When visiting Universal Studios Orlando, muggles, witches, wizards, trolls, goblins, house elves, dragons – someone stop me, because I could go on forever – are transported from one magical place to another. And no, I don’t mean Disney World (this time) 😉
Last month I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) and I’d like to share my experience with you all and (hopefully) provide some tips and tricks so that you can make the best of your trip when **you** make this magical journey. And let’s be real – if you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is ABSOLUTELY something you have to do at some point in your life. At least once twice thrice once. But really, you’re going to want to go back after your first visit. In fact, you won’t want to leave.
WWHP is divided into two locations – Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. They’re (basically) right next to each other btw, so don’t freak out. You can either walk a ways to get between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (this does wonders for you Fitbit users), but why would you do that, silly, when you can ride the Hogwarts Express?! That’s right folks, you can actually ride the train from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade/Hogwarts (and vice versa). For this reason, you’ll want to buy a park-to-park admission ticket or an annual pass. A single park admission ticket will allow you access to only one of these theme parks and, honestly, you’ll be missing out.
Diagon Alley – Universal Studios Florida
Nestled between the San Francisco boardwalks and the World Expo, you’ll find London the entrance to Diagon Alley. You could just immediately sprint on through the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron… OR you could take a stroll and explore the London scenery for a bit. Here you’ll find the Knight Bus and Grimmauld Place. Keep your wits about you though; there’s something funny about No. 12. It’s like someone’s watching you from the second floor windows… **exaggerated wink**
Once you’ve had your fill of London, hop over to Diagon Alley. Yes, I said hop, because you’ll be so excited and giddy at this point that the only way to describe your flutter-skip-jump-walk is “hop”. (That wasn’t just me, right?)
Here you’ll find an enormous and unprecedented amount of people shops and attractions that’ll make you want to give all your money away 😀 I had to practice some major self-control. Aren’t you proud of me? (Okay, okay, my husband and our friend prevented me from going bankrupt. Bless them.) My best tip for you is to make a round or two through all the shops and create a manageable list of everything you’d like, then go through said-list and start narrowing it down (I seriously wanted to buy EVERYTHING), ride some rides, eat some pasties, drink lots of butterbeer, then go back and buy everything before you leave. But! Be mindful of the time! You’ll want to give yourself enough time to get your goodies (it takes longer than you’d think) before the park closes. FYI – if you’re planning to take a midday break to nap back at your hotel, that would also be a good time to purchase your swag. Yes, we took naps and it was actually helpful. But I’d never admit that to our friend. (It was her idea.) …You’re not reading this are you?
Some highlights are pictured below.
Things I bought:
- My very own wand! Be sure to visit Ollivanders to purchase your special interactive wands. These let you cast spells in various locations around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley! (They cost about $10 more than a regular wand.) There are also witches and wizards waiting patiently nearby in case you need some rudimentary assistance.
- Wand for my brother – which I have yet to mail to him. **Sputter** What? I’m so not keeping this for myself… **slowly hides it under the bed**
- Gryffindor water bottle
- Gryffindor lanyard
- Slytherin lanyard (for my husband)
- Quill. I opted for the pen-form, but they are also available in traditional form with ink (ink sold separately).
- Gryffindor tote bag! This was as much a desired buy as it was a strategic one. Tip: We used our new, big, beautiful tote as a carry-on to hold all our new wizarding goodies on the plane ride home 😀
Things I wish I bought:
- Chocolate Frogs 😦 I should have listened to my stomach.
The featured attraction in Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – a 4D ride that…well, is exactly how it sounds. You escape from Gringotts. I won’t say anymore. Spoilers, sweetie 😉 The lines weren’t too long when we went – 30 to 50 minutes. There are lots to look at while you wait though, so it’s never boring. (Okay, I’m sure it could be a little boring if the wait’s too long, but buck up, it’s exciting!) Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave your bags (small purses included) in a locker before getting in line. Lockers are free for the first hour and a half (give or take – it lets you know the exact time allotted). You can leave them there for longer if you’re willing to give up some of your muggle money.
Tip: Lines are shorter closer to closing time. You could potentially ride a ride several times in a row if you’re lucky.
Also, be sure to keep an eye on the dragon (roughly every ten minutes). When you see muggles stop in their tracks and raise their cameras, follow suit (if you’re into that sort of thing).
And! Don’t forget about Knockturn Alley! It can be easy to miss, since it’s literally a dark, discreet side-ally. But now you know, so you won’t accidentally pass it by 🙂
Right next to the Leaky Cauldron is King’s Cross Station and the Hogwarts Express! Choooo-Choooooo! Ahem- Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. We rode the train five times during our trip and, on average, the wait was about 20 minutes. Again, I want to avoid any major spoilers, so I’ll just say that this is far from just a train ride. This is an attraction in itself. And the experience is different when riding from Hogsmeade back to King’s Cross. (I say the ride is 5 minutes; my husband says 15. Clearly we should have timed it.)
Tip: Keep your eyes open while preparing to cross the barrier at Platform 9¾.
Hogsmeade – Islands of Adventure
When exiting Hogsmeade station, you’ll find yourself at the village entrance, staring at beautiful snow-topped shops with Hogwarts castle off in the distance. If you choose to forgo the train ride, you can also find Hogsmeade between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent, depending on which direction you’re coming from.
Here you’ll find more eateries, shops (including Ollivanders), and attractions. Hogsmeade actually has more rides than Diagon Alley – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (an immersive attraction within the Hogwarts castle), Flight of the Hippogriff (a mid-level roller coaster), and Dragon Challenge (a full-on roller coaster). The locker rule stands. As does the approximate wait time. But again, there are super cool things to look at while you wait in line for these rides.
Things I bought:
- Time turner keychain. I already had a time turner keychain, which I turned into a necklace, but I took it on the water rides and it died a horrible death 😦 Hence, I bought another one to make a replacement necklace.
- Marauder’s Map! Because how could I not?!
Overall, my favorite ride was the Escape from Gringotts, followed ever so closely by the Hogwarts Express. I already can’t wait for the next visit! Happy travels to you all!