OK, not to make this page, like, HARRY POTTER CHAT or anything like that, but do you have a kid in your life who likes Harry Potter? Because then by all means, if you're ever in Orlando, take them to Universal Studios and go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Because oh my god you guys, HARRY POTTER.
We were in Orlando last week for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmologists, which basically gave us a great excuse to do something that we wanted to do anyway. Universal Studios even had a night where they kept the park open for special extended hours for Academy members and their families, and while this meant that none of my outdoor pictures turned out at all (my cell phone camera does decently with low light conditions, but there are limits, after all), you'll just have to trust me that, perhaps especially at night, this place looked really magical.
The area is set up as some sort of amalgam of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, and while there were a few rides and a replica of the Hogwarts Express (which puffed smoke but didn't actually go anywhere), the area basically consisted of numerous storefronts (Zonko's! Dervish and Banges!) and food vendors (Three Broomsticks, scattered Butterbeer stands) in order to move Potter-branded merchandise. And I realize that that's sort of the cynical reality of things, and that everything was of course ridiculously overpriced and designed to prey on your love of the books or your weakness for indulging your own children--but look guys, I'm not made of stone. Kids, hope you're in the mood to stay up late, because WE BE GETTIN' SOME CHOCOLATE FROGS AT HONEYDUKES.
The absolute best thing at Harry Potter World though (and the one thing that Cal really, really wanted to see) was Ollivander's Wand Shop.
The wand shop was set up as more of a show really, where small groups of about thirty people at a time were escorted into the store and Ollivander picks a kid out of the throng to perform what they called a "wand-pairing demonstration." The demonstration is much as was depicted in the movies--Ollivander hands various wands to the chosen, instructs him to do some kind of magical task, and the magic goes all haywire until Ollivander finally picks the correct wand, at which point a spotlight shines and aaaaaahhh! a chorus of angels sings from on high because the wand has selected the wizard, blah blah magic talk.
This bit of whimsey, of course, is followed by the cold hard reality of them shuffling you out to the storefront where you have the "option" to purchase the special, magical wand that chose you above all others. (You'll notice that I put the word option in quotes, because really, unless you're some kind of steely-willed gorgon, there is no way in hell after that little show where your kid is looking at you with the wide-eyed wonder of oh my god, this shit just got real that you're not going to buy that thing. There's just no way. In fact, if you're really determined not to shell out for a wand, do yourself a favor and don't even walk in there. I WARNED YOU.)
I do also find it ironic that it was the annual meeting for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists that led to a night of so many kids running around pointing long tapered sticks out in each others faces, but perhaps they haven't been doing as many ruptured globe or orbital trauma repairs as usual and want to make up the shortfall before year's end. Well played, ophthalmologists. Well-played.