By Saher Khalil, Larry King Now
I couldn’t sleep. My heart raced with anticipation as my mind wondered what tomorrow would be like. Will it live up to my expectations? Will it be just as I imagined? I knew deep-down that, no matter what, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I had waited 17 years for this moment. When I went to bed that night, it was April and I was 28 years old. But when I woke up the next morning, it was September 1st and I was 11 again. I had finally received my letter and was going to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Although my “letter” to Hogwarts was technically an email, and my train ticket was really just a pass for Universal Studios Hollywood, where the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ resides. Still, I was ecstatic.I grabbed my camera, threw on my Slytherin scarf and headed out the door.
Once I arrived at the park, my brisk walk turned into an all-out run. I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to see the place I had been dreaming about since I first picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As I turned a corner, I saw the peak of the highest tower of Hogwarts. I slowed down to brace myself as the entrance came into view. A giant archway marked the entrance. As I stood there, I had to remind myself to breathe. I was really here. I was home.
Once I remembered how my legs worked, I made my way through the archway into Hogsmeade. Looking around, I couldn’t help but appreciate the attention to detail: the snow-covered roofs, the weather-beaten signs and the store windows filled with merchandise. This all added to an already amazing experience. The Hogwarts Express sat parked by the entrance, providing a perfect photo opportunity for guests.
Next, I explored the shops Hogsmeade had to offer. These are not just decorative set pieces, but fully-functioning shops inspired by the books and films. I made sure to stock-up on Chocolate Frogs™ and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans™ before heading over to Olivanders.
Olivanders is a little different than the other shops as it offers a slightly different experience. Before going into the shop, you're directed into a tiny room, with walls lined with wand boxes. Olivander himself then comes out and chooses a guest to receive their wand (I’m still furious I was not selected but I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually). Once the wand finally chooses the wizard, you are then ushered into the actual wand shop where you can purchase your own wands.
After my hand was exhausted from trying to correctly swish and flick, I stepped out of the shop and was greeted by a beverage cart. It was a warm day so I opted for the frozen Butterbeer™. It’s similar to a Slurpee™ and has a cream soda/toffee taste to it. To give the appearance of white foam, thick cream is placed on top making it even more delicious.
As I walked over to the entrance of the rides, I caught a quick performance by the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Fans of the series should remember that Fleur was a Beauxbatons student whom Ron took a liking to. And after watching the Beauxbatons’ performance, I can clearly see why!
Finally, it was time for the rides. Flight of the Hippogriff marks the first outdoor roller coaster for Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s fun for the entire family and gives you a look at Buckbeak the Hippogriff, Hagrid’s Hut and Sirius’ motorcycle. It’s a simple coaster with no loops or large drops but worth it if you have the time.
But if you only have time to see one thing at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, it would have to be Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’ve never been on a ride in my life where I wished the line had taken longer, as the line itself was an experience all on its own. To board the ride, you first go through Hogwarts castle, where you get to see Harry Potter landmarks such as the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore’s office, the Fat Lady's portrait and even the Gryffindor Common Room. Once on the ride, you take a journey through pivotal scenes from the film. You wear 3D glasses shaped like Quidditch goggles as you speed down a track. Your seats rotate 360-degrees, providing the feeling of flight, as you soar through the Hogwarts' grounds, down the Quidditch Field, and into the Forbidden Forest. It's definitely the highlight of the park.
We don’t get many opportunities to live out our childhood dreams and fantasies. For anyone who grew-up reading Harry Potter or watching the films, Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ is a must-see.It was a day that I will never forget and I can’t wait till I have the opportunity to go back and do it all over again. I know that Hogwarts will always be there for me to call home.
You know him as Sirius Black, but can you guess what other iconic character was almost played by Gary Oldman? Watch the clip to find out!
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.