Classic Billfold: Visiting Hogwarts When You’re Broke
I’m a young freelance costume designer living and working in NYC, which means my default money situation is “LOL.” It’s been a thin summer, with lots of traveling and no luck finding a subletter, and my most recent paycheck is a few weeks late. It’s on the way, and my bills are paid, but I have under $100 in the bank this week, a small credit card debt, and no savings. LOL!
I’m in Sarasota, Florida, for a few weeks for a project that includes transportation and housing. I haven’t worked at this theatre for awhile, and I’m glad to be back, not least because my high-femme friend Kay is there and I haven’t seen her in ages. As soon as my contract is signed, she texts me: “I JUST HEARD THE NEWS”, and then, “THEY OPENED DIAGON ALLEY.” We made a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a few years ago, when I was in town for another Sarasota gig and way more flush. This was when it only included Hogsmeade, and my clearest memory of the trip is how good it felt to straight-up hurl my money at J.K. Rowling. That, and how awesome the frozen butterbeer tasted when you mixed it with actual beer.
I’m ready to say no, but there’s more: Kay’s friend is a park performer and can get us free entry, a deeply discounted hotel, and discounts within the park itself. Plus, school is starting up and attendance is thinning to a manageable level. Finally, Kay’s kind of broke too, and planning to pack a cooler full of sandwiches.
When the planets align that hard and magic is involved, I don’t even think about it. I pull out my credit card, vow to do it on the cheap, and go. We hit the road Friday after work.
Here’s the cost of a trip to Hogwarts when you’re broke (and lucky):
FRIDAY, DAY ONE
$60.81 Target run for various trip necessaries, including: two bottles of cheap bubbly (Lady La Femme, $12.99, and Andre, $6.99). About $20 goes to beef jerky and trail mix, for trip sustenance. Realizing the photos you take at Hogwarts last a lifetime, I also pick up some B.B cream ($10) because I haven’t owned face makeup in months, and a tweezer ($2.99) because I’m pretty sure the Slytherin common room only lets you in if your eyebrows are on point.
$16.03, Dinner. Kay’s driving so I cover roadtrip fried food for two at a chain I have never seen called, appropriately, Salem’s. My main squeeze has made us a superb playlist called Road Trip 2 Hogwarts. We crank that shit, shovel in our fried witchmeat, and laugh for about the entire trip to Orlando.
$0, Arrival booze and manicures for our first night at the ‘60s-themed hotel, because Kay has brought a bottle of good gin and all the Slytherin-looking nail polishes she owns. The room is very nice and very Disney “Mad Men” with 2 beds for Kay and her friend, a sofa bed for me, and a fridge for all the food we broke-ass brought with us. We vow to get drunk and visit the lazy river, and succeed at the first part.
SATURDAY, DAY TWO
$8.26, Starbucks coffee and breakfast wrap, because I am too hungover to break into the trail mix.
$0, Park entry to Universal Studios. In the huge 60s themed lobby of the resort, I watch Kay’s friend tap at a touchscreen until comped tickets fall out of it. A short shuttle bus ride later, I scan my ticket and my fingerprint and I am INSIDE HOGWARTS. Or, rather, the Universal Studios park, where I walk through some large, branded areas to London, and from there through a brick passageway directly into Diagon Alley. I am full of probably 15 years’ worth of pent up magic feelings at this point.
$48.24 (discounted), Lunch and drinks for the three of us at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. There is a short, friendly line, with an elderly wizard keeping us company. Once served, I ask for an extra cup to mix my frozen butterbeer and actual beer in, and the serving witch tells me solemnly that mixing can lead to drink confiscation or expulsion. Once we’re seated, I do not disobey the serving witch, just alternate sips. Ian Brown is not there. I insist on covering lunch because as The Brokest Person I am anxious to make sure I’m pulling my weight.
$8.16, Dragon Scale beer, the Fountain of Fair Fortune. It’s very elegant in here, with big silvery tankards and mirrored walls in which we reapply lipstick. I usually don’t drink this much beer.
$31.12 (discounted), Okay, I seriously did not plan on buying a wand. The Ollivanders Experience is very quiet and intimate and Sleep No More-y in that ten or so people go into a very quiet, very dark room and the Wandkeeper appears and selects one of you and measures you and does the whole spiel where the first two wands don’t work and — I swear to god — this woman walks right by several adorable children in order to pick me. She is a very, very good actor, and I am about a 9 on the drunk-and-enthralled-o-meter at this point, so probably a great mark. Immediately after it’s over a staff wizard ushers you into the next room (which is a store) and asks you if you want to purchase the wand you’re holding. So yeah, I paid $31.12 for an enchanted (discounted) piece of plastic. But it chose me.
$6.20, Knockturn Alley pin, Borgin and Burkes. Knockturn Alley is dark and roofed and heavily air-conditioned for spookiness, which is great after a few hours of trudging around in Florida heat. Borgin and Burkes has a lot of goth stuff and some ok souvenirs if you are not too weirded out by the Dark Mark on everything. I am. “It’s problematic”, I say, drunkly poking at a scarf. Kay accuses me of wanting to lecture Mr. Borgin or Mr Burkes, whoever is available, on the conflation of fascistic ideology with elegant antiques. She is correct. I shut my mouth and buy a pin with the Knockturn Alley sign, though, because it will look nice on the biker jacket waiting for me in New York.
