About a year ago, my oldest friend Nancy (who is right now saying "I'M EIGHT MONTHS YOUNGER!!") hatched the most unbelievably improbable plan of all time. The kind of plan in which you say "oh, that would be so much fun, but you must be crazy to think we could ever pull that off." The kind of plan that, because of its sheer and utter impossibility, makes it almost... tempting. And when something becomes tempting because of its potential for being the most unlikely thing ever, it sticks with you.
The plan: surprise Molly (turning 11 in May 2012) and Maddie (turning 10 in May 2012) with a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. If you've spent even a week in the Dillow house, you know that planning things more than a month in advance is nigh on impossible. And yet.
Here's the thing: like their mamas, Molly and Maddie have been friends from the beginning:
They met when Maddie was about 7 weeks old. Unlike their mamas (or grandmas, who have been friends since the 1960s), they've never lived in the same town. But that hasn't stopped them from being friends:
So in February, after much hand-wringing with Matt about logistics and expense and practicality and doing-things-out-of-character, we committed to the biggest birthday surprise ever. It nearly did us both in to keep it a secret.
With the help of Suzanne (who sent me supplies from a previous trip) I made up a little postcard to deliver to Maddie by hand at 5:45 am on Friday morning. The gist: get up and get dressed, we're taking a trip. It took five minutes to a.) wake Maddie up fully to the point of coherency and b.) convince her that I don't normally appear in her room dressed and ready to go places at 5:45 am, so get moving. To say she was excited once she finally woke up would be an understatement. And then to find out that we were meeting Mrs. Marquette and Molly? Priceless.
Best. Surprise. Ever.
And then of course, we spent two days at Islands of Adventure where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exists. For two Harry Potter-loving girls and their equally Harry Potter-loving mamas, walking into Hogsmeade for the first time was like every reader's greatest dream come true. I, ahem, took a lot of pictures.* I'll only share a sliver here:
I took a lot of pictures of the roofline because I was just so taken by it. As in, I'm looking at my pictures thinking "why did I take the same picture so many times?" Because every time we walked past I apparently was compelled to get every single angle. : )
There was a 40% chance of torrential rain in the afternoons while we were there, but instead it just shined and shined and shined through blue skies the entire trip.
The storefront windows had all sorts of great details; in this one, you could hear the shrieks of mandrakes.
A top three highlight of the trip: both Maddie and Molly got chosen at Ollivander's to be matched with special wands. We had coached the girls about not being upset after a long wait to get in if neither of them were picked, and then again if one of them was picked that the other would only be happy for her, and then in a twist of the unheard of, they were both chosen. We couldn't believe it.
Maddie was excited to peek at Bellatrix Lestrange's wand at Ollivander's.
Thanks again to Suzanne's advice, we knew that you could take a walking tour of the castle without standing in line.
The paintings were alive! You can't tell that from this photo, but in fact, they were.
We were in the right place at the right time more than once: here, for a small ensemble of the Hogwarts chorus (complete with beatboxing toads)
Maddie loved the restrooms because you could hear Moaning Myrtle inside. I did not take photos inside the restrooms, not to worry, but I did take a picture of the sign : )
Bertie Botts! And yes, she accidentally ate a vomit one in the hotel room Sunday night. BLECH!
Another right place/right time moment: the girls of Beaubaton's danced in the square
The Saturday conductor of the Hogwarts Express
I switched back and forth between real camera and phone camera with glee, capturing as many details as possible while we waited places. Though really, we only had one excruciating wait for the big Forbidden Journey ride; we rode it a total of four times, the Dragon Challenge four times, the Flight of the Hippogriff (lost count of how many times), and we really only waited just that first time. Granted, we waited for nearly 75 minutes in very very very hot and humid sunshine, but it was worth it.
My only complaint: that only some of the storefronts had actual shops behind them, because I wanted to go in and study every single detail of every single shop—but really, that's a small complaint. It was just so fun to look at everything.
This might be one of my favorite photos: Maddie tasting butterbeer for the first time. It really was that good. And The Three Broomsticks was probably one of my favorite parts; we ate inside for lunch on Saturday and sat on the back little nook for lunch on Sunday.
We did actually venture out of Hogsmeade in the afternoons before going back in the evening; mostly to hit water rides and check out a few other areas of the park.
There was also a lot of swimming each evening and then again on Monday morning. Maddie and I were supposed to have been visiting my grandma an hour and a half away on Monday, but I think she would have approved of the two extra hours Maddie and I spent in the pool together after Molly and Nancy had to head back to the airport (our flight was later). She believed in fun whenever one came upon a hotel pool, after all.
+ When a lady came up to us on Saturday evening and handed us her fast-pass ticket for The Forbidden Journey after telling us she'd been scouting for some nice people to give it to
+ Riding the Dragon Challenge with Maddie four times—what fun to share such a cool experience with her
+ Strawberry-peanut butter ice cream from The Three Broomsticks and pumpkin juice from a streetcart
+ Not having to rush anywhere
+ hiring a car from Mears Transportation to get us from the airport to the hotel and back again (it wasn't that much more expensive than a cab, but totally and completely worth every single penny for the peace of mind and the little sign our driver held up with my name on it, ha)(Totally a case of country mouse visiting the city, that)
+ Spending time with Nancy
+ Convincing Maddie to get the little journal I made for their travel mini-albums signed by the Sunday conductor of the Hogwarts Express; he not only obliged, he obliged with style
+ The shops, the shops, the shops
+ picking out a few treats from Honeydukes, Zonko's, and The Owlery to bring home
+ teaching Maddie all the summer pool tricks: handstands, front somersaults, underwater swimming, etc.
We arrived home tired and happy. As you might imagine, Gracie is already actively planning her 10th birthday surprise trip—only 2.5 years away.
*I did a great deal of hand-wringing about whether or not to lug my regular camera with me; I consulted Tracey Clark who said I would kick myself if I didn't, and she was 110% right on that count. Whew.