Posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
The following is a more personal blog that I wanted to share with you readers, some of whom who have followed me over the past nine years. While it involves Harry Potter and theme parks, its not really about either of those things (besides, you can find more about those things elsewhere on the site). The story is not an easy one for me to share, so if you decide to read the following, I ask that you be respectful in your responses.
Since Universal Studios Orlando first announced they were going to be opening up a Harry Potter themed land, I was looking forward to visiting Hogwarts. I am lucky enough to have visited the film set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it was one of the greatest set visits I’ve even been on. Walking the halls of Hogwarts, seeing the great hall in person, it was truly like stepping into a movie.
The film sets are still standing and if you’re in London you can now take a public tour and see more than I saw in terms of sets and props (but you won’t get to see the actors actually filming scenes, of course). One thing that may surprise you is how little of Hogwarts actually exists.
This is true of most movies. Productions build as much of the sets as are needed and the rest are painted in by cg artists. If you walk a inch outside of the great hall, all you would see is the unpainted wood on the other side that holds the whole set together. The illusion ends at the door and often times before the ceiling.
So while I had been in the Hogwarts where they shot the movies, I was excited to step into the recreation at Universal because the illusion doesn’t end at the doors, the set design continues throughout the castle and the land.
My time would finally come at the conclusion of a week long trip with a few of my very best friends. We had ridden most of the rides in Walt Disney World and at the end of the week traveled to Universal Orlando to do a marathon day at Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure (home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter).
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was even more incredible than I had imagined, more immersive and detailed than all the photos and videos I had seen online. Even the queue line for the land’s flagship ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was incredible. You walk from room to room and have experiences with the characters in that world in the rooms from the movies.
And the end of it all is the ride itself. You walk onto a disneyland-style moving conveyor belt and sit in one of four seats moving against the wall. You pull down the safety restraint over your shoulders and begin the ride — an even more immersive journey into the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
But I didn’t get that far. I sat in the ride seat and pulled down the shoulder restraints like I had done on all the other rides I had been on over the previous 6 days. One of the ride attendants came over with a strange look and tried to push the restraint down further, checking a light next to the seat that wasn’t registering. He told me that the safety light was not coming on and I could not ride in this seat.
I was then taken to another vehicle and directed to the outside seat (I later learned the seats on the ends were retrofitted to fit larger guests). The same thing happened in the new seat — the attendant pushed down on the shoulder bar and looked uncomfortably at the safety light.
The conveyor belt was still moving us closer to where the vehicles turn and the ride actually begins. My girlfriend Alyssa was looking on, my friends wondering what the trouble was. Wondering but really knowing — I was fat.
I was too fat to ride on the Harry Potter ride.
Harry Potter’s forbidden journey had become my forbidden journey.
I pleaded with the ride attendant that I fit okay in the test seats outside the ride — which was a lie, I had not even tried them as It didn’t even occur to me that this could even be a problem. I fit in all of the rides at Disney World, even the faster Rollercoaster attractions.
He pushed again but the light was would not change. My friends looked on from the ride vehicle in front of mine, soon about to make the turn into the ride.
Uncomfortably the ride attendant told me I needed to exit the ride.
I got up, in shock. I don’t think I had ever felt more embarrassment and disappointed in my life.
I wasn’t disappointed because I was unable to experience the Harry Potter ride — it wasn’t about the ride, it was about me.
How had I let it get this bad?
How had I gotten so big that I couldn’t even fit in theme park rides? I was ashamed.
I remember waiting in the store at the end of the ride where all the park guests exit. I watched as guests emptied into the gift shop with euphoric looks in their faces, talking amongst the friends about how great the ride was. How they were going to stand in line for another hour and a half to experience it again.
Finally my friends came out and clearly this was their favorite ride of the trip. Alyssa downplayed it saying she didn’t like the ride. I’m still not sure if she was trying to make me feel better or if she didn’t really enjoy it (she often doesn’t like fast and twisty rides, so that’s also possible).
After Hogwarts we planned to head to the Dueling Dragons roller coaster across the way, which had been repurposed for Wizarding World. While my friends were in the bathroom, I went to the test seat outside Dueling Dragons and sat in the seat. The feeling in my stomach as I realized I wouldn’t be able to attach the seat belt is something that would come to haunt me on a regular basis.
I watched my friends get on the ride and waited for them to return in the exit area, left to only my own thoughts.
I would get a nervous queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach anytime there was a possibility my weight would be an issue. For example, I was touring David Copperfield’s warehouse and he has a cool photograph opportunity setup in his warehouse which gives the illusion that David is levitating you horizontally in front of him. I will not ruin how the illusion works but I remember standing in a line of other journalists who were on the tour having a mini panic attack that my weight could be an issue and might even cause the “magic” to “break”.
I started to avoid situations that might put me in the position of embarrassment. I turned down invites from friends to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain and stood on the sidelines at a go cart racing birthday party for one of my best friends because I was too nervous that my weight was too close to the posted car weight limit. The fear and anxiety creeped into more aspects of my life than I care to admit.
The trip to Universal Studios was a wakeup call, but I can understand how it might drive some people to “turtle”. Instead of getting consumed by such things and making things worse, you need to channel this energy into making yourself healthier.
After the trip, I lost a bunch of weight, a few times. I read a ton of books on weight loss and tried many different diets. I went to the gym every day and pushed myself to the extreme. I learned that many of the diets work, if you follow the rules and that you can lose even more weight if you push yourself consistently at the gym. But every time I lost weight, I eventually gained some or all of it back. It took a lot of trial and error but I finally developed a weight loss philosophy that not only works for me but I’ve found is sustainable for my lifestyle.
I have lost over 50 pounds since the first visit and was set to return to Universal Orlando to cover a press preview of the Diagon alley expansion of the Wizarding world of Harry Potter.
I was anxious again, would I be able to even ride the new ride? Would I be able to finally fit on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey? I found message boards posts filled with dozens of pages of posts of people, like me, who were going on a trip to Orlando and are nervous about fitting on the ride — that specific ride. Reading through this thread made me realize that I’m not alone. But that didn’t make me any less nervous.
After spending the morning in the park with a bunch of film journalist friends, I broke away with Alyssa to confront my fears without an audience. I was so nervous that I didn’t want to eat lunch, just incase the extra weight would make a difference. Seriously, this is how neurotic I’ve become.
We made our way to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and walked up to the test seats outside the attraction. Had my progress been enough?
I sat in the test seat and pulled the shoulder bars down. A universal employee stationed outside the ride looked at the light and then looked at me. “Are you comfortable? Does it feel tight?” Cut to inside my head with little animated Pixar characters directed by Pete Docter freaking out.
I told her I was fine and she smiled.
“Good, when you get up to the front of the line, sit in one of the outside seats. Enjoy the ride!”
I was in shock. I almost couldn’t believe it was true. I sat in the actual ride vehicle on the conveyor belt and the staff members didn’t even give me or my safety light a second look. I actually didn’t believe it was true until I the ride vehicle turned the corner and the ride began. I finally got to ride through Hogwarts and I can’t tell you how good I felt. I was so proud of myself, I probably didn’t even take in the ride fully.
I have to lose more than 50 more pounds to get to my weight loss goal, but I’m on my way. It is successes like this that encourage me to keep going. I leave you today with a side-by-side photo from my first trip to Hogwarts from a couple years ago and my latest trip to the Wizarding World this month.