This blog’s main focus is on Disney Parks. You should probably know that, it’s in the name of the site. Still, who doesn’t love a good field trip? Disney is my area of expertise (if you can call it that) but today we’re headed over to Universal Orlando to explore one of the most popular lands in the world.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has swept across all of the Universal Parks but Orlando holds the honor of being the first. On top of that, Universal Orlando also has a Harry Potter area in both parks – Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. Both of these lands are modern marvels in the theme park world.
While I’ve been to Wizarding World of Harry Potter several times, I am far from an expert so I’ve decided to take a somewhat unorganized approach to this post. I will be posting my thoughts on the lands along with whatever tips I have in bullet-point form. Think of this as a Universal Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter brainstorm. I’ll throw my thoughts and tips at the wall and see what sticks, hopefully some of it will be helpful to you. If you have anything to add (I hope you do!) then please put them in the comments. Let’s get started!
- First and foremost, both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are amazing. Like other IP-specific lands (Cars Land and Pandora – World of Avatar), these areas completely transport guests to the movie from which they are based on. I know little to nothing about the Harry Potter universe and still find these lands jaw-droppingly beautiful and engaging. For those that are interested in Harry Potter this is a must-do. For those that are interested in great theme park lands then this is a must-do. For everyone else (is there anyone?) then this is a “you definitely should do”. In other words, if you’re trying to decide if you should go see these lands and have the means to do so then go.
- I’ll get into the specific lands in a second but here’s my first tip: If you can afford it then get the park-to-park ticket. First of all, this makes you eligible to ride the Hogwarts Express. Yes, this is a cheap trick by Universal to get you to pay extra so you can ride this train. It absolutely works though. The train is a great attraction and if you have limited time then you’ll want to jump from park-to-park anyway. While I love these lands, I don’t love the Universal Parks so our stays are typically one or two days. This makes the park-to-park ticket a near necessity so we get ample time in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.
- Speaking specifically about the parks, I’ll start with Hogsmeade. This land features the area of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle. Hogsmeade is brilliant with snow-capped roofs and little shops. The scale of these shops is purposefully small to make way for the glorious Hogwarts Castle. Hogwarts towers above guests and is incredibly beautiful. The castle houses Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which is for my money the best attraction, not only in Wizarding World of Harry Potter but in Universal. The attraction takes you flying around Hogwarts with Harry, encountering many hairy (bad pun) situations. Forbidden Journey uses an incredible ride system and switches between physical sets and screens seamlessly. Walking through Hogwarts in the queue for the attraction is another incredible experience.
The land isn’t flawless though. Flight of the Hippogriff is a roller coaster designed for younger kids that sits across the walking path from Hogwarts. While the ride is harmless, the steel coaster is largely not dressed up and ruins a bit of the immersion. The same goes for a few other areas within the land as you can gaze off into other areas of the park. The streets and shops are also a little smaller than Diagon Alley as I don’t think Universal expected this to be quite as big of a phenomenon as it is. Still, this is picking nits, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle are phenomenal. My preferred time to be in the land is first thing in the morning. Something about snow-capped roofs and a castle make for a perfect way to start the day. Plus, this land gets hotter than Diagon Alley so doing it first thing saves you from the heat to an extent.
- Diagon Alley is the land I prefer, although I think its attraction is worse. Let’s start there. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is still a magnificent ride but doesn’t quite have the same whimsical feel as Forbidden Journey. This attraction takes guests on an escape from a dragon and a bunch of other stuff. It relies a little too heavily on screens but is still a thrill. This is another attraction where the queue is astounding. Guests travel through the Gringotts Bank, in all it’s splendor, before heading to the ride. Like the rest of the land, this queue is so absurdly detailed and aesthetically pleasing.
The rest of the land is the most immersive land I’ve ever been in. Again, not being a big Harry Potter fan I don’t really know what’s going on here but the area is blocked off from other areas of the park using some smart engineering. The shops are very fun to walk through and the ice cream shop is delicious. More than anything, walking around and absorbing the details and scenes are what really set Diagon Alley apart. Sitting on top of the bank is a dragon, the centerpiece of the land. He breathes fire every few minutes and this is something you don’t want to miss. I prefer this land at night, as the fire from the dragon offers a better contrast. The atmosphere is always wonderful in Diagon Alley but there’s something special about the land at night.
- The food options in both lands are solid. Hogsmeade features a counter-service restaurant called Three Broomsticks while Diagon Alley has a counter-service named Leaky Cauldron. Both have a British flair, featuring savory pies, fish and chips, and bangers and mash, among other options. The value is pretty fair as far as theme park food goes and the meals I’ve had there have all been good. No, the food is far from the highlight of the land but it’s one of the better options in both parks.
On top of the restaurants, both lands have fun candy shops. Melissa and I tried the Pumpkin Pasty at one of these shops (it was in both) and really enjoyed it. As I already mentioned, the ice cream in Diagon Alley is delicious and recommended.
- Another highlight of Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the amount of original drinks offered. The first that probably comes to mind is Butterbeer. I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy Butterbeer as it’s a little too sweet for me. Still, I feel like trying it is a must if you go. Almost a rite of passage thing. I did try the Peachtree Fizzing Tea last time I was in Diagon Alley and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are many other interesting drink options, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, throughout the land that are fun to partake in.
- My biggest tip when it comes to these lands is save ample time for each, especially Diagon Alley. While the rest of the Universal Parks are improving this resort still isn’t exceptional and other lands are still lacking compared to the Wizarding World. I recommend going to one of these lands first thing in the morning and trying to ride the attraction right away and then going to the other land and riding that attraction. Once both rides are done, spend some time in Hogsmeade either in the morning or right around lunch. Fill the rest of the day with attractions around Universal before heading to Diagon Alley around dusk. Soak up the rest of the day there. That’s my quick itinerary for the parks, I could go into more detail if there’s more interest.
- The question most often asked about these lands seems to be “will I still enjoy the lands if I don’t know a thing about Harry Potter?” While I’ve already addressed this to a degree, the answer is yes. Beautifully created lands with a great atmosphere and great attractions will work regardless of the source material. The same goes for Cars Land and Pandora, people want to be inside of inviting, mesmerizing atmospheres and this is exactly what Wizarding World of Harry Potter is. Think of these lands as for everyone but they might be enhanced by those who know the source material.
If it isn’t obvious, I love both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. These lands are some of the greatest achievements in theme park history and an area that you simply want to go back to. For those that have been, what do you think of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Do you have any tips to offer? Let us know in the comments!
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