Elyse is a huge Harry Potter fan, and though she only had seven hours to spend in this magical wizarding world, she made the most of it!
If there's one thing Hermione Granger and I have in common, it's a pathological need to be prepared. Therefore, rolling up on the Universal Studios Resort's Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a spontaneous, last-second stop on our road trip was moderately stressful. The upside of this is that my two readers (hi mom and myself-in-the-future!) will be able to enjoy the full benefit of what I learned during my seven hours in the magical world.
In this article, I will share information about seven areas and aspects of Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter (in no particular order), followed by a list of pros and cons of the park.
To quote Dumbledore, "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic." It's about to get magical up in here, y'all.
1. Explore Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley
First off, scroll back up to the previous picture and gaze admiringly at it for an appropriately on-theme seven seconds. If your eyes are not positively leaking with nostalgia, you can go on back to Privet Drive. This recreation of Diagon Alley was incredibly well done and worth viewing in person. Luckily, we arrived right as the park opened (9:00 a.m.) and we were able to behold this glory before it was swamped with people.
Get in Touch With Your Dark Side in Knockturn Alley
As far as Diagon Alley's evil twin is concerned, you can't have light without dark—and I do mean dark. I took my Slytherin self down Knockturn Alley almost immediately after entering the park, and the sunny, humid Florida morning was extinguished like a candle.
The walls are lined with various macabre and awesome window displays—talking, shrunken heads and the like—and a shadowy Borgin and Burkes has all the merchandise you'll need to foolishly attempt to impress the Dark Lord. Included in the general paraphernalia are some more specific and spooky replicas, including the cursed necklace (DO NOT TOUCH—has claimed the lives of 19 Muggles to date) and Malfoy's Hand of Glory.
2. Find Your Wand at Ollivanders Wand Shop
Ollivanders wand shop is located in Diagon Alley and stacked to the ceiling with boxes. If you enter through the far door, you and a group will be ushered into a back room, where a mystical and questionably British wizard will select a volunteer to reenact Harry's wand-shopping experience. I was not chosen, but that's fine, I guess. I already knew my wand type via Pottermore anyway (Cypress and Dragon Heart-string, 12 1/2 inches, unyielding).
If the reenactment isn't your thing, you are able to go directly into the shop itself to purchase from a selection of character's wands. If Ollivanders is too swamped, most of the other wizarding shops sell these, and there is also the option of Gregorovich's wand shop around the corner.
3. Escape From Gringotts and the Dragon
Gringotts is beautiful and perfect in every way. You get the experience of walking past judgmental goblins (which was basically like walking through my middle school classroom except that the goblins were working quietly). After passing them, you are ushered into a large elevator with a group of like-minded fans to make your way to the rollercoaster.
Check Out the Escape From Gringotts Ride
Upon your exit, Bill Weasley introduces the plotline for the Escape from Gringotts ride and you are strapped safely into your seats by patient, costumed teenagers. The ride itself is enjoyable, with an interesting combination of digital screens and motion. While it is categorized as a coaster and is preceded by some official-looking warnings from the "Department of Magical Transportation," do not be deterred. You will speed, spin and drop, but the intensity is not bad, and the ride is very short.
Watch Out for the Fire-Breathing Dragon!
Presiding over everything is the dragon from the seventh book. He watches over Diagon Alley like a monstrous guardian angel and puts gargoyles everywhere to shame. If his mere presence does not draw your notice immediately, he will when he BREATHES FIRE. Listen for the deep growling that rumbles through the park to know when the fireworks are about to start. That, or just wait until everyone stops and holds up their phones to catch a picture.
4. Peruse the Wizarding Shops
Adjacent to Gringotts, you are able to exchange your boring muggle money for a wizarding cash certificate that can be used as currency within the park. While the idea is cute, the certificate is pretty lackluster, and I would have much preferred galleons, sickles and knuts.
The wizarding shops are undeniably adorable and contain an array of colorful and exciting merchandise for purchase. The Quality Quidditch Supplies and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes were huge favorites, but the other shops were a lot less unique.
5. Ride the Hogwarts Express
Having wound dutifully through the line partitions at King's Cross Station, I did not immediately question the fact that one end of the platform ended in a solid brick wall. It is a testament to the enchantment of the place that I assumed the train would come bursting through by magic, as opposed to having to back in after each journey.
There's No Better Way to Get to Hogsmeade!
Riding the Hogwarts Express is an optional experience to get to Hogsmeade, though one far preferable (in my opinion) to traipsing through the sick whimsy of the Dr. Seuss Zone to arrive at the other park. On the Express, you are ushered into a compartment and treated to views of London and the countryside, all while chocolate frogs and swirling dementors pass by your compartment door. Not to worry, however; Harry, Ron and a third voice that seems to be Hermione (it's not Emma Watson) clear the corridors in time for your departure.
6. Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, and the Forbidden Journey Ride
It may have been disconcerting to exit the train station on a stifling and humid Florida day to behold the snowy wonderland which is Hogsmeade, but that did not make it any less enchanting.
Hogsmeade is beautiful and includes similar delights to Diagon Alley—interactive storefronts, wizarding shops and carts from which to buy bottles of pumpkin juice and generous cups of butterbeer abound. Before you have a chance to indulge, however, your eye (and feet) will be drawn to the castle up ahead, through an entrance flanked with winged boars.
