Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando
by Phyllis Larison
With the recent opening of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there is renewed interest in all things related to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. For Potter fans there is no place better than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando in Florida to experience the excitement and wonder of entering the world of the popular novels. Universal Orlando is located just a few miles from Walt Disney World and includes two theme parks—Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
Both of these theme parks at Universal include unique Harry Potter entertainment. The newest addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal is Diagon Alley, located at the Universal Studios theme park. I visited Diagon Alley recently and was amazed at the incredible detail that went into the design of the shops. The fantasy and magic of the books was actually brought to life! The entrance to Diagon Alley is just a narrow break in a brick wall and is easy to miss; I walked right past it on my first visit. After walking through the plain entranceway you are suddenly confronted with the colorful shops and bustling activities of Diagon Alley.
Perched above Gringotts Bank is a large dragon that breathes out fire every twenty minutes. It is mesmerizing to watch this very realistic dragon!
Among the many shops in the Alley perhaps the most famous (and crowded) is Ollivanders where you can test out and purchase wands that are associated with various characters in the Harry Potter novels. There are interactive wands, for $45, that allow you to wave the wand at fourteen spots throughout Diagon Alley and wonderful magical things occur; golden medallions on the ground indicate where to stand and how to wave the wand to experience the magic. This is a very fun activity for children and even for adults! Knockturn Alley, the darkest part of Diagon Alley, has several spots for testing an interactive wand; at one stop you can lead a choir of shrunken heads.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, one of my favorite places in the Alley, is a three story shop chock full of magic tricks to buy, games, toys and Harry Potter related candy such as Chocolate Frogs or Puking Pastilles.
The biggest attraction in Diagon Alley is the Escape from Gringotts ride which is an indoor coaster with ingenious 3D projections. When you enter the Gringotts bank to get on the ride you see a highly decorated interior with rows of goblins working on their financial records. An elevator takes you deep into the bank where you enter a 12-person car that careens through 3D story sets. A fire breathing dragon is just one of the intense effects that are quite spectacular!
The Hogwarts Express will take you from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (or vice versa). Note that you must have a two-park pass to go back and forth from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. When the train is moving, through the windows you will see scenes of London and the English countryside as well as Hagrid, other characters from the novels, and the looming Hogwarts castle; Dementor hands claw on the doors to your train compartment to add to the many special effects. Hogsmeade is a quaint village with shops and the impressively large Hogwarts Castle. Within the castle is Hogsmeade’s main attraction—the thrilling ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride is more intense than the Escape from Gringotts ride at Diagon Alley and if you prefer to see the castle and its magical interior without going on the ride you can go to a second waiting line for non-riders.
There are amazing things to see inside the Hogwarts Castle! Perhaps the most incredible are the paintings that have 3D figures which move and speak. The ride itself will have you flying through the air and confronting Dementors, the Whomping Willow, Aragog the Spider, a dragon and Harry and Ron on their broomsticks. Dragon Challenge, a huge inverted steel roller coaster, and Flight of the Hippogriff, a roller coaster for kids, are two additional attractions at Hogsmeade.
Would you like to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter yourself? We can help! Contact us for information or a no obligation price quote for your visit to Universal Orlando.