Thanks to J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter series, thousands of children around the world have been turned on to reading, especially when they delve into the author’s enticing books, which transport them to a magical world!
Thanks to the creativity of Universal Studios, the books have come to life in two amazing parks — Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands Adventure, and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Each park requires a ticket, but both are connected by the Hogwarts Express train, which departs regularly from Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station. It’s the same magical train that whisked Harry and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to Hogwarts. It is also where they encountered the evil Dementors for the first time.
Once fans have entered either park, they quickly get lost in the magic. Even visitors unfamiliar with the books find themselves in an amazing world as they mingle with black-clad visitors intent on performing magic with their special wands. The village of Hogsmeade features snow-covered shops where you can buy souvenirs, sample special foods, and visit the towering Hogwarts Castle, itself a treasure trove of magical experiences. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, located within the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, takes you on a broomstick journey through the school grounds and quidditch fields.
A new roller coaster called Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Challenge has replaced the old Dragon Challenge ride. Visitors also enjoy the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff ride, the Triwizard Spirit Rally featuring rival schools of wizardry, and the Frog Choir. The shelves at Ollivanders Wand Shop are stacked with boxes of magic wands waiting for throngs of Harry Potter fans in search of the perfect wand. Owl Post visitors shop for Harry Potter postcards and stamps to send to friends and relatives back home — officially marked with the special (free) postmark!
Don’t miss the Castle Show at Hogwarts Castle, a light projection show with a Sorting Hat theme. Non-alcoholic butterbeer may be purchased from the kiosks or wagons in the crowded streets of Hogsmeade, also home to Honeydukes (candy shop), Dervish and Banges (robes and broomsticks), Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods (assorted souvenirs) and other attractions. Good dining options in the village are the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida features a re-creation of Diagon Alley and connecting alleys, plus Muggle London. In addition to the Hogwarts Express, be sure to take the Harry and the Escape from Gringotts 3D ride (look for the entrance under the fire-breathing dragon). The underground experience features some scary creatures, plus a puppet performance of “The Tales of the Beedle the Bard” and a live performance by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. By the way, you can exchange Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes at the bank. Be sure to check out Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes (a cornucopia of magical jokes, tricks, and toys) and root for your favorite quidditch team — Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin — at the Quality Quidditch matches. Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions offers some unusual robes, plus tee shirts and other souvenirs. Also here are The Leaky Cauldron, Borgin and Burkes (Dark Arts objects), Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, and the Fountain of Fair Fortune, offering Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice, Gilly Water, and Diagon Alley exclusive beers. There is another Ollivander’s Wand Shop in this park in case you miss the other one in Hogsmeade. This month the theme park has some thrilling experiences in store during “Halloween Horror Nights,” which runs through Nov. 2. (For more details on vacation packages and ticketing, call 877-801-9720 or visit UniversalOrlando.com.)
In planning your visit to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, consider downloading Tim Jones’ e-book, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Guide to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley”, available for $9.97 at goodreads.com.
Halloween at Mid-Atlantic theme parks
You don’t need to travel far for have some thrilling Halloween experiences; just visit a nearby theme park. Six Flags America in Bowie, Md., is celebrating Fright Fest by SNICKERS weekends through Nov. 3, with haunted attractions, fright shows, scare games and more. Thrills By Day -- featuring a Trick or Treat Trail, Little Monster Kiddie Hayrides, Loony Toons Movies, and a costume contest -- is ideal for children under age 12. Fright By Night promises more frightful experiences, with characters in scary costumes, haunted attractions, horrific shows, and a scare zone during “The Awakening,” (sixflags.com).
King’s Dominion in Doswell, Va., is staging Halloween Haunt and the Great Pumpkin Festival, weekends through Nov. 2. Join the Peanuts gang for family-friendly hands-on activities and shows during the festival. Or have some frightening experiences via mazes, shows and rides during Halloween Haunt (parental discretion advised, kingsdominion.com).
Howl-O-Scream, featuring haunted houses, scare games and live shows, is included in general admission at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., through Oct. 27. For an additional charge, visitors may experience No Escape: Grave Obsession; No Escape: Jack’s Twisted Terror; and Howl-O-Scream Eerie Tours (buschgardens.com).
Fairs and Festivals
In addition to all the special events at area theme parks, there are festivals, fairs, and other options all over the Mid-Atlantic. A number of Maryland communities have already celebrated Oktoberfest, while others are hosting celebrations this month. On Oct. 5, enjoy food, beer and live music during Crabtoberfest in Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (crabtoberfest.com).
Rotary Oktoberfest of Carroll County takes place in Westminster on Oct. 5-6 with authentic German beer, food, and live music; pumpkin painting, scarecrow making, magic shows and balloon sculpting; and the Lederhosen & Dirndl, Chicken Dance, and Polka Dance contests (carrolloktoberfest.com).
The Berlin Oktoberfest, Oct. 19, features German music, food, craft vendors, a sidewalk sale, beer garden, games, and children’s activities, plus a cornhole tournament at Burley Tavern (visitmaryland.org).
Oktoberfest at Schifferstadt, held on the grounds of a historic German farmhouse in Frederick and hosted by the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation at the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, takes place Oct. 19-20. It offers juried arts, crafts, cultural activities, German food and drink, an oompah band, colonial history demonstrations and children’s activities. (visitfrederick.org).
Ocean City stages Restaurant Week between Oct. 13 and 27, with enticing $10, $20, $30, and $40 fixed price menus, excluding alcohol, taxes, and gratuities (oceancityrestaurantweek.com).
The Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival takes place Oct. 17-20 in Martinsburg, W.Va., and features agricultural tours, the apple queen and her court, apple pie contests, apple-picking, apple-eating and the 5KApple Trample (wvtourism.com/event/mountain-state-apple-harvest-festival-2).
Experience hayrides, pumpkin face painting, and cornfield mazes, plus apple cider donuts, during the 36th annual Fall Harvest and Days, weekends starting Oct. 5-6, at Merrymead Farm in Lansdale, Pa. (merrymead.com).
Enjoy live music from world-class performers, wine tastings from New Jersey’s finest wineries, a craft beer garden, and great food from vendors at the Cape May Wine & Music Fest at Hawk Haven (capemaywinefest.com).
There’s also plenty to celebrate in the Williamsburg, Va. area. Mark your calendars for these upcoming events: Oct. 12 — Market Days Harvest Festival, Riverwalk Landing, Historic Yorktown (visityorktown.org); Nov. 3 — Thanksgiving Festival, Berkeley Plantation, Charles City (virginiathanksgivingfestival.com) Nov. 28-30 — Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia, Jamestown Settlement (historyisfun.org).
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at firstname.lastname@example.org.