Walk Through the Castle to the Forbidden Journey Ride
This is one ride where you'll want to wait in a long line. Hogwarts, while deceptively tiny, was still fairly awe-inspiring. Once you enter the castle, you begin a fun (and funny) journey to the Forbidden Journey Ride. Along the way, you will:
- Wind around the entrance to Dumbledore's office and past costumed, laughing youth with large, singing toads in their arms (they get paid for that? What nonsense was I doing with my summers?)
- Make your way through a portrait-lined stairwell in which three founders continuously admonish Salazar Slytherin for talking trash about guests
- Momentarily startle a pajama-clad Dumbledore in his office
- Finally make your way into the History of Magic classroom, where a circa-2004 Harry, Hermione, and Ron tell you their plan to sneak you out of class onto the Quidditch pitch for practice.
This is to be the plot of the Forbidden Journey, the ride which you are ushered onto next. The plotline is nonsense, and the major creatures from the first three books are inexplicably mushed into the quick 10 minutes, but you may find yourself too dizzy to be critical.
Here's where my warning comes in: If motion sickness and dizziness are companions of yours, this might not be the ride for you. As a passenger, you are swung around with wild abandon to face different areas of Hogwarts, and wide digital screens give the impression that you are careening through the air after Harry and Ron in their Quidditch gear. Cool? Absolutely. I was particularly taken with Tom Felton's brief cameo ("Showing off in front of your fans, Potter?"), but left the castle feeling very glad that we had ridden prior to lunch.
7. Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and drinks at the park. On top of being delightfully on theme, the items we sampled were quite tasty and far less pricey than I had imagined!
Try the Food at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The food offered at the parks was traditional English fare and good no matter which wizarding eatery you chose to frequent. The Three Broomsticks was, of course, located in Hogsmeade, with the adjacent Hog's Head Pub offering extra seating. We chose from a menu of staples, including roast chicken, Shepherd's Pie and Meat Pasties. The Leaky Cauldron is immediately on your left when you enter Diagon Alley, offering much of the same, though I did hear that if you visit around breakfast time, you'll be able to enjoy a pretty decent full English.
Sip on Delicious Refreshments of All Kinds
The beverages offered were fun and plentiful; we purchased four nonalcoholic types to try.
Butterbeer: This was swee-eet! I had heard it was reminiscent of butterscotch and cream soda, and I found this to be accurate. You can choose to take it frozen to increase your refreshment, but both my husband and I became a little sugar-shocked from just a few sips.
Pumpkin Juice: I loved this. Think pumpkin-spice anything in liquid form—cinnamony and not too sweet.
Peachtree Fizzing Tea: If you really don't have a sweet tooth whatsoever, this is a good choice. Light peach flavor and gentle carbonation made this a wonderful choice after sweating it out in line.
Fishy Green Ale: I could not for the life of me figure out what this pale green, purple egged concoction was made of. Simultaneously minty and spicy, the bottom of this drink is layered with what seemed to be blueberry bobas. I found it weird, but not necessarily unpleasant.
Had we been able to stand wading through increasingly thick crowds later into the evening, we certainly would have tried the various alcoholic libations offered by the taverns as well. Included are on-theme craft beers (Wizard's Brew, Dragon Scale, etc.) and, of course, firewhiskey.
My Two Cents About the Park
It is doubtful the illustrious J.K. Rowling will see this, but I would become an absolute obscurus if I did not express the leftover miscellaneous opinions swirling in my brain regarding my visit to the park. I've pinned them down with some difficulty into a comprehensive chart below.
Great for kids:
The rides, interactive storefronts, merchandise and reenactments kept all the baby Potterheads laughing.
I am concerned about the potential for expansion. Just the addition of Hogsmeade requires crossing over into another park, therefore requiring fans to purchase a two-park pass. Imagine how much more could be added! I'm thinking the addition of other magical schools (Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, Ilvermorny, etc.), as well as other significant places within the Harry Potter universe. I'd be first in line to flush myself into the Ministry of Magic. A safari through the Forbidden Forest could be a blast, as well as a somewhat-Sea-World experience with creatures from the Great Lake. If I had the opportunity to tour Malfor Manor, I would take a snow-white peacock hostage and refuse to leave. Rowling's magical world has created such immense opportunities for an attraction such as this that it is painful to realize the boundaries the park deals with in reality.
Stroll down Diagon Alley and you'll be able to produce a corporeal patronus right then and there.
While outwardly movie-quality, an hour or two into your experience will reveal all the dissatisfaction of a set. While storefronts are interactive, there are only a handful that are actually operational, and even those can be lackluster. I found myself longing for the almost-obnoxious thoroughness of the Walt Disney parks and, while I have no need to see a goblin in Mickey ears, it is clear Disney has more experience creating magic than Universal Studios.
The food is amazing, the drinks enchanting and the menus ever-changing. The prices, while a bit steep, were nothing compared to what I expected.
After perusing several shops, you will come to the conclusion that you don't really need to visit any more. With the exception of a few specialty stores, the variety of products don't really change and are somewhat lackluster. I saw the same Quidditch shirt in about eight different places, resulting in eight different moments of disappointment in its quality. The prices, also, are not exactly Weasley-friendly, and we left without buying anything. When it comes to Potter paraphrenalia, Etsy is greatly preferable.
© 2018 Elyse Maupin-Thomas