Just when we thought that Orlando – the home of Disneyworld – couldn’t get much more magical, the story that captivated nations came to make this jam-packed experience even more fascinating. Since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was opened at Universal in 2014, visitors in their millions have been flocking to the city with one sole mission – to live like a witch or wizard for the day. Unsurprisingly, guests of all ages enjoy the theme park, which boasts various Harry Potter-themed environments including a recreation of Diagon Alley, a section of Muggle London, The Leaky Cauldron, Hogwarts and various rides. With so much to see and do, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is bound to be near the top of many people’s itineraries for their holidays to Orlando.
Lauleh from A Day in the Lalz visited the attraction in 2016, and immediately became a huge fan. She says: “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is an incredible place. The park does an amazing job of transporting you to the world of Harry Potter and you feel that the books have been brought to life for you to experience!” This will be a relief for die-hard fans, as the fictional world of the books can be difficult to live up to. The park, however, does a fantastic job of replicating even the finest of details, surpassing all expectations.
Ride the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9¾
In the Harry Potter books and films, the Hogwarts Express plays a very important role because it transports Harry to Hogwarts, the closest place to home he has ever known. Many of us may have dreamed of receiving that Hogwarts acceptance letter through the post aged eleven, but the closest anyone could get to that fateful journey before was visiting the space between platforms nine and ten at King’s Cross Station.
Blogger Peanut Blossom explains that, whilst it might seem like the main function of the park’s Hogwarts Express ride is to transport guests between the two parks of Universal Studios Orlando that house the Wizarding World, the journey is an experience in itself. She describes:
“We strolled with our Butterbeers taking in the sights and then made our way back to Kings Cross Station and Platform 9 ¾. The Hogwarts Express is SO much more than a simple tram that transports you from one park to the other, it is a ride and experience all in itself. The special effects on the train were remarkable, I felt like I was sitting right inside one of the movies.”
Claudia from The Travelling Mom advises that planning your Hogwarts Express journeys in advance is a great way to get the most out of your visit. She says:
“Arrive before the park opens, wear comfortable walking shoes, and purchase a 2-Day Park-to-Park ticket to maximise your Wizarding World experience. You don’t want to miss one moment of exploring J.K. Rowling’s books coming to life at Universal Orlando.”
The two trains are both full-scale exact replicas of the one that appears in the film, running 676 metres between Hogsmeade Station in the Islands of Adventure theme park and King’s Cross Station in the London area of the Universal Studios Florida theme park, which contains Diagon Alley. Each ride offers a different experience. At King’s Cross, you will walk through Platform 9 ¾ and take a journey to Hogsmeade featuring everything from Hedwig to the flying Ford Anglia, whereas on the way to Diagon Alley you will see centaurs and the Knight Bus dodging through London.
Rochelle from Wilson Travel Blog elaborates on the journey this entails, saying, “The cool thing is that you get to take the Hogwarts Express from Park to Park which is a truly amazing experience. This interactive adventure takes you through the streets of London and along the English countryside. During the journey, you will be visited by a few familiar characters, but just watch out for those nasty Dementors!”
Experience the Knight Bus
When you arrive off the train at Diagon Alley, one of the first things you’ll see is the notorious Knight Bus. This bus first appears in The Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry accidentally hails it by holding his wand hand out. Faster than even broom travel, the bus is famous for giving witches and wizards a ‘bumpy ride’ full of eccentric characters.
Rochelle recommends that visitors should see the Knight Bus where, “Not only can you have a chat with the friendly conductor, you can also have a conversation with the interactive shrunken head. Be sure to go inside the bus and have a look at all the attention to detail that has been made.”
Get Galleons at Gringotts
One of the first things you may want to do for that all-immersive experience is to trade in those Muggle dollars. Enter the grand marble hallway of Gringotts Wizarding Bank and visit the mysterious vaults that keep magical money secure.
