On Saturday we went along to Chestnut Hill’s annual Harry Potter Festival. This was a make-or-break year for us: we had loved the first two years that we had gone but last year the crowds were just far too intense for us to enjoy the experience. We had decided then that we would give it one more go to see if the organisers could make the required adaptations to accommodate the growing popularity of the festival and, if not, then it would be our last time going. I do very much feel for the organisers. They had come up with the brilliant idea of a themed local festival but its popularity had evidently snowballed faster than their ability to creatively problem solve. I am, therefore, happy to report that they had done a sterling job of resolving last year’s aggravating problems. There were far more portapotties than last year (though happily none of us ever had to use them); they had extended the stretch of Germantown Avenue that was pedestrianised; there were more police officers on duty to enforce the road closures; there was pre-paid wristband entry to specified activities; and there were designated parking lots around the area, including some with shuttle buses. As a result, it was a much smoother and pleasant experience than last year.
We parked on the campus of a church and from there it was just a gentle stroll to the centre of Chestnut Hill and all of the Harry Potter themed activities. We decided to start at the top of the Festival, the furthest point from where we had parked, and then work our way back down Germantown Avenue. We arrived there just as Professor Dumbledore took the stage to officially open the day’s event though we could not get close enough for anyone other than Mr Pict to be able to see over the heads of the crowd gathered around the stage. We did, however, bump into Lupin, Tonks, and Sirius Black who happily posed with my kids for photos. That is one of the things we enjoy most about the Festival, seeing all the cosplayers, the visitors dressed in costumes, or the Potterphiles wearing themed clothing. We saw even more dogs in costume than last year, including one dressed up as an acromantula and one dressed up as a golden snitch. The common nerdiness generates a warm family friendly atmosphere and a feeling of camaraderie.
We had decided not to buy the wristbands that would have given us access to certain activities. Partly it was down to expense but it was also because my kids had “been there and done that” in previous festivals. That did free up funds for indulging in butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and every flavour beans. Mostly, however, we just enjoyed absorbing the atmosphere, browsing fun stalls full of Potterphile wares – my 10 year old was sorely tempted by pocket watches – looking at displays in shop windows, and enjoying all of the costumes. The three younger boys did participate in some free activities too and came away with some goodie bags filled with freebies. My 14 year old was accompanying us under an Imperius Curse so was refusing to engage with any activity beyond strolling and inadvertent people watching.
There were on-street performances to watch too. We arrived too late to get within eyeballing distance of some of them but we did stop to watch a man carve a block of ice into Dobby the House Elf, we watched some great breakdancers (the Potter connection being unclear), and an acrobat performing in Hogwarts uniform. There was ample to see and do and this year we were not fighting through crowds or feeling like we were drowning in a sea of people. After a few hours of ambling, perusing, and taking photographs, however, it was time to return to the car. Aside from anything else, the younger boys were getting a bit crotchety from the heat and we needed a break from the glare of the sun. Once we got back to the church campus, however, the younger boys got a second wind and decided to play in the shade of the trees. They decided that the buildings could be Hogwarts and a wooden platform on the grass could be used as a stage for wizard dueling. It was a chilled way to end a day of Harry Pottering. The whole event passed our litmus test. They had made enough changes to make the growth of the Festival function effectively again and we are very pleased as it means we can return again next year.
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