Visiting Harry Potter World in Florida or California? I’ve been to both and here are a few tips I learned when visiting these magical parks!
Harry Potter World in Florida is the biggest and the best. Located in the back of Universal Studios, it has two parts, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village/Hogwarts Castle, which are connected by the Hogwarts Express.
The park can get crowded, but the exquisite detail of the park keeps you captivated. Diagon Alley, as the newest installment of the park, is particularly amazing. Before entering, you’ll see the train station where platform 9 3/4 will take you on the Hogwarts Express. The Knight Bus is also waiting outside, with Stan Shunpike ready to tease and take pictures with you.
No muggles exist here, as soon as you enter Diagon Alley, you’ll walk around the magical bricks and you’re a wizard. The streets are lined with familiar shops and little treasures with the Diagon Alley theme music from the movie filling the air. The Leaky Cauldron is to your left, decorated to the nines and filled with classic British food, with a magical twist of course. To the right, Weasley’s Wizard Weezes, an exact replica of the movie shop where you can buy all manner of jokes, pygmypuffs, and skiving snackboxes.
Farther up, my sister and I rushed to Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, a gift shop where we bought wizards robes and scarves to match our Hogwarts houses (I’m a Gryffindor and she’s a Slytherin).
Keep in mind, going during the summer means extreme heat and humidity. Wearing your robes then is much harder, but we did it anyways. We ended the day as sweaty messes but the pictures and experience was worth it.
To complete the outfit, we went to Ollivanders. They offer an experience where you can have a wand pick you, or you have the option of picking a character’s wand or choosing a wand wood and core that best fits you. The experience is fun and worth it, they take you in the back where you can see the messy piles of wands stacked from floor to ceiling. Then they pick one person to come forward and try out some wands, usually a child or a person celebrating a birthday. My cousin was picked, and she tried out four different wands, each with different magical reactions around the room. Before finally, like Harry Potter, the wandmaker gave her a wand that chose her. Afterwards, we were ushered into the shop and my cousin bought her wand, while I looked around for one of my own. I picked the Elder Wand, a characters wand that passed through many hands but it most known for being Dumbledore’s wand.
Diagon Alley has only one ride and if you don’t want a long line, you have to go there first. Escape from Gringotts is located under the crooked pillars of Gringotts Bank. The ride is a motion simulated thriller where you ride through the bank and have to evade Voldemort, his death eaters, and other creatures, with the help of Hermione, Harry, and Ron. The line is long, but the design of Gringotts Bank makes the line seem like it passes by quickly. You’ll pass through the crooked doors and enter the bank lobby, full of marble, crystal, and goblins at work. Then you travel down deep into the heart of the bank, through dark caverns that lead you to the magic carts that take you on your journey.
The main sight of Diagon Alley is the dragon perched atop of Gringotts Bank, spewing fire every couple of minutes. Other than that, there are performances throughout the day, like the musical performance of Celestina Warbeck, Molly Weasley’s favorite singer. There’s a place where you can create your own moving pictures with your family, and a smaller wandshop where Gregorovitch sells his wands. There are other places to eat as well, like Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, where you can get creamy ice cream in magical flavors – get the butterbeer cone!
Diagon Alley also has a back alley that turns into Knockturn Alley, known for its sale of things devoted to the Dark Arts and where Death Eaters lurk. This part is smaller and dark, with a shop you can buy dark marks and other such souvenirs. My sister bought her dark mark here, to complete her Slytherin ensemble. There are many places here where you can use your “interactive wand” should you choose to buy one. I did, and upon buying one they give you a map where you can find spots to use this wand. Swish and flick and you’ll light up a lamp, make teapots spin, and make a skeleton dance.
Next, take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Village. This, as well as Diagon Alley, is an experience only available in Orlando’s park. Walking into the train station, you walk through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 to gain entry to the famous red train. Boarding, you’re ushered into a carriage and as the train moves, you’re transported into the movie. The window shows your journey through the UK, as well as some of your favorite characters on broomsticks. Then, the windows on the closed door have these characters walk by as well, then a visit from a Dementor. Exiting, you’ve entered the village of Hogsmeade!
