by Megan Stump
Several years ago there was a rumor that more Harry Potter was coming to Universal Studios Florida. I had fallen in love with Hogsmeade immediately after seeing the tip of Hogwarts from across the lagoon in IoA, so needless to say, I was very excited. We learned about some fun details at the Harry Potter Celebration. Finally June 9, 2014 the construction walls came down.
I’m a teacher here in Central Florida, and due to some miscommunication I had no summer job. At the time, I was kind of bummed because summer was looking extremely boring. A few days before, a friend of mine who apparently has some pretty good sources, told me that the walls were probably coming down in front of London. I figured I would wonder over at some point since I had nothing else to do. Twitter was blowing up with pictures of London, and all of the big sites had someone there. I waited until it had all blown over and drove over and booked it back to London. It was everything that I would have hoped it would be. The Knight Bus was all shiny and new, the fountain quickly became my obsession, and Kreacher peaking out of the window? Well, perfection doesn’t quite cover it. Pure happiness, and I couldn’t get past the barricades. No matter, I had waited this long.
After that first day it was like I found every reason to go back. Any friend that hadn’t seen London, I convinced them that they needed to see it immediately. It rained? Oh I need pictures of London in the rain. It rained at night? Well I haven’t gotten any pictures of that either. Soon I had made friends with some of the event staff and before I knew it, it had been 9 days in a row. I knew Media Week was about to start, so I figured I’d head over early for the first day.
Turns out knowing the event staff was a good thing for me. They knew I was most likely just going to hang around and watch, and that’s what I did! They wanted me to move to the other side of London? Sure! Just don’t make me leave! I managed to spy Tom Felton and Matt Lewis walk by the first day, but the best part was seeing Evanna Lynch. We agreed to be quiet and not bother her, but she saw us all standing around and came over to talk and sign autographs. I was able to grab a picture with her and she was SO nice. By the end of the three days, I would have gotten pictures with Tom Felton, Matt Lewis and Warwick Davis.
My perfect day came day the second day of Media Week. Matt, James and Oliver Phelps were filming a webcast about the Hogwart’s express. Not only did Matt and I have a random conversation about Florida and how I wasn’t melting in the sun, the twins came over and signed another fan’s Quidditch book. I got to shake Oliver’s hand AND get a picture with him! Universal’s PR department caught it all on camera, and even used a picture on Twitter. When the PR lady came over and offered to text me all of the pictures, I couldn’t believe it. I was on cloud 9, and I couldn’t contain myself for the rest of the day. I believe that was the day some random guy came out with Butterbeer ice cream and let us have the rest of his. Then 4 of us ate off of one spoon out of a random stranger’s cone. I DO NOT endorse this!!!
In the meantime, I had met up with several wonderful witches from the Slug Club, met Daniel and Christina who had also been to Universal every day since the walls came down, and became friends with another crew-You’re Just as Sane as I Am. I had been using #potterwatch on Twitter (thanks to my friend Mikey) and together we became #OccupyDiagon. According to my friends I was “famous”. Yay?
THE BORING PARTS
We had to continue our streak. Media Week was over, and Opening Day wasn’t until July 8th. Team members hadn’t even gotten to see the Alley, so we knew it was a slim chance that soft openings would happen. Still we went every day, just in case. People would ask us what we were waiting for, and give us weird looks as we said-probably nothing. We had a family stalk us one day. They didn’t believe us when we said probably nothing would happen, and refused to leave. They also started bothering the staff, so we left for lunch. The ended up leaving after we did, but as soon as we returned, they were right back with us. I had people tweeting me daily to see if I knew anything-I didn’t. People wanted to know what the chances were-slim to none (they didn’t like that).
When the team members finally had their previews we figured our time was near. Potter Packages were about to begin, and we knew there would be a greater chance. I was excited for Christina because I knew she’d be getting into Diagon, but I knew we’d get a chance soon.
Day 23. July 1st I was having lunch at Mythos with friends, when I received a text: “London. Now. Where are you?” I ended up running all the way to London and paid my friend later that day. Good thing too, once I made it back to London where Daniel was, an event staff saw me and said “Don’t you dare move again.” I knew then it was happening. I was going to get to go on the Hogwarts Express. In a few minutes, they started taking down the barricades. We rushed in, Annual Passes gripped in our hands. I didn’t even make it inside King’s Cross before I started crying. The further we got into the queue, the more I cried. Everything was perfect. We let a few people go through the platform to see how it worked, then some people I knew from Attractions and Touring Plans happened to be there. One of them took our pictures as we went through and we were quickly on their sites as some of the first few people to go through Platform 9 ¾. Then through the tunnel and there she was. I lost it. It didn’t help that the TM loading was one of my best friends. I gave him a huge hug and promptly turned into a puddle. This was it. This is what I had been waiting for. We loaded into the train, and I must have taken a zillion pictures. I cried the entire way to Hogsmeade. More pictures, with a huge grin on my tear stained face. We then got back in line to ride back to London. WEASLEY’S?!?!?!?! I couldn’t handle it-back to the sobbing. I may have yelled “I MET THEM 2 WEEKS AGO!!” It was something truly magical. You would think that I would have stayed on that train the whole time, but Daniel and I felt like we needed to wait for Christina. So we found a new spot in the air conditioning of King’s Cross and did some decompressing.
