August 3rd is the Central Florida Slug Club’s FOURTH birthday! On this day in 2012, a bunch of us who began talking on MyHogwarts decided to get together for butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks. Since then, we’ve grown to become a group of about 1,500 members spread out between our Facebook and Meetup.com groups that meets at least twice a month for a variety of activities include cosplay days, book club, laser tag, virtual races, community service and activism, and more! It’s been an amazing three years. I can’t wait to see what the fourth brings!
For the second year in a row, I attended A Celebration of Harry Potter 2015 at Universal Orlando with the Central Florida Slug Club, the largest active adult Harry Potter fan club in the Southeastern United States, and one of the largest in the country. While last year was memorable, this year was epic! Everything went right for me. It was unreal. I don’t know who slipped Felix Felicis potion into my morning orange juice, but God bless them. Luck was on my side. Here are my luckiest moments of this magical weekend. Continue Reading…
Universal Orlando hosted its second annual Harry Potter Celebration over the weekend. We heard announcements over the summer that they were bringing the Celebration back, and were now offering a special annual passholder vacation package. Every passholder I know wouldn’t be caught dead purchasing a vacation package that included tickets to the theme parks, since we already get unlimited entry for the year, so when I saw that they were offering less expensive packages for those who already have theme park tickets, I knew I wanted to purchase one. The packages went on sale in August and sold out the first day, but I got one.
Words by Terrea Riggs. Pictures by Terrea Riggs and Alyssa Hancock.
Nothing beats the feeling of being welcomed home. I haven’t been away, I just never get over walking into an event late and being greeted warmly by my wizard friends (and this time the bartender, too!). So even though I had to work at my muggle job at 1am on Tuesday, my trek out to the George and Dragon Pub for book club on Monday night was well worth it. And what better way to set the mood for your meetup at a British pub than for it to rain the entire time you’re there?
Our book this time was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As much as I enjoy new reads, I am equally excited about our group’s re-read of the series that has brought us all together. There were lots of thoughtful questions and plenty of debate (at least from this table).
As if somehow sensing which book we were discussing this month, my wand broke in half at the meetup, doing its best imitation of Ron Weasley’s during the crash into the Whomping Willow! I hope that Ollivander can repair it next time I am in Diagon Alley.
Slytherin house was not as well represented in attendance as I had hoped, but Alyssa and I made up for it by wearing our robes and best better-than-you expressions. Where did all these Gryffindors and Ravenclaws come from, anyway?!
At one point in the night I had truly questioned whether I was in Orlando or not. The rain pelted down the entire time we were at the pub and I even started hearing more British accents than normal. Had I unknowingly apparated to London?
We then broke into smaller groups to compete in trivia from the book for extra house points! While they all did their best at trying, Alyssa and I were the most ambitious and secured the SlytherWIN for the night.
After that we celebrated with drinks, even inviting Dobby to join us.
Once again it was a fun night and I can’t wait to do it all again in November with a new book!
Here are the House points as of yesterday, September 18th.
Gryffindor is off to a great start! The question is – can they hold on to it? Gryffindor started off high in the rankings last term as well but that wonderful energy did not last for long. Hufflepuff has been quiet over the last two years, with members being more interested in having fun rather than worrying about the pressures of the House Cup Competition.
The real surprise is the current standings of Slytherin and Ravenclaw, winners of our first and second term, respectively. Historically, Slytherin did whatever was necessary to advance their position in the ranks, jumping in when the stakes were high and helping out the group leadership team in exchange for house points. Ravenclaw is our largest house and, with a high number of book club and discussion-based meetings this summer and school term, expected to be a tough competitor. Can these two Houses come back before the House Cup Competition comes to a close?
Summer time. The temperatures are rising. The sun is out, the water is nice, and the vacation time is plentiful. So, how do you spend that time? With those who you enjoy the company of and care about of course! What better place to spend time together than a beautiful park?
