Harry Potter World, Part II… HOGWARTS

(Part I of Harry Potter World)

Hogwarts is amazing, both inside and out. Not built to scale, but a good size. You go beneath the hill for the recreated classrooms/halls/offices. I really hope they expand this because it’s just great for us fans.

The approach...

walking alongside it

First order of business, though, someone needs to redesign the free lockers where you put all your stuff. You can’t bring it with you on this motion-simulated ride. Note: I do NOT do well on motion-simulated rides, but this is one not to be missed. Especially if you’ve always wondered what it’s like to ride a broomstick. The ride was the best part of the day, even though ours stopped for about 2 minutes midway through. I heard stories all week how the ride kept breaking down; let’s hope they get that fixed.

Hogwarts!!

Another tip: volunteer to go as a single rider. Have your whole family do it and you’ll get on the ride in about 10 minutes instead of the 2 hour wait that we did. (Emily, we have to get you riding by yourself!). The ride contraption you sit in looks like a cross between an upright coffin and a pew. The bar thingy comes down over your head, the sides extend out past your shoulders, so you’re lucky if you can see the person’s feet next to you, let alone talk to them or hold their hand. So, go for the single rider thing and ride it a few times, and compare notes with family and friends after. They have a singe riders line that moves really quickly.

the detail is AWESOME!

Tip: put as much of your personal stuff as you can in your pockets and not in the locker, namely your wallet with money to buy water, because you’ll need it, a tiny umbrella b/c there is very little shade when you’re in the “back lot” walking through the roped off line, and the fans are only blowing hot, sticky air at you and aren’t really any help (and someone didn’t think to put an awning up over this ungodly hot waiting area, nor is there any place to sit down. They have water fountains, but they’re like teasers. By the time you get to them, you’re only about 8 minutes from the door. The other 2 hours prior to that, you’re looking longingly at the water vendor but you don’ t have your wallet b/c nowhere is there any sign at the lockers that you’re in for a 2 hour broiling wait. Also, put your camera in your pocket. I owe all these interior shots to Emily b/c she had her camera. Stupid me, stuck mine in the locker. Dumb…

Emily and I didn't remember this from the books, but it was cool

The locker area is a mess. People coming off the ride (and out of the gift shop, convenient how they walk you through that, but, hello? We don’t have our wallets…) are trying to get their stuff out of the locker while people coming in are trying to put their stuff in lockers. The biometric locks were a little touchy, so I really wish I hadn’t put my cell phone and money in it. This is a good place for a fanny pack, I don’t care how touristy it looks.

Dumbledore's Office

So, now you have nothing with you and off you go to explore the castle. Universal needs to take not only People-Moving lessons from Disney, but also How to Construct a Ride classes. You know how, in the Haunted Mansion in Disney you sit in this little motorized cart and here a ghost talking to you throughout the ride? That’s what they should do with the walk through the castle. You could have Ron, Harry, Hermione, Sirius, Dumbledore, etc.

Dark Arts Classroom

talking to you as you wend through the Dark Arts classroom and Dumbledore’s office. They could point out the Mirror of Erised and the pensieve. You could hear the pictures in the hall better than when you walk through. It’s a great concept, but they need to up the presentation.

the pensieve

Especially when you hit the back lot out back. I sincerely hope they were just anxious to open the park and have big plans for this waiting line b/c it’s a FAIL of EPIC PROPORTIONS. Poor shade, hot air from the fans, no seats, no water to drink, and the decor is sorely lacking. It looks like a back lot of a movie set, and while maybe that’d be cool to see, it’s just not cool in bazillion-degree heat.

entrance/staircase to Dumbledore's office

All this sounds like I hated it, doesn’t it? I didn’t. I really really didn’t. There’s magic there. I just wished someone had thought beyond the magic they wanted to create to the reality we all have to deal with waiting in line. Disney knows how to do this – someone please go take their management class or something!

mandragora plant

talking pictures

spell book

Harry Potter World, Hot as Hell, but Definitely Heaven for Fans

Entrance into park

Sorry it’s taken me a while to post this. I was in Orlando two weeks ago and hit Harry Potter World at Universal on Tuesday. The day the temperature broke all sorts of records at 111 degrees.

