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I freely admit that I’m a HUGE fan of Harry Potter – and my girl is even more so! She was in the middle of the series when we had our First Harry Potter World Experience in Orlando, so it was a really magical experience. Literally!
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Since there’s so much to tell about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’m breaking it up into a few posts – this one I’ll share our thoughts on the atmosphere, rides and just the overall experience. Now there’s TWO separate areas for Harry Potter world – Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and then in Universal’s Islands of Adventure you have Hogsmeade. Make sure you have the park-hopper ticket so you can go between the two. The easiest way is on the Hogwarts Express, or you can just exit one park and go in the normal entrance of the other – but it’s quite a bit more walking as the Harry Potter stuff is near the back of both parks.
The Hogwarts Express was a fun experience – you get put into your own private train compartment (the 8 of us fit perfectly fine). Watch out the window and you can see some favorite characters from the show like Hagrid, the Weasley twins, even Hedwig! You HAVE to try the train both directions because each is completely different. Heads up – on the way from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade there’s a little dark moment with a ‘Dimentor’ (don’t worry, it’s just the screen and lights, not like a costumed person) that may scare little kids. Going the opposite way, those frightened of spiders may get a little ‘eeky’ moment, but again it’s just the screen. Our kids did fine after the first time, when they knew what to expect and just closed their eyes at that part. The train was one of their favorite things after that!
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Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida
Right before you enter Diagon Alley from the Universal Park, you’ll see the Knight Bus – don’t forget to talk to the shrunken head and take some photos!
Head over to the famous ‘moving brick’ wall – the bricks don’t actually move, of course, but listen for the sound and your kids will be CERTAIN they can see them! Once through, there’s the path with plenty of shops and fun on both sides – and straight ahead is Gringotts bank, with the famous 60-ft Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon on top. He roars loudly and breathes fire every 10 minutes. You’ll hear a light rumble from him right before, so you have time to have your kids cover their ears if needed.
I LOVED the buildings and how well they did at making you truly feel like you were in Diagon Alley, even with all the ‘muggles’ around! A few stores down from the bank is the Gringotts Money Exchange – you can go in and talk to the head goblin, and even exchange your muggle money for some Gringotts Bank Notes (useable at Universal/Islands of Adventure as well as the Harry Potter lands – or keep as a souvenir). The kids thoughts this was AMAZING getting to use ‘wizard money’ to make some purchases.
Back by the Money Exchange is a out-of-the-way area which is less crowded than the main street – and has a lot of fun things to see such as a Mermaid well, The Hopping Pot (different beer brews, all FOUR varieties of Butter Beer, as well as some snacks and other drinks and Eternelle’s Elixers. The Elixer place is neat because you can buy different ‘potions’ (flavorings) to mix into your water for a fun little drink.
Both parks have PLENTY of photo opportunities – from a Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade to a ton of fun window displays – try the Puking Pastilles at the Weasley’s joke shop in Diagon Alley. Check out the monster book or magical creatures at the pet shop, too!
I thought the Escape from Gringotts ride was remarkable – a 3-D, roller-coaster type ride where you need to get away from Voldemort, guards and more!
And yes, the top hat at Weasley’s store works just great – it’s right inside the brick entrance to Diagon Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron restaurant is right across from that. So much to do!
Rides in Diagon Alley: Escape from Gringotts, The Hogwarts Express
Where to eat in Diagon Alley: Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour
Shops at Diagon Alley: Ollivanders, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Borgin & Burkes, Magical Menagerie, Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Quality Quidditch Supplies
Hogsmead at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Hogwarts castle is definitely a centerpiece of Hogsmeade – huge, beautiful and the detail is incredible! Inside is the Forbidden Journey ride (this was amazing – feet hanging in the air as you ‘fly’ through a Quidditch match, escape a dragon and brave the forbidden forest – warning if you get motion sickness easily!) – but you get to walk though the castle rooms on your way to the ride entrance! The pictures move and talk, there’s fun wizard newspapers, say hi to The Fat Lady and the Sorting Hat, plus hear some words from Dumbledore in his office.
The castle looks even more beautiful at night – and the rooftops were ‘snow-covered’, making the whole experience as real as possible! I seriously couldn’t get over the amount of detail that went into the whole village!
The Dragon Challenge was fun – a roller coaster where you’re almost ‘racing’ the other coaster! Red or blue – which do you pick? My kiddos absolute FAVORITE ride of the entire vacation was Flight of the Hippogriff – a kid-friendly roller coaster that was decently fun for the adults (which is good since they asked us to go on it dozens of times) but a real non-scary thrill for the younger ones! Don’t forget to bow to Buckbeak!
Rides at Hogsmeade: The Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff, The Hogwarts Express
Where to eat at Hogsmeade: Three Broomsticks
Shops at Hogsmeade: Dervish & Banges, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Honeydukes, Ollivanders
We only had a few days for all of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure AND the Harry Potter stuff, so it was a bit rushed. I wish I had a whole day to truly look around into each thing – perhaps next time!
Coming Soon: Food at Harry Potter World, Great stuff for your visit to Harry Potter World
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