The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I'm happy to say that I finally had the opportunity to visit both Harry Potter worlds in the Universal Parks in Orlando. Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are the locations from the books that have their own worlds for visitors to explore. Unfortunately, I visited during spring break, which is one of any amusement park's busiest times of the year. Ultimately, I was able to experience the parks at very different times—during the day when there were a lot of visitors and during the evening when things had slowed down a bit. My takeaway: as with all attractions, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has some things that are good, some bad, and some downright ugly.
Aesthetics: One of the park's biggest strengths is that, once you step into Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, you really feel like you’re there. So much attention went into every detail, from the ground to the roofs and everything in between.
Food: The food is great and will fill you up. I highly recommend getting early reservations for the Leaky Cauldron—it’s worth it. While I personally didn’t care for the butterbeer, my son loved it, so I'll consider it a good part of the visit. Just a heads up if you do decide to try the butterbeer: you have a choice of a souvenir cup or a regular cup. I'm sure you can guess which one is more expensive, but the decision is entirely up to you!
The Hogwarts Express Ride: The Hogwarts Express is also a great attraction, especially since it gifts you a few nice minutes to rest your feet. Additionally, a movie plays during your ride aboard the train and the movie from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure differs from the movie from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios. I recommend catching both if you can.
Wands: Another fun thing you can do is purchase an interactive wand that you can use to set off animatronics at both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Your wand purchase comes with a map detailing interactive spots around the parks. It also gives directions on how to move your wand and tells you what spell to cast to set off the animatronic. I noticed that a few of the spells were harder to master than others.
Now to the not-so-great factors of these parks.
Waiting: First of all, there were absolutely no express passes for some of the popular rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and the Hogwarts Express. No express pass means you have to wait. And during spring break, that’s exactly what we did—wait. Even with the early admission, wait times got up to 45 minutes in less than five minutes. The good news though is that the rides are always running, so the lines are rarely standstill and almost always moving. There are also great interior designs and animatronics to keep your attention while you wait. Of course, during the slow season you’ll be able to walk through with barely any wait; if this is the case during your visit, make sure to slow down for a moment to take in the details around you.
Bag Policy: Another downside is that there are no bags allowed on either the Forbidden Journey or Escape from Gringotts rides. There are temporary free lockers by the rides, unless you want to pay for a locker for the entire day. I didn’t take a bag into the parks, so I can’t say how well the temporary lockers worked. However, I was told that the bigger sizes always seem to be occupied and that they really aren’t that large. In fact, a few people complained they weren’t even long enough to hold the boxes that the wands come in. We were able to get around the wand box issue by putting my son's wand in the robe that he was wearing around the park. With the wand securely tucked away, we were able to have its container delivered to our onsite hotel.
Ready for the ugly? Okay, here goes.
Cost: It’s expected that anything in a theme park is going to have a high price tag. It’s also expected that anything related to one of the most beloved stories of all time is going to have a high price tag. But even these expectations aren't able to cushion the blow when you get the cost of your visit all totaled up. The robes alone were $99.00, and that was for children and adult sizes. The interactive wands started around $45, and if you wanted a wand display stand, that’s another $25. Small knickknack merchandise was also expensive—I didn’t see anything under $10, though maybe I was just looking in the wrong areas. The food prices varied, and some meals gave you more bang for your buck than others.
Crowds: Uglier than the prices were the crowds during the day. Again, I went during spring break, so I know the crowds I experienced were not indicative of year-round crowds. However, the two Harry Potter areas will always be the most crowded areas of the two parks. It was literally shoulder-to-shoulder spacing in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade when we visited. It was so uncomfortable that I told my son we would do one walk through during the day for him to see everything, but that all his activities and shopping would have to wait until the evening when the crowds had thinned. Thankfully, the evening was much better—there were just a handful of people shopping, and everyone else was in lines for the rides. My son was able to shop with plenty of elbow room and do interactive wand activities without having to wait in line. It was so busy during the daytime that people were forming lines to do the interactive wand activities. Just a personal note: though the interactive activities were great, my son and I both agreed that Disney’s Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure has much better interactive animatronics than the Harry Potter areas.
Overall, it was a great experience to visit Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. The trip was magical for my son, an avid Harry Potter fan. For him, walking around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade with his robe and wand made him feel like he was following in Harry Potter’s footsteps. I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, but even I got caught up in how much detail went into both areas. Long story short, a trip to Harry Potter's world will have its highs and its lows, but it's well worth the visit.