To say that I’m a Harry Potter fan is an understatement. I’ve read all of the books (multiple times), own all of the movies, and have dug into online fan fiction more times than I care to admit as an adult. I wouldn’t say I’m the ultimate fan; however, I’m definitively in the uber fan category. I can wax poetic with the best of them about themes and subtext. (For the record, I always knew Snape was a hero.)
Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando® has been on my bucket list for quite some time, so when the opportunity came to go during a family vacation, I was all about it! And friends, it was everything I hoped it would be … and so much more.
From the moment I crossed the threshold between muggle London into Diagon Alley™, I knew that I was in for the immersive experience of a lifetime. What makes this park stand out from so many others are the details, nuances and subtle references to the wizarding world. They’re literally everywhere. Fans who’ve both read the books and watched the movies will be astounded.
There are so many things to see and do, both big and small. We had three days at Universal Orlando, so I was able to come and go, really soaking it all in at a reasonable pace.
Wizarding World Tips, Hacks and Easter Eggs
If you’re a super fan like me, you’ll want the entire Potter experience. To do that you’ll need to purchase tickets for:
- Universal Studios Florida® (Diagon Alley™ resides in this park)
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure® (Hogsmead™ is in this park)
- Park-to-Park admission in order to ride the Hogwart’s™ Express®.
Yes, it’s pricey.
Oh, and before you go, I also recommend downloading the Universal Orlando app. It gives you wait times for rides and is really helpful in determining when you should hit up the anchor rides in each area.
KINGS CROSS AREA (Universal)
The Hogwarts Express: Because, of course! You can’t call yourself a fan unless you’ve ridden the train, can you? The Hogwarts Express takes you on two very different journeys — from London and Platform 9¾, to Hogsmeade, and back again. This is one ride that you’ll definitely want to board twice; think of it as part ride and part show. And yes, you do get to disappear through the wall at Platform 9¾. It’s cool! Each train car seats approximately eight guests and is exactly like the compartment in the movies. The show takes place both out the windows and on the frosted doors on the outside of the compartment.
Tips, Hacks & Easter Eggs
- The bench on Platform 9¾ and the luggage racks inside the Hogwarts Express are actual props from the movie!
- In Kings Cross Station, don’t miss the perfume advertisement. Fans will recognize it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
- Hedwig, Harry’s owl, is also waiting patiently in line with you at the Kings Cross platform.
- The Knight Bus outside of the station has a talking shrunken head that’s interactive. Stan Shunpike (natch) is there to greet you and make conversation with the shrunken head. So fun!
- The traditional red phone booth outside Kings Cross has a hidden secret. If you dial 62442 (MAGIC) using the phone, you’ll be connected to the Ministry of Magic.
- Be sure to swing by 12 Grimmauld Place and get your picture taken on the steps. Don’t be surprised to see Kreacher in the upstairs window, though. He is not a muggle fan.
HOGSMEAD AREA (Universal’s Islands of Adventure)
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey™ ride: Ah-mazing! It blew my mind in a way I didn’t expect. (Especially the second time I rode it.) Forbidden Journey is a terrific combination of special effects and thrills. You’ll levitate your way through a Quidditch Match, narrowly escape the Womping Willow and find yourself battling Dementors in the Chamber of Secrets. It was hands-down our favorite ride in any park.
Although the line is typically long, it’s completely enjoyable — IMHO — because of the authenticity of the castle. It literally feels like you stepped into the pages of the book.
The line weaves you through the greenhouse, Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Room of Requirement, and Dumbledore’s office. I also personally loved the paintings of the founders of Hogwarts that came to life and carried on conversations around us. (Especially considering Salazar Slytherin is quite outraged at the amount of muggles being allowed in the castle.)
Tips, Hacks & Easter Eggs
- The menu at The Three Broomsticks was handpicked by J.K. Rowling, so you know it’s on point. There’s British pub fare ranging from shepherd’s pie to fish & chips, all while serving Pumpkin Fizz, Butterbeer™, Hog’s Head Ale, Pumpkin Juice™, Fire Whiskey, Wizard’s Brew and Dragon’s Ale.
- Cho Chang’s Yule Ball gown is on display in one of the shops at Hogsmeade. Yes, it’s the actual film prop!
