Sunday, July 25, 2010
To Infinitus... And Beyond! (Part III)
Ah, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Where should I begin? Well, I caught my first glimpse of Hogwarts Castle from Seuss Landing, which, let me tell you, was a surreal sight.
The park was crowded, hot, and noisy. It must have been at least 95 degrees, eighty percent humidity, and not a cloud in the sky. The place was packed to the gills, as the photos will demonstrate. I've gotta say, if I'd had to wait 40 minutes in that kind of weather for for all the rides in the park, I don't know if I could've made it. You can't even get indoors for a relief from the heat; they only allow twenty people in the shops at a time, in order to preserve the atmosphere (and probably to comply with fire regulations). But I think the shops were probably so crowded because everyone else was trying to get out of the heat, too.
The shops were great. Asides from the heat and the Muggles, it just like being a Hogwarts student out for a weekend excursion to Hogsmeade. But I've gotta say, the fake snow on the rooftops felt enormously, wildly, ridiculously out-of-place. There was just no way to suspend my disbelief, even for a moment. It was just. too. HOT!
Probably the first (and longest) line you'll notice is the one for the Butterbeer wagon. They serve it chilled, in either a free plastic cup, or a souvenir glass (which costs a lot extra). The foam on top is not a product of the drink itself; rather, it's a separate fluid, which is plopped on top of your glass when it's almost full. It never dissipates, it just floats in the center of your glass, even after you've finished it. It tastes good, like butterscotch with an aftertaste like the butter they put on popcorn at the movies. It's good, but extremely sweet. It's definitely designed for the palette of small child.
The same goes for Pumpkin Juice. It tastes like a like pumpkin pie, even though (according to the ingredients) it's mostly apple juice. It comes in a nice bottle, with a lid shaped like a pumpkin, but I recommend that, if you're traveling in a large group, buy one bottle, and let everyone take a sip. It's too sweet for one person to finish the whole thing. Brianna and I wound of throwing away half a bottle apiece.
The park was full of robe-wearing employees, who acted as shopkeepers, security guards, and emcees for special events like the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons Dance Extravaganza. We saw them forming a line as we were leaving the "Flight of the Hippogriff" ride, and decided to follow them. They went to a little shaded area beside Olivander's, where they performed a modified version the dance number from Goblet of Fire.
But the star attraction, the real show-stealer, was the ride within Hogwarts castle itself, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We didn't even bother with that one while it was still light outside, because the wait was 90 minutes long. Sure, we could've bypassed all that with out Express Passes (courtesy of the convention), but I knew it would be special, and wanted to save it for the Night of a Thousand Wizards.
In reality, it was mostly Witches, not Wizards, and there were more than two thousand of us! It was an incredible experience, one I'll (probably) never duplicate. For one, the trip costs too much, and for another, I don't know if they'll ever hold a convention like this again. But man, oh man, am I glad I was there to see it, to be part of something so big.
And I believe that every single one of us rode the Forbidden Journey that night. I don't have any pictures, but I don't think they could do it justice. It was all about the experience of actually being there. I think that is was the only theme park ride I've ever been on where the line was almost as exciting as the ride. It was packed to the rafters with HP memorabilia, props, sculptures, and audio. It was all incredibly immersive. For example, there were tons of portraits, but it wasn't immediately apparent which ones were static, and which ones would move if you looked at them long enough. Sometimes, they would even converse with each other. There was one room where the Hogwarts Founders bantered back and forth with each other. Their dialogue was so well-written and snappy that I suspected that JKR herself had a hand in its creation (though I could be wrong).
The ride itself was a head-spinning, stomach-twisting thrill which blurred the line between real, physical motion, simulated flight, and animatronic wizardry. For example, in one scene, we chased (and were chased by) a Hungarian Horntail, which led to us crashing through a bridge. We were jerked to the side, and all of a sudden we were inches away form a giant robotic dragon head, which opened its mouth and shot a blast of artificial, underlit fog and hot air at us, producing a shockingly real facsimile of fire-breath. There were Dementor attacks, giant spiders that spat water (supposed to be either drool or poison) on the riders, and even a hair-raising brush with the battering branches of the Whomping Willow! For a moment, all I could think was "Oh shit, what if they've got the timing on this ride wrong? We'll all be crushed!" That's what amusement park rides should be like! I was (literally) transported to a world of magic, and brought safely back. Just like the books!
Well, it's late, and I need to sleep, but there's more to come. Tomorrow, I'll try to give you my final account of the trip, and sum it all up, as well as incorporating anything else that I might have forgotten.