I remember when I first found Harry Potter. The very first movie was already in the theaters and about to be released to DVD. I thought they were a children series but after hearing all the hype decided to go purchase the first book to see what all the hype was about. Like so many others, I was immediately hooked! I think I finished the book in a couple of days and went out to purchase the next one. At that time their were four books in the series out. Each time a new book came out after that I was always at the midnight release parties getting my copy. I have even dressed up as Hermione a few times for Halloween through the years!
Though not a fan of J.K. Rowling personally of recent for her comments, I admire her as a writer for this world she created. The original 7 books about the boy who lived will always be some of my all time favorites. How many of us muggles didn't dream about meeting Dumbledore and watching a quidditch match? Or escaping to Hogsmeade and having a butter beer? Thanks though to Universal Studios, that is now a reality.
Universal Orlando is split into two parks. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. If you get a park hopper pass you can travel between the two parks using the Hogwarts Express (which we totally did). Harry Potter world is also split between the two parks. You can find the Diagon Alley part at Universal Orlando and the Hogwarts & Hogmseade part at Islands of Adventure.
The Diagon Alley part is tucked in the back and they do a good job of keeping it not as obvious as some of the other theme areas that are in the park. There are a few things right outside the area such as the entrance to Hogwarts Express, Grimmuald Place (watch the window long enough for Kreacher), a minstry of magic phone booth, and the Night Bus. The Night Bus is my favorite to see of these. The driver usually stands outside to chat and the shrunken head inside is quick to offer its witty two cents to the conversation.
Then we walked behind and through a whole in a brick wall and stepped into Diagon Alley. All I can say is the first time must feel like Harry did when he first stepped into this bustling Alley. It feels like stepping into the pages of a book and I could not stop smiling at how it felt to be living one of my favorite stories. It was as if magic and the tales were real and my letter from Hogwarts had finally arrived.
Picture below from Unsplash and the scene when you first step into Diagon Alley.
Let's start with the shops at Diagon Alley. The display windows are carefully designed to showcase what they may sell or nods from the books. I remember seeing Gildaroy Lockhart's books and Hermoine's dress she wore to the Yule Ball. Their are lots of good shopping options here (especially compared to Hogsmeade), and all are worth a quick visit. They all have unique things such as monster books that move or mirrors that may pay you a compliment (or insult). Here were my 4 favorite stores:
Ollivander's Wand Shop
This is the first stop for many and I do recommend going there first, if you want a wand to carry around on your adventures. There are two types of wands you can purchase; interactive ones and collectables (or non-interactive). The interactive wands have a chip in the top that you can use them in various places in the park to cause magic to happen. The park has these spots labeled and they can do some cool things. It was fun watching the kids (and adults) reaction to making magic happen with their wands.
Some of the wands for sale are replica's of some of the characters from the stories; and then their other non-character wands. Most of the "other wands" have a name based on what they were created made from. For example, there is a Holly wand! These other wands are marked to specific things such as personality or date of birth. They are designed to give you a more custom wand. This can be a way to feel the wand chose you and not just get a Luna Lovegood wand (though she is awesome!) The staff there are knowledgeable and can help guide you on your wand selection.
I was really torn. I wanted the interactive one but aesthetically I didn't like the look with the clear tip where the chip is hidden. Overall the interactive ones didn't look as nice as the collectable wands in my opinion. I ended up just not spending the money. The next time I go back I may make a selection though, as I went back a few times to look.
Finally for this shop, you can go right in and shop wands; or opt to do one of the shows. The show is in a separate part of the building and about 7 minutes long. One person is picked from the audience to try and select the perfect wand. Ollivander picks out wands and hands to the person where they do a swish and flick. Very much like the movie, the first few cause some things to fly around before the perfect selection is made.
Some of the wand options, picture from Pixabay.
Weasley Wizard Wheezes
This shop easily catches your eye from the exterior with its bold colors, and looks like the movie. The inside is just as colorful and playful with the charm that reminds you of the Weasley brothers. The store was fun to explore but most of the joke gifts were sort of gimmicky and seemed cheapy made. Nothing jumped out when we were there, but the aesthetic of the store is a must stop for Potter fans!
Picture below I took of the outside of the shop.
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment
This is a store is just beautiful on the inside. Their are stars and celestial objects strung about the place that visually make this place feel like magic. The items they offer is a nice variety as well. Its more of an all in one store as you can find tons of souvenirs from things like apparel and jewelry to things like crystal balls or hourglasses.
