I have wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since they opened their doors in 2010. We try and travel to a new place at least once a year and this year we finally chose Universal Studios Orlando. Technically, my husband had been there as a child, but the park has gone through so many changes since then that it was pretty much new to both of us. Saying that I am a huge Harry Potter fan would be a ridiculous understatement. I typically read the entire series every other year and have seen the movies countless times…thank you Freeform!
I’m going to do a couple of posts on how we structured each of the two days we spent at Universal, but first I’m going to do a recap of the Wizarding World because oh. my. God. it was heaven on earth.
Diagon Alley is in the Universal Studios Park and Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are in the Island of Adventures Park. You can get between the parks by riding the Hogwarts Express or by walking out of one park through City Walk and into the entrance of the other park. You must have a park to park ticket in order to go to both parks on the same day and to ride the Hogwarts Express. The park to park ticket is a little more expensive, but it was totally worth it.
I wanted my introduction to the Wizarding World to be in Diagon Alley and I’m going to nerd out here for a minute so bear with me. Diagon Alley is Harry’s first real immersion into the wizarding world and I wanted that same experience. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that when we walked into Diagon Alley tears came to my eyes. When you step in you feel like you are in a completely different world. You can’t hear or see anything that’s going on in other areas of the park and everything from the buildings to the walkways to the employees dressed in character was just as I always imagined it would be in real life. As many people have said, it’s a completely immersive experience.
The design and set-up of Hogsmeade is not quite as immersive to the same extent, but still wonderful. To walk through Hogsmeade and come upon Hogwarts was breathtaking. You truly felt that you were in a little wizarding village and again the shops, displays, and set-up were spot on as described in the books and shown in the movies.
Escape from Gringotts – Located in Diagon Alley. You walk through the entrance to Gringotts to get to the ride and pass the goblins hard at work, goblin offices, and eventually you feel like you are down in the vaults. The ride is simulated so you feel that you are diving around here and there, but without having to experience the actual plummet where your stomach jumps into your throat.
The Forbidden Journey – Located in Hogwarts Castle. The lead up to this ride was by far the best. While in line you are walking through various notable Hogwarts areas to include Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, and you run into the sorting hat. The ride itself I struggled with due to motion sickness. I get motion sickness very easily, so I had loaded up on non-drowsy dramamine and still when I got off the ride I was worried I might be sick. This ride is also motion simulated, but you get whipped around a little more aggressively then with Escape from Gringotts, and has been critiqued as causing motion sickness by many others. When we go back to the park in a few years I don’t know that I would be able to ride it again, but will definitely get in the line to walk through the castle.
Flight of the Hippogriff – Outside Hogwarts. This is a 30 second super fun, family friendly roller coaster. We were in the front row which was great and loved it. There weren’t any big drops, so I was happy. Hagrid’s hut sits in the center which was a nice touch.
Frozen Butterbeer – This was my absolute favorite! It’s butterscotch flavored with butterscotch foam on top and I would seriously risk diabetes to drink it every day. I was even asked by someone who was in the butterbeer line which one I would recommend, because obviously even strangers can tell that I’m a true member of the wizarding community, and hands down advised that she get the frozen.
Hot Butterbeer – Also, so delicious! It tasted exactly as I always imagined it would based on the description in the book. It tastes warm and buttery and sweet and all the good things. In fact, the hot butterbeer was my husband’s favorite and we had a rather spirited debate about which one was truly better in the middle of Diagon Alley making all of my wizarding dreams comes true.
Cold Butterbeer – The cold butterbeer is nothing to turn your nose up up at, but the other two were superior in my book. The cold butterbeer tasted like cream soda with butterscotch foam on top. It was yummy, but I went back for frozen time after time.
I’m going to recap just the restaurants and stores that were most memorable for me. I obviously went to all of them, but some are definitely must sees.
Hog’s Head – Located in Hogsmeade. It’s attached to the Three Broomsticks and serves drinks only. You can get food at the Three Broomsticks, but we elected to grab a couple of pints (HP beer recap below) and hang out in the pub like we would any other Saturday night. The line was super long for the bar, extending out the side door when we arrived, but it moved quickly and the bartender was in character as the owner the entire time, which added a certain amount of charm. It was dark and kind of dank, just as described in the books.
Leaky Cauldron – Located in Diagon Alley. We ate lunch here on the second day and I had a great meal. My husband was less satisfied with his, but overall it was a fun experience. They keep the long line moving as quickly as possible and have someone that helps you find a seat which was nice. I highly recommend the Fischerman’s Pie if you like seafood. Also, quick tip! You can buy a bottle of Gilly Water for $4.50….which is outrageous. Instead just ask for a cup of water and it is free of charge.
Ollivanders Wand Shop – Located in Diagon Alley. They have one in Hogsmeade too, but we went to the one in Diagon Alley, saw the show, and walked through the wand shop. We got in to see the show, where Ollivander picks someone from the crowd to interact with a wand that chooses them, early in the day within an hour of the park opening and got right in. By the afternoon there was a line of 50-100 people waiting. The show and shop are a must sees.
Weazley’s Wizard Wheezes – Located in Diagon Alley. Very elaborate and on point interpretation of the Fred and George’s joke shop. It’s also attached to a clothing shop and a candy shop so you can work your way through.
Knockturn Alley – Located in Diagon Alley. This was one of the most well done areas of Diagon Alley because you truly felt like you were walking down a dark and scary path. Also, the shop in Knockturn Alley sold merchandise you couldn’t find anywhere else in the park which was on point with the books.
Honeydukes – Located in Hogsmeade. Obviously a must see because Harry, Hermione, and Ron love it so much. They have all of the themed candy you could want…chocolate froges, fizzing whizbees, etc.
Wizarding World Beer
The Wizarding World has several beers that are brewed just for the parks.
Dragon Scale – Sold in both parks. This was my husband’s favorite. It’s an Octoberfest-style lager.
Hog’s Head Brew – Sold exclusively in Hogsmeade. It was an Irish Red.
Wizard’s Brew – Sold exclusively in Diagon Alley. This was my favorite. It’s a heavy, coffee stout. Rich and filling.
In short, it was truly the trip of my dreams. We planned ahead to spend two full days at Universal so we never felt rushed and were able to enjoy other areas of the park too. We took our time seeing everything in the Wizarding World and on the second day even spent an hour in each Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade just sitting on a bench people watching, drinking butterbeer, and enjoying the hustle and bustle.
Questions about the Wizarding World or our experience? Comment below!