My husband and I read the Harry Potter series as they were published, while we were dating. They were addictive, magical stories that we fell in love with. When we got married, we bought the Jim Dale narrated books, on CDs. We listened to them at night when we went to bed, and Dale is one of our favorite audio book narrators. The man is amazing in how he creates each distinct voice for characters that seem endless. Then of course there were times when he’d describe the feasts and food eaten at Hogwarts and we’d suddenly get cravings in the middle of the night.
Once we had kids, we couldn’t wait for them to enjoy the books, and fall into the magical world of Harry Potter, created by J.K. Rowling. Our daughters finally finished all the books and the movies recently, which meant we could finally plan a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. Before we go on, let me be very clear, I want to live there.
We bought our tickets online on the Universal Orlando website. They were running a deal for a 2-day park hopper, plus get a 3rd day free. Our single-minded plan was to spend as much of our time at Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley as possible.
Our family had five serious goals:
- Drink butter beer.
- Be chosen by a wand from Ollivander’s, and practice spells.
- Ride all the rides, including the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, both ways.
- Visit Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.
Before we stepped foot in Florida, I had researched the shortest distance from the Universal Islands of Adventure entrance to Hogsmeade. Incidentally, it’s to the right, through Seuss Landing, through The Lost Continent, and welcome to Hogsmeade station, as well as the entrance to a magnificent, magical day.
The first morning we visited, I made my family speed walk as fast as they could. When we saw the Hogsmeade station, we all sort of lost it. If you can’t tell, I was just ridiculously happy. The weather forecast for our first day at the park was rain. We figured, we’d get there and there’d be less crowds. We were right. Plus, the rain, only lasted for 15 minutes. It was perfect. A touch of London weather for us in Orlando.
When we asked one of the employees in Hogsmeade to take a photo for us, he stayed in character and explained, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to use those muggle devices, may I find someone to help you?” So he spent the next few minutes looking for a muggle to snap a photo of us next to the Hogwarts Express. We’d barely stepped into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando and already felt completely immersed.
We needed to re-focus ourselves after this incredibly fun beginning. We knew we wanted to get our daughters some wands, and we knew we wanted them selected by Ollivander for the interactive experience. As you know, the wand chooses the wizard. At Ollivander’s you have a choice to queue up, or skip the experience and visit the store. Of course, we wanted the entire Ollivander interactive experience. Small groups are led into Ollivander’s shop area, and the experience begins with Ollivander selecting one or two participants from the small group. Ollivander’s was the first queue we joined, and it was a short one on the day we visited. We entered with our robes hoping our girls would immediately be selected for the experience, unfortunately, they weren’t chosen. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the show. After the show, everyone was let out into the wand shop to select wands, and enjoy the various exhibits within. There’s even Hagrid’s Monster Book of Monsters, by Edwardus Lima, kept safely in a cage. As soon as we were let into the shop area, we made a quick choice, the line outside for the Ollivander wand experience was still short, and we hurried back into the queue.
This is where trying again, paid off. The second time around our daughters were selected together for the wand selection process. Yippee! It was awesome. Ollivander had two wands, and of course they didn’t function correctly for either girl. So he decided to switch the wands, and what do you know? They fit! Later that afternoon, we visited the wand shop in Diagon Alley to read the more detailed descriptions of the wands, and discovered that the wands suited our daughters perfectly. Eerily accurate wands, makes you realize that magic is truly real. Since I was there immersed in the world of Harry Potter, I decided I needed a wand too. I love my wand, and its description.
I love how interactive Universal Studios made Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Once we had the wands, we used the included map to find places in the park where we could practice our spells, and wand work. These areas are also marked on the ground, usually found in front of storefronts, and include an image of the correct wand movement.
We rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff while in Hogsmeade. Even waiting in line was entertaining. This park is seriously impressive. Universal has taken theme park immersion to an entirely epic level. With the beloved Harry Potter story, fans of the series will walk away having had an incredible, memorable experience.
After the ride, we saw the Hogwarts Singers perform, and hopped on the Hogwarts Express bound for London’s Diagon Alley. Arriving at King’s Cross Station is a kick. The station lets you out, into Universal Studios, and requires you to make a left towards the London facades. You’ll pass by the Knight Bus, where you can have your photo with, and chat with Stan Shunpike, who’s totally cheeky.
There’s also the phone booth which dials you into the Ministry of Magic. As you stroll you’ll even come across Kreacher lurking in the window at 12 Grimauld Place. This is all before you even enter Diagon Alley. Just look for the brick walls and enter in. Hogsmeade was lovely, but Diagon Alley is another thing altogether.
We went straight for the Leaky Cauldron, as it was a good way to escape the short rain fall, and it was time for us to feed our bellies. The detail and ambiance of the Leaky Cauldron was spot on. Your party queues up, and your group and is ushered to a register to order. Once you have your drinks, and your order number, a Universal employee flags another employee, and you immediately have a table. It’s quite efficient.
We decided to get every single butter beer on the menu. We tried frozen, regular butter beer, and hot butter beer, and we threw in some pumpkin juice for good measure. Our verdict? We all loved the hot butter beer the best. My youngest absolutely loved the pumpkin juice. Yes, there probably was a stunning amount of sugar in the drinks, but, it was vacation. So we indulged.
The food at the Leaky Cauldron was quite good for theme park food. I’d never had a scotch egg before, and given my partiality to eggs, we ordered them, and they were delicious. We tried their mini cottage and fisherman’s pies, and they were all really well done, with the side of salad, and the fish and chips were lovely, as was the beef, lamb, Guinness stew. We did try the sticky toffee pudding and chocolate potted cream. The desserts were slightly too sweet for all of us. We ate at both The Leaky Cauldron and The Three Broomsticks, and prefer The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley.
The Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shop was right across the way from The Leaky Cauldron, so naturally we visited and were up to no good. We had to work some wand magic while in Diagon Alley before we rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Again, all the waiting areas to the ride were so well done with the animatronic Goblins, and the decor of the bank. The ride was fun, and we were able to hop right back on and have another go.
Then we visited Knockturn Alley. The dark side never seemed so curiously, fascinating. The lighting was dark, and ominous. The magic you and your wand could create was often lit with black light. The shops in Knockturn Alley feature items only the darkest of wizards would require. We loved it.
When it was time to end our first day we went back to Hogsmeade by King’s Cross Station so we could walk through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4.
I suppose if you really wanted to zip through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, you could. I don’t recommend it. The world of Harry Potter needs to be savored, so give yourself at least two days; three is icing on the cake. I really enjoyed just finding a bench to sit, and revel in the moment. My daughters wish there really was a school or camp that they could attend, for Harry Potter lovers, as they truly want the Harry Potter fantasy experience. If this ever becomes a reality, I’m hiding in their trunk and tagging along with my invisibility cloak.
Have you been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando? What are your favorite bits of this fantastical world? We tend to favor the London and Diagon Alley side.