I’ve wanted to go to the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill since a friend of mine shared it on Facebook a few years ago. After hearing about it only a couple times, THIS year I had multiple friends sharing it on my Facebook page or tagging me. I was already dying to go! So, as a late birthday outing for me, we went to the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill.
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I wore my favorite Quidditch shirt.
My favorite Gryffindor shoes and socks.
And took my Harry Potter leather bag and Tomboy Togs Gryffindor pin.
Before I Show You the Goods
Here’s the thing: Those poor Harry Potter festival planners had no idea what was about to rain down on their heads. Maybe they should have known. I mean, it was in Huffington Post and went viral on Facebook. Scores and scores of people descended on the cobblestone street of Chestnut Hill for the Harry Potter festival. There were so many people that, more than once, we were completely gridlocked. Not just in the car, which was fairly horrible, but bodily. As in, I’m standing in the street and I can’t move and I can’t see anything.
For instance, it took us about an hour to drive a mile, trying to get into Chestnut Hill. The dude in front of us had his driver-side window down, and his nasty Lucius Malfoy cane out the window, implying (according to my husband) that he could walk faster than drive. He was too right. It was only by the hand of Dumbledore that we got a parking space on the last street before the town was closed off. Someone pulled away right in front of us, as we were crawling along a side street.
I have that thing where crowds make me crazy. Like, panicky crazy. I tried to focus on getting from Horcrux station from the next, but it was kind of a nightmare. If I had been by myself, I probably would have stood in the long, long serpentine line to get a glass of butterbeer. But with my two hangry (yes, hangry) kids and husband in tow, my nerves were as frayed as the hem of Dobby’s towel.
Thank goodness we went to the restroom at the local library (bless them) at the top of the street before we wound our way down. We probably waited about half an hour, but the lines at the very limited number of portable toilets were terribly lengthy.
But They Meant Well
Here’s the other thing: The Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill was very well done. Someone, or more than one someone, in that town knows Harry Potter. There was something cool everywhere you looked. Here, a Triwizard (hay) Maze. There, a potions lesson (complete with smoky dry ice!). Businesses up and down the street were renamed, and many of them were festooned in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade-like decorations.
The problem with all these awesome locations was there was no way to know what was inside. Yes, I had a map, but even the map didn’t make it terribly clear what was going on where. Don’t get me wrong, there was a LOT going on. And I learned some lessons for next time. (Those are down below.) A lack of signage was the main problem. You didn’t know something existed until you were on top of it. Even then, you didn’t know if it was worth your time. For instance, the florist was decked out and had a clever sign, but once we got inside, there was nothing to do or see. They had a very nice shop, but I was there to yank a mandrake out of a pot or something, you know? So, I wasn’t willing to stand in line for half an hour outside “Ollivander’s Wand Shop,” just to get inside and find a table set up where I could color a picture of a wand.
Back to how the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill meant well! There was a main stage set up that had several cool happenings scheduled during the day. The kick off was Dumbledore’s greeting (which we missed while we were stuck in traffic). There were acrobats, a Defense Against the Dark Arts class, a Sorting ceremony and other Potter-related events.
Horcrux Stations were set up along the cobblestone street. At one, we made our own bookmark in Gryffindor colors. At another, we made an Owl Postcard. At a third, you could make a Harry Potter face mask to hold up in front of your own face. (The visage was not Daniel Radcliffe, but a local look-alike, for a variety of legal reasons, I’m sure.)
One of my friends said she was hoping for more vendors. She wanted to be able to purchase all things Harry Potter. I didn’t mind that there weren’t a lot of vendors. Goodness knows how much more crowded and chaotic it would have been! Admittedly, I’m not much of a shopper, so it’s very possible plenty of other people had been hoping to buy lots of merch.
Welcome to Hogwarts
The best part of the day was seeing so many, many people who dig Harry Potter. Nearly everyone was dressed up in some way. Some were decked out completely in robes, uniforms, ties, wands and pets. While others merely sported a Hufflepuff scarf or a Hogwarts beanie. My son, for instance, wore only a t-shirt that said “9 3/4,” while I wore a lot of Gryffindor things that I already own. (I didn’t wear a full witch’s costume or a scarf. Itchy.) My daughter wore a Dementor-like cloak. (My party-pooper husband didn’t join in the fun, but he was a sport for driving and taking us out to dinner after.) We saw Voldemorts, more Trelawneys than I would have expected, a mandrake, a few Hagrids and a Dobby.
If I ever return to the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill, I will do some things differently. (Bless them, they might shut the whole thing down after how crowded it was this year.)
#1 Make a weekend of it. The Harry Potter festival started out as a conference at the college, which then tacked on a Quidditch match, which then grew into the festival. Because I liked people-watching more than anything else, I would book a room at the historic Chestnut Hill Hotel for Friday night. Then, I would arrive sometime mid-day on Friday in order to attend the conference and the pub crawl. Saturday, I would get some butterbeer and some nibbles, park myself on the front porch, and just watch everyone all day long. I’m sure I’d have to check out before the end of the festival, but again, I would just hang out with my luggage. After the crowds dispersed, I would take myself off somewhere local for dinner, then the drive home.
There was a local SEPTA route that became the Hogwarts Express for the day, which might be an alternative to driving, but I wasn’t willing to fight the online or in-person crowds for a ticket.
#2 Get there earlier. I only live about an hour from Chestnut Hill, but thanks to the horrendous traffic, the drive took much longer. Next time, if I don’t stay at the hotel, I would start out much earlier to try to beat the crowds. There are designated parking areas but, by the time we hit town, they were full. People were parking one to two miles away, if not more, and hoofing it.
#3 The other great alternative to milling about in the crowd is to get your butterbeer, get some chow, then park yourself in front of the main stage for the day. You might even bring a camp chair. The main stage had events that happened every couple of hours or so. Hanging out at the main stage would mean you’d see all the big activities, even if you didn’t make it to the Horcurx Stations, or whatever was happening inside the stores. (Again, no clue what was going down in there. Not willing to stand in line to find out.)
I’m happy I went to the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill, and my family was too. We saw a lot. We communed with other Potterheads. And we came away with a limited edition of the local paper, which was printed to look like the Daily Prophet. When I would take it out to look at the map and the schedule, so many people asked me where I got it, that my husband made it put it away, for fear someone would snatch it right out of my hands!
Want more about Harry Potter? Download my free ebook Harry Potter In-Depth: Beyond Butterbeer and Boggarts. You’ll learn more about the Crouch family, the Resurrection Stone, and what it means to be a Harry Potter geek.