Theme Park Guide: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Travel- HPEven though it was years ago, I still remember where I was when I turned the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I had read it in one sitting in my dorm room, staying up all night and skipping class to finish it. I remember closing the book, and then laying down on my bed. A dual sense of satisfaction and loss came over me. The story felt so real, and I was captivated by the magic of Hogwarts in a way that I had never been and have yet to be with a book. The satisfaction was because I knew I had just read one of the great stories of my lifetime, and I knew that I would read it over and over in years to come. The sense of loss came from the emotional ending, but it also came from the understanding that Harry Potter wasn’t real, and I would never get my Hogwarts letter.

Not long after the series came to a close, Universal Studios announced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Along with every other potterhead out there, I was ecstatic. More than four years after the grand opening of Hogsmeade in Orlando, I finally made it.

You know how sometimes people hype something up so much that when you finally experience it, it’s a let-down? I admit that I worried I would feel that way about Harry Potter World. I figured there was no way it could be as good as I imagined it in my head. There’s no way what I’ve read over and over again in the books and watched multiple times in the movies could be replicated in real life, right? Clearly, I underestimated the lengths to which Universal — and a LOT of money — can go. It turns out that Wizarding World of Harry Potter dazzled even my wildest expectations. I can honestly say that for a diehard fan, it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

Enjoy the pictures by clicking any photo below, then scroll down to read more about our adventure!

If you’re as crazy about Harry Potter as I am, you may very well spend your first day in jaw-dropped awe. I walked around in a giddy trance, repeatedly saying “Whoa!” It’s a lot to take in! The detail is overwhelming in the most wonderful way. Since there is so much, it’s worth knowing a few things before you go.

The Park-to-Park Is Worth It

My best advice is take your time and get a park-to-park pass. Universal knows how to make money, and they’ve made the brilliant, if annoying, decision to put Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. If you want to see them both and take the Hogwarts Express between them, you’ll have to get the park-to-park pass.

If you have the time to stay a few days, it makes the per-day cost more reasonable, and it makes you less rushed. We got the four-day park-to-park, and that was the perfect amount of time to see everything in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (some things twice or three times!) with a little time to spare for other Universal attractions and an afternoon trip to downtown Orlando.

The Best Rides at Wizarding World

The rides at Wizarding World are more about simulating experiences from the books than they are about adrenaline rushes, but if you’re a big HP fan, you’ll appreciate this. You can play quidditch, ride the Hogwarts Express, fly with dragons, rob Gringotts, and more!

1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Hogsmeade). This was our favorite, hands down. We rode it 3 times. It takes place inside the Hogwarts Castle, and it’s what I would call a “story ride.” Through the use of effects, video, audio, and holographic elements, you ride on a Great Hall dining chair with Harry, Hermione, and Ron as your guides. You’ll zoom through the castle, the quidditch pitch, and more on this fabulous journey. It’s as close to magic as you’ll get while at Wizarding World, I think. And while you will almost certainly wait a while for this ride, you won’t mind, because you get a full, detailed tour of the castle — everything from the greenhouses to Dumbledore’s office. (Also, for those who don’t like roller coasters, this is not a coaster, which means just about anyone will love it!)

2. Hogwarts Express (Runs between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley). Pure magic. From the moment the big red steamer chugs into the station to the moment the conductor announces you can disembark, you’ll feel like a Hogwarts student. And Kings Cross station, in particular, is full of all kinds of details, including a screen that makes it look like you disappear into the wall onto Platform 9 and 3/4. And watch out for Neville’s toad, Trevor…he’s on the loose again!

3. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley). Not as good as Forbidden Journey, but close. Still, we didn’t feel the need to ride this one repeatedly. This one has a few more thrills and gets up to higher speeds, but the story wasn’t as exciting.

4. Dragon Challenge (Hogsmeade). Thankfully, they changed this ride so that it doesn’t duel anymore. That caused quite a few unfortunate accidents, but it’s much safer now. This is the fastest ride, and the truest coaster in HP world, so if that’s what you’re after, this ride is for you. You’ll also find lots of fun Tri-Wizard Tournament artifacts, including the Goblet of Fire, while standing in line.

5. Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmeade). If you’re thinking of skipping a ride, skip this one. While seeing Hagrid’s Hut and Buckbeak is fun, this ride is over in about 30 seconds and has no thrill, no story, no nothing. However, if you’re about five, you’ll probably love it. The kids in front of us were dying to do it again. Definitely more kid-oriented.

