While planning our trip to the USA and Canada at the end of last year, I was sure to include Orlando, Florida; pretty much just so I could go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
I have been a huge HP fan ever since I read the first book in high school. I was a little late to the party, only discovering it a year or two after its release; but as soon as I read that first paragraph, I was hooked.
I’ve since read all of the books multiple times, and was actually making my way through the series once again during this trip. I’ve watched all the movies. I even have my own Marauder’s Map. No joke.
So when I heard about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it went straight on my bucket list.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Harry Potter World is set inside Universal Florida, which is made up of two theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Hogsmeade lives in the latter, while you’ll find Diagon Alley in the former. Unfortunately, if you want access to Harry Potter World in its entirety, you do have to purchase a ticket to both of the theme parks.
And of course, the Hogwarts Express can transport you between the Harry Potter areas, if you have the two-park pass.
We visited in late January, when the weather was mild enough to wear shorts and t-shirts during the day. We didn’t find crowding too much of an issue, but as we were staying within Universal Resort, we got early access to the Park each day, which definitely made a difference. We found that the crowds tended to swell around mid-to-late morning and didn’t relent until closing time.
Out of the two Harry Potter areas, I much preferred Diagon Alley; but if you’re after some hair-raising rides, then Hogsmeade is for you.
Both areas offer the same sweets, merchandise, toys, and games; but they do have a few differences, which I have outlined below.
Diagon Alley is the newer of the two areas, having only opened in July of 2014. I have to say, it looks just like it is portrayed in the movies, and very much feels like you’re surrounded by magic!
Diagon Alley is home to only one major attraction, which is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s. This is an indoor rollercoaster with 4D-type effects. It replicates part of the story from Book 7, where Harry, Ron and Hermione escape Gringott’s on the back of a dragon.
This was actually one of my favourite rides in the entire park. Even when standing in line for the ride, you really feel like you are standing in Gringotts with the goblins working around you.
As you would expect in Diagon Alley, there are plenty of magical stores to satisfy your wizarding needs, including: Quality Quidditch Supplies, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin’s Robes, Magical Menagerie, Ollivanders, Wiziseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, and Borgin and Burkes (down Knockturn Alley).
You’ll want to check out all the sweets mentioned in the books, so you’ll be pleased to know that you can buy all the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Puking Pastilles, Sherbert Lemons, and Sugar Quills that your heart desires.
What’s for eating?
The Leaky Cauldron is the only restaurant in Diagon Alley, but there are plenty of options to choose from, including Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice! The frozen variety of Butterbeer was my favourite. So good. And Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour is amazing.
You will also find a couple of kiosks and carts that have a small variety of drinks and snacks, too.
If you have the two-park pass, you can access the Hogwarts Express, which takes you between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Of course, you enter via Platform 9 3/4, and come face-to-face with the Hogwarts Express! The ride is definitely worth it — lots of fun.
Hogsmeade opened in 2010. With snow-capped rooftops, ramshackle buildings, and plenty of merchandise, Hogsmeade is for the more adventurous HP fan.
There are three different attractions in Hogsmeade, but unfortunately we only experienced one of them.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: You can’t go to Harry Potter World and not check out Hogwarts, so I was keen to give this ride a go. It starts off with a walk through Hogwarts, which was pretty cool. Then you get strapped onto a “broomstick” and hurled around Hogwarts grounds, and the Forbidden Forest; coming face-to-face with a range of creatures and characters from the movies. It uses a mixture of projections and robotic-type technology, making you feel like you’re part of the action.
Unfortunately I had my eyes closed for most of the ride and felt so sick afterwards that I had to sit down for a bit, haha.
Dragon Challenge: “…an intertwining roller coaster chase across the sky” on a pair of dragons. Full details here.
Flight of the Hippogriff: “… a family-friendly coaster that spirals and dives around the pumpkin patch, and swoops past Hagrid’s hut”. Full details here.
Because Hogsmeade was set up here before Diagon Alley, it does contain some stores that aren’t in the Hogsmeade we’ve come to know and love from the books and films. Shops include: Dervish and Banges, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Honeydukes, and Ollivanders.
What’s for eating?
Hogsmeade is home to the Three Broomsticks, which also contains access to the Hogs Head pub. A range of food and drinks are available here, and I believe the menu matches the one found at the Leaky Cauldron.
Again, there are also a few kiosks and carts scattered around with drinks and snacks.
Whether you chose Diagon Alley, Hogsmeae, or both; I highly recommend getting in touch with your inner child and purchasing an Interactive Wand from Ollivander’s.
Interactive Wands come with a map of Harry Potter World, and throughout both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, you’ll find special locations where you’re able to cast a spell and create some magic!
Yes, it’s designed for kids, and you can totally see all the little sensors; but who really cares, so long as you’re having fun?! Plus, I swear I saw more adults carrying those wands around than kids.
If interactive wands aren’t your jam, then a regular wand is totally fine, too. You can either get a character wand — they have one for each of the main characters — or chose from a range of wood types. I myself opted for one made of ‘Holly’.
I’m pretty sure Harry Potter World was the highlight of our trip, for me. I had so much fun running amok in Diagon Alley, drinking Butterbear in Hogsmeade, and casting spells all over the place. I would go back again in a heartbeat.
Anyone else been to Harry Potter World?
What was your favourite part?