I know I’m hardly unique when I say I love Harry Potter, but there’s just something so magical about the experience of reading the books and watching the movies. Your ordinary world feels transformed, and as if something special is just around the corner.
So it should come as no surprise that I asked Greg whether we could visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal while we were in Florida. I’m not sure whether Greg would have assented based on just my request alone, but when he heard his nieces, E and W, also wanted to go, along with their parents, Katherine and Dave, he decided to make it a family outing.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split between two parks, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Hogwarts and Hogsmeade can be found at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida. You can take the Hogwarts Express train to travel directly between them (the Harry Potter locations are towards the back of their respective parks), or you can exit at the front of the park and walk about five minutes to the entrance of the other park.
Therefore it’s important to note that if you want to visit all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll need to purchase tickets to both Universal’s Islands of Adventure as well as Universal Studios Florida.
Before you dive into this post, check out my tips and tricks for visiting Universal. Reading that article before planning your trip will make your visit so much easier, I promise!
Now that you’ve read that post, you know how we were let into Universal’s Islands of Adventure an hour before the park opened. We headed straight to Hogsmeade as the sun rose, and wandered into the village to see Christmas lights still twinkling from the sloped roofs.
At the end of Hogsmeade is the most recognizable place from the Harry Potter films: Hogwarts Castle.
In addition to the Hogwarts Express, there are three rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, two of them at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey takes place inside Hogwarts Castle. While moving through the line you feel like you’re actually exploring the castle, providing a welcome distraction from the boredom that normally accompanies amusement park lines. Greg and I went on this ride twice, and because of this trick we only had to wait in line for ten minutes each time.
Outside Hogwarts Castle, and pictured on the right in the below picture, is Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s a moderate rollercoaster that’s appropriate for children, but still fun for adults too.
Even though there aren’t many rides, there is so much to do at Hogsmeade. Before exploring further, make sure you stop at Ollivanders, the famous wand shop. If you’re visiting with kids, it’s worth purchasing interactive wands for them. I’ll tell you why in a minute!
Even if you’re not planning on purchasing a wand, it’s still worth visiting to see the wand maker’s skit.
E and W got to work examining the wands.
And even though “the wand chooses the wizard,” and not the other way around, W still let me hold her wand for a picture!
Once the wands had chosen them, there was one thing left to do: make sure they worked!
With the interactive wands, there are places throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter where you can perform spells with your wand. You begin by standing on the designated markers and then you waive your wand in a certain way. Depending on where you are, something may fly across the window, or begin to spin, or shoot out water, or any number of magical events.
The girls had a lot of fun with their wands, and we had fun watching them cast spells!
I will say, though, that this is something that’s best for kids. While anyone can purchase a wand and cast spells, there were often a few kids in line at each location waiting to perform their spells. I would have felt weird, as an adult, waiting in line in front of children, and as far as I can tell no other adults were waiting in line either.
For breakfast we had to eat at the Three Broomsticks!
We sat on the back patio with a fantastic view of Hogwarts Castle.
And don’t worry, we didn’t feed anything but ourselves!
Here we tried Butterbeer for the first time, which is basically butterscotch and cream soda. I’m sure that sounds gross but it actually tastes pretty decent. Although, it’s the kind of drink where you’re over it after a few sips.
We’d done all of this before 9am, so our morning was still just beginning! In the full light of day we were able to get a better look at Hogwarts Castle.
It’s amazing how realistic it appears, especially the rocks below it.
In the daylight we also fully appreciated Hogsmeade’s design, and the charming way the tops of the buildings tilted every which (or should I say witch?) way.
And there’s even an Owl Post where you can send mail postmarked from Hogsmeade!
We headed to the station just as the train pulled in.
The train ride is fun, and you’ll see some magical things happen outside the windows!
Then before you know it you arrive at King’s Cross.
And enter an area that looks exactly like London.
But the best wizards know how to find Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley is elaborately done and much bigger than Hogsmeade.
There are plenty of places to create magic with the interactive wands.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll even see snow!
And if you’re interested in the dark arts, you can visit Knockturn Alley. Greg wore a Slytherin lanyard and was greeted by a woman at Borgin and Burkes with a seductive, “Welcome back, Slytherin.”
But by far the biggest attraction in Diagon Alley, and the only ride there (besides Hogwarts Express, of course) is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
You enter an elaborate Gringotts bank, with realistic-looking goblins, and travel underground to begin the ride.
Then, when you’ve finally seen all of Diagon Alley, it’s worth heading back to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. That’s because each direction provides a different experience outside the windows.
Just enter King’s Cross station and look for platform 9 3/4!
For more information on visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, click here.
For all of my life hacks when visiting Universal, click here.
And now, sadly, it’s time to get back to reality!
For all of my Florida travel posts, click here.