Last weekend we celebrated a milestone for the private side of This Paper Ship, our third wedding anniversary, by driving down to Orlando to go to Universal Studios. We often broadcast the fact that we’re steadfast Harry Potter fans, so we won’t hide the fact that the whole point of our trip—besides getting away together for a couple days—was to visit Universal’s new attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We completely flipped out.
Hogsmeade, our favorite part of the whole park, was so true to the spirit of the books and films that—despite the 80-degree weather, palm trees, and “normal” life’s intrusion in the form of superscript TMs tacked to the end of names and goofy tourists everywhere—we were convinced that we were really there. After visiting replica Hogsmeade shops, experiencing a smaller-scale Hogwarts and Hagrid’s hut, interacting with hologram Harry Potter characters in the Hogwarts ride, and hearing Harry Potter soundtrack music piped in wherever you went, we were so sincerely wistful at the end of the day when we had to leave that we almost missed our shuttle back to the hotel.
Of course, we also had a blast throughout the whole three days we were gone. Here, then, is a list of some of our highlights from whole trip:
• Stopping at South of the Border on the way down. If you’ve ever driven I-95 south of DC, you’ve seen the billboards, because there are about 1,000 of them. Ashley had grown up stopping there on family trips to Georgia, but we had no idea it was going to be so ‘60s-vintage-kitsch cool.
• Hogsmeade shops and our souvenirs. Chocolate Frogs (came with a Salazar Slytherin card) and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (best “bad” flavors are dirt, sausage, rotten egg, and soap) from Honeyduke’s; the general ambience at Zonko’s; a Hogwarts journal, a Durmstrang shirt, and Hogwarts scarves at the Owl Post/Ollivander’s (we decided Ashley fits in Gryffindor and Joel in Ravenclaw).
• The rest of Universal Studios. It was awesome. We especially loved the rides for E.T., Jaws, the Mummy, and Spiderman, all of which had real explosions and water spraying your face.
• Eating at Café Tu Tu Tango in Orlando. After spending all day at Universal, we decided to eat near our hotel on International Drive. Typically for us, we started wandering up the road and ended up at Café Tu Tu Tango, a funky restaurant billing itself as “Food for the Starving Artist” with a menu consisting of funky fusion appetizers. We ate local central FL alligator, mango and arugula flatbread, Thai-spiced shrimp pops, saganaki flaming cheese, and crème brûlée for dessert.
• Stopping at the original Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! on the way back. We were originally going to visit the location in Orlando near the hotel, but dropped it in order to get on the road. However, we discovered the original Ripley’s when we spontaneously stopped in St. Augustine, FL to follow the historic downtown signs. It’s housed in a late-1800’s converted historic Spanish revival-style mansion once owned by author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, is filled with things like shrunken heads and huge models made out of matchsticks, and fittingly has an accurate 17-foot marble replica of the original Michelangelo’s David (which we saw on our honeymoon in Florence).
Though we especially regret having to leave Hogsmeade, we know that vacations are supposed to be bittersweet; that is, you’re sad to go, but glad to be back home. With that in mind—if you’ll permit the nerdiness—it was a magical time.