So, my take on Harry Potter World.

I’m very glad I didn’t bring my family. But I absolutely LOVED it.

How does one reconcile these two sentences? Simple. No one in my family is a diehard Harry Potter fan but me. I’ve read every book; when the last one came out, we were just getting home from a vacation. I dropped my family off at the house, left them the car to unpack, while I took another one to the bookstore before it closed to pick up my copy of the book. Then I got home, said goodnight to everyone (this was at 5 pm) and told them not to bother me, that I was reading the book straight through. And I did.

We own every movie, have seen each one on opening day. I love this series. So when Universal announced it was going to have a Harry Potter World, I was trying to come up with every way to get there. But I knew my family would not enjoy long lines.

Truthfully, I would have preferred to go to the park in any other month other than July. Well, except maybe August. I HATE/LOATHE/DESPISE the heat. Can. Not. Stand. It. (get the picture?) But with the trip we took out west this summer, another family vacation of this magnitude just wasn’t in the cards and when RWA had to relocate the national conference and it just so happened to end up in Orlando, well, hey. I can read the writing on the wall as well as the next person. So, off I went on the internet to buy my one day pass. (Hint: those “convention” packages? Yeah, don’t get sucked in by them; I would have paid a LOT less if I’d bought the ticket at the park, AND saved on shipping charges. I’m annoyed at how much more I had to pay for.)

Emily and Donna

So, I arrived in Orlando very early on Tuesday morning, got to the hotel, dropped my stuff off in my room, and headed outside to the shuttle van (Mears shuttle, $18 RT, very affordable). While waiting for the van, I met a wonderful mother/daughter team by the name of Donna and Emily.

They were on a girls’ trip for Emily’s high school graduation and Emily is a HUGE Harry Potter fan. (I’m sure you can see where this is going.) They, lovely folks, invited me to spend the day with them. Since I was all alone, and Emily was as big, if not bigger, a HP fan than me, sure!

Emily was a godsend (and not just for her Facebook pictures).

I’m not one for people coming up to me to try to sell me stuff on the street. I hate people in my face, so when a park employee waved something papery in my face and said something along the lines of Anneheuser Busch (I swear, that’s what he said and I thought it was something for SeaWorld, which I love, but I was there to see HP World), I just walked by him. Emily, thank God, heard “Harry Potter World” and walked over. Turns out, the guy was giving out fast passes into HP World. For Free.

Hogwarts Express Conductor

So there the 3 of us were with our fast passes, by-passing all the poor people who were in the hours-long line to get in the part (did I mention it was going up to 111 degrees that day?) From where we got the fast pass to the entrance of the park was a 20 minute walk, and the entire way was lined with people in line to get in the park. I know it was 20 minutes, b/c the fast pass was valid in 20 minutes from when we got it, and we started heading back that way, and arrived just as they were letting  people in with that fast pass time. I have no idea why the park employee was giving this away, no idea why other people didn’t get a fast pass, didn’t even see a kiosk where you could GET a fast pass, but there you go… We waltzed right in to Hogsmeade.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’ve seen a documentary about the making of HP World, and checked it out online, so I knew that the team who made the sets for the movies were involved in making this park. They did an amazing job.

The snow on the rooftops looked so real it was a shame that I was still sweating. The buildings were jut like the movie, the steep pitched roofs, the hundreds of gables, the shingling… very cool. Of course there was the train engine. There’s an owlery and some shops and of course, Hogwarts. You can read all about it at Universal’s sight, but here’s my Traveler’s Guide to the park.

We're Heeeeere!!

Disappointingly, the shops were made to keep in line with the books. Meaning, they are small. Narrow. Tight. Tiny. When you see the Weasely’s and Harry and Hermione and Draco and his dad getting their books when Gilderoy is signing… that’s how scrunched together you are in these shops.

