Slug Club members get sorted

Celebration of Harry Potter Social Media Meetup 2016

By Megan Stump

 

Harry Potter Celebration is one of my favorite times of year, and this year was no exception.  In 2015 I was invited to the Social Media meet-up by a friend. I didn’t think anything could top that. I was able to meet James and Oliver Phelps, talk with MinaLima and Alan Gilmore about Diagon Alley, and ride Escape from Gringotts basically by ourselves.  It was a fantastic time, and Celebration was basically a dream.

 

Then about a month ago, Universal announced another Social Media meet-up. I entered on the first go, and in a few days I was notified that I won.  Immediately I decided on bringing my friend Ann Marie since Celebration is kind of our “thing”.  I had no idea what to expect and, even with a second email, all I knew is that we were going to be in Universal for almost five hours with a lunch break.

 

Social Media Meetup Selfie

 

We showed up to the front of Universal at 7:30AM to get our credentials and managed to be the first ones there. I figured there was going to be a long line like some of the Disney meet-ups, but no one else was around.  We came back around 8AM and met up with Meg and Kara from Slug Club, as well as some other friends that we knew were going to be there.  At 8:25 we were brought into the park through a special entrance with the Universal Orlando Resort (UOR) social media team and two VIP tour guides. It was then we were told that we were going to be taken through the day of a Hogwarts student. Off we went towards the Expo entrance.

 

When we arrived, we were told we were going to be sorted into our Hogwarts house. If you’ve never done or seen the Sorting Hat ceremony, a Universal team member brings you up and asks you some questions about yourself. If you have a specific house you feel tied to, they will ask you that as well. If you don’t, you usually end up with either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. After we were all sorted, we took the opportunity of no one else around to take a crazy selfie with the Sorting hat and its attendant!

 

  Slug Club members get sorted

 

The tour guides took us to the London Waterfront where we talked about Grimmauld Place and then about the entrance to Leaky Cauldron and why we end up going through the brick wall to the side of Leaky (purely capacity issues). We then walked into Diagon where we were taken over to the backside of Ollivander’s and divided into two groups to go through the wand experience. Meg was with us and ended up being chosen! Usually at the end of the wand ceremony, the assistant tells you about your “options” but this day we were just walked through the shop with the chosen students getting to keep their wands. I admit I was kind of bummed at first, but it wasn’t for long.

 

They took us straight into Madame Malkin’s where we were told we were there to be fitted for our robes. I couldn’t believe it but we were all handed robes based on the houses we were sorted into at the beginning.  Each of us was also given a wand based on our houses. Gryffindors received Ginny Weasley’s wand, Ravenclaw received Luna Lovegood’s, Slytherin were given Severus Snape’s and Hufflepuff… Fleur Delacour…? We still haven’t figured out why that was the wand for the ‘Puffs, but hey…free wand! The “students’ that had been chosen were given the wand that had chosen them in Ollivander’s. I’m pretty sure I’m still in shock from this. At this point I did the standard Megan thing and burst into tears. One of the UOR social media team members gave me a hug that was greatly needed. At this point, the day wasn’t even half over and it had been the best meetup I had ever been to.

 

Lunch took place at the Leaky Cauldron of course. Each of us received a Gilly Water, an entrée and any beverage that was non-alcoholic. I could have tried any dish, but I stuck with good old fish and chips and my favorite Wizarding World drink – the Lemon Squash.  (Yes I love it more than butterbeer. It’s more refreshing and I can drink it without getting on a sugar high!)

 

 Waiting for the Hogwarts Express

 

After lunch, we were taken over to Islands of Adventure by way of the Hogwarts Express. Our group had our own car and had an exciting moment when the Dementors showed up.  I’m fairly certain the cars on each side of us could hear us screaming.  We were clearly having way too much fun. When we got over to Hogsmeade station, we thought we would be heading over to Hogwarts but they brought us to the front of the park.  Near Confisco’s and the Crescent Moon Bakery is a little gate that is the entrance to the Navigator’s Club.  It usually takes a special event to get up there and, if you watched the webcasts that the cast recorded that weekend, that’s where they were filming! We went upstairs and were given a wand master class by Paul Harris who was the wand choreographer for the movies. He kept telling us to cast WITH VENOM to the point our friend Felipe sent his camera’s lens case flying with all the venom he could muster.

 

We were asked for a group photo with Paul Harris and, as we were all scattering, Matt Lewis, Evanna Lynch and Rupert Grint came into the room!  We were all in shock, but I decided to open my big mouth and reminded Matt that we had had a conversation during Potterwatch in summer 2014. They all had us get together for a photo. I was lucky enough to be standing right behind Rupert and Paul.  After the photo was over, I asked Rupert if I could get a selfie before they left, and quickly snapped it before the stars were whisked away.  It happened so fast! I was the only one to get any photos or anything. I could barely walk down the stairs I was shaking so hard, but managed to make it without falling.