That is exactly what we did on Sunday, July 13th. A group of friends, about 20 people in total, gathered at Bill Frederick Park for good food, games and fun. There was BBQ, Kabobs, cookies, cupcakes, drinks, and games. Plenty of laughs, and stories circulated about the new Diagon Alley area. Ridiculous times with “Cards against Humanity” were involved, and plenty of smiles, all while overlooking a beautiful lake!
Post-picnic a small group headed to Universal to continue to marvel in amazement at the new Diagon Alley area, and ride the new Escape from Gringotts ride.
Overall it was a phenomenal day with amazing people. All four houses were represented well, The weather could not have been better, and the company was fantastic. Special thanks to Micky Christmas Lee and Stephanie Shive for hosting and putting together the BBQ!
At approximately 3:30 on Thursday July 3rd, 2014, Universal Studios Orlando soft opened their newest attraction area, Diagon Alley, to the public for the first time.
And I got to be a part of it.
Rumors had been swirling for days of soft openings. Two days in a row, I anxiously waited with other Slug Club members for even the smallest sign of a soft. Both times were to no avail. So when it finally opened on Thursday, it made all the waiting worth it! Originally, we had only planned to ride the Hogwarts Express, which had been in the throes of soft openings since Tuesday afternoon. It was just impeccable timing, and wicked good luck that Diagon Alley soft opened that day.
Heather, Lauren and I got to the gates of London just as the crowd cheered and the first guests were let in. We ran around, looking for the beginning of the line and within 15 minutes, we were through the queue and standing inside of the London front. Although I really wanted to get a few pictures in front of Grimmauld place and the fountain, we rushed towards the entrance to Diagon Alley. I figured I’d been staring at London for weeks; I needed to get out of the Muggle world!
I started to tear up at the sight of the brick wall entrance. I lost my breath once through the wall, looking ahead at Gringotts and the large dragon atop it, with the Leaky Cauldron on my left and Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes on my right. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, even more amazing than when I saw Hogsmeade for the first time. We first entered Leaky to get some grub and sitting in this iconic location from the books and movies, sipping my butterbeer and surrounded by my friends, I started crying. It was just so perfect, and beautiful, and magical.
Universal took all of the pitfalls of Hogsmeade and turned them into serious positives in Diagon Alley. Most of the shops have queues outside so that large crowds can be better controlled. The interactive wand stations usually have a cast member present to help with spell-casting. And they introduced a whole slew of new drinks to try like the fishy-green ale (it’s quite….different), Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice (an orange and soda concoction with cinnamon sugar on the rim), Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (a very tart lemonade, that is still delicious) and several different “potions” you can mix in with bottled water. I would recommend that you try it at least once, even though it is like paying $8 for Kool-Aid, the vials are pretty neat keepsakes.
The layout of Diagon Alley also trumps Hogsmeade. Hogsmeade consists of one “road” with the Forbidden Journey in the back. It is the perfect layout for a quaint little village, but is still not the best for traffic flow in a theme park. Diagon Alley has several different pathways throughout area, and makes it feel much more like a bustling big city shopping market. It also feels more spacious and has 2 large covered areas for when it rains: Knockturn Alley and Carkitt Market. Knockturn Alley is fully air conditioned and kept in perpetual nighttime. Carkitt Market is where they have a stage for Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees to perform, and where they have shows based on stories from the Tales of Beedle the Bard. It is also home to The Hopping Pot and Eternelle’s Elixirs.
The pictures of Diagon Alley just don’t do it justice. It is so much more in person. I noticed a lot of the designs from Mina Lima, who were present at The Celebration of Harry Potter back in January. The whole of Diagon Alley is themed just perfectly. You really are completely immersed in the Wizard world. When we left Diagon Alley to go ride the Hogwarts Express, it was a bit of a jolt to remember that we were actually inside Universal Studios.