Inside HoneyDukes

And there are only 2 stores, really. First is

HoneyDukes, the candy shop. Very pretty, lots of pink and mint green, bunches of glass bottles filled with Every Flavor Beans, and Chocolate Frogs

in pretty packaging (complete with the trading card of your favorite Hogwarts founder – I got Rowena Ravenclaw). I bought some

candied almonds from the self-serve canisters and scrunched up in line to pay for them. Someone, however, decided that to leave HoneyDukes, you have to go through the joke shop. Okay, that’s fine; we get to see the Weasely twins’ favorite place, but as for buying anything… I think it’s more a curiosity factor to go in that store. I mean, seriously, do you really need a whoopee cushion that says “Whoopee Cushion” on it? If it said Harry Potter world, maybe.

Oh, I forgot to mention, we had to wait in line for like an hour and a half to get IN HoneyDukes.

Butterbeer vendor

In the hot sun. Where they don’t have awnings covering the line. Or a place to sit. Or water fountains. They do have butterbeer barrels set up like vendor carts. I HIGHLY recommend the frozen butterbeer. It’s very good -kind of like butterscotch and gingersnap cookies mixed together with ice. A butterbeer slushie. Not too badly priced – $3-$4 (can’t remember). I had taken a tiny umbrella with me to keep off the sun, so I’d recommend that, because the heat is BRUTAL.

We were then going to go to lunch in The Three Broomsticks, but this, also had at least an hour and a

half wait. We figured we’d wait and do something else. Surely the lunch rush would die down.

So off we went to the one place I’d been dying to see. Olivander’s Wand Shop. When that scene in Olivander’s came on the screen in the first movie, I caught my breath. The movie makers had done such an amazing job with pulling details from the book, I couldn’t breathe because it was as if they’d reached inside my imagination and taken out how I’d seen Olivander’s. That was a magical moment for me.

Gileroy Lockhart - and yes, the picture moves

And after another hour and a half wait (in the hot, unrelenting sun, with no shade save for my umbrella and one very cool stone arch that we commandeered for longer than we should have), in we went to Olivander’s.

The promos for the park have talked about having the experience of your wand choosing you. I was looking forward to that. Yes, I’m a 45 year old woman and know that it’s not magic, but still, I could pretend, couldn’t I?

wands in Olivander's

Apparently not. What they don’t tell you in the promos is that only 30 people are allowed in Olivander’s at a time (see note above about the whole park being built to story-scale instead of millions-of-rabid-fans-clamoring-for-this-new-park-scale) and only ONE (or two if they’re lucky) KIDS are CHOSEN to be part of the “show.” That was a bit of a letdown, though for those two kids, it definitely wasn’t. Nor for their parents.

Mr. Olivander

The shop itself is EXACTLY like the movie, so it was wonderful. Boxes and boxes of wands, sample wands on the walls, Mr. Olivander himself, and, of course, magic. I’m glad I waited, but I’d really wanted to “experience” the wand choosing me. But I got to choose my own wand, because park employees then funnel the 30 people into another store where you can get Griffyndor clothing, or Slytherin capes, and any other HP-themed souvenir. And you can buy your own wand. There’s a wall with wands coinciding with your birthday. I wasn’t fond of the screaming skull for a February 13th birthday. I was thinking something that close to Valentine’s Day might be a little more upbeat, so I decided to buy Hermione’s wand. There’s another wall with character wands, but Dumbledore’s was sold out. They said they sell out of his the most.

Tourist hint: They give you a 10% discount if you have an AAA card. Luckily, my new “sister,” Donna had one, so I got my wand for $27 instead of $30. No, there is no unicorn hair inside it, or whatever Hermione’s has inside (sorry, I’d have to go check; I might be a fan, but I am 45 years old. The memory ain’t what it used to be.), and it’s plastic, but it’s pretty and it was my souvenir (well, along with the chocolate frog box – the kids and I shared the frog. At $10, it better be a multi-person piece of chocolate and it is – it’s about the size of my fist.)

