and beautiful, with the surrounding forest. It was simply stunning, and one of the best boat journeys I have ever, ever done.
We completed our day by arriving to the relatives, near Tallahassee, FL. Here we spent Thanksgiving, stuffing ourselves senseless. Squeezing in a few visits to the surrounding area including Saint Luis Mission which gave an insightful history into Native Americans and surprised me by being more informative than the Native American History museum in DC. That same evening we visited a fantastic Mexican which did an excellent deal on gigantic margaritas and very delicious Mexican food. Also somewhere amongst all of this we went to pretty lake in Tallahassee its self and had the most fabulous lunch at a cafe beside it; some of the freshest and most wholesome food I’ve ever eaten in America.
The day after Thanksgiving and it was all over, it was time to head north. Not before I’d managed to give myself at hangover after visiting a most impressively redneck bar (where nobody believed I was English and thought I was all pretending, such a rare commodity I was) on the cheap liquor, all I could do was groan from the backseat as we drove the 14 hours to Maryland about how much I wanted chik-fil-a. Within a few hours my chicken urge was satisfied and happily ate my chicken strips with polynesian and hot sauce in the backseat. And then a Subway a number of hours later.