Harry Potter trip a dream for Cody family: Contest win brought disbelief

By Rachel Walton | codyenterprise.com

Many will enter but few will win. But, in this case, the Richardsons did win.

More than 18,000 people entered a contest at mugglenet.com. It was an all-expense-paid trip for four to a VIP/media preview of the new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., June 17-20.

After entering the contest because her daughter Quincy asked, Letha Richardson wasn’t expecting anything.

“When they called us on the phone and said we won, I thought it was spam,” Letha said. “When you sign up for things online, you never think you’re going to win. I was totally shellshocked and in disbelief.”

This was the Richardsons’ first big trip they’ve taken.

“My favorite part was being there as a family,” Abby Richardson said. “It was our first family vacation ever.”

Universal Studios gave out three of these packages to Harry Potter fan-based websites. There were 12 visitors who won and about 800 people there total, including the media and celebrities.

“We feel extremely blessed to have had this opportunity,” Letha said. “It was almost like it was planned out for our family. Everything worked out perfectly.”

The beginning

The Harry Potter books and movies had been a part of the Richardsons’ lives long before this trip.

“Quincy has been the Harry Potter queen all her life,” Letha said. “When the books came out, she found them and started reading them when she was young.”

Quincy showed the books to her sister and soon everyone was involved.

“Our family embraced the whole idea of the books and the story,” Letha said.

Quincy wanted to visit the place the movies were filmed in London but they couldn’t afford it.

“When the idea came out they were going to build a theme park in Florida, Quincy wanted to go,” Letha said. “For the last few years we’ve been trying to find a way we could go but we haven’t been able to. Then, with this promotional event, it happened.”

The celebrities

The Richardsons were able to see some of the actors and actresses from the movies.

The actors and actresses in attendance were Domhnall Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis, Robbie Coltrane, James and Oliver Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch and Warwick Davis.

The guests were not allowed to take cameras into Diagon Alley.

“A little red rope was what separated you and the celebrities,” Letha said. “Their body guards wouldn’t allow you to shake their hands or get autographs.”

These restrictions didn’t stop the celebrities. They would wave at the guests and Carter complimented Quincy’s spectrespecs.

“The Phelps twins stayed for most of the opening and actually spoke with people, which was neat,” Letha said.

Several TV stars were there with the media, including Jimmy Fallon and Mario Lopez.

Diagon Alley

The Richardsons entered Diagon Alley about 9:30 p.m. June 18 and stayed until 1:30 a.m. June 19. They agreed Diagon Alley was “more than they could have imagined.”

“Everything was so spectacularly real and beyond expectations,” Quincy said. “It was amazing.”

Letha said it was just like the movie.

“For me, it was almost like when Hagrid took Harry through the broken brick wall and it was a whole new world,” she said.

“It felt the same way to us. It was like we were transported to a whole different place. There was not one detail overlooked.”

Mark Richardson, Letha’s husband, added, “The whole park was so realistic and everything was handicapped accessible, which was important.”

One of Quincy’s favorite parts was something that “overpowered your senses.”

“There was a dragon on top of Gringotts that breathed fire,” Quincy said. “It would get really hot and then evaporate.”

The details the park covered included the workers.

“They trained the associates so they’re all in character,” Letha said. “Even if you speak to them and ask how to go somewhere, they tell you in a British accent. It’s not that way in the Hogsmeade part of the park.”

Letha said the trip experience was unforgettable.

“It’s a special feeling to have your biggest earthly dream come true,” Letha said. “To have an experience like this is something special and it’s so memorable.”

“I don’t know if anything can top this.”