Emily with chocolate frog in HoneyDukes

Another Tourist Hint: DON’T buy your chocolate frog during your first visit to HoneyDukes and then proceed to carry it around with you the rest of the day. Otherwise, you’re going to have to double-bag it (with HP bags, so that’s kind of cool) and beg for ice from the butterbeer vendors (the added bonus is you can put some ice in your bra to try to cool your body temperature in the ridiculously hot, sticky, sweaty Floridian July heat).

So, after we bought our wands, we decided to check out lunch again, because it was now about 2 pm and surely there was no longer a long wait at The Three Broomsticks.

The Three Broomsticks

We were right; it was only about 15 minutes. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the food. Not fast food at all, though you order it cafeteria-style, but it was good. Ribs, chicken, fish & chips, shepherd’s pie (looked good but too small), and other English fare, the prices were pretty reasonable, too. I had ribs and chicken, some potatoes and an ear of corn, plus milk for about $13. Oh, and the water bottles from the vendors are only $2.25 (maybe $2.75, I can’t remember – that memory thing, you know. I need a pensieve for myself…) So, not too bad there.

Check out the next post for our visit to Hogwarts.

Hogwarts with Griffyndor tower

BEA 2010

I was signing at the RWA booth yesterday and took these photos beforehand. Special shout-out to the Sourcebooks crew for a gorgeous booth. Those folks were working it! There was always someone having a meeting with someone.

A huge thank you to RWA for the time to sign, to Sourcebooks (and Danielle Jackson) for the books and to the ladies from: www.findthetimetoread.net and bookalicio.us for “petting” my book! :)

Mers and Genies together :)

Olivia Cunning's Debut and Erotic Romance Launch book

Rick Springfield signing promo for his memoir

another shot - but you can't see his smudged guyliner

Author Kate Douglas signing at the RWA booth

James Patterson

Scott Turow

Ken Corday of Days Of Our Lives, book pubbed by Sourcebooks

Kathryne Kennedy and Jennifer Blake, Sourcebooks

More Sourcebooks authors

Rod and Kyle: Uncensored After Dark

AAD with Rod and Kyle

Rod Tritone, author Judi Fennell, author Stephanie Julian, Kyle Rossini

Scene: The overcrowded bar of a large hotel somewhere on the eastern seaboard. It’s after midnight. There are mostly women talking, laughing and drinking. And drinking.

Rod Tritone rocks the no-longer-frosted beer mug in his hand, and keeps his head down. Those women have been eyeing him but he’s happily married, and he’s got the weight of the Mer world on his shoulders since he’s just taken over the throne. A land-based excursion wasn’t exactly high on his list of priorities at the moment–especially since his honeymoon wasn’t all that long ago. Luckily, Kyle Rossini, one of the few people who knows what he really is enters the bar at that moment.

Kyle: Hey, man. I was beginning to think I was the only testosterone in this place. I need a drink. All these women… (He slouches into the chair next to Rod, making sure his back’s to the wall and he had a clear view of all the exits) I’d rather be out on a run but this place is a concrete jungle. Hell, even New York City has Central Park.

Rod: And an aquarium. I can’t believe I let The Council talk me into this. The last place I need to be is surrounded by a bunch of Humans. I’ve got an ocean to run. (Drains his beer and nods to the waitress for another.) So how’d you get roped into this?

Kyle: Hell if I know. Tam and Steph were talking one night and the next thing I knew they were eyeing me like a side of beef. Then the lucani king decided I should come, have a look around. See what the humans say about us. I don’t have time for this shit. I’ve got three new sicari to train. Assassins don’t grow on trees, you know. Although I’ve got one who I swear was born to it. What about you?

Rod: Angel—you remember my younger sister, right? She’s all over me about doing some Human-Mer “dialogue” to get relations going between the races. I, frankly, think it’d be better to wait another few hundred years at the very least before we begin to even consider letting  them know we exist, but Val and Judi mentioned this gathering. (Inclines his head toward the readers milling around the bar.) Their argument is that the Humans most likely to accept new “beings” would be paranormal readers. I’m getting the lay of the land, so to speak. Must say, these women do have some very open minds.

