Greetings…You may call me keeper…for I am the keeper of theme park tales. Today our tale will take us into The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. The story is so magical that it can’t be told by one story teller, so I’ve had to enlist the help of Erik to weave the magic that we have both seen unfold. Today’s tale is a bit different and requires a bit different telling a story that spans time and storytellers but like all good tales it starts…at the beginning.
Back when Hogsmeade magically appeared in my beloved Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, I knew it was a special place. I was not what you’d considered a fan of the Harry Potter tales, but I certainly appreciated the magical atmosphere and incredible attention to detail the land presented. Those of you that have been with me these many years will probably not be surprised when I confess that for this old storyteller the crowning jewel is not the most heralded castle but the simple narrative of the Ollivander wand experience. For those of you not familiar with Ollivander’s wand shop, it’s a place ripped straight from the films and books, and placed right at Universal, allowing guests to come in and have their wand choose them. The experience joy of thinking of yourself in the position of a young wizard going for their first wand, seeing the experience though their eyes, living it through them. The dark, quiet atmosphere..the soft tones of the wand keeper…almost to a level of sanctity and reverence placed upon the experience. As a sucker for story, this became one of my favorites in our local theme parks. But experiencing it comes at a cost…standing outside in the brutal sun for 45 minutes on a good day for this short experience, until now.
With the new laws allowing mere muggles to enter Diagon Alley, we can now visit the main showroom of Olivanders without all the hassles of its Hogsmeade branch. A beautiful air conditioned INDOOR queue that only enhances the experience even more. The stacks of wands, the sweeping broom, the staircases to nowhere adding more layer to an already rich story, and the wand keepers chamber…a place so magical it seems like it can handle more visitors than the small inside would lead you to believe. The wizards at Universal have surpassed even themselves. But there was one small regret I always had…
I was speaking with Racheal and Erik and found that we shared this desire…its wonderful to witness the journey of the wand keeper and his new customer but the child in us…the wizard in us…always dreamed of living the experience instead of watching it. It seems that the wand keepers have an almost unwritten rule when choosing who to help find a wand.
The cynic in me imagines a dusty list under the counter, or in the back room of the order in which people get chosen. A list that helps the wandkeeper decide who gets chosen for a wand. A list that goes something like this:
1) Disabled Person
2) Little Kid
3) Asian Woman
4) Cute 20 something female
Keep in mind that is not truly the case, but seeing the wand show enough times, one could get that impression.
Apparently you have to go pretty far down on that list to hit crabby storyteller or theme park bloggers, so we have always accepted that our lot in life is to REPORT the story and not BE the story to you our loyal readers.
The month of September Universal allowed early weekday entry to Diagon Alley for annual pass holders, and I was able to explore at the beginning of the month. A beautiful unrushed experience where you could browse in uncrowded shops, haggle with the Goblin, or just enjoy a Fishy Green Ale without waiting in a line to do so. It magnified the experience even more because it felt you had the place to yourself. Towards the end of one of these visits I wandered into Olivanders to watch the experience before venturing back to London. While waiting I chatted with the team member who joked “you might have a show all to yourself” I laughed with her and seconds later I found myself walking down the wand filled hall with her and into the chamber. Me…your pal, keeper….alone in the chamber with the wand keeper and team member. I assumed we were waiting for others to join us when the door closed, and the wand keeper strode right up to me, asked my name, and begin the story.
I WAS IN THE STORY!
Even now, weeks later re-telling it to you, the skin on my arm gets covered in gooseflesh. It was like the team member disappeared. It was me and the wand keeper, she spun the tale better than I’ve ever seen, for an audience of one. It was intimate, it was private, it was spiritual, it was magical. It was a story I had seen dozens and dozens of times before yet it was new, it was special, IT WAS REAL. I have told many stories, always as impartial outsider, I have seen wands choose owners before. I am jaded, I am caustic, I am a cynic….yet when the music swelled up and my cloak blew magically, when the wand chose ME all that was meaningless. I was a child again with damp eyes I was a first year wizard ready to begin my adventure. Little did I know that even this tale hadn’t ended……
Enter our second storyteller, Erik.
