The first time I read Harry Potter, I didn’t like it.
Hear me out. I was 11. I was stuck in a “young reader” loop of reading and re-reading the same coming-of-age YA books. I didn’t want to branch out. So the first Harry Potter book, while interesting, didn’t really grab me.
I ended up reading more of the books after the movies came out. I loved the movies. And I started to like the books more as I got a little older. But it wasn’t until I was 19, when I did a full re-read of the books, that I truly fell in love with them. I watched the movies over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of this world that J.K. Rowling created.
When I was 21, I had the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort. It was a few months after it opened, so it was still crowded, but not crowded enough to get return time cards. The moment I walked into Hogsmeade, I started to cry. A world that had only existed in books, in movies, and in my head, was now an immersive experience. It was tangible. I was standing inside of Hogsmeade, with Honeydukes and Zonkos on my left and the Hogwarts Express on my right.
I actually remember saying to my mom, “you know how much I love Magic Kingdom? I love this more.”
I don’t even remember how much time I spent wandering around the shops, pouring over every piece of merchandise and taking pictures of every detail. I took my first ride on “Forbidden Journey,” and was blown away by the castle and the ride itself. Every detail of Hogwarts was so special and so beautiful.
Long story short, I was obsessed. Not long after, I got my fifth tattoo, the three little stars that are featured in the novels.
So how could it get better?
I don’t remember where I was when Diagon Alley was announced. In fact, I don’t remember much at all, except that when I got my DCP acceptance, I figured out that I would be in the Orlando area for the opening. (No, I didn’t go for opening day, or even for a few weeks after — crowd anxiety killed that idea.)
I got my first glimpse of Diagon Alley on a trip to UOR in May. Standing in a certain spot, I was able to see the top of the building fronts and the top of the Knight Bus. It was fantastic. After my mom got home from that trip, I begged her to ship me my copies of the books, and I spent the summer doing another re-read.
But I had no idea just how amazing the world behind the walls was. I wish I remembered more details about my first trip to London and Diagon Alley, but it’s such a blur. All I know is that when I went past the brick walls and Diagon Alley opened up in front of me, I cried. I was in absolute shock. The storefronts, the dragon perched on top of Gringotts… it was all even more perfect than I could have imagined. I thought Hogsmeade was immersive, but Diagon Alley exceeded all expectations that I had for it.
Not only are the areas themselves immersive, the team members truly make the experience complete. While I know it’s unlikely that every single Universal team member in the WWoHP areas is a Harry Potter fan themselves, I have found that so many of them can keep up the theming effortlessly. It makes the experience that much more fun when a team member yells “GO RAVENCLAW!” as I walk by in my blue Ravenclaw tshirt. I love when team members back away from me when I walk by in my Sirius Black tshirt. And it’s always an enjoyable experience when the merch team members compliment whatever piece of merch I’m buying, easily tying it into the books or movies.
While it’s clear that I am Disney at heart, there’s one thing that Universal will always have for me that Disney doesn’t: the Harry Potter stories come to life. My love for the HP stories have a different place in my heart than Disney does, but not much compares to what I feel when I walk up to my Howarts “home.” Or how I feel sitting in the Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron with fish & chips and butterbeer.
It’s undeniable that Universal has done a great job with WWoHP, at least from this fan’s perspective. And again, while Disney is the greater theme park in my heart, I will always have a soft spot for the Harry Potter aspect of Universal. Being able to visit these worlds is what really rekindled my adoration of the series. And while Disney will always be there to welcome me home, so will Hogwarts and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. :)