Any diehard fan of the Harry Potter series understands the painful/wistful feeling of being immersed in a world you know you can never actually enter into. Cue the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando! The two Potter-themed areas at Universal, Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley, are about as close as we can get to having the real thing. Since opening in 2010 and expanding to a second area in 2014, they have easily become Universal’s most popular attractions.
I first went to the Wizarding World with my mom in 2012 when Hogsmeade Village was the only Potter park. I vividly remember the sheer joy I felt when riding the Forbidden Journey ride inside Hogwarts, snapping as many pictures as I possibly could while walking around the castle. Smelling the sugary scents of Honeydukes, drinking Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, and picking out a wand at Ollivander’s (I bought Hermione’s) are some of my favorite memories of that trip. Since then, it’s happened to work out that I’ve gone back to the Wizarding World every year either with my mother or my partner and her daughter. It’s completely magical every single time. There is almost nothing within the parks that detracts from that feeling.
While Universal now has three separate parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay, only the first two have Harry Potter areas. (Volcano Bay is a waterpark, so I’ll forgive them for now.) Hogsmeade Village is located in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is in the Universal Studios Florida park. If you buy a single park ticket, you will only be able to visit one of these areas (whichever one you elect to enter). However, if you purchase a park-to-park pass, you can access both. Plus, the two Harry Potter areas are joined together by the Hogwarts Express train, so you don’t want to miss that! (Note: I promise Universal is not paying me to say that. I just happen to love it that much!)
The Hogwarts Express
Added as part of the Diagon Alley expansion in 2014, the Hogwarts Express transports passengers from Hogsmeade Station to King’s Cross Station in ‘London’ on the Diagon Alley side. The best thing about the Hogwarts Express is that not only does it relatively quickly get you from one area to the other, it’s also an attraction in its own right.
Passengers are seated in individual cabins which hold up to eight people each. As you ride, images and video from the windows and doors simulate what it would be like to ride from London to Hogwarts and vice versa. It’s definitely worth riding the train both ways since the story is different depending on which direction you travel.
You will have to scan your Park-to-Park pass each time you ride the train. Depending on the time of day and time of year you are in the parks, the lines can be quite long, so come prepared to wait a bit. As with most Universal attractions, there are fantastic details to spot and grab photos with as you walk through the lines: trolleys, owls in cages, trunks, etc.
While Hogsmeade Village was the first park I experienced, I highly recommend fans of the series to start their journeys into the Wizarding World through the Diagon Alley side since it mimics Harry’s journey. As mentioned above, Diagon Alley is located in the Universal Studios Florida park. The outer area of Diagon Alley looks like a London street, much like the one Harry would have walked along on his way to the Leaky Cauldron.
In this area, make sure to check out the Knight Bus (it’s bright purple and three stories tall so you can’t miss it). You can peek inside and, on most days, get a picture with the Knight Bus driver.
In this area you will also see a row of houses, one of which being No. 12 Grimmauld Place. This is another great photo opportunity. Make sure to watch the windows in the upper level for a chance to see Kreacher the House Elf peeking out.
The London street is also where you will find the entrance to King’s Cross Station (which looks very much like its real life counterpart in England). Again, make sure to have your park pass ready if you’re hopping on the train. (If you happen to wander by the traditional English phone booth, pop in and dial 62442 for a special message from the Ministry.)
If you walk towards the brick walls, you’ll pass through the bricks much like Harry did and walk straight into the magical world. Diagon Alley is the shopping area Harry first visits with Hagrid after finding about his status as a wizard. It’s lined with buildings containing everything you could possibly need as a future Hogwarts student! Most notably, you will find Gringotts bank, the Leaky Cauldron, and a plethora of shops such as Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Ollivander’s, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and Quality Quidditch Supplies.
The Leaky Cauldron is directly to your left once you pass through the brick wall. It is definitely worth a visit, even if you only go for a snack or drink. They have a breakfast menu as well as a lunch/dinner menu. If you are a meat-eater, you will certainly be well fed with the variety of meaty, traditional English fare they serve. As vegetarians, though, it is harder for my family to find filling options during the lunch/dinner time (though, admittedly, this is true for most of the in-park dining locations). Let’s just say we usually end up with a few plates of Mac and Cheese. If you’re interested, they do have one vegetarian meal, the Ploughman, which serves two people and contains a smorgasbord of cheeses, breads, salads, pickles, eggs, etc.
The Leaky Cauldron is also one spot that serves Butterbeer, along with a host of other drinks. There are three ways you can drink it: over ice, frozen, or hot. Of the three, having it hot or over ice are my two favorites. Something about the frozen nature of the other option makes it lose some flavor. They are each very sweet, so if you’re not much for sugary drinks, you might want to share one with someone else. If the line for the Leaky Cauldron is too long just to grab drinks, you can also visit The Hopping Pot or The Fountain of Fair Fortune.
If you’re in the mood for dessert, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor is worth a visit. This is one of your only opportunities to get some Butterbeer flavored soft serve. It’s basically vanilla soft serve with Butterbeer-flavored syrup ribboned throughout. Delish!
The only ride in Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. There’s a giant dragon on the top of the building, so you definitely can’t miss it! (Tip: Hang around in that area to see the dragon blow fire every few minutes.) Much like the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogsmeade, this ride is an indoor roller coaster that uses a lot of special effects and 3D video. You’ll be asked to put your belongings into a complimentary locker prior to riding and can collect them once you’ve finished. There are two lines: the general line if you want to ride with your party or the single riders’ line. We often opt to go through the single riders’ line since it’s faster and it doesn’t matter as much if we are right next to each other or scattered among different rows. On super busy days, the general line can be up to an hour or more to wait. Once you’re done riding, you’ll exit into Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment to do a bit of looking/shopping. (Even if you don’t buy anything here, the décor itself is so much fun to look at!)