$0, 8-minute show, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Celestina (“the witch who is always on pitch”) nails some wizarding jazz standards in a long, glittery blue gown. Could be my full day of drinking but this is maybe the finest musical performance I’ve ever seen.
$0, park entry to Islands of Adventure. It turns out Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios (representing London) and Hogwarts is in Islands of Adventure (representing Scotland) so in order to take the Hogwarts Express to go and use that wand you paid for, you need a second park entry. This is the part where I realize Universal Studios is basically printing money. Not from me, though! Thanks to Kay’s friend, who is now my friend because her stories of park performing are incredible and she is hilarious and brassy and kind and giving me a free ride to Hogwarts.
$0, dinner. Many magics later, we sit on our freshly made hotel beds watching The Devil Wears Prada, eating Kay’s very good roast-beef-and-proscuitto cooler sandwiches, and drinking the Prosecco I bought at Target. Suck it, on-site restaurant! It’s the first time I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada outside of Tumblr gifs. It’s aiight.
$0, poolside cocktails and pizza, Kay’s treat. Two bottles of bubbly is not enough, and the resort has very nice, very 60s-themed pools, so, out we go! One of them is screening the Hunger Games, so we have the unique pleasure of watching Rue die while drunk and half-submerged. Too bummed about it to visit the lazy river, we self-soothe with drunk pizza.
SUNDAY, DAY THREE
$16.80, on-site breakfast, because I am too hungover to even think about trail mix. So hungover, in fact, that I select a really stupid series of foods: kid’s meal of scrambled eggs, adult side of bacon, red Icee, terrible coffee, chocolate milk, Smart Water. I pay too much for it and it is bad. Whatever, because it does what it’s supposed to, which is get me on the shuttle bus BACK TO HOGWARTS.
$4.11, park Starbucks, ten minutes later. The breakfast coffee was that bad. No regrets, because:
$0, meet-and-greet pit stop in Marvel City (next to Hogwarts) with Every Single Superhero. We are VIPs, and VIPs get pictures taken with Every Single Superhero. VIPs bond over our common Brooklyn origins with Captain America. VIPs pose making muscles with Storm and Rogue. VIPs are double-caffeinated and drunk on power. I think my Hogwarts benefactor knows these guys IRL, and I’m embarrassing myself, but I don’t care.
$38.00 (discounted), lunch, The Three Broomsticks. Almost exactly like yesterday’s lunch, though now I know better than to ask for an extra cup. Again, I cover lunch for the three of us, which is less because someone abstained from beer. That someone is not me.
$15.93, Quality Quidditch Supplies. My blisters have blisters and I’m starting to limp, so I buy some emergency socks. They’re knee high and sporty, branded Slytherin Quidditch. I’m tempted by the matching workout shorts; what holds me back is the idea of having to explain to someone that I bought a pair of Slytherin workout shorts with money I don’t have. Something about that is unacceptable, even compared to yesterday’s enchanted piece of Ollivander’s plastic. The socks help, but my steps are numbered.
$0, ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, Kay’s treat. Wizard ice cream comes in flavors like chocolate chili and Earl Grey lavender. There is a line to get into the store, managed by ice cream witches in cute, ultra-gendered uniforms somewhere between carhop and elf. We’re dragging pretty hard, so we sit on some stairs to eat our magical ice cream. It’s very good. At this point I realize that Diagon Alley is basically a mall. In the Harry Potter books, it’s where wizards go to buy things. We’ve been waiting in line to get to stores all day. Not even rides! Stores! And it’s still the best theme park I’ve ever been in! There’s only one ride in Diagon Alley, so that’s where we head next.
$0, Gringotts bank. The line winds through its huge, crystal chandeliered lobby, between huge and expertly scenic-painted faux marble columns, and past animatronic goblins who file paperwork and judge you for having under $100 in the bank and going to a theme park and buying a wand and many beers. Once you get there, the actual ride (again, the only ride in Diagon Alley) involves careening around the bank vaults as Bellatrix and Voldemort pursue and torture you. It’s a lot of fun, but hits a little too close to home for the financially fragile. I make the obligatory “I was just trying to make a deposit” joke on the way out, but it’s weaksauce and by this point, so are we. We are all really glad for the beef jerky and trail mix in my purse.
$17.26 (discounted). We’re trudging out, tipsy and exhausted (I’m limping even in my Slytherin emergency socks) when I remember I haven’t gotten souvenirs for anybody back home, just stuffed my face with beer and posed with superheroes and spent a lot of money on myself. I pick up a chocolate frog ($6.90) and a set of Hogwarts houses drinking glasses ($10.36), figuring that’ll cover my bases.
$0, Sonic, Kay’s treat. Road Trip 2 Hogwarts is a bit too upbeat for the car ride home, so we put on Chelsea Wolfe, which is the right kind of tired-spooky-ambient, and ride in comfortable silence. I’ve never had Sonic before. My double cheeseburger is probably the best meal I’ve had all weekend. I realize as we’re pulling into Sarasota that we never made it to the lazy river, and I forgot to pay Hogwarts Benefactor for my share of the hotel.
Total after my share of the hotel ($45), mailed in cash inside an apologetic birthday card: $307.66
(What the total would have been without my Hogwarts benefactor:~$700.)
Top photo credit: Jeff Kays, CC BY 2.0.
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