“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”
So said headmaster Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter in the first book of the fantasy series that has gripped Muggle imaginations for a dozen years.
The quote returned to me two weeks ago as I stood captive in line at Universal Orlando, waiting for admission to the brand new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. On opening day. For seven and a half hours. With 30,000 other insane people.
That’s my crowd estimate. Universal wouldn’t give out attendance numbers to the media, but a spokesman guesstimated 5,000 waiting outside the Islands of Adventure gates when they opened at 9 a.m.
Sounds about right. We spent two hours with that group, listening to stories about the even more insane people who had shown up even earlier. As in 4 a.m. Which, despite the entreaties of the younger of our two sons, his father and I refused to do. Insanity has its limits.
Of course, your limit probably extends to avoiding such lunacy altogether. So does ours. But we booked our vacation believing “spring opening” meant “by the end of May” (how I define spring) rather than “two days short of summer solstice,” which is how Universal defines it. We thought Harryworld would be flying at full phoenix by the time we arrived. As it turned out, we had to stay over a day to make the opening.
Which was non-negotiable. From Harry’s inaugural quest for the Sorcerer’s Stone, we have read every book aloud as a family. The four of us on the couch. One million words, 4,143 pages, with voices (I do a mean Delores Umbridge). We’ve seen every movie. We couldn’t miss Hogwarts, butterbeer and Ollivander’s by a day.
So we rose at 6 a.m., loaded backpacks with water and sunscreen and set off for Harry Potter and the Endless Line.
I have never experienced anything like that line. It began at the Port of Entry and snaked completely around the park: through Superhero Island, around the Toon Lagoon, past Ripsaw Falls and all the way across Jurassic Park before we reached Harryworld. We inched along, literally. Five steps and wait. Eight steps and wait. For seven and a half hours.
It sounds psychotic now, but there gets to be a doggedness about it. You tell yourself, “You’ve put in this long, are you gonna quit now?” You become new best friends with the people around you, sending scouting parties for sustenance, sharing sunscreen, saving places for shade breaks. I learned about the entire senior year of the two Texas girls in front of us, their college plans and life ambitions for the next 30 years.
We took pictures all around when we finally reached the entrance.
And we did finally reach the entrance – at 2:45 p.m., staggering with a cheer through the archway onto the cobblestone streets of J.K. Rowling’s imagination come to life. It is every bit as spectacular as any Potter fan could dream. High-pitched, snow-covered rooflines, crooked chimneys, Honeydukes, the Three Broomsticks and towering over it all, the spooky turrets of Hogwarts.
And more lines, of course. An hour for butterbeer. Two hours to get in and out of Honeydukes. An hour and a half wait to ride the Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts castle. Interestingly, as jam-packed as it was, people were astoundingly forbearing and polite. Mainly because we were all too busy staring around slack-jawed. It felt that real, 100-degree Florida heat and all.
“Was it worth it?” we asked the boys on the way back to the hotel. Absolutely, they said, with the same look in their eyes I’d seen all those hours we’d piled together on the couch, caught up in Rowling’s sweeping tale of courage and friendship, danger and sacrifice. And frankly, for that, what’s Harry Potter and the Endless Line but another grand family adventure?