Day Two of Unabashed Bliss: We awoke bright and early once again, this time knowing exactly how long it would take us to grab our iced coffees, jump on the shuttle and get to the shiny gates of Universal Studios. It was a much sunnier morn, so the line was slightly deeper than it had been the day before at 8am, but we still had the upper hand over the crowds banished to a later start time. We also already had our wands in hand, ready to magic any naysayers out of our projected path.
Once the gates opened, we took a slightly less taxing jaunt to Hogsmeade, where we beelined to Hogwarts Castle and "The Forbidden Journey." This time, it was Sister who seemed most anxious about what the ride had in store. I even asked one of the staff outright if there were any large drops and he said, no, it was a simulated ride. Even so, Sister was fearful that the carts would send us reeling every which way. And that they did.
Unlike the Gringotts ride, "Forbidden Journey" utilizes smaller carts with your legs dangling below. If it were a normal rollercoaster, I too would be hesitant. This ride, however, was a true mix of simulated virtual reality and real-life theatre magic and special effects. At various points you feel like you are soaring on a broomstick over Hogwarts or close to annihilation, care of the pummeling branches on the Whomping Willow. This ride is definitely not for the faint of heart or those prone to motion sickness. I was advised not to eat a large meal beforehand, but I would soon find out just what it felt like to ride it twice in a row on an empty stomach.
We had sprinted through the hallways of Hogwarts Castle on the way in, barely registering the wonders surrounding us, from the moving portraits to the inside of Dumbledore's office. Happily, once we realized what an amazing experience this was, we quickly got right back into a much longer line. Since it was still pre-9am, we didn't have to wait an eternity, however, just long enough to drink in a bit more of the magical intoxication exuding from the castle chambers. It was only during our second journey that I noticed just how much coffee was being sloshed around in my empty stomach. When the carts leaned back so we were flat on our backs, I admit that I experienced my first bit of motion sickness. While I consider this the most masterful of the rides in the Wizarding World in terms of technical and theatrical feats, I was able to enjoy "Escape from Gringotts" most of all.
While spending some time wandering the delightful shops scattered around Hogsmeade, I was able to rid myself of the lingering nausea I had developed. Honeydukes was particularly impressive, as was Gladrags Wizard Wear. After casting a few more spells around the square, we spent a little time out in the general University Studios park, to hit a few rides before lunchtime. We found a refreshingly cool Popeye's water boat and Jimmy Fallon's "Race Through New York" to be especially enjoyable. We also took a few moments to duel with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
Our grand plan was to end the day amidst the hallowed halls of Harry Potter. Our time in Universal proper was frankly nothing more than a brief taste of harsh reality before bidding a bittersweet goodbye to our magical mecca. We therefore had lunch at the Three Broomsticks before hopping the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley for a last look around. Since the line wasn't at all crazy, we dared to indulge in one last "Escape From Gringotts". Then we hit up the shops we had planned to buy souvenirs from before saying adieu to our land of true soul-love.
It was hard to leave the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I will not lie. As we floated in the lovely pool at the hotel and sipped on a refreshing cocktail at the outside bar, it started to hit us that the magic was already fading, though would never be snuffed out. Throughout the past two days, I had had one main complaint from the park: the incessant need for staff to refer to us park-goers as "muggles." As if! A wand CHOSE me. I was allowed to penetrate the inner sanctum of Gringotts and wander the halls of magical learning at Hogwarts. We cast spells all around town, drank butterbeer and even braved the darkest denizens of Knockturn Alley. I am NO MUGGLE! I wanted to scream at staff who dared to question my magical soul.
And so we fell asleep that night with no regrets other than the heartbreaking disappointment of leaving our happy home. We are the Lewonczyk Witches of the Northeast. We shall return.
(Written in honor of 20th Anniversary of JK Rowling's Harry Potter.)