Fantastical Orlando giveaway winners explore Diagon Alley

by Shannen Michaelsen, MuggleNet Social Media

In July, MuggleNet partnered with for a fantastical Orlando giveaway! The prize package included:

  • Three nights in a Stayful Boutique Hotel in Orlando
  • Round-trip airline tickets for the winner and their guest
  • Admission for two days to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida®
  • Car rental in Orlando
  • Two sets of Harry Potter-themed outfits, including robes and wands
  • Make-up artist to help transform them into a wizard
  • Photographer to capture their experience in the park

Plus, this featured article on MuggleNet!

On August 15, I met with the winner, Bryan, and his wife Emily, as well as Stayful’s photographer Elle and her assistant, for an afternoon in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando. Bryan and Emily had visited Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure the day before, so they had already begun to experience the Wizarding World. Stayful had given them special Hogwarts robes with the word “Stayful” on the back, as well as Luna and Cedric’s wands and pets, which stayed at the hotel for the day.

“I was going to bring them,” Emily said, “but he was a little concerned—”
“Crookshanks is in bad enough shape,” Bryan said.
In addition to Crookshanks, they also got an owl, which they named Ralph.

It was probably for the best that the pets stayed home because we were struggling through Florida’s summer heat, and Crookshanks probably would have been uncomfortable outside of his usual wintry playground at Hogwarts. Clad in their Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff robes, Bryan and Emily made their way through Universal Studios to the London waterfront outside of Diagon Alley. After Elle snapped a few pictures, we found our way through the strange brick wall next to King’s Cross station, and then we were in Diagon Alley.

We had only been walking around for a few minutes when Emily turned to me and said, “I feel bad saying this, but this is so much cooler than the other one,” referring to Hogsmeade.

That seems to be the general consensus. When I asked them later if they felt that the parks lived up to the books and films, they both agreed that Diagon Alley did, while Hogsmeade was slightly a letdown.

There was so much to explore in Diagon Alley that, even though I had been there once before, I still felt like I was missing parts of it. We led Bryan and Emily down Knockturn Alley, through Carkitt Market, and around Gringotts. Bryan was apparently trustworthy in his Ravenclaw robes. He was stopped several times by tourists asking for directions or occasionally asking about the word “Stayful” printed on his back. One employee stopped me while Elle was taking Bryan and Emily’s photo and said, “They should switch shoes.” Sure enough, Emily was wearing blue shoes even though she’s a Hufflepuff, and Bryan was wearing yellow shoes even though he’s a Ravenclaw. Bryan told the employee that “We switched shoes as a token of our love.” The same man talked about how strange Muggles are and how “They have things called rubber duckies.” Bryan responded with, “I can’t even think of a use for that; why would you want a duck to be rubber?”
Back on the waterfront, we stopped by the stranded Knight Bus outside King’s Cross, where you can meet the conductor and a shrunken head. When the conductor asked Bryan where he was from, and Bryan said, “Tennessee,” the conductor said, “Oh, so you study abroad?” noting their Hogwarts robes. When they posed for a photo, the conductor excitedly pointed at Elle’s camera and said, “Is that your Muggle device, ma’am?” She responded in the affirmative, and he whistled, turning to the shrunken head. “Look at her Muggle device; it’s the size of a broomstick!” They later told me that their favorite part of the trip might be the line the conductor said in response to their robes: “Ravenpuff for a balanced breakfast!”

Soon, it was Elle’s time to go, so we said our goodbyes, and then Bryan, Emily, and I sat down in the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, where I asked them about their trip so far.

Stayful had put Bryan and Emily in the B Resort on Disney property, a resort so new that their GPS had trouble finding it. When I asked them what they thought of the resort, they described it as “really, really nice,” and they said that they didn’t feel “quite hip enough” to be staying there. Certainly, when I had stopped by the B Resort the day before, I felt a little out of place wearing my T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers in the sleek lobby. Stayful got me booked at the Grand Beach, just a short drive from Universal, which I would also describe as “really, really nice,” with an incredibly accommodating staff.

I asked them what their favorite parts of the trip had been, and they both said they loved walking through Hogwarts castle and in particular seeing the moving portraits on the wall quarreling with each other. They were also looking forward to exploring Diagon Alley even more. They felt like they could walk around and look at things for hours and that the crowds of people “didn’t detract from the atmosphere.”
I asked Bryan and Emily how they both became Harry Potter fans. Bryan first read the books when he was about 15. His older brother had read them, so on a trip to visit his grandmother in Florida, Bryan “destroyed” the first four books. Emily also read them when she was in high school, having checked them out of the library. She said her favorite of the books was Sorcerer’s Stone because “it’s just what got me into the world initially.”

And the Wizarding World at Universal certainly is a spectacular representation of that world. Bryan, looking around at the detail of Diagon Alley, said he found himself thinking, “How do they do that?” But we all agreed, as an employee stopped to give Emily a “Hufflepuff high five,” that the real magic of Diagon Alley came from the people there who brought the park to life.

Bryan and Emily were lucky enough to visit Diagon Alley just a week before their second wedding anniversary and also near Emily’s birthday. So here’s wishing a happy anniversary, happy birthday, and general congratulations to both of them!