As in Diagon Alley, the detail of this park is incredible and makes one feel as if they are in the film.
The actual village itself is a little smaller than its sister in LA, but has an additional ride. Upon entering, you’ll see the Three Broomsticks and its neighbor, the Hog’s Head. The Three Broomsticks is alike the Leaky Cauldron in that it offers classic British foods with that magical touch seen in Harry Potter. Between the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks, I recommend the Three Broomsticks because I like the atmosphere better. The Hog’s Head is for the drinkers in your groups, legal or not, with pumpkin juice, butterbeer, actual beer, spirits, etc.
There is an additional Ollivanders here, and is usually less of a wait so this would be the one to visit. Then there are the other shops, the Owl Post, Dervish and Banges, and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, located inside Hogwarts Castle. If you were to pick any of the shops, I would pick Filch’s because it is the biggest and offers the most Hogwarts paraphernalia.
Top Tip – Go to Honeydukes! This place is amazing, filled to the brim with every mouthwatering treat seen in the Harry Potter movies, and some you’ve never seen before! Splurge on a Chocolate Cauldron or bring back Acid Pops, Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans, and Chocolate Frogs with the trading cards for your family at home. Another tip – they’re great stocking stuffers!
(Below, a slightly smushed Cauldron Cake)
There are three rides in this park: The Flight of the Hippogriff, the Dragon Challenge, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. However, the Dragon Challenge is being replaced with another ride that will open in 2019.
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a small rollercoaster meant to be for family and young kids. Even if you aren’t a child anymore, you’ll still enjoy to ride by Hagrid’s hut on the back of Buckbeak.
The main attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. A 3D/4D experience in the heart of the Hogwarts castle where you soar through the skies with Harry, Ron, and Hermione as you face creatures from the Forbidden Forest, dementors, and the Whomping Willow. The line for this is long too, but the line winds through Hogwarts itself, making every Potterhead’s dream come true with an actual tour of Hogwarts. You move through the dungeons, then Professor Sprout’s Greenhouse, Dumbledore’s office, etc – weaving through the corridors will bring a new piece of Harry Potter magic with every twist and turn, with moving pictures and holograms to entertain you while you wait for the ride.
Entertainment for this side of the park includes a performance from the Frog Choir as well as one from students of the Triwizard Tournament. After every performance, the entertainers are welcoming of pictures and tell you little facts about their different wizarding schools.
LA’s park is limited to just the Hogsmeade/Hogwarts part. Located in Universal Studios LA, the park offers a bit of a less immersive experience due to its direct connections to other parts of the park, but it is no less magical and fun.
Only two rides are offered, both of which are at the Orlando park: The Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. They are near exact replicas from the outside and are just as amazing. The only difference is that the Forbidden Journey ride is newer here and is even more immersive, offering new sights and experiences. For the Hippogriff Ride, the track is more complex and is faster.
(Below, a slightly blurry picture of Hogwarts at night)
The Hogwarts Express isn’t its own ride like it is in Orlando, but you can still take pictures with it and in it, even with the station master. However, there are two things unique to the LA park, two shops actually. There are Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment and Gladrags Wizardwear, which is similar to Madame Malkins but focuses more on hats and little trinkets, I got a prefect badge here.
Other than the two shops above, all other shops are the same as in Orlando. So the Three Broomsticks, the Hog’s Head, Honeydukes, Dervish and Banges, etc – are all open! The entertainment is even the same! My tips from Orlando easily carry over to LA in this regard, except you have to realize that this park will be more crowded as it doesn’t have a Diagon Alley.
The heat here is not so bad as in Orlando because of the lack of the humidity, so don your robes, get out your wands, and head to the park! You may even be mistaken for an actual wizard (which I swear I was)!
Here comes my confession – Butterbeer tastes gross but the ice cream tastes good.