Kyle: Yeah, that masquerade party last night was wild, all the wings and vampire fangs. I swear some of them actually believe in magic. I had a brief moment of insanity where I thought about giving them a real show. Just shifting into my pelt right in the middle of the dance floor. Would have loved to see their faces. Hell, most don’t believe we exist. But I know some of them wish we did. My daughter Cat would have a ball talking to all these writers. She loved Judi’s IN OVER HER HEAD.

Rod: I’ll have to mention that to Reel. Some of the readers jokingly asked Judi where Rod and I were, and they thought she was kidding when she said we were in her room. Good thing no one thought to check. My wife would have had serious issues with that. Being descended from the gods is one thing. Having people think I am one, entirely another. (Takes the frosted mug from the waitress as Kyle orders a 7&7.) Good thing Reel headed back to Ocean City. Two mermen walking around the place would be a bit much. Of course, I see Scarlata managed to convince everyone her pink wings were part of her costume. Wonder what they’d say if they knew there was a real Etruscan fairy hanging at the party with them.

Kyle: (snort) Yeah, Scarlata had way too much fun playing with the humans. I think pregnancy has softened her up. Of course, she’d have my head if she ever heard me say that. Too bad Justin couldn’t come. He would have had a field day with all these people talking about werewolves and fairies and Mer people. I’m surprised Scarlata showed up at all but Steph promised she’d torment Tivr in more stories, so she agreed. Scarlata really doesn’t like that god. Don’t know why. He’s been a good friend to my daughter. Cat’s got a serious case of puppy love for the guy. Of course, if he hurts her, there’s gonna be trouble. I don’t care if he is the freaking Etruscan God of the Moon. I’m sure you’d feel the same about Angel.

Rod: I hear you. My problem with Angel is that she’s always been so gung-ho on Humans that I’m worried she might go looking for her “catch of a lifetime,” and you know what kind of havoc that can cause. You’d think she’d realize after the shit Reel and I went through when we were kids and pulled the prank that almost exposed our world to Humans, that Humans aren’t ready for us, but she keeps insisting they are. It takes a certain type of Human to accept that they’re not the only swimmers in the sea. (Raises his beer halfway to his lips, but then stops and smiles ruefully.) Although, I guess the fact that Reel married one and my wife is half-Human doesn’t really help my argument, does it?

Kyle: (pauses as he takes his drink from the harried waitress) I know what you mean. My Tam doesn’t have any magic at all. But she’s coming up to speed pretty fast. She doesn’t get freaked out when Cat or I come home in our pelts. She’s still having trouble with the whole Gods and Goddesses thing, though. And I’m still damn worried about whoever tried to kidnap her It pisses me off that I don’t have a clue where to even start looking. And I don’t think they’re finished.

Rod: You might want to start with those closest to you. Drake was the last person I’d have suspected when that albatross turned mercenary and recruited half the bird population of Kansas to derail our run for the coast. Guy’s just not that bright. Which he proved with his ridiculous plan, but still— (There’s a disturbance at the end of the bar. A man joins the women, sporting a red leather hat with horns.) Hey—did you get a load of him? Think he might be your guy?

Kyle: (gives an amused laugh) Yeah, probably not. But that writer, Joey W. Hill, she looks like she might know more about secret societies than she’s letting on. Have you seen those vampire books she writes? (shakes his head and downs half his drink) The woman has some serious inside information. Anyway, when I get back tomorrow, I’ve gotta get Kaine out on the trail. She’s an even better tracker than her father, and that’s saying something. And Nic and Duke need to shake a few trees, see what falls out. You heading out tomorrow?

Rod: Out of the hotel, but not too far. Reel and Erica brought in another load of Blackbeard’s treasure from my old place in the wild blue under. I dole it out every so often to keep up the stock in Val’s mother’s gift shop and fund their operation of keeping Humans away from the kimberlite veins and Mer kingdom. I told them I’d stop by to help catalogue some of that stuff. I found that pile when I was a teenager out manta-surfing with some friends. Never would have figured it’d come in handy to keep Humans away from our world, you know? Of course, that Joey Hill you mentioned… Looks like someone clued her into my world as well as yours. Wonder where she gets her information.