Day 25: This was it. This is the day where the magic all happened. The morning was completely boring and we pretty much guessed if anything was going to happen, it was going to be after the package people were done for the day. So we stuck around and noticed there was a large group forming over by Fear Factor. We wandered over there, and one of my best friends Josh was done with work for the day (and he knew something was up) so he decided to come and hang out with us. Finally several event staff and managers came over and told us that they were going to let us into the queue but there wasn’t to be any pushing or shoving. Fine with me! As soon as they let us into the queue, everything from the last 24 days just slammed into me and I started crying. Once they let us into London we immediately walked over to the brick wall. People were milling about London, but I wasn’t having any of it. Diagon was the priority.
Finally it was time. I remember shaking and Josh running in front of me to get pictures. As soon as I walked around the corner it hit me. There was Weasley’s, Leaky Cauldron, Quidditch Quality…and there she was. That beautiful dragon (her name is Jake-to me anyway)on top of Gringotts. It’s amazing I could see anything through my tears, but it was everything I had hoped for. I just stood there sobbing until Christina asked me if I wanted to go into Weasley’s. Of course I went in and started crying again. The Team Members were wonderful! They were so happy we loved everything and made us feel so welcome! After we went through there and Quidditch Quality Supplies, we went over to Leaky Cauldron. I was in absolute awe! I was asked what I thought of Diagon and I started crying and said this was everything that I had hoped for. The TM told me, “Well, welcome home!” He was right. This was home. This was worth every second melting in the hot sun. We spent the rest of the day in Diagon with me basically just constantly losing my mind. Jake was just as wonderful as I had hoped, I drank my weight in the new beverages and ate way too much ice cream. Diagon completely took my breath away, and I knew this was the new standard for theme parks. I couldn’t wait for everyone else to get to see this amazing place.
The next few days were more of the same. Ride the Express until the package people went in, then hang out around Fear Factor waiting to be let in. No Gringotts didn’t matter. We watched Celestina constantly, cried during the Three Brothers, cast spells and ate and drank consistently in the Alley. I was so excited for opening day so I could ride Gringotts, but I relished every moment I got to see Diagon without a ton of people. A few days later, it was time.
Day 30: aka OPENING DAY.
It was time. Daniel and I took a trip over to CityWalk the night before Opening Day to scope out the situation. No one was really sure what exactly was happening, so we had to ask a lot of questions. This led to us just chilling on a bench outside of CityWalk until it closed. We were told it would be ok for us to be there since it wasn’t on CityWalk, but when 2 am rolled around, we were told we had to leave. We had all rented a room at Cabana, but didn’t want to wait there because it was too far away. Everywhere we went we were shooed away, until we got permission to wait at the Royal Pacific hotel pool. I couldn’t sleep. Adrenaline was pumping like crazy, and the crew was ready to go. We had a problem with a family who was waiting to go, but didn’t even like Potter (why they were waiting was a mystery to us). They were super rude to my cosplaying friends and made fun of them for being dressed up. As we walked towards CityWalk, I managed to get in front of them and they were so angry. BUT YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE POTTER.
I managed to be the first person at bag check, and that’s where things got crazy. As security was checking my bag, he told someone that people without bags could go. Soon everyone behind us, bags or not rushed through. He had to stop checking mine to stop the rest of them. That was the first problem we encountered. I ran/walked to the front and managed to weasel my way as close as possible, making sure the crew was all together. We were all recognized by Universal’s PR department and managed to get in several of the pictures (of course). My second problem was when the kid in front of me at the turnstiles couldn’t get his ticket to work. PANIC!!! Finally I made it almost right behind the rope as they were walking us towards London. The crowd was awful and we were basically carried along. I remember Daniel saying his feet weren’t even touching the ground at one point. I don’t like crowds, but this wasn’t something new to me, so I kept going. Our crew got split up into two but I had my main 3 with me right behind the rope so it was fantastic! We made it in the papers, on the news, got interviewed by Universal PR again and listened to the guy behind us flip out about Francis. I have NO idea who Francis is, but I really hope they were excited for their friend.
I didn’t even mind waiting at this point, but was so happy when the party got started. Fireworks, countdown and HERE WE GO!!! I’ve probably watched the video of the opening a hundred times and it still makes me giggle seeing me run towards the entrance, but I was determined to be one of the first few into Diagon that day. Confetti filled the Alley and Team Members lined the streets. I remember being so happy. This was the perfect ending to Potterwatch and OccupyDiagon. I had one goal. Ride. Gringotts. So we hurried to the lockers, and jumped in the line. Luckily at this point it was only about a 45 minute wait. We split into two groups for our pictures, but we ended up taking up an entire car for the ride. I remember walking up the stairs and people yelling about the stalactites. All I could say was “HOLY GUYS” still a joke until this day. We left early that day, but I had done it. I had stayed awake and lived through an opening day for Harry Potter.
Would I do it again? Sure! If I had the time like this time and I didn’t have other priorities. I made so many friends, including the ones right here in the Slug Club. If it wasn’t for Potterwatch, I wouldn’t have met my friend Aengus who, because of me, entered the HP Celebration social media meetup, got in and invited me!! So thankful for that. I’m going to keep going down memory lane on my Timehop!