Pro tip: take the single rider line. If you have no need to stay with your group, you can cut your wait time in half, or sometimes much more, by being a single rider. Sometimes, though, it means you’ll miss the details and decorations of a ride. We waited over an hour in the regular line on our second time doing Forbidden Journey just to get the full tour of Hogwarts.

Hogsmeade vs. Diagon Alley: Which is Best?

Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley?This is a tough question to answer, and it’s why I would recommend park-to-park. In terms of detail and amount of shops, Diagon Alley wins, but Hogsmeade has Hogwarts, and Hogwarts always wins.

If rides are what you’re looking for, Hogsmeade is probably more for you, as it has more rides and better ones. (See above.) If food and shops are what you’re looking for, Diagon Alley will probably suit you better. Diagon Alley also has more space and better traffic flow, but remember that it’s newer and more crowded.

Honestly, I can’t pick. They’re both spectacular.

What You Can’t Miss

  • Butterbeer. It is absolutely as delicious as you want it to be. We had to have one each afternoon we were there, because what’s more authentically wizard-like than window-shopping in Diagon Alley while sipping butterbeer? Nothing, I tell you. Pro tip: get your butterbeer in Diagon Alley at The Fountain of Fair Fortune, instead of from the barrel in Hogsmeade. The lines at Fair Fortune were consistently shorter. And if you’re into ice cream, get butterbeer ice cream from Fortescue’s in Diagon Alley.
  • Diagon Alley at Night. Plan to do this at least once. It takes on a completely different feel with all the shops lit up, and the fire-breathing Gringotts dragon is much more ominous in the evening.
  • The Leaky Cauldron. Great food and reasonable (for a theme park) prices. I loved my Guinness lamb stew. Also, if you’re into beer, they serve brews here that are exclusive to Wizarding World: Wizard’s Brew Stout and Dragon Scale Lager. The Wizard’s Brew was delicious.
  • Stalking someone with an interactive wand. Okay, don’t actually stalk them, but don’t ignore the kids standing in front of shops practicing their swish and flick. They’re probably making something cool happen in a window or alley with their interactive wand. If you don’t want to fork over the money for one, just keep your eyes peeled for the little plaques on the ground that signify interactive wands can be used. We were able to observe quite a few of these tricks as passersby.
  • Red Oven Pizza Bakery at CityWalk. Not in Wizarding World, but at Universal’s CityWalk. We ate here twice, and it was excellent. If you don’t want to fight the crowds to eat inside Harry Potter, but you still want good, reasonably-priced food, Red Oven is fantastic. Very fresh ingredients, and quite large for personal pans.
  • Islands of Adventure Trading Company. If you’re looking for Harry Potter souvenirs, I recommend shopping here.
    Lake Eola Park
    Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando.

    This is one of the “Port of Entry” shops in Islands of Adventure, so it’s easy to access, and it’s nowhere near as crowded as any of the shops inside Harry Potter World. And as far as we could tell, you can pretty much get all the same products, and even a few we didn’t see in Wizarding World. It’s definitely worth buying your candy here, because you’ll be in line at Honeydukes forever if you don’t.

  • Downtown Orlando. I realize this is not in Harry Potter World…but if you get tired of the theme park madness, head on down to Lake Eola Park in the center of downtown Orlando to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

In terms of how I like to travel, theme parks are rarely on my list. But I made an exception for Wizarding World, and I don’t think it’ll be the last time I do it, either. What a magical place! If you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t delay and apparate yourself there pronto!

Have you ever been to Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Tell me your favorite things! And if you love traveling, check out my travel posts.

7 thoughts on “Theme Park Guide: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  1. What a great post! I have had this on my list since it opened. Plus, my family lives in Florida and my best friend from middle school lives in Tampa, so I really have no excuse for not going. Love your recommendation for the single rider line. I’ll have to remember that when I finally go. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Elissa! It really is spectacular. A truly magical experience for any HP fan. Someone told us about the single rider line while we were there and it cut down our wait time by a lot! Probably saved us several hours. 🙂

      Like

  2. Beyond loved reading this post! I think this looks incredible! I can see what you mean about the similarities, although I am very jealous that it appears you can actually go inside the shops. Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter studio tour was just the exterior, you couldn’t actually go inside. Also, Hogwarts castle looks amazing. I would have most definitely cried – thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! It was a totally magical experience as I’m sure the studio tour was. And yes, you can enter most shops although that was a bit disastrous for my wallet. I almost cried on the ride the first time in the castle. It felt so real!!

      Liked by 1 person

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