Kyle: No idea. But we definitely don’t need the humans figuring out there are people like us in the world. It’s be all pitchforks and lab instruments for us. Hey, thanks for the company. I’m gonna head back to my room, hopefully get some sleep. Hate sleeping without Tam. (shakes his head with a rueful) Yeah, I know. I’m pathetic.

Rod: (pats Kyle on the back and stands) Yeah, without the women we love, aren’t we all?

The guys depart, leaving behind a couple of hungry gazes, more than a few “check-them-outs,” and a roomful of female sighs.

Ah, the tribulations of being a romance hero at a readers’ conference.

IOHH 155 WBU with tail

coal just cover with mermaid

1 seducedbymagic_msr

2 seducedinshadow_msr 3 seducedandensnared_msr

4 seducedandenchanted_msr

5 seducedbychaos_msr

6 point 5 shadowmagic_msr

6 seducedbydanger_msr

7 seducedbytwo_msr

8 kissofmoonlight_msr

Authors After Dark, and in the morning and during the day…

This past weekend I was in Suffern, NY at the Authors After Dark Readers Conference, and I had a blast! My books, both In Over Her Head, and Wild Blue Under, sold out at the booksigning, I did a workshop with the incomparable Joey W. Hill, participated on other panels, got to wear my fun blue ball gown (the one I wore when Fabio hugged me at RT 2 years ago), and got to meet so many fun people! And learned that I have fans! Always a nice thing to find out.

Here are the pictures from the event and I’m really looking forward to next year’s, scheduled for sometime in September, 2010 in Secaucus, NJ. Hope you can join me!

Me, Woo Woo, and Joey W. Hill

Me, Woo Woo, and Joey W. Hill

 

Judi & Stephanie Julian at costume party

Judi & Stephanie Julian at costume partyJudi & Steph at book signing

Take a look at Carol Brown's gorgeous costume - she MADE it! and the dragon con wings are just gorgeous!

Take a look at Carol Brown's gorgeous costume - she MADE it! and the dragon con wings are just gorgeous!

Girls with wings

Girls with wings

Steph and Dirty Froggy

Steph and Dirty Froggy

Stephanie Julian and I at book signing

Stephanie Julian and I at book signing

Authors After Dark Readers Conference

Save the date! October 23-25, 2009 – The Authors After Dark Paranormal Weekend is filling up fast! Sign up by August 1st to get the lowest membership rate of $160 for the weekend. (After August 1st, the membership goes to $175.)

The event is being held at the Suffern, NY Holiday Inn, located conveniently about 1 hour from New York City and most of the area’s major airports. Guest include:

Jacquelyn Frank

Sunny

Joey W. Hill

Stella and Audra Price

Bianca D’Arc

Rosemary Laurey

Jennifer Armintrout

Madeline Oh

Georgia Evans

Mechele Armstrong

Samantha Sommersby

Cat Johnson

Cathy Clamp

Eliza Gayle

Diana Castilleja

Leigh Ellwood

Tilly Greene

Selena Illyria

Adra Steia

Stephanie Julian

Judi Fennell

Kayleigh Jamison

Donna Grant

Robin T. Popp

Linda Mooney

Mima

 

Area attractions include the phenomenal shopping at Woodbury Common (http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=7) and the Forest of Fear (http://www.theforestoffear.com/home.php), held on the site of the New York State Renaissance Faire at Sterling Forest.

The convention is limited to 200 attendees so your “face time” with your favorite authors is maximized. We’re having loads of panel discussions, parties and a fantabulous dealer’s room. We’ll also be holding a massive charity raffle to benefit the CAN and Pets Alive – a local no kill animal shelter.

Sign up now for the best rates! The conference registration is only $160 until August 1st ($175 after August 1st) and the hotel is $99 per night, double occupancy. Lots to do in the area will make this a weekend you will never forget!

I’m excited to be participating this year and hope you’ll join us!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.