It's no secret that I LOVE the Harry Potter books (and the movies, too, but mostly the books). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opened mid-July, and I have been dying to go, and have been waiting impatiently since then. Living in Orlando, it's relatively easy for me, since Universal Studios/IOA is only about a half-hour from my house. A 1-day 1-park pass is $82 per adult, but as a benefit my company provides two free two tickets a year, and though my husband and I often go in the spring to see their Mardi Gras parades, obviously this year I have been waiting.
Here's how the Universal Resort area in Orlando is set up: There are two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located). There are also several hotels onsite, and an entertainment complex called Citywalk, full of restaurants, shops, clubs and a giant movie theatre (that's where I go to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
I have a few Facebook friends who work at Universal, so I knew from their status updates that the crowds at WWoHP were just terrible. For a good long while after opening, the staff at Islands of Adventure were having to control the number of people who could enter the WWoHP, there were lines of people waiting to even go in the area. Given how bad they will let it get before restricting access, things must have been extremely crowded. Plus, this year we had one of the hottest summers ever. 98 degrees + humidity + crushing crowds of sweaty tourists = WAIT.
Greg and I always try to take at least a couple of vacation days to celebrate our anniversary on October 1, so that seemed like a good time. Fall weather + tourist offseason + going on a weekday when kids are in school = WIN. A month beforehand I put in my request at work to go on Wednesday, September 30, got it back approved, and then all I had to do was try to contain my excitement. Which I didn't do successfully, and ended up gushing about it to Greg pretty much every single day.
After spending the morning agonizing over whether or not to believe the weather people who all promised a day full of flooding rain and wind due to Tropical Storm Nicole, we decided to go for it and arrived at the main parking gate at around 10:30am. We drove through the gate and paid the parking lot attendant, then we spent the next few minutes bitterly cursing a $15 parking charge. (It really does seem like a lot, doesn't it? Geez. I feel bad for the people who have to pay a buttload to get in the park, and then pay the huge parking fee on top of it.) I made the difficult decisions about what was absolutely vital to carry around with me (small camera, extra batteries, debit card, cell phone), left my big purse in the car, and we headed off excitedly.
After parking in the huge multi-level garage, visitors then walk to an escalator and up (or down) to the main level, then walk to the walkway (which is a moving sidewalk, like in a lot of airports) that's around 47 miles long, give or take a hundred miles. Then, those people who can't read any of the several languages that the many signs are posted in or figure out what the word "walkway" means stand stubbornly in the way of those of us who do not wish to use the walkway as a standway. Then the walkway/standway ends in a big covered circular area housing the first (or last, depending on your direction) opportunity to buy stuffed Spiderman dolls, Simpsons water bottles and Rock-n-rollercoaster t-shirts. There are also wheelchair/stroller rentals, restrooms, and an M&M vending machine. WTF? This is the only place I have ever seen an M&M vending machine, and it always strikes me as odd.
Then the next walkway/standway, for another few hundred miles, then we are finally in Citywalk. We walk past the movie theatre and the stage area for live bands and the restaurants and the shops, and then we are at the bridge that will lead to Islands of Adventure.
It is at this point that my husband stops walking suddenly, looks at me, and says, "I don't think I locked the car. Do you remember hearing the car beep?"
I love my husband so much! A lot of the time, anyway. Did I mention that I left my big purse in the car?
After a brief but urgent conversation, we decided he was being weird and neurotic, and that he probably did lock the car. Solemnly shouldering the burden of worrying about the car all day, we walk across the bridge.
Part Two: In Which We Actually Get There
Part Three: In Which I Go On A Bit Longer