Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

 J.K. Rowling’s magical Harry Potter books and the movies that followed captured my imagination. And so, when I heard that some of the actual props and wardrobe from the Harry Potter movies were on tour, I decided to pay them a visit with the person who encouraged me to pick up my first Harry Potter book, my mom.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition set up its New York residence at Discovery Times Square, former home of The New York Times printing presses. We knew we'd arrived when we saw a huge sign with a familiar light-blue Ford Anglia poking out. We picked up our tickets at the box office and joined a group of about fifteen people waiting to enter the exhibit.

The exhibition staff reminded us that absolutely no photography was allowed inside the exhibition, then we were led into a small anteroom where a man wearing wizard robes welcomed us and asked for volunteers to be sorted into the houses at Hogwarts. A few people raised their hands. I was one of them.

The man directed me to sit on a tall stool facing the audience. He asked me which house I was hoping for (I said, "Griffindor!"), then he placed an authentic Sorting Hat over my head. The hat discussed my qualities, and then announced that, sure enough, I belonged in Griffindor. Two other volunteers were selected to be sorted as well. Each was sorted into Griffindor, just as they'd hoped.

After the sorting, large doors opened and we entered a room with movie screens that showed clips from the Harry Potter movies. Then, suddenly, another door opened and fog poured out. A man appeared from the mist and welcomed us to Hogwarts. He led us past the engine car of Hogwarts Express and into the exhibit.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition wasn't your typical quiet, dull museum exhibit. Lighting effects and John Williams' brilliant music helped set the tone for different areas showcasing props, set pieces, and wardrobe. Most of the smaller props were in glass cases, but the cases were placed so that we were able to get a look at the items from just inches away and from many different angles.
Most of the costumes and set pieces were separated from us by just a railing and many were so close that I could have touched them if it weren't for the strict "no touching" rule.  
I was mesmerized by Hermione's time-turner. The level of detail, from the writing on the rings to the tiny punched out stars surrounding the hourglass was impressive. I wanted one of my own!

I stopped to read the detailed, and often humorous, notices on the Griffindor common room bulletin board and the cover of an issue of The Quibbler. The subscription form for The Quibbler offered an unusually brief choice for subscription length: 1 week. Later, I was amused to see that the writing on the chocolate frog boxes declared that the frogs were "70% Croakoa."

Before entering the exhibit, we purchased audio tours and were given a lightweight baton-like device to hang around our necks. Whenever we saw numbers located on cards throughout the exhibit, we dialed them into the device, and then held the speaker to our ear like a telephone to hear brief comments from people who worked on the movie. For example, it was explained that rubberized crystal balls were created for scenes where a crystal ball rolls down the stairs, but that the special balls created a problem because they would bounce like kids' rubber balls.

Like most of the children visiting the exhibition (and many of the adults as well), I tried out the three interactive areas. First, I pulled a squealing mandrake from a pot. Next, I slid into Hagrid's chair and felt dwarfed in size, although not nearly as small as I felt when I stared at the Hagrid clothes that were worn by actor Robbie Coltrane's super-sized body-double.
Finally, I tossed Quidditch balls through hoops. (I would have liked to have done that while sitting on a broomstick!)

The wands on exhibit looked, to my eye, exactly like the ones I'd seen for sale in the shops at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando (and the ones I later saw in the exhibition's gift shop), minus the copyright stamp. It was especially fun to see wands that aren't sold in stores, like Ron's broken wand that had been taped back together and Professor Slughorn's wand, which bore a striking resemblance to a slug.

I knew that I would enjoy getting a close-up look at actual Hogwart's robes, and I did, but my favorite costume was flying instructor Madame Hooch's purple robes with velvet accents. I also liked Professor Sprout's robes, which had velvet "leaves" sprouting from the collar.

Standing close to the actual Harry Potter movie costumes, props, and set pieces at the exhibition, I found myself happily imagining what it might have felt like to be an actor in the Harry Potter movies. It must have been incredible to don the detailed costumes, hold the intricate props, and interact with the lifelike creatures.   
Seeing my own reflection in Professor Lupin's towering boggart wardrobe (with what sounded like a frightening boggart inside), looking into the crazy eyes of the giant jack-in-the-box, standing humbly before a vocalizing hippogriff who looked like he might bow at any second, imagining myself climbing onto Harry's broomstick, staring into the open mouth of a Hungarian Horntail dragon, and looking into the eyes of an acromantula were experiences I will never forget.

I did this in 2011 in New York City, New York, USA.

Jen (California, USA)*
* As a member of the press, Jen received two complimentary tickets to Harry Potter: The Exhibition.
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