For Christmas, I had the brilliant idea of taking Jimmy, my nephew and godson, to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. When Jimmy opened up the box on Christmas morning with a printed ticket for Platform 9 3/4 inside, he was less than enthused and looking back, that moment should have been a great indicator for what the trip would be like.
The morning of the excursion was sunny but chilly. Jimmy hadn’t been feeling well the day before so I was not sure if he would still want to make the trip, but when I woke him up, he bounded out of bed and got dressed quickly – all by himself, without any help from myself or his Mimi. The night before, I had invited Sammy and she said she wasn’t sure. That morning when I asked her she said no and that she was sick. I asked her one final time before heading out the door and she said no, that she really didn’t feel good. Just Jim and myself packed the car and headed out, in search of a gas station to fill ‘er up and some breakfast to fill up our tummies. In the midst of the search, Sammy called and asked that I turn around and pick her up. I agreed because we were not that far and it would be much easier tackling a four-year-old at a theme park with two adults instead of just one.
The thing about Vero Beach is that once a traveler gets himself turned around, it is nearly impossible to become righted, unless of course that traveler is a seasoned veteran of the highways and byways and lanes and courts and streets and drives. I am not versed in the geography of the city, so I inevitably turned down 22nd Avenue instead of 22nd court, and made a right onto 4th Street instead of a left onto 4th Lane. I had wanted to be at Universal Studios, a trek of one hour and forty-eight minutes from Vero Beach, around 9:30AM. With the failed attempt of locating a gas station and the debacle that was returning to the house to pick up Sam, we didn’t get on the road until 9:00AM, and there was still the matter of finding gas and breakfast.
I used the GPS application on my phone to locate a Dunkin’ Donuts and the one found was conveniently – or so we thought – located beside a gas station. However, when we pulled up to the pumps, we realized that most were out of order. There was a gas station just across the street, so we decided to get breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts and fill up nearby. Jim wanted to eat inside and seeing as how the day was really all about him, I acquiesced to his request. In hindsight, what a mistake. The employees of the eatery were incredibly rude and probably incredibly bitter that at this point in their lives, they were still only cashiers at a donut shop located within a convenient store off a local highway. I ordered a large, iced mocha latte but the establishment was all out of large cups. The cashier had already rung me up and was incredibly disgruntled and annoyed that I was indecent enough to order a large drink without first checking to make sure there were large cups. Sam’s order took forever and was gross, as was her coffee. Jim was all smiles though, so we managed to salvage some enjoyment before painlessly filling up next door and hitting the road. Again, in hindsight, the mishaps should have served as a warning for what the day was going to be like.
We were parked and exiting the car from E.T. section 363 around 11:15AM. We were hours behind schedule and paying the price for the delay as the park was bustling with people – it was remarkably crowded. Jim’s excitement was contagious enough to curb my anxiety and we made our way towards the Islands of Adventure theme park. There, we had to wait close to an hour to purchase tickets but that was not so bad; I felt better with tickets in hand. We marched straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter … and were essentially denied. That particular enclave of the theme park was packed to its maximum occupancy. Attendants were handing out standby return tickets – tickets for patrons to return hours later and enjoy the park. No one felt particularly like waiting, so we figured we would enjoy other parts of the park and just come back later. We looked around for what rides were nearby and decided that Jimmy would get the biggest kick out of the Jurassic Park ride. Fighting the crowd like salmon swimming upstream, we got to the beginning of the line to find it completely vacant and although that seemed promising, the ride was non-operational, and that was why no one was on line.
Sammy had the inspired idea of checking out the super heroes’ section of the park because Jimmy loves – I mean absolutely adores – Spiderman. When we arrived at the start of that line, the appropriately decorated, electronic sign announced that it would be a 160 minute wait time for the ride. Refusing to be deterred a third time, Sammy, Jimmy and I chose to wait on the massive line. Jimmy was a perfect angel. How any four-year-old could wait three hours with the patience of a saint is an enigma to me. He feigned sleep on Sam’s shoulder and did some climbing, but man – he was amazing. Sammy and I made small talk with the surrounding families and friends, disposable companions that are particular to lines. Most were from Alabama, which was interesting due to our familial ties, all were friendly, and ALL were impressed with Jimmy’s patience.
Jimmy was amazed by the Spiderman attraction and after having some pizza for lunch, we decided to bite the bullet and wait on line for Harry Potter World. We made more friends, tried Jimmy’s patience some more, but once we were inside, the look on Jimmy’s face was worth it, absolutely worth it. I bought him a wand and candy and we looked through all the shops and stores. Ollivander’s was far too crowded, but Jimmy was excited to look through the windows and loved how excited everyone else was. We waited on another three hour line to get inside Hogwarts Castle but Jimmy’s pure enjoyment and exhilaration made the whole miserable experience of being caught in a downpour and waiting nine hours in lines not so bad. It was the best Christmas gift I have ever given and have ever simultaneously received.