Jeff Vrabel: Harry Potter and the Order of the Vrabels
So we found ourselves with three days off and full-time weekend babysitting, so we did what I think most 35-year-old professional married couples would do when gifted with such a rare opportunity: Went promptly to Harry Potter land in Orlando. My idea was Chuck E. Cheese, but whatever, this was fine.
It's not Harry Potter land, of course, and the lovely 29-year-old woman we met in line at Ollivander's Wand Shop who dropped $800 and waited 10 hours to attend the park's opening day would probably punch me in the quaffle unless I referred to at directly is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Florida and basically the single most satisfying aggro-nerd experience I've had since the first time I rode "Star Tours," which was EXACTLY LIKE Beggar's Canyon back home, or the time we waited outside a Merrillville, Ind., hotel for 90 minutes to get our photo taken with "Weird Al" Yankovic.
Now, I'm not remotely a 800-bones-on-opening-day Potter fan, though it is true that I lost considerable sleep to the books, have been told that my patronus would resemble Springsteen (accurate), and once began concocting a reasonably logical plan to physically enter "Half-Blood Prince" to claim vengeance on Snape (not over it), but let me go on record as saying that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter went all sectumsempra on my expelliarmus. For those of you who read books from the grownup part of the bookstore, this means it was totally worth it.
The primary draw is a ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, one of those deals where you sit four across in a car/tram/train thing and dip and swerve and tilt in accordance with a giant movie screen in order to simulate, in this case, riding a broom around Hogwarts and playing quidditch, which, incidentally, knocked two things off my Bucket List in like 25 seconds. Yet despite the youthful demographic that I guess this place is usually geared to or whatever, I am here to tell you that the Harry Potter ride is basically two minutes of giant spiders and Dementors in your face and is utterly horrifying. Seriously, it's basically all spiders. You leave the dank, dark cavern of spiders, and your car jerks up and to the left and into the screeching, pincer-y face of a giant spider. Then the car jerks you up and left and drops you 20 feet and into the apparent meal plan of, hey, weird, another spider. One sudden, up-and-to-the-right move, and, for a refreshing change of pace, it's a huge and screeching spider which is spitting at you. It's entirely possible there were more, but in order to confirm that for you, I'd have had to keep my eyes open.
Anyway, after two minutes of choking back tears of panic on a kids' ride, something like a tour of a fictitious wand shop starts to sound pretty perfect, so we went to Ollivander's, a pretty wonderfully comprehensive simulation of the wand-selection process; the kindly gentlemen portraying the proprietor selects a child from the crowd and procures him a wand, that sort of thing. It's all quite lovely, up until the moment that they disgorge you into the actual Wand Gift Shop, which is decidedly less magical, though no less crowded, and offers you, the sweat-stained Muggle, the opportunity to purchase your very own wand for $30, making them judging by the sales activity, the planet's most coveted $30 sticks. The wands, I should point out, do not function, and thus are slightly whittled pieces of stick, in a box, for $30. In a later line we witnessed a pretend wand-fight, three kids fencing with nearly $100 of sanctioned twigs.
Ironically enough, $30 is what I would pay in a heartbeat for butterbeer, which is, of course, sold on site; it is basically very smooth cream soda, mixed with a root-beer float, topped with like a butterscotch foam. It is maybe the greatest thing on earth. It has powers you cannot dream of understanding. Literally, not a day goes by that I don't think about butterbeer. Not. One. Day. Every time I'm at a meal and have to order a regular beer, I get a little legitimately sad. At one point we had to wait at the Three Broomsticks for the fictitious bartender to change the real keg, and we didn't care, because we could stare at a barrel of butterbeer at a bar in Hogsmeade, which made the trip entirely worth it, especially since at that particular bar, there were no giant spiders.
Jeff Vrabel is highly disappointed in the real world's availability of butterbeer. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com or followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.