Rochelle suggests, “Exchange your muggle money for Gringotts currency at Gringotts Money Exchange.” A pocketful of galleons, sickles and knuts will help you buy any goodies from Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, and can even be used throughout the Universal parks Rochelle notes that visitors should be sure to have a conversation with the interactive goblin bank teller, who will riddle you in the typical fashion before helping you along your way.
From here you can venture into the Wizarding World fully initiated, getting decked out in robes at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, buying potions ingredients at the Slug and Jiggers Apothecary and even checking out the latest brooms at Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Buy your own interactive wand
Rochelle predicts that one of the first things kids will want to do when arriving at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is to buy an interactive wand from Ollivanders Wand Shop. She explains, “There are two Ollivanders – one at Hogsmeade and one at Diagon Alley. Queues here can get quite long, though, so try to arrive as early as possible. Some lucky customers also get the experience of having a wand choose them.” Inside the shop, you will be amazed by the detail of the décor, with thousands of wand boxes stacked up just as they are in the first film.
Amanda also recommends buying an interactive wand at Ollivanders. She describes how “these “magic” wands allow you to perform spells throughout both Harry Potter parks, and are really fun for both kids and adults!” You certainly won’t feel like a muggle as you begin to harness the powers of these fantastic interactive wands! They are also the perfect souvenir to remember your trip by.
Sip on a delicious Butter beer
In the Harry Potter books, J.K Rowling does a brilliant job of describing wizarding food and drink in a near-irresistible manner. Well, now, we have to resist no longer, because Butterbeer is actually available to drink at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! In the books, Butterbeer is described as tasting “a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch” and, with its very mildly alcoholic content, it was the drink of choice for teenage wizards who were old enough to do so.
Rochelle insists, “Tasting Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a must. It is available both warm, cold and frozen, and, as it is non-alcoholic, the kids will love it.” Why not stop for a cold drink of Butterbeer from the bottle at The Leaky Cauldron between wanderings around Diagon Alley? Alternatively, visit The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade for the beverage delightfully warmed in foaming tankards.
The Forbidden Journey ride
After you have revitalised yourself with some wizardly refreshments, it’s time to turn up the adrenaline a little. Like any good theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter boasts several exhilarating rides to give you an experience of the action of the books and films themselves. Rochelle says these are a must:
“The two not-to-be-missed main attractions are the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride as well as the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Both of these are 3-D multi-dimensional indoor rides and have no express pass options. While waiting in the queues are part of the adventure, if you are short on time you can use the single rider option. This will get you to the actual rides a lot faster but you are not guaranteed to sit on the ride with a member of your travelling party.”
The Forbidden Journey ride is a motion-based dark ride taking guests on an adventure through scenes in and around Hogwarts Castle. You will arrive through the castle gates and walk through the dungeons, queue outside Professor Sprout’s greenhouse and then begin your exploration of Hogwarts. Fly around the castle, have a run-in with the Whomping Willow, fight off Dementors and feel the rush of a Quidditch match during this exhilarating ride.
Escape from Gringotts
The other ride that you won’t want to miss is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Amanda Williams from A Dangerous Business suggests, “Be sure to take the time to ride both Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the two indoor rides – and don’t be deterred by long lines since the scenes you pass through as you wait in line are all part of the experience!”
This ride is a full-blown rollercoaster, using lighting effects and motion-based 3D projections to create an immensely immersive experience. The ride is the flagship attraction at the park and is set over 2,000 feet of hair-raising tracks. On the journey, you will be taken through the vaults of Gringotts, facing characters from the films including an encounter with Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange themselves – played by the original actors. In 2016 the ride was named the second best dark ride in the world in Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, so it is sure to impress!
Watch Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform
If you’re looking to experience something a little different during your trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, why not take a break to enjoy a live performance? There are various shows held every day in the park, from puppet shows to musical performances, all of which will transport you into the world of Harry Potter in a truly interactive manner.