Borgin And Burkes
When there you can't forget to go to Knockturn Alley and this was hands down my favorite store of them in both parks. There are some really cool shirts there and the one I bought pictured below. You can even find things like Death Eater masks. The options here are unique and you can also see things like the vanishing cabinet.
Picture of my shirt. I love how the dementors form the Patronus.
There aren't a lot of food options in this part of the park, but we stopped by the 2 main ones.
The Leaky Cauldron
We stopped for lunch here and one of our first stops as we were hungry. The menu has an English Pub style feel with things like Banger and Mash. We ordered the fish and chips and they were pretty tasty. This was also where we first tried Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice. I loved the pumpkin juice. Its basically apple juice with a pumpkin puree but it is tasty. My husband was all about the butterbeer. He had regular, hot and frozen on this trip. He enjoyed them all but said the frozen was his favorite. I tried them all but they all have a butterscotch taste, and I just don't like butterscotch.
The big highlight of this place is how it looks and the design and styling (like everything else) is spot on to movies and books.
Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour
In Prison of Azkaban, Harry spent a lot of time here and I can see why. The ice cream is delicious! They offer different options from hand dipped to soft serve. I have to admit I tend to always get soft serve, but ended up going hand dipped. They had more unique flavors with the hand dipped and I got two scoops. I tried the chocolate chili and my second choice was the early gray & lavender. First the two were in the same cup but stacked and hardly touching. The areas that did touch surprisingly went together fine, though each scoop was mostly eaten by itself. The flavors may sound odd for ice cream, but they were incredible! You got the flavor but neither was overpowering. Their was a nice balance and the ice cream was very creamy. I highly recommend trying these two flavors if you go.
Rides and Entertainment
The whole area is entertainment with its shop displays, interactive wand stations, and staff. There is a small stage area where they had performances throughout the day of various things. We caught someone telling the Tale of the Three Brothers. The biggest attraction though is....
Escape From Gringotts
You can't miss this ride. The second you step into Diagon Alley the big dragon on top of the bank is staring down on you. He breaths fire every 10 minutes and is better to see at night. Before you enter the ride there is a locker room next door. You must store any bags or backpacks, as they are not allowed on the ride; but don't worry its all free of charge.
When we got on the ride we had about a 60 minute wait. We started outside in the que which wasn't exciting until you got inside building. The inside of the bank looks like the movie (everything here does), and the goblins are hard at work at their stations. You eventually make your way downstairs and after a longer line end up in a room. Bill Weasley makes an appearance and is your guide through the bank. The story will unfold as you go, but of course you happen to be there the same day Harry, Hermione, and Ron are breaking into Bellatrix's vault
At some point you will take an elevator down further. Once you are off there you grab some glasses to wear and are in the home stretch of getting on the ride itself. You will sit in a cart, where there are 4 seats across and a lap bar to hold you in place. The ride itself is a combination of a roller coater and screens. The coaster will stop sometimes and have 3D screens (thus the glasses)help tell the story. Overall its really fun, lasts about 5 minutes, and makes you feel like you were part of the adventure. I am a little prone to motion sickness when it comes to big screens and things that move around. This ride did not make me sick but everyone's level of what they can handle is different.
Side note. After riding this the first time we wanted to save time by going in the single rider line. We did this a few times and were able to get on the ride fairly quickly this way; usually on within 15-20 minutes. However, taking this option you don't get to go through the bank lobby or the pre-ride story telling. I do recommend going through the traditional line at least once, but this is a great option for couples who don't mind splitting up.
Two pictures below I took of the outside of the ride as well as two of the goblin tellers inside.
Finally when leaving Diagon Alley it was time to actually head to Hogwarts. We took the Hogwarts Express which you will need a park hopper pass to ride this. Is it worth it? I totally think so! First its underground and nice in cool in the line, a nice break from the Florida heat. The que isn't as cool as Gringotts or Hogwarts, but it has some fun items; including a part where if you watch it looks like people disappear into a brick wall.
The train compartments for the ride once closed tell a story with shadows and noise during the journey to Hogwarts. It is reminiscent of Prison of Azkaban with the dementors onboard. Once the train safely stops you are in the other park and dropped off right outside of Hogsmeade.
Come back soon for a post about Hogsmeade's and Hogwarts at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Picture below I took of the Hogwarts Express.