We were able to cover most of the shops, including the long line for Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor and dinner at the Leaky Cauldron in about 5 hours. Sadly, the Gringotts ride was not up and running, and we couldn’t do walkthroughs. I bought a new interactive wand (oak) and some parchment from Scribbulus. I also splurged and got the souvenir cup of ice cream, but that will be a one-time only affair (try the Earl Grey and Lavender ice cream!). Several members, including myself, bought Hogwarts Express tickets which are printed in “gold ink.” Some items still on my wish-list are a Skiving Snackbox and the collector’s coin set at the Money Exchange.
All in all, Diagon Alley is a must-see for all avid Harry Potter fans. If you’ve seen Hogsmeade and were impressed by everything there, you’ll be completely blown away in Diagon Alley. Universal just did an incredible job and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for making the wonderful world of Harry Potter a reality.
It’s been a busy and emotional week for members of the Central Florida Slug Club. Many of our members have been apart of the much talked about #POTTERWATCH movement, patiently (and not so patiently) waiting for a chance to preview the new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Since opening July 3rd in preview mode, 44 of the Slug Club members have already visited numerous times, getting familiarized with the new area and taking in all that it has to offer before the muggles invade by the thousands on grand opening day, July 8th!
The general consensus of the group is complete adoration! We applaud the folks at Universal for staying true to the magical and cozy feeling of the Wizarding World as depicted in the book and the movies. We were all truly moved with emotions when we first laid eyes on Diagon Alley.
Here are the things we absolutely love:
1. Total immersion – Once you pass into London and beyond the brick wall entry way you are truly transported into another realm. There were times we forgot we were actually inside Universal Studios and exiting to London was a bit of a shock. We got the feeling that perhaps we should put away our wands or else the ‘Muggles’ (non-wizarding folk) will find out. It became just that real for us.
2. Butter Beer soft serve – It’s divine. We also really appreciated the variety of other ice cream flavors offered just as they were described in the book.
3. Knockturn Alley – This area was loved by all, not just the Slytherins in the club. It’s covered, it’s air-conditioned, and it’s just freakin’ cool to walk around in the dark.
4. Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees – WOW! This show is amazing. None of us were expecting it to take the direction of a jazzy/speakeasy vibe and we were enamored after the very first show. (Soundtrack please!!!)
5. Interactive Wands – We’re grown-ups with wands that actually work. We couldn’t be happier!
6. Booze on the Hogwarts Express – The train is just perfect! We appreciate being able to journey as Hogwarts alum on the Hogwarts Express with our adult beverages. We appreciate being able to buy them in line even more!
7. Interactive Gringott’s Goblin – Such a cool feature to have the Goblin answer your questions.
8. Potions Elixers – It’s such fun and they really do taste good.
9. Gringott’s Dragon – She’s just marvelous. The roar is the absolute best. We never tire of watching it or taking pictures of it.
10. Architecture – The detail of every little nook and cranny didn’t go unnoticed by our group! We are devoted fans who have seen the movies more times than anyone could count. Nailed it!
11. Fwooper and the kneazle in Menagerie – Kudos for really bringing the Fantastical Beasts to life.
12. Sirius’ motor bike – Very cool and one of the elements we actually hadn’t seen any spoilers about. It really was a surprise to most of us.
13. Butter Beer Bar – We just want to stand inside and inhale that celestial smell all day.
14. Sticky Toffee Pudding – This dessert at the Leaky Cauldron is amazeballs!
15. The look and feel of the Leaky Cauldron – It’s great for large groups like ours or for a cozy meal by yourself. It just feels right.
We loved many things, but there are a few things that the club would love to see addressed. With the grand opening looming just hours away, we know they won’t be in place for tomorrow. Hopefully Universal will take heed to some of them in order to make for an even more enjoyable experience for their guests.
1. More seating throughout Diagon Alley – There are a few benches and the tables in front of the Hopping Pot, but it would be nice to see more seating in the Carkitt Market area where it’s covered to enjoy the show or sip on your elixir or eat your ice cream from Florean’s.
