Updated: Mar 26, 2019
The Books (and movies): The Harry Potter Series (the Prequel, Books 1-7, and Book 8)
by J.K. Rowling
Content Notes: Fantasy. (The later books include some language and darker themes that aren't G-rated).
The Plot: Orphan Harry learns he is a wizard on 11th birthday when Hagrid escorts him to magic-teaching Hogwarts School. As a baby, his mother's love protected him and vanquished villain Voldemort, leaving child famous as "The Boy who Lived." With friends Hermione and Ron, he has to win over the returned "One Who Must Not Be Named." Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come. (Description found in Good Reads)
A Controversial Book Becomes a Classic Series
When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first arrived in the local bookstore, there was talk about it being too extreme and too violent for children. Parents were cautioned not to allow their children to read it (which probably made it even more attractive to children). So, my husband volunteered to read it before we introduced it to our daughters. He loved the book, as did our girls. It was fun to hear them discussing it and using 'harrypotterisms.'
“Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald,
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us something worth knowing,
Bring us back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot...”
When the movie came out, I watched it with them and found the plot to be interesting and the characters endearing. I felt that the movie was enjoyable and it told a complete story, but my family kept speaking of things that were in the book but not caught on film (however, I will note that the movie series is well-crafted and a great complement to the books). So I explored the book series and discovered more layers within the world of Harry Potter. As we continued to enjoy the entire series of books and movies, a Harry Potter-style experience was added to our travel adventure list.
“You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry,
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You'll make your real friends,
These cunning folks use any means To achieve their ends.”
A Flight Into Harry's World---At Universal Studios Florida!
Universal Studios Florida added a new set of attractions to their theme parks with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort and we were excited to explore it. We had invested in a vacation rental home in the Orlando, Florida area (Paradise on Ice) and Universal was the first theme park we explored there. Universal Studios excels in set design and creating interactive 3D adventures, so the castles, shops, alleys, and varied attractions made us feel like we were actually exploring the fantasy world with Harry and his friends (and sometimes with his enemies).
“Sure you can manage that broom, Potter?" said a cold, drawling voice. Draco Malfoy had arrived for a closer look, Crabbe and Goyle right behind him. "Yeah, reckon so," said Harry casually. "Got plenty of special features, hasn't it?" said Malfoy, eyes glittering maliciously. "Shame it doesn't come with a parachute - in case you get too near a Dementor." Crabbe and Goyle sniggered. "Pity you can't attach an extra arm to yours, Malfoy," said Harry. "Then it could catch the Snitch for you.”
Tips to Help Us Experience this Plot
Universal Studios Florida/Universal Orlando Resort in Florida (and at other Universal Parks, such as Universal Studios LA in Southern California)
“Shooting stars all over Britain? Owls flying by daylight? Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters...” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Adventures: We experienced The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions in two neighboring parks at Universal Orlando Resort (Hogsmeade at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida). Both areas are connected by The Hogwarts Express Railroad, which is a fun adventure as well as welcome transportation. We passed through Platform 9 ¾ (disappearing behind the brick wall) to board the Hogwarts Express from London's King’s Cross Station (located inside Universal Studios Florida theme park) which traveled to Hogsmeade Station in Universal's Islands of Adventure (we later took the train in the other direction---two different adventures).
In the book and movie, Harry and his friends often take flight. We experienced this sensation on two rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey allowed us to explore Hogwarts corridors and classrooms, then soar above castle grounds as we followed Harry in a Quidditch Match and engaged in a thrilling chase with magical creatures. The Dragon Challenge (my favorite ride) was a smooth but intense high speed roller coaster (I prefer the blue side). However, my favorite ride may not have appealed well to others (or it was too much liability for Universal) so they removed it. We're anticipating a new coaster this year. We're asked to lock up anything that might fall during some of the ride (they have magnetometers to ensure that we leave our bags, cell phones, and keys in the lockers).
And then there are the interactive wands! This offers the chance to practice sorcery by purchasing a wand that allows us to use motions and spells to create magical moments. The staff at Ollivanders helps wannabe wizards select a special wand. It's good to note that there are decorative wands and interactive wands. We recommend purchasing a decorative wand for young children, because they cost less and most children (and their parents) seem really frustrated by the degree of difficulty to make them work. It's better for children to be able to just play with/practice using their wand and then graduate to an interactive one when they're old enough to more easily work the spells).There are also robes, hats, Quidditch uniforms, and other items available to outfit young and old wizards.
Beverages: Street vendors and taverns sell Butterbeer, which is an alcohol-free, cream-topped soda with a butterscotch flavor. It comes as a cold beverage or a frozen slush (I prefer the slushy version). There's also Butterbeer-flavored fudge and ice cream.
Food: We enjoyed several delicacies from Honeydukes, such as Chocolate Frogs Fizzing Whizzbees, exploding bonbons, and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans (some of which were tasty and some were not so tasty). The Leaky Cauldron and The Three Broomsticks both serve British fare in rustic tavern-style settings. The Three Broomsticks serves a family-style Great Feast Platter with roasted chicken, ribs, corn cobs, vegetables, and other delights. They say it feeds four, but there were leftovers from our party of six. It's a fun experience.
The best meals we had, though, were in Mythos, a sit-down restaurant a short walk from Hogsmeade Station in Universal's Islands of Adventure. From the warm, crusty bread...to uniquely delicious entrees...to gourmet desserts,... the food quality and service have been consistently good and the atmosphere relaxing. (We usually make a reservation).
Lodging: Of course, our favorite place to stay when visiting the Orlando Area is Paradise on Ice, our 4 bedroom/3 bathroom vacation rental home located in Paradise Palms Resort near Disney World (vacation rental homes are not allowed near Universal and it's only a short drive to any of the theme parks from Paradise on Ice, so it's a convenient choice). We used to stay at resort hotels, but much prefer to have a home with a kitchen, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, laundry facilities, living and dining areas, Wi-Fi/Internet access, a private splash pool and screened in lanai, free parking, and luxury resort amenities ... (especially when it's priced comparable to booking a hotel stay. See www.paradiseonice.org for more details about how you can reserve your stay at this or another vacation rental home in the Orlando area).
“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” ― J.K. Rowling
“A thousand years or more ago, When I was newly sewn, There lived four wizards of renown, Whose name are still well-known: Bold Gryffindor from wild moor, Fair Ravlenclaw from glen, Sweet Hufflepuff from valley broad, Shrewd Slytherin from fen. They share a wish, a hope, a dream, They hatched a daring plan, To educate young sorcerers, Thus Hogwarts school began. Now each of these four founders Formed their own house, for each Did value different virtues, In the ones they had to teach. By Gryffindor, the bravest were Prized far beyond the rest; For Ravenclaw, the cleverest Would always be the best; For Hufflepuff, hardworkers were Most worthy of admission; And power-hungry Slytherin Loved those of great ambition. While still alive they did divide Their favourates from the throng, Yet how to pick the worthy ones When they were dead and gone? 'Twas Gryffindor who found the way, He whipped me off his head The founders put some brains in me So I could choose instead! Now slip me snug around your ears, I've never yet been wrong, I'll have alook inside your mind And tell where you belong!” ― J.K. Rowling
“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley...He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: "To Harry Potter - the boy who lived!” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone