The Ultimate One-Day Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
From Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, here's your magical, muggle-friendly guide to Universal Orlando Resort.
Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express and Hogwarts Castle are just a few star attractions in the enchanting Wizarding World of Harry Potter.(Getty Images))
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of many themed worlds within Universal Orlando Resort. The experience is split into two sections, located in adjacent parks: Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade in Universal's Islands of Adventure. If you only have time or budget for one section, you'll have a difficult choice. Diagon Alley is full of colorful shops, interactive experiences and a detailed array of characters from the wizarding world. Meanwhile, Hogsmeade is (a tad) quieter, and comes with a magical view of Hogwarts Castle. Both sections have exciting attractions and themed food and drink options.
For the ultimate Harry Potter experience, don't choose one destination – visit both Orlando parks on a Park-to-Park ticket ($165), which also includes access to the Hogwarts Express that runs between the two. If you're ready to embark on an epic trip, here's the best way for wizards, witches and muggles alike to spend a day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Spend the Morning in Diagon Alley
Don't be fooled by that London Underground entrance; behind a twisting brick entry in the back "London" corner of Universal Studios Florida lies bustling Diagon Alley. But before you duck into the magical world, stop by 12 Grimmauld Place and try to catch a glimpse of Kreacher in the window.
Once you enter the alley, you'll see shops hawking all sorts of magic essentials – Quidditch gear, robes and gowns, Weasley-endorsed pranks and more. One of the most popular outposts is Ollivander's, where you can choose, er … be chosen by a wand. The interactive wands cost about $49 and allow you to hone your magic skills by casting spells at various points around the park (you'll get a handy marauder's map to point you to the interactive stations).
At the main junction in Diagon Alley, you'll find Gringott's, the wizard bank. Look up as you enter – the giant dragon atop the bank occasionally breathes real fire. Inside the grand bank lobby, you'll see goblins hard at work; you can even trade your muggle money for Gringotts bank notes. As you make your way farther into the underbelly of the building, waiting in line for one of the park's signature rides, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, you'll encounter familiar characters. The exhilarating 3-D roller coaster brings you face-to-face with Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and more villains as you try to escape the vaults back to the safety of Diagon Alley.
Before you head into Kings Cross to board the Hogwarts Express, slip into Knockturn Alley on the fringe of Diagon Alley. It's darker, colder, and … well, you'll see why Death Eaters like to hang out and buy souvenirs here.
Climb Aboard the Hogwarts Express
You can't apparate between the two sections of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But you can travel in young wizard style on the Hogwarts Express. Pass through the magical wall at King's Cross Station in Diagon Alley to board the train on Platform 9¾. Take your seats and keep your eyes peeled for some familiar sights out the train windows, but beware the dementors. The interactive experience changes each direction, so if you have the time, ride the train to Hogsmeade and back.
Spend the Afternoon in Hogsmeade
Snow-capped houses and an imposing Hogwarts Castle make up the original section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Similar to Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade is full of magical souvenir shops – there's an Ollivander's outpost, a Honeydukes full of chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods where you can load up on Hogwarts house gear.
From the train station, make your way through the village to Hogwarts. Inside the castle you'll explore some familiar haunts – portrait-hung hallways, Dumbledore's office the Gryffindor Common Room, and more – as you wait to board Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The 3-D ride takes you on a wild broom-flight adventure around Hogwarts, dodging dragons, dementors, Quidditch players and more.
Nearby is the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff ride. The junior roller coaster twists and turns through Hagrid's pumpkin patch in the shadow of Hogwarts.
Where to Eat and Drink
Need to refuel? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter wins the Triwizard Cup for best food and drink in Universal Orlando Resort. Like everything else in the park, the menus across both parks are crafted with the same careful attention to detail as the moving paintings. In Diagon Alley, don't miss the Leaky Cauldron, which has a pub food menu (think bangers and mash or kids' mac and cheese) or the Hopping Pot, which serves a variety of alcoholic and nonalcoholic refreshments. Over in Hogsmeade, make your way to the Three Broomsticks for food and desserts inspired by Rowling's novels and London pub fare. Or raise a glass at Hog's Head for some firewhiskey and specialty ales brewed just for the park. Wherever you go, don't leave without sampling a butterbeer — try it frozen for a cool treat.
How to Save Time and Money
All those Gillywaters and pumpkin juices can quickly add up. Give your wallet a break by bringing in your own water and food into the park. You can bring up to 2 liters of water and small snacks. Also, consider adding a Universal Express Pass to your ticket (starting at 64.99 for a two-park pass). You'll get expedited entry to all rides and the Hogwarts Express, allowing you to use those extra hours searching for horcruxes (or souvenirs) in park gift shops.
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Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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