- In the bathrooms at Hogsmead you’re treated to a very upset Moaning Myrtle complaining and crying. Its creepy and entertaining.
- The Pensieve can be found in the castle. Keep a sharp eye out or you’ll walk right past it. (I didn’t discover it until day two of my visit.)
- The Sorting Hat makes an appearance in Hogwarts. It also has quite a lot to say, so spend some time with it to hear its words of wisdom.
- The actual desks and blackboard from the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom movie set are also at Hogwarts.
- You can send a real letter from Hogsmeade that will actually bear the postmark when you receive it. Brilliant!
- Arthur Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia can be found at the Dragon Challenge™ attraction along with the Triwizard Cup (don’t touch it… it’s a portkey!).
- The Dragon Challenge roller coaster was my favorite coaster. (We rode it four times!) Be sure to get a locker and stow everything before you ride or face the wrath of the dragon handlers who will send you back where you started.
DIAGON ALLEY AREA (Universal)
Diagon Alley: What an immersive experience! It’s colorful and whimsical and delightfully overwhelming. My son and I decided that we could live there and never get bored with it. The detail work put into this area is beyond what I expected; it’s riddled with hidden touches and clever items. The park actually hired a number of its team members directly from Britain in order to create an authentic experience. Apparently team members have to take an exam to test their knowledge to ensure their guests’ interactions are as enjoyable as possible.
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts™ was also a fave. It puts you in the middle of a dramatic break-in and escape from the wizarding world’s Gringotts bank. It’s part roller coaster and part motion-simulation experience, similar to The Forbidden Journey ride in Hogsmeade. I don’t know how they do it, but they make you feel like you’re actually part of the action projected on the screen.
Tips, Hacks & Easter Eggs
- The entrance to Diagon Alley is next to a record store through an unmarked wall, just like in the books. We literally walked past it when we first arrived.
- The sign for the Leaky Cauldron actually leaks, you guys. So clever.
- Every 10 minutes the dragon on the top of Gringotts bank breathes fire. Keep your cameras handy!
- You can absolutely buy chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Puking Pastilles and Fainting Fancies while you’re there. Stop by Honeydukes™ and fill up!
- Celestina Warbeck (and the Banshees) performs daily in the Carckitt Market section of Diagon Alley. J.K. Rowling herself wrote the titles of every song she sings in the park.
- The window of the Magical Menagerie has a snake that speaks in both English and Parseltongue. If you look to the second floor inside the shop you can spot Luna Lovegood’s Crumple Horned Snorkack.
- Butterbeer is amazing, you guys! It is served four different ways: cold, frozen and in ice cream. (I recommend them all.) It took the chef and his team nearly three years to get it right. Yes, THREE YEARS.
- Ollivander’s window is filed with details that Potter fans will adore: phoenix feathers, dragon heartstrings and unicorn hairs. Basically, all essential items that are used to create wands, of course.
- If you buy an interactive wand, you’ll want to know that in addition to those on your map, there are hidden spells in a few places. One example is in the storefront of the Slug and Jiggers Apothecary.
- Knockturn Alley (a place dark wizards frequent) is easy to miss if you’re not careful. It’s spooky, dark and chilly, but filled with places to use your interactive wand.
- The Vanishing Cabinet can be found at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. If you listen closely you can hear a faint chirping inside!
- You can exchange muggle money for Gringotts bank notes at Gringotts Money Exchange. An interactive goblin will answer your questions, and then exchange your money for banknote that can actually be used like cash in all of the Diagon Alley shops. Try asking the goblin if he’s a house elf, and see what kind of response you get.
- The Mirror in Madame Maulkin’s talks to you. In fact, she was very complimentary when it came to my son’s choice of footwear.
- Another movie prop area is in the Quality Quidditch Supplies store. The Quidditch trophies from the movie sets are kept on the top shelves, and the luggage in the Leaky Cauldron is also from the films.
I have to tell you that as thorough as I tried to be with this article, I didn’t actually scratch the surface. There were times when I became so overwhelmed by the magic of it all that I actually had to choke back tears. A ridiculous reaction to some, but I was enthralled.
The people who built this park got it right. Fans and non-fans of all ages will be delighted!