2. Covered seating for Hopping Pot – The bar area has a good number of tables but they are exposed to the elements. It’s no good enjoying a beer when it’s raining on your head or when the sun is beating down on you. We love the covered seating behind the Three Broomsticks. Take a page out of that book and perhaps add some umbrellas.
3. Seedy bar in Knockturn Alley – We think Knockturn Alley needs a bar, perhaps serving Firewhisky or some other more naughty concoctions. We’ve even got a name suggestion, The Spiny Serpent.
4. Specialty diet options- Many of our club members are vegetarians, vegans,or have health related conditions. It was very difficult for some to find options at The Leaky Cauldron that they too could enjoy. There were a few, but not nearly enough. It would be nice to note the gluten free menu items as well to make it esier for guests to decipher.
5. Covered waiting area for ice cream – We just can’t see the line for Florean Fortescue’s ever being short enough to not extend outside. It’s so good! It’s no fun to be rained on while waiting in line. We wish that there could be awning extended there to cover the line.
6. Wand customization – We think it would be very cool to be able to select the core and the material for the wand and perhaps allow some sort of customization, something like Build-a-Bear.
7. It rained for several days during the soft opening period and the slick stones of the alley did not bode well in the rain. Even London was extra slick. We hope Universal can sand the surfaces to help prevent some of the slip and falls we’ve already seen. Warning signs about the slippery conditions would also be really helpful so guests will take extra caution.
8. Last but definitely not least, more merchandise! We know it sounds crazy because the bulk of Diagon Alley is already comprised of stores. However, we didn’t find the selection of merchandise in several of the stores to be that much different than what can be found in other areas of the park.
We want to give Universal even more of our money, so here’s how they can get it:
- Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees soundtrack for purchase and posters for sale
- More witchy merchandise in Madam Malkins, witch hats other than McGonagalls. Many things were on display that we inquired about and were told it was only for display but true fans would love to be able to purchase them.
- The quidditch store needs more quidditch gear, i.e. quidditch robes, HolyHead Harpies t-shirt, and more house representation other than Gryffindor. We understand Gryffindor is the most common house, but perhaps having the option to order merchandise right there on site for a different house would be a great feature to offer.
- Star charts for sale in Wiseacres
Many members of the Slug Club are fortunate enough to live locally and have annual passes so we will continue to be frequent inhabitants of both wizarding worlds. The last few days have truly been magical. Now off to rest, before the big grand opening tomorrow!
Submitted by Slug Club member Lauren Gay, http://www.outdoorsydiva.com
Rumor was that the walls were coming down Sunday night and they were correct!
You can see in the store windows and into Kings Cross and what looked like a lot of railings to wait in line! All the staff standing outside were very nice and offered to take pictures.
There is a space to stand in the bus to take pictures!! It is blocked so you can’t actually walk in but it is still a nice plus!
Not sure if the benches around the fountain are a great idea, may block people trying to get photos.
Grimmauld Place, the fencing around the porch is brown and rusted looking so it stands out from the others! If I remember correctly the doors had different knockers. Kreacher also pokes his head out of the window.
Is that a brick wall, as in THE brick wall into Diagon Alley lit up by sunlight?! I don’t know for sure but I think so!
Over at Hogsmeade the walls are also down!
Is that a school carriage? I think it is!
This was the window that was wrapped up last week, I honestly can’t notice the changes off of memory alone. The only thing that stuck out was that it used to have labels saying what the plant was and I didn’t see those. Comment if you know what has changed.
This is the window that is wrapped up this week! I think Lockhart is getting a makeover!
Sherman Lemon the snowman moved again! I got an update from our HoH today that said she saw the snowman moving! Doing cute figure eights and twirling!! Our prediction was correct, wahoo!
I also found out today that the dragon is unwrapped and saw a picture on twitter of it breathing fire. There are lots of rumors going around that they will announce the opening date during the media event. There are also rumors of the park actually opening on the 20th the last day of the media event. But I also heard rumors of the 21st as well so we will have to wait and see. Either way, if you have a annual pass get to the parks soft openings and actual openings could happen any time!