If you are a Harry Potter super-fan, you may recall Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees from the books. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Molly Weasley briefly mentioned the musical group as one of her favourite bands, after she and Arthur Weasley danced to their song, “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love” aged eighteen. At the park, Celestina and her Banshees perform never-heard-before songs with lyrics that reveal information about her wand, all written by J.K Rowling herself.
Hogsmeade is perhaps one of the most enchanting locations in the Harry Potter world, so it’s natural that visitors will make a bee-line for the area when visiting the park. Rochelle advises, “Once you have a wand you can explore the interactive shop windows, fountains and statues that are located all throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley to cast your very own spells.” However, in Hogsmeade, there are also countless charming shops to visit.
One of the key attractions is definitely Honeydukes sweet shop. J.K Rowling describes the shop in the books, saying:
“There were shelves upon shelves of the most succulent-looking sweets imaginable. Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering pink squares of coconut ice, fat, honey-coloured toffees; hundreds of different kinds of chocolate in neat rows; there was a large barrel of Every Flavour Beans, and another of Fizzing Whizzbees, the levitating sherbet balls that Ron had mentioned; along yet another wall were ‘Special Effects’ sweets: Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (which filled a room with bluebell-coloured bubbles that refused to pop for days), the strange, splintery Toothflossing Stringmints, tiny black Pepper Imps (‘breathe fire for your friends!’), Ice Mice (‘hear your teeth chatter and squeak!’), peppermint creams shaped like toads (‘hop realistically in the stomach!’) , fragile sugar-spun quills and exploding bonbons.”
You’ll feel like you’re on a Hogwarts weekend trip as browse the colourful confectionary in Honeydukes, served by Ambrosius Flume and his wife themselves.
Find the elusive 12 Grimmauld Place
Finally, for a mysterious addition to your trip, seek out the elusive 12 Grimmauld Place – the location with the Order of the Phoenix held their headquarters. Rochelle describes how, “Outside of Diagon Alley you can see 12 Grimmauld Place” and suggests, “Make sure you go and knock on the front door which will awaken Kreacher and bring him to open the curtain windows.”
You’ll clearly be able to spot the house when you get there, aptly described in its name by Rowling’s pun for ‘grim, old place’. As the ancestral home of Sirius Black’s family, 12 Grimmauld Place plays an important role in the story and, as Muggles are unable to see the building, you’ll feel like a real wizard spotting it here!
Of course, there are many more fantastic things to do at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, such as the family-friendly ride, The Flight of the Hippogriff, sampling the tricks at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and even the little things like, as Rochelle recommends, finding the red telephone box outside of Diagon Alley and dial 62442 (MAGIC) where you will be connected directly to the Ministry of Magic.
To get the most out of your adventure in the world of Harry Potter, Katelyn from One Little Bird blog advises that visitors “try to plan your trip during the off-season or on a weekday. This allows you to experience the park to its fullest without spending a large chunk of your trip waiting in line.” She also suggests that engaging with the employees at the park is a fantastic way to really enhance your trip, saying: “They do a great job of getting into character and it makes the experience that much more magical.”
Claudia from The Travelling Mom concludes her thoughts on taking a family to the theme park, saying:
“Whether you’re a super fan or just a fan of great theme parks, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is a must visit. The two portions of the park – Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley – are magical playgrounds for muggles young and old. Whether it’s riding the Hogwarts Express, thrilling to the incredible 4D experience of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, or indulging in a mug of frothy, frozen Butter Beer, a memorable and magical experience is guaranteed at this incredible theme park.”
Whether you are a family with kids or are simply a child at heart, every Harry Potter fan is guaranteed to love this brilliant attraction in the heart of Orlando.
Image credits: Jeff Kays (Flickr) / The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek (Flickr) / Sarah_Ackerman (Flickr) / Sam Howzit (Flickr) / Neil Thompson (Flickr) / Lauleh (A Day in the Lalz) / Jeff Kays (Flickr) / Taymtaym (Flickr) / Sam Howzit (Flickr) / Lauleh (A Day in the Lalz) / Lauleh (A Day in the Lalz)