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41396And here we see two very happy, possibly giddy, definitely satisfied Harry Potter nerds.  That is Hogwarts in the background, the detail so incredible, as was all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando.  To say that the place is magical is redundant, I suppose, since the place is all about magic, but it really is just that.  Alyssa and I went there hoping that the place would live up to the hype.  We were not disappointed.

Last Saturday morning we practically floated through the gates at Universal, ready to start the journey that we had anticipated for months.  I promised my little girl that I would treat her with a trip there as her college graduation present, praying with a bit of trepidation that I would be able to live up to the promise.  Things, literally THINGS, tried to stop me from keeping my promise — car repairs, broken teeth, car accidents.  None stopped us.  My car decided to break down last Thursday night, when I was packed and ready to drive the 3 hours to pick Alyssa up at college for our flight out of Indianapolis.  I had to scramble for a rental car, pray that I would trust God to take care of things, and forget about what that repair would cost while I was with my daughter (I succeeded).  On the way to pick up her last Friday, I witnessed a head on collision, a car turned into the path of an oncoming car.  That oncoming car crashed through the other car, spun around it and skidded to a backwards stop about ten feet from the rented car that I was driving. VZM.IMG_20180126_132240

An hour later, after waiting for the accident to be cleared, I met my daughter.  We made it with time to spare for our flight.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando, is split into two separate parts of the park.  One section is Diagon Alley, with Kings Crossing station next to it, where visitors can take the Hogwarts Express train to Hogsmeade.  The entrance to Diagon Alley is hidden, so much that we walked past it and had to ask a park attendant how to find it.  In front of the entrance is the Knight bus, where we had stopped so Alyssa could take a picture with its conductor (Stan Shunpike).Potter Alyssa Shunpike

Once we found the entrance, we were overtaken with awe.  We felt like we had just walked into the book, the shops as well as Gringotts bank, complete with fire breathing dragon on top, so finely done that we were delighted.  Immediately necessary was a trip to Ollivander’s wand shop, where we witnessed the wand selection ceremony, then entered the shop to select a wand for Alyssa.

She wanted a wand with the hope to use it to direct her future high school band while they play the Harry Potter theme.

Alyssa chose Luna Lovegood’s wand, a fine choice.  Leaving the shop with wand in hand, we looked for the symbols placed around Diagon Alley that marked where the wand could be used to create magic.

We met plenty of characters.  Alyssa’s favorite is Hagrid, so she was ecstatic that our timing was perfect for her to meet him and pose in the sidecar of his motorcycle.Potter Alyssa Hagrid

We also met Severus Snape. I have say that the guy was almost a dead ringer for Alan Rickman.  It’s one of my favorite pictures from the two days we were there.Potter Alyssa Snape

Yes, my ginger daughter wore a tee shirt that said “MUST BE A WEASLEY”.  Hahahahaha.

We had butter beer.. twice.  It was a necessity.  Sweet.  Worth the money, as was the whole experience.  The Gringotts ride, a 4D reality ride, was fantastic.  Since I bought the Universal Express Unlimited pass, we were able to ride anything as much as we wanted.  Rarely did we wait more than 5 minutes to ride.

Potter Alyssa Gringotts

Most of the rides at Universal are 4D virtual rides, so if you want to ride roller coasters, you might be disappointed.  There are three real coasters there, the scariest is a ride called Rock It, the first climb literally straight up.  Our favorite coaster was the Hulk coaster, which shoots you over the first climb with a steam launcher.  There are better coasters at Cedar Point and Six Flags, but none of those parks beats the experience of Universal Studios.  The attention to detail is second to none, bringing to life movies like Jurassic Park, the Mummy, Shrek, Despicable Me, as well as TV shows such as the Simpsons and Jimmy Fallon.  There is a part of the park dedicated to Marvel comics and the funnies, also Doctor Suess.  We rode the Cat in the Hat ride, a kiddie ride, and were delighted.

We were treated to a selfie opportunity with Hashtag the Panda.  YES!


We also were surprised by the rental car that we were assigned — a red Dodge Charger R/T hemi.  Cool.  I was in heaven.  When we went to the parking spot to pick up the car, we didn’t know what car we were getting.  Neither of us believed it.


Exhausted but satisfied, we decided to close out our visit to Universal by having dinner at the Orlando City Walk.  Careful to stick to my budget, I knew we had enough to splurge on dinner.  Alyssa chose the restaurant, a cool looking place called Toothsome Chocolate Emporium.  It was a good choice, with excellent food and desserts.  At one point, Alyssa exclaimed “Dad, this is the best restaurant that I have ever been to!”.  It was an experience, my heart glad that she was having a good time.  This trip was more than I could afford, but it was not one that I could afford to miss.  It was worth every penny, my time with my girl something I will treasure for the rest of my life.  I am thankful and blessed.

Alyssa Potter DeniseMonday, we had breakfast with a woman that Alyssa had befriended and ministered to during her spring break trips to Daytona the past two years.  Denise gushed about how wonderful my daughter is, told me that they keep in touch weekly.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of my daughter.

I arrived home at 3 AM early Monday morning, tired but happy.  Three hours later I would be out of bed and on my way to work, trying to figure out how to pay the $1100 car repair bill and finding transportation while the car is being fixed (as of this writing, it’s not ready yet).  As my eyes closed, I thanked God for the gift that I experienced the last four days, a blessing that I am sure will be remembered as long as I live.