 

 Megan with Rupert Grint

 

They took us over to Hogwarts and we rode Forbidden Journey for our last bit of the event.  Afterwards, we were taken to the Three Broomsticks and given a Chocolate Frog to combat the sad feeling the Dementors left us with during the ride as well as a souvenir stein filled with cold butterbeer.  Before our last picture in front of Hogwarts, we were given a 1-day 2 park ticket and VIP express passes for the rest of the day.
For as many Disney and Universal blog meetups I have attended, this one was truly the most amazing.  I still can’t believe that we were given this opportunity. I was so glad that I was able to share it with people who absolutely loved Harry Potter as much as I do! I can’t thank the Universal Social Media team enough for this event. I’m happy that I wasn’t the only Slug Club member who got to experience this!

 

Butterbeer

Potterwatch 2014: One Year Later

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. Read More

The Legendary Butterbeer Float

Butterbeer float. I heard this term and thought it sounded absolutely amazing. Ice cream AND butterbeer? Divine.

Then I realized you could use butterbeer ice cream and butterbeer to create the sweetest, most decadent treat in all of the Wizarding World.

This item is not an official menu item at Hogsmeade nor Diagon Alley so if you ask a team member to make you one, they probably won’t know what you’re talking about. But it doesn’t stop you from making it yourself! You will need a regular butterbeer, an order of butterbeer ice cream and an extra cup. The Fountain of Fair Fortune is the best place to get these items seeing as they sell both butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream!

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The first step is to split up the butterbeer between the two cups. Since most of the butterscotch flavoring is in the foam, you will need to pass the liquid between the cups several times to ensure proper butterscotch taste. Keep in mind, the foam expands while you do this, so you will end up with 2 cups that are 2/3 of the way full. I recommend this be shared because it is quite rich and because it’s hard to eat your float while carrying around 2 cups!

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The last step is to split the butterbeer ice cream between the two cups.

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YUM! If you are sharing this with someone, it will cost you a little more than $4 each if you use your annual pass discount.

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Ta-da! It’s very rich and very sweet but soooOoOO worth it. It would be interesting to try this with frozen butterbeer! It might be a bit harder to mix everything together but I personally prefer frozen butterbeer to regular butterbeer. If anyone tries this, let me know how it is!

Are there any special items that you have come up with at the parks that are not available on a menu? Let us know in the comments! We can start our own Wizarding World secret menu.

It’s Real To Us: Diagon Alley Preview

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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.

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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

The Walls Came Down!

Rumor was that the walls were coming down Sunday night and they were correct!

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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.

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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!

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Not sure if the benches around the fountain are a great idea, may block people trying to get photos.

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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.

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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!

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Over at Hogsmeade the walls are also down!

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Is that a school carriage? I think it is!

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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.

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This is the window that is wrapped up this week! I think Lockhart is getting a makeover!

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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!

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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!

 

 

Is It Done Yet?!

Not much to update about this week. They have put up the second dragon wing but it’s to far to get a good picture of. There are lots online. The scaffolding and netting is still up. Hopefully they will take that down this week. Here are a couple shots.

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A ladder lol!

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The wall is out so far on this side we assume they are either working on the stone wall in front of the trees or the flooring?

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The wall in between the building and the trees now has bricks on it , before it was just cement.

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Sorry, we didn’t have time to go to Hogsmeade but I will get you an update next weekend and as soon as there is a soft opening!!

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Don’t Stop Believin’!

So my weekday night time visit started out great when I headed to Hogsmeade and peeked around the space in the wall and saw that there were people in costume back there! Plus there were some polo shirt and dress pants wearing types that were coming out of the temporary worker door at the entrance to Hogsmeade.

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So I decided to stay out there and watch the activity going on since I was a lonely girl waiting for my theme park partner to get through rush hour traffic. Then someone left the door open for a full minute!! Of course people flocked and we saw a large crowd of people heading into or out of the station! We would have taken a midnight train going anywhere but alas we saw no muggles getting pulled into the station. We decided that they all looked young and maybe were just trainees?

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I got a shot to the right but it was just trees : (. Here is one you can see the uniforms a little better. I also noticed looking through this opening that there is a glass window to the left that says tickets. We headed to the Dragon Challenge and were able to see the train in the station with people waiting to board the train! It was so good and there was no wait so we decided to go just one more time.

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Inside Hogsmeade, the fireworks window I told you that was moving last time was not moving this time so maybe they were just testing it out to work out bugs for the interactive rfid wands. What? Don’t believe that they are getting the windows ready for the interactive experiences? Check out the cauldron below, it was moving! It leaned forward to show a pixie inside. I also think they may add a little water to this as you can see a spout under the pixie on top. Maybe they were doing another test day to make sure it works okay for a length of time?

