Monday, September 26, 2011

Hogsmeade Alley

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.  I promised more reflections about the Hogsmeade experience, so here goes:

When you first enter the World, it is through gates reminiscent of a medieval walled city.  The first thing you see is the Hogwarts Express train, complete with a conductor, sitting at the platform of Hogsmeade Station.

From there you enter the village of Hogsmeade proper.  Now I realize that they probably had to make the lane of shops and such "Hogsmeade" for the simple reason of continuity for us purists.  In other words, if you want to have Hogwarts Castle, the nearest settlement, magical or muggle, is the village of Hogsmeade.  But what Harry Potter fans really want to visit, in their secret heart of hearts, is the London shopping district of Diagon Alley.  And that is what Hogsmeade village really is.

Sure, the shops all have the Hogsmeade names -- the joke shop is Zonko's, the sweet shop is Honeyduke's, the pub is the Three Broomsticks -- but the layout and the feel is pure Diagon Alley.  And it's great.

If I had a complaint, it would be that the shops should be bigger on the inside.  Too often the choice was made to combine interiors.  For example, on the outside, Zonko's and Honeyduke's appear to be separate establishments, but inside, it's one large interior space, with one side devoted to the pranks and jokes (sneakoscopes, extendable ears, etc.) and the other to treats (fizzing whizbees, every flavor beans, chocolate frogs, and so forth.)  A similar arrangement is made with Ollivander's (a direct transplant from Diagon Alley; we fans know that there is no Ollivander's "branch office" in Hogsmeade, but we don't care!) and the Owl Post are also combined into one interior space which can be very, very cramped.  It should have been bigger.

And as long as I'm complaining -- why was the decision made to show Hogsmeade in the winter?  In central Florida?  Seriously??!?  I mean, the artificial snow decorating the rooftops is very well done, but there are no holiday or other seasonal decorations...and it's FLORIDA!  It's always going to be warm at best -- are we supposed to believe that it's some sort of Weather Charm gone horribly awry?  It's just silly.

But with those nitpicks out of the way...Hogsmeade is pretty great.  And the food is good, too.  There are a few carts dealing in snack foods and Butterbeer, but the real place to eat is the Three Broomsticks Pub.  A beautiful job was done in creating this place.  There is a proper bar at one end, complete with animatronic boar's head over the taps, and a dining area at the other.  Food includes things like shepherd's pie and fish & chips, butterbeer, pumpkin juice and pumpkin fizzes.  Our meals were tasty and amazingly not overpriced (I'm thinking of you, Disney churro!)

If you pay attention, you are likely to see a variety of magickal folks wandering the streets, and not just picking up trash in costume.  A troop of girls from Beauxbatons Academy may go by, followed by their staff-wielding Eastern European male counterparts.  Clearly the villagers are behind Dumbledore's muggle initiative one hundred percent.

So if you're a fan...go.  It's well worth the pilgrimage.  Take the Ollivander's tour -- maybe your kid will be picked for a wand trial.  Snoop into every shop window; you never know what you're going to see.

Luckily the Mandrake Root is a juvenile, and it shouldn't knock you out.  Finish the Forbidden Journey ride and then come back down the hill to shop at Dervish & Banges'/Flourish & Blott's (yes, another combined interior) so that you don't have so much stuff to store in the lockers (hey, those high-end Quidditch robes take up a lot of space.)  But do go.  I haven't had this much fun at an amusement park since I went to California Disneyland and rode the Indiana Jones ride -- still a paragon of what amusment park rides should be -- and I honestly believe that anybody else, even if they only have a passing interest in the movies, will have that much fun as well.

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