The Harry Potter book series is one of my favorites, and anyone who loves the books as much as I do knows that in 2010, Universal Studios opened up a new section of their Islands of Adventure theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade. Since then, I’ve been lusting over the idea of visiting this park. My interest skyrocketed in mid 2014 when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley opened in the Universal Studios Orlando park. Just the idea of seeing the books and movies come to life in an immersive adventure was exciting and I’m beyond happy that we got to finally visit. There is so much about these parks that was amazing, it’s hard to know where to start!
Visiting central Florida in the winter months can be a bit of a gamble. We were mostly lucky with our weather and decided to go on a Monday to hopefully have less of a crowd. The weather held out for about half the day, but the crowd situation was great. There were people, as you can see in my pictures, but most of the time, ride lines were about 30-45 minutes or less for the regular lines. We got to the park around 9:15AM, and decided after getting some advice from a friend, to pay the extra $6 for preferred parking($25 total). If you have small kids, or don’t want to trudge up a lot of stairs, or in our case, do so in the rain, preferred parking is right up in the front, and it’s only a few extra bucks.
We had Park-to-Park tickets which allowed us to visit both theme parks, which are connected by, what else, The Hogwart’s Express! The train is considered a ride, and it’s essentially just like the one Harry, Ron and Hermione take to Hogwarts. Complete with Dementors and an escort from the Weasly twins and Hagrid, this ride is a fun way to get from one town to the other. If you don’t have the Park-to-Park tickets you can only visit the town that’s in the park you bought tickets for. The cost is about $100 for a single park ticket, or $125 for the combo ticket.
We started at Diagon Alley, so that seems a fitting starting point. As you walk up to the London street-scape you might notice a large fountain off to your left with a suspicious looking purple bus behind it. You can get your picture taken with the Night Bus driver, and make sure you go around the back of the bus to get a good look inside! At the far end of the street you will see King’s Cross Station. This is where you will catch the Hogwart’s Express on platform 9 3/4, if you’ve gotten your owl, that is. Otherwise, the street looks pretty…boring? But wait, what’s that? Where is that guy going, back into the folds of a slim wall? We followed him around the corner, and BAM! Diagon Alley emerges in front of you with colors, sounds and smells. Look straight ahead and behold Gringott’s Bank adorned by a fire breathing dragon! Yeah, I was beyond giddy to be there!
Unlike a lot of other theme park lands, Diagon Alley is set up with more actual shops, like Ollivander’s where you can get your own wand and even have Ollivander himself help you, er, help that wand choose you (if you’re lucky). We wandered through Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and picked up a chocolate frog and some fizzing whizbees. I purchased a sweatshirt in the Quiddich Supply store and we gazed at wonderful things in Borgin & Burkes and Wiseacres. You could have lunch here at the Leaky Cauldron, but we opted for Ice Cream in Florean Fortescues…Butterbeer ice cream that is!
A note about those wands from Ollivander’s: if you pay attention to a lot of the little kids in the park, many of them will have the interactive wands which allow the user to do magic in the park! With those wands you get a special map and spells that you can cast in hidden places, and then the magic happens! It’s wonderful to see a child waiving their wand and saying the special spell to make a fountain spirt water at them, or have a seemingly boring display come to life. We only got the regular collector’s wands, but if I had a child, the extra few bucks for one of those interactive wands would make their day even better.
I’m not much for roller coasters but I did go on the Escape From Gringott’s ride which is a 4-D adventure compete with fire and snakes! Diagon Alley is full of fun, and we spent a solid 2+ hours there before heading over to King’s Cross Station. The Hogwart’s Express was a fun way to get from one park to the other and while the wait was really little for our first trip, coming back in the rain was a much longer time. I Imagine this can be exponentially larger based on the number of ropes and waiting areas we passed on our way to the platform.
Hogsmeade is the wintry village that Harry and his friends visit during a holiday break. Tall, lean buildings are overshadowed by the looming Hogwart’s castle. Again, not really a fan of roller coasters, but we did learn that even if you don’t plan on taking the ride you can still tour the castle with everyone who is waiting in line. You go in through a separate entrance and follow a different path than everyone else though. You can see Dumbledore in his office and listen to the musings of the many Hogwart’s resident paintings. It’s a neat experience if you don’t ride the coaster.
We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, where i finally got my frozen butterbeer. Deliciousness in a cup! We each got the meal plan which was $20 for a meal, 2 drinks and a ‘snack item’. My snack was the ice cream back in Diagon Alley. The plan is a decent deal if you figure on the two drinks since one beverage alone is several dollars. The food was as expected, cafeteria-esqe but we were fed and happy to continue on.
Hogsmeade doesn’t have nearly as many fun shops and Diagon Alley, but it does have more rides, which depending on your wants, might determine your park of choice. However, for the extra $25 I’d say just get the park-to-park pass and you’ll be able to spend all day in Harry Potter world if you want.
After Hogsmeade we left Harry Potter and wandered the rest of the park, stopping in Dr Seuss land to ride the Caroseussel. A lot of the park could stand to be updated and wasn’t nearly as busy as I expected it to be. Jurrasic Park was cool, and Marcus enjoyed the Super Hero area. After we looped back around, we took the Hogwart’s Express back again (it’s a different adventure than the first time) and grabbed a few souvenirs on the way out before heading back to Winter Haven.
Even with the rain, which made sure we were completely soaked before we left the park, I had an amazing time. If we lived in Florida I would totally have a season pass, and I’d become a creepy loiterer. The Butterbeer is reason enough! If you love Harry Potter, you’ll love these two parks. If they continue adding on, I think it would just keep getting better and I’d go back. The park prices are very hard to stomach, but they are on par with all the other theme parks in Orlando. Entertainment isn’t cheap there and it’s very important to budget not only for your park ticket but for the over-priced food and of course the special things you’ll take home. The park was beyond my expectations and if you go, hopefully it will be just as magical to you as it was to me!