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Still don’t believe me?! Well this window is all covered up which may mean they are redoing it to make it interactive!

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And guess what? Sherman Lemon the snowman was back in his original position! Maybe other items will move too, that tower of tea cups and spoons that stir? Hey that plate is no longer on the chair! I wonder how long that has been gone I just noticed it. And is it just me or is the spoon inside the creamer dish standing straight up? It used to lean against it and there used to be a sugar dish with two spoons to the right of it but I don’t see it in this picture, but maybe it is just the angle?

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We headed over to Diagon Alley and in perfect time to see the train backing into the station! It was so awesome seeing the London facade at night! The clock had a glow to it and we were really excited to see the King’s Cross sign lit up!

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There were so many lights, you could see all the details in the window so much better.

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Street lights by the water were not on and either were the lights inside the Knight bus.

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The fountain was running! And I heard again that Kreacher was in the window, but I didn’t see him. We also thought we heard Potter music while we were there. We have a friend that took video while standing on a bench and all of the construction equipment was gone, so that is a good sign completion wise!

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I definitely suggest going at night for everyone that wants a thrill before Diagon Alley opens. There were no lines especially an hour before the park closes and plus the sun is not out so that is always a positive in Florida during summer! Sorry I was using my phone as a camera : (

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First’-years! First’-years over here!

Okay so while you won’t be able to have Hagrid take you on a boat to get your first glimpse of Hogwarts (they are totally missing the boat on that ride, by the way, I mean why not!) you can walk through Hogsmeade station into Hogsmeade!

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So they took down the walls across from Hogsmeade Station and pushed back the wall in front of it to reveal the trees and some stone work. There is a gap in the temporary wall and the trees where I got this photo! Looks like they have the fencing to put up still.

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They even took the wall down in the back area where I sneak and climb to get photos!

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I love the new sign out front of the station. And there is a fire hydrant?

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Over on the Diagon Alley side, there was not to much new stuff this weekend. Well, the Dragon of course but I don’t have a good enough camera to get a photo at that distance. You can see it from the Transformers area and Central Park. It is partially covered but I saw on Twitter they added the wings this morning. They are running the train with steam and whistle and everything!

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Looks like they are adding a layer of paint to the wall to age it and I saw they have most of the lighting done so I am going to try and go over there at night next time to get photos of that.

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They also added benches to the front of the fence now all they need to do is take it down!!!Image

I don’t think the King’s Cross sign was on the metal overhang before but can’t remember for sure lol.

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Are you ready? I know I am!

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No really, why isn’t this a ride!!!! Are they that dumb, do they not know us fans at all!

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Diagon Alley Lion Heads

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Went to Universal on Sunday and they are adding a lot of finishing touches and details! They put up the lions on the outlying wall and are starting to paint them.

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But I can’t figure out why they didn’t paint them and then hang them? I was curious how they would paint the ones over the water and saw on Twitter they are using a boat and the painter has to wear a life vest. That doesn’t sound like fun!

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They added details in the windows like stacked books and lamps. They also added the clock in King’s Cross!

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They pushed back the wall again, which is exciting!  They added steps in some places and raised the temporary fence so we can’t jump up to take pics anymore.

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You can also tell that were they pushed the fence back is where this new permanent fencing was put up, so basically they could take down the temporary fence anytime and still block off the area.

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The lights went up on the columns and I think all the lights were on in the London facade area.

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The sign is up!!!

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Well, this is my usual spot to see the Hogsmeade Station progress but it looks like they added a fence and lots of trees. But it’s okay because that means they are almost done!!

I will probably skip going next weekend as it will be a holiday and don’t want to deal with the crowds!

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One Lonely Gryffindor Snowman

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I worry about our snowman all alone on his cake, waiting for the day that his cake gets finished. We shall name him Sherman Lemon! Then today when I went to visit Sherman, he had moved!! Then I realized the top of the cake was kind of shiny and plastic looking. Could this be part of the interactive wands as well? Maybe he skates around on his little cake tossing his snowballs? Why else would his cake look so empty? We will see! Oh, and who put a plate on that chair behind the cake?

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So I told you about the fountain topper being on last time and here is the promised photo! I saw on Twitter that the fountain was running yesterday but unfortunately it was not running when we were there today.  : (

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The main new thing I saw was the strung lights hanging between the lamp posts. I can’t wait to see this at night!

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My Gryffindor counterpart today did some major jumping while video taping to get you this great over the fence view! GO GO GRYFFINDOR!

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Over at Hogsmeade Station, they added railings and lights on the building.

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This is across from Hogsmeade Station outside Hogsmeade by the new wall covering behind the scenes. What is that giant rock?

They seem to have new merchandise every week which is odd since they will have so much new stuff when the park opens but maybe it’s just a normal getting ready for summer thing?