A note: If you are prone to nausea, you might find this one less nauseating than Forbidden Journey. If you decide you don’t want to ride the coaster itself, you can also opt to do a bank tour. This way you can walk through the inside of Gringotts and get some great photos.
While in Diagon Alley, make sure to check out one of the live performances that happen throughout the day. On the central stage (which is in a covered area, so also a nice respite should it rain or be too hot), a troupe of actors with puppets performs selections from the Tales of Beedle the Bard. Depending on the time of day, you will either see The Fountain of Fair Fortune or The Tale of Three Brothers. Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees also perform on the central stage, so don’t miss a chance to hear “Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love” or her other hits.
Don’t forget to wander into Knockturn Alley for a taste of the dark side. Borgin and Burke’s is well worth a look to see some of the iconic props from the movies.
Once you’ve done everything you’d like in Diagon Alley, head back to the London street and into King’s Cross to make your way to Hogsmeade Village.
Hogsmeade Village is in the Islands of Adventure park. Hogsmeade is the fictional town located close to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In their third year, Hogwarts students are able to start traveling there for weekend visits (so long as they have proper permission, of course). While in the park’s version, you’ll find fantastic rides, shops, and places to grab a bite. Hogsmeade first opened with three rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Dragon Challenge. While the first two are still there, the Dragon Challenge was closed in early September 2017 to make way for an as-yet-unannounced future attraction.
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a family-friendly junior roller coaster themed around Hagrid and the Care of Magical Creatures. They’ve got a great animatronic Hippogriff and recreation of Hagrid’s hut, so it’s worth a ride just to see the design!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is located within Hogwarts Castle. The first time I rode it, I was so elated by what was happening that I laughed with glee the entire time. Forbidden Journey is an immersive, motion-simulated 3D ride. If you’ve ever wanted to experience riding on a broomstick through the Quidditch pitch, this is the ride for you! As mentioned above, this ride can trigger nausea fairly easily, so make sure to stock up on some anti-nausea meds or something else that helps! Much like the Escape from Gringotts, if you don’t want to ride the ride itself, you can do a very worthwhile tour of the castle to see everything and snap some photos. They have certainly spared no expense in making the inside of the castle as fantastical as possible.
The Three Broomsticks is the main eatery in Hogsmeade. If you are a vegetarian who was disappointed by the lack of options at the Leaky Cauldron, be prepared to be even more underwhelmed by the options at the Three Broomsticks. There are absolutely no vegetarian main courses, so you’re pretty much left with the same macaroni and cheese option or a smattering of sides (corn on the cob, potatoes, fruit, or salad). Lack of food choices aside, it’s still fun to go and take a load off.
You’ll likely notice that Hogsmeade is smaller than Diagon Alley and has fewer stores. Here you can visit Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Honeydukes, the Owl Post, and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. The latter shop is the exit location of the Forbidden Journey ride and is one of the larger stores in the Wizarding World. Both locations of Ollivander’s Wand Shop have wand choosing ceremonies. Throughout the day, attendees can line up outside of the shop. A shop attendant will select someone from the group, give a small spiel, and help the ‘wand choose the wizard’, so to speak. The chosen participant can then elect to buy the wand.
Regardless of how you do it, any trip to the Wizarding World is an exciting and memorable experience! As always, check the Universal website for detailed information about park times, ticket prices, specials, etc.
My Top 10 Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World
- Take time to just be and enjoy the magic around you. Like I said, this is one of the closest ways to actually going into the world of Harry Potter. Take time for everything. Soak up the sights, smells, sounds, etc around you. Make sure to take tons of pictures but also give yourself some technology-free time to just enjoy the experience you are having.
- Ollivander’s Wand Shop sells two types of wands: general replica wands and interactive replica/non-replica wands. The interactive wands are slightly more expensive than the general wands. If you opt for one of these, there are spots throughout both parks where you can cast spells and make magic happen. In Hogsmeade, this typically means making things in storefront windows move, etc. However, in Diagon Alley, you can also make it rain or make a building light up. They can be difficult to get exactly right, so there are usually park workers in the vicinity to help you perfect your wand skills.
- Visit the bathroom. This sounds weird but go into the bathrooms in Hogsmeade Village. If you are a hearing person, you’ll get to listen to a fun recording of Moaning Myrtle while you freshen up.
- Be prepared to deal with crowds. The Wizarding World attractions are anecdotally the most popular draw for people visiting the parks. Be prepared to wait in lines.
- Wear good shoes. Whatever this means for you, make sure your shoes are comfortable and sturdy enough to last the entire day. You’ll walk and stand a lot!
- The Butterbeer is cheaper inside of the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks than it is in the other locations. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it’s good to know if you’re purchasing several or just want to spend slightly less!
- If you’re thinking about purchasing the Express Pass, note that it cannot be used for either Escape from Gringotts or Forbidden Journey. If you’re not planning to visit the rest of the areas of the parks, it’s unlikely that it will be worth your money.
- Bring a few snacks. It’s likely to be a very long day and food in the parks is expensive. Packing a few granola bars, peanut butter crackers, etc. will be very helpful if you get stuck in a long line and need some sustenance.
- Come prepared for the weather. Bring both sunscreen and a rain poncho. While it may start out rainy, it’s unlikely that it would stay that way for long, so be ready for both types of weather! Also, if you’re visiting in the winter months, dressing in layers will be helpful.
- This is obvious but if the line for the train between parks seems longer than you want to wait, you can go through CityWalk to go between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to get to the other HP area.
Beginning November 2017: