Everything You Need to Do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
My recent visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was just like – for lack of a better word – magic. From Diagon Alley to King’s Cross Station in London, to the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 ¾, to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle… I felt as if I was inside the books and movies. Whether you’re a (super)fan of the series, a muggle or a squib (i.e. not a fan) you will be enchanted by the Wizarding World. I’m sharing everything you need to do and experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL.
Stay at an On-Site Hotel
First off, I suggest you stay at a Universal Partner hotel (Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel or the Hard Rock Hotel). This will allow you early admission to the Wizarding World (8 am) an hour before the park opens to the public. The Wizarding World is basically the main attraction right now at Universal and it attracts thousands of people every single day. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not crowded. You’ll want early access to experience Diagon Alley before the crowds. Right now, only Diagon Alley opens at 8 am (no access to Hogsmeade via Islands of Adventure). You can spend your hour in London, Diagon Alley or for you baddies, Knockturn Alley. You can also line up for the Hogwarts Express, which leaves at exactly 9 am and drops you off in Hogsmeade. Be sure to get a park-to-park ticket to access both worlds (Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure, and London, Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley at Universal Studios Florida).
Spend some time in London
The Wizarding World would not be complete without a taste of London. Before entering Diagon Alley, spend some time strolling London. Take in the architecture (look for the Leaky Cauldron!) and chat with the conductor of the Knight Bus, Stan Shunpike. Then, take a break at the (the replica of the) Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. Afterwards, be sure to step into the red telephone box (hint: dial MAGIC). Make a stop at Number 12, Grimmauld Place and sneak a peek at Kreature. Just this is enough to make any fan grin from ear to ear!
When you first enter Diagon Alley, you’ll swear you’re a wizard (or witch) inside the real Wizarding World! The storefronts (Ollivanders, the Hogshead, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour…) are as real and as detailed as the first time you read about them all. And at the centre of it all? Gringotts Wizarding Bank, of course. Watch out for the dragon atop the bank; every 10 minutes he breathes fire. Every shop, whether open or just a storefront, is worth pondering over. Flourish and Blotts holds The Monster Book of Monsters, Fred and George’s Joke Shop has a display of Puking Pastilles and Spindlewarps has Self-Knitting Needles (just like Molly Weasley has!).
Don’t miss Knockturn Alley – upon entering, you’ll be enveloped into the dark (“it’s bewitched, to look like the night sky!”) and you’ll feel instantly cold. Visit Borgin and Burkes and become a Death Eater (i.e. get yourself a dark mark temporary tattoo). Listen for the chirping bird inside the Vanishing Cabinet. There is so much to do in Diagon Alley that I simply can’t name it all but as long as you take your time, be patient with the crowds and stop to appreciate the small details (painted ads on sides of buildings, the House-Elf Placement Agency, speak Parseltongue to the serpent at the Magical Menagerie, a travel agency!…), then you’ll get all your O.W.L.S. (Oh, and don’t miss the Escape from Gringotts ride!)
Take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade (just beside the Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure). Like most rides, the queue is quite fun: you’ll catch a glimpse of the “Magic” perfume ad from the sixth film, walk through the station and listen to the announcements, and finally make your way to your cabin on the train. Once you’re off, the journey is an experience in itself (keep your wand at the ready!)
Ah, Hogsmeade, every young (and old) witch’s and wizard’s favourite spot; the snowcapped boutiques (the Owlery and Ollivander’s, Honeydukes and Zonko’s Joke Shop), the Three Broomsticks, the train conductor greeting you at the entrance of the Village, Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom (girl’s only!) and of course, Hogwarts Castle. Like Diagon Alley, explore Hogsmeade slowly and thoroughly – you don’t want to miss the screaming Mandrake at Dogweed and Deathcap or the Chocolate Frog display at Honeydukes.
Photo by Laura Verbich
Hogsmeade houses 3 unique rides: Dragon Challenge (a high-speed rollercoaster with a queue reminiscent of the Goblet of Fire), the Flight of the Hippogriff (great views of Hogwarts and a sneak peek into what Hagrid’s hut must be like #IRL), and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (i.e. the best ride ever). HP and the Forbidden Journey is built inside the Hogwarts Castle, so you’ll be lining up and walking through the castle (Dumbledore’s office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor Tower…). Then, you’ll fly with Harry and Ron, where they take you to see a Quidditch game. And of course, in true Harry Potter terms, that doesn’t go exactly as planned – but you’ll have loads of fun on your way to the pitch.
Photo by The Blonde Abroad
Have a Butterbeer
Indulge in a Butterbeer at one of the many establishments or stalls throughout the HP World (The Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Leaky Cauldron, The Three Broomsticks). I prefer the latter since this is where HP and his friends have their sugary elixirs. N.B. Pumpkin juice is the choice for the vegan lifestyle (Butterbeer is topped with dairy cream). For a complete guide to eating vegan in Orlando, check out my most recent guide here.