For the first 6 years of his life, my son Ethan was different in a way that caused my husband, Joe, and I to worry for him.
Ethan kept to himself, which isn’t terribly unusual, but he often seemed afraid of other children. He kept himself very isolated from his peers, and we didn’t know quite what to do about it.
The answer happened to find us in a very magical way.
As Ethan began kindergarten, Joe and I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to him. We were both Harry Potter fans, so it only seemed fitting to introduce this amazing series and its wonderful characters to our son.
As expected, Ethan started spending a great deal of his time chattering away about the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Eventually, Joe and I noticed the names of kids at school slipping in to his stories, too.
We spent a lot of time talking about the positive qualities of the Harry Potter characters with Ethan and a lot of time discussing the unfriendly characters and why they act the way they do. I think Ethan realized that he, like Harry could have friends. He saw the joy friends brought into Harry’s life and wanted that for himself.
By the time he began reading the series on his own in first grade, his stories about Harry, Ron, and Hermione were still regular staples of conversation in our house, but he now had friends of his own. Kids he’d talk about as much as the Hogwarts trio. Kids who’d invite him to birthday parties and play dates. Ethan’s newfound happiness as a social being brought us all joy.
Joe and I are now parents to four: Ethan (9), Liam (8), Lucie (5), and Emmett (2).
With Emmett finally being old enough to be a Harry Potter fan himself (yes, our two year old will cast a “Reducto” curse at you when you least suspect it!), we decided the time was right to take a road trip to Universal Orlando Resort to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Ethan had been asking to go for years, and Joe and I were more than a little excited ourselves.
So, on Ethan’s 9th birthday earlier this year, a stuffed Hedwig flew down our stairs to deliver a note to the birthday boy announcing that our family would get to experience the magic of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Our vacation was everything we had hoped it would be. Truly. We loved every minute of our experiences at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The Jurassic Park River Adventure freaked us out perfectly. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was hilarious. Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket was thrilling. Meeting Lucille Ball strolling down Hollywood Boulevard and having her take a photo with our very own Lucie made my day… I could go on and on.
But, of course, as wonderful as the rest of our experiences had been, they were all second to our visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
I teared up (and I don’t think I was the only one!) when we walked into Diagon Alley and were completely immersed in the magical world we all love so much. No detail was left unthought-of:
- The buildings are all a bit wonky.
- Gillywater is the beverage sold on corners.
- Puppeteers mesmerizingly tell the Tales of Beedle the Bard.
- Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour dishes out delectable ice cream.
- Hagrid’s motorbike is parked on the cobblestones for a fun photo op.
- Interactive windows let you hone your wand and spell-casting skills.
- And, of course, there’s all the Butterbeer you could want.
Above it all, Gringotts bank looms over you, topped with a fire-breathing dragon (of course). Inside, the queue for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts runs through the beautifully decorated bank, full of what certainly seem to be living goblins.
The awe and amazement on all of the kids’ faces was an emotional thing to witness.
When Liam got to cast a “Dissendo” spell and cause the toilet in the window display at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to flush, the grins and giggles of that moment alone would have made the whole trip worth it.
When Ethan’s wand chose him at Ollivanders, my 33-year-old self believed that magic was real.
Riding the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade made us all feel like we were part of Harry’s world. Perhaps we were a bunch of fellow students, waiting to challenge Harry and Ron to a game of Exploding Snap while we passed the time until we arrived at Hogwarts.
Wow. Just wow.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Wow again.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade was every bit as exciting as Diagon Alley. Emmett could have ridden Flight of the Hippogriff a hundred times. Lucie would have gladly watched the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students perform over and over.
But for all the excitement throughout both theme parks, we ended each of our days at Diagon Alley. We’d chat with the Knight Bus conductor and his Shrunken Head sidekick. We’d look for Kreacher to poke his head out between the curtains in a window at Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Finally, we’d watch the dragon breathe fire over the beautiful streets of Diagon Alley.
None of us could think of a better way to end an evening.
Vacation is all about family bonding through the making of shared memories. We have so many memories, we never run out of things to talk about when someone brings up our Harry Potter vacation! The kids still ask daily (now six months later) if we can go back to Universal Orlando.
We’ll be talking about this vacation forever.