Kelley and I took off to Florida on Thursday, the day before the grand opening of the Harry Potter theme park. We had a shuttle take us to the hotel, and after nudging Kelley and pointing to the huge Harry Potter billboard out the window, we discovered that everyone else in the van was there to see Hogwarts too. That night we had dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s (who had a Harry Potter WALL) and we met a kid from Australia who had flown more than 18 hours to be there.
The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn… okay it was only like 6:00 am, but that’s 5:00 am Texas time! We were sure we were going to get a good place in line. We had special passes that let us into the park an hour before the general public (pft, peasants!) and we made it there by 7:30, thirty minutes before even we were supposed to be let in. This is not what happened.
The crowds were so huge that they let everyone in early as to avoid mass hysteria or something. (Harry Potter is serious business if you didn’t know.) We still thought we had it pretty good. We stationed ourselves at the end of the line, and not armed with any type of map we were sure Hogsmeade was just around the corner up ahead. As 8:00 rolled around we waited for the line to move so we could glimpse the castle. Helicopters hovered in the sky and by now we were nowhere close to the end of the line.
By 8:30 the crowds were getting anxious. The family behind us were upset that after spending $5,000 to stay in one of the Universal hotels they weren’t going to be able to see the opening ceremonies. Apparently members of the Harry Potter cast and the news stations were living it up on the streets of Hogsmeade. Good Morning America was interviewing Daniel Radcliff and Rupert Grint, and we were all waiting outside. They didn’t actually open the park to the public until 10:30 after the cast had left. (Personally I don’t blame them, Warwick Davis might have been trampled or something!)
So by 10:30 we took a look at a map, courtesy of our line friends April and Uncle John (when you stand next to someone for half a day it’s easy to make friends). It turns out we had started waiting about 2 miles outside of the park gates! Some people were quoting 4:00 as the time we would be in. Some said we wouldn’t make it in that day. Either way, we weren’t getting out of line.
It was hot. We eventually whipped out the umbrellas we had brought in case it rained. Everyone held places in line as people went to get food, drinks, or take bathroom breaks. At about 11:30 a guy who had been in the park was coming out down the line with his son. We all huddled for information. What was it like? Did he see the cast?? He said he had been there since 3:00 AM and had got some paparazzi style pictures of the cast by standing on a boulder and holding his camera over his head. He also said the ride inside the castle was the most technologically advanced ride he had ever been on, but that the park wasn’t worth the huge wait. (Pssh, said the guy who showed up at 3:00 in the morning.) We got back in line excited for what was ahead, a little envious, and completely stumped on why the guy would leave after only being there for an hour.
By 12:00 we were getting close, and people who had not been waiting in line for 4+ hours were trying to cut. Silly, silly people. Every now and then we would hear cheers as people were kicked out of line. “Woo! End of the line buddy!” Some girls even tried to sneak in behind us, but security was immediately called. One of the security guys, Steve, started to stop people from moving past the lines towards the park. He was very loud about it, shuttling people backwards, and he developed a huge fan following that day. There were yells of, “Steve for President!” and mentions of facebook fan pages. (I need to check if that actually happened.) Finally we made it to a bridge that looked out over a lake and onto the castle and the back of the Hogsmeade shops. One girl fainted from the heat and a wheelchair was fetched for her. The crowd cheered her on as she was rolled up the line into the park. We were all in good spirits; we were so ready to be there! At one point a squirrel was running along the bridge’s railing. Someone (possibly me) yelled, “Line jumper!” and it caught on as everyone watched. “Cutter!” “Back of the line!!” The squirrel, caught off guard by the yelling, stopped and took a few slow steps back then ran forward as fast as possible. This left the line in giggles and many mentions of animagi. (Harry Potter fans are cool.)
Finally, after making it through a weird dessert park, we passed under the gates to Hogsmeade (which says, "Hogsmeade. Please respect the spell limits."). It only took 5 ½ hours, and yes Mr. I-woke-up-really-early-man it was worth it.