Like Keeper before me, we had been enjoying seeing other wizards and witches receive their wands since 2010. The story was so rich, that when I first witnessed it, I welled up with tears. It’s truly magic at work to see the experience for the first time. However, it seemed a curse was put over my family and myself, as we had never been chosen. There were many times in our travels when our family of four would be the only ones in the room, and at least one of us would have that experience, only to be deflated when a child younger than my daughter would walk in at the last moment. My son made a game of picking who would be the person that would get chosen, and every time would lean in and whisper “nailed it”. We were honestly just resigning to the fact that we would always be watchers, and that the wand would never choose us. All four of us have bought wands, simply because we love to cast spells, but we really wanted to be part of the story. We wanted the wand to truly choose us, not the other way around. After all, the wand chooses the wizard, and you’ll never get such good results from another’s wand.
During our annual pilgrimage to Halloween Horror Nights, Racheal and I chose to stay at the all new Cabana Bay Beach Resort, one of Universal’s onsite hotels. The convenience of being so close is great, but the extra perk is that you get in an hour before regular guests. The extra bonus, on days when Halloween Horror Nights will happen, the park closes extra early. Because of that, it also opens extra early, giving hotel guests an even earlier time to get in. We decided to get up, take in some Potter and be back in the room before lunch for some preparatory nap (and snuggle) time. While everyone made the obvious beeline for Gringotts, we decided to check the wand shop. Crowds were popping in and out, and not seeing a huge attention grabbing dragon or ride, most would cruise on by. We waited patiently, but anxiously as people kept coming and going. Could we finally get the chance for a private show? After what seemed like hours, we were finally walked back through the shelves of wands and found ourselves alone with the wand keeper as the door behind us slid shut. We finally had our private show. We now each had a 50% chance of getting it, the two of us standing there. Honestly I was hoping Racheal would get it, and even if I would have been chosen, I was planning to step aside and let her take it. Love…what can I say.
The wand keeper didn’t even look up before saying “Something very powerful has brought you both here today.”
He then asked us both to step forward.
“You both are here for your wands, are you not?”
We both glanced nervously and said “yes” in unison. After asking our names and which was our wand arms, he handed us both a wand. To Racheal he handed a wand of oak, to me a wand of hazel. Naturally they were not our wands.
Ever patient, the wand keeper eyed us both and began to “wonder”.
He grasped both wands, then at the same time he switched them. She took my wand, and I took hers. We stood there facing each other as we did on our wedding day, feeling the same magic as we did when we exchanged vows. Only now, instead of only feeling the magic, we could both see it as the air swept our hair and the light shone down on just us.
“The cores of these two wands contain the tail feathers of the same Phoenix.” The wand keeper explained. “They are meant to be together, as are you. Separate they are unique and strong, but like you, they are most powerful when together.” He then took each wand, put them to his ear, as if he was listening to it say goodbye, and and whispered to them “yes”.
“I told you something powerful brought you in, that power was love.”
He then said his normal piece on wand safety and scooted us off.
The tears were in both of our eyes. Did we just get recommitted to each other? In a certain unspoken way, we knew we had. Racheal and I have been married for almost five years, and if you’ve met us you know that we just aren’t completely right unless we are both together. It was true and pure magic, amplified by our love, and one amazing wand keeper.
For all of you out there wanting a unique way to pop the question, a wand ceremony would most certainly be memorable, and magical.
While it does sound cheesy and definitely hokey, what Universal has truly done is created a magical experience. When you are handed your wand and shuffled out the door, you truly feel that the magic has chosen you. It’s only amplified by the gift of a brilliant wand keeper who knows how to read his audience. Of course it’s a brilliant way to sell souvenirs, but it’s not the souvenir you’re taking home, it’s truly the memory. That and, of course, the magic.
Every day’s an adventure
Keeper (and Erik)
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