My favorite part of Universal Orlando was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It felt like stepping right out of the Muggle world and right into the books and movies. I loved it! And to get in the spirit of things, I had to dress the part, too. My friend Aubri made this Marauder’s Map shirt for me.
I found the idea on Maybe Matilda (don’t judge that I stole a t-shirt design from a small child, but do check out her site as it’s really awesome!), and was pleasantly surprised when Aubri told me that all she had to do was resize the template, since the template was for Silhouette. And we opted to use sparkly black text and gold footprints. It worked like a dream! And none of the text or graphics came off in the wash, so I can wear my sweet HP shirt again!
The Harry Potter part of Universal Orlando is split between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. So you’ll need either a park-to-park pass, or two days with single park passes to see both parts (park-to-park is necessary if you want to ride Hogwarts Express, and you can just upgrade from a single park pass for one day only if you want to). Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle are in Islands of Adventure; and this is the original portion. Diagon Alley is found in Universal Studios, and this is the portion that opened earlier this year.
The Hogwarts Express runs between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and can be boarded in both locations. I definitely recommend riding it both ways, as the ‘show’ is different depending on whether you are riding to Hogwarts at the start of term, or riding back to London at the conclusion of term. Additionally, boarding in London, and getting to view Kings Cross Station is pretty impressive in the attention to detail. You also get to run through the brick wall (and watch others do the same) to Platform 9¾ when you board at Kings Cross Station. It’s quite ingenious how it works, but remember to take your time watching others run through the brick wall before your turn. You’ll be glad you did.
Mike and I both enjoyed Diagon Alley more than Hogsmeade, and I think it’s because there is more to see. However, for true HP nerds like myself, it’s worth it to spend time just wandering around both sections paying attention to the details. When you do, you’ll find tons of clever little signs and mechanized things to look at. Sitting atop Gringotts Bank is dragon rescued by Harry, Hermoine, and Ron. It does breathe fire, so make sure you don’t miss that. And that’s just one large example of the many things to see.
We also found Sirius’s motorcycle (see above) and a mermaid statue from the movie. Walking through the shops (even if you don’t plan to purchase anything) is worth it, as there are neat displays that make you feel like you’re in a magical world, in addition to all of the merchandise.
If you have kids, you’ll want to invest in the interactive wand. They come with a map, and there are several locations where the child can perform spells to cause candles to light, see troll ballet, and even make it rain. If you opt to not purchase the interactive wand, there are always plenty of children around with the interactive wands, so make sure you watch for kids performing spells around the parks.
Speaking of wands, I recommend going to Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley rather than in Hogsmeade. This is more authentic to the books and movies, as that’s where the characters purchased their wands. There was also a long line at Ollivander’s in Hogsmeade, and often no line (or a short line) at Ollivander’s in Diagon Alley. The show is pretty fun to watch, even if you don’t get selected for the wand ceremony, so I recommend taking the time to go to it.
In both areas of HP there are many shows to catch, in addition to the wand ceremony. We saw ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ from ‘Tales of Beedle the Bard’ in Diagon Alley. It’s a puppet and theatre show, and was excellent. We saw the Frog Choir in Hogsmeade, which is a choir that includes, you guessed it, frogs. We also caught the Triwizard Spirit Rally in Hogsmeade, which is a demonstration from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students. I recommend catching some of the shows, as they really make it feel authentic, and are quite good.
We ate lunch at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley one day. The food was authentic British food. Mike had fish and chips, which he said was fine. I tried the Beef and Lamb Guinness Stew, which was fine but nothing spectacular. The food was okay, but nothing special. We also tried Pumpkin Juice, and didn’t particularly care for it.
However, we did drink many glasses of Butterbeer throughout our time in the parks, and IT WAS AWESOME! We tried the frozen Butterbeer and the regular Butterbeer. Both were good, but we preferred the regular. The best way I can describe it is cream soda with butterscotch cream on top. It’s truly delicious. After returning from our trip, I’ve read that the parks now also have a hot Butterbeer, which would be more similar to what is described in the books. I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t like the hot Butterbeer, since we liked the cold and frozen Butterbeer so much.
In Diagon Alley, there is really only one ride, but it is impressive. Escape from Gringotts Bank is a 3D rollercoaster ride, and so much fun! I really think this was my favorite ride of all of the rides at Universal Orlando. We didn’t find the line to be all that long, and in fact some places I would have been fine with it moving a little slower, as I really wanted to gawk a little more. While waiting in line, you get to see the goblins at work (and the animatronics are quite realistic), tour the underground vaults, as well as meet Bill Weasley. I loved every second!
Hogsmeade has several rides. Dragon Challenge consists of two roller coasters. We went on both and really enjoyed them. When you go through the lines for these, you do get to see the Triwizard Cup, and some other artifacts, which I thought was neat! Flight of the Hippogriff is also a rollercoaster, but is quite tame. Even if you’re not a big fan of roller coasters, this one is probably tolerable. Plus, it’s the only way to see Buckbeak (and nerdy me recommends bowing to him). 🙂 Hagrid’s house is also visible from line to the ride.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is located in Hogwarts Castle. Again with this ride, as with many of the others, there are many things to look at while waiting in line, so going through the line (even if not riding) is recommended. I saw talking and moving portraits and the house points hourglasses. And on your way out of the ride, you can walk through Filch’s Emporium of confiscated items. The ride itself is 3D and rollercoaster, and gives the sensation of flying. It was Mike’s favorite ride of all.
In the London portion of HP, which is outside Diagon Alley, you can check out the Knight Bus and talk to the conductor and shrunken head. You can also find Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. And if you look carefully, you might even catch a glimpse of Kreacher. There is also a telephone booth, where you can reach the Ministry of Magic.
Overall, there really is magic around every corner of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I loved every second of my time in the magical world. Now if only I had a Time Turner, so that I could go back and visit again…