“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
– J.K. Rowling
Any true Harry Potter fan who has visited either Floridas or Californias Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter knows that it can be a giant roller coaster of emotions. If I remember correctly, I believe I cried the first time I walked through the open brick wall leading into Diagon Ally. It was like I walked right onto the movie set and into the reality I dreamed up when I was 11.
I went to Universal Studios in Orlando Florida for 36 hours with the intention of staying the entire day in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and guess what……. I did!
My situation is a little different from most people taking a vacation. My mom is a flight attendant and she takes me along on trips, once in a blue moon, while she works. It turned out that during spring break in 2016, she surprised and took me on the 36 hour trip to Orlando Florida. So, I had to research everything I needed to know before leaving the next day to see and experience as much as I could in the short amount of time I was there. Being the HP nerd that I am, I already knew most of the little-hidden secrets, but there’s always the fear of missing something truly magical. My advice would be, RELAX and take a chill pill. This place is huge!!!! Plan what you want to see the most and go from there. That way you get to see the stuff you really want and leave with limited regrets. I was just grateful to be there and I knew I would be taking my children and my nieces and nephews back one day.
Here is my list of magical experiences around this wonderful world.
(If you do not want spoilers and want the thrill of stumbling upon magical moments yourself, STOP reading.)
Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting the Wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Multi-Park Pass – Okay so here’s the rundown. The downfall of the Wizarding World is that it is two separate parks within Universal (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure). What does that mean? Well, it means that you have to buy a multi-park pass to visit Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and to board the Hogwarts express in between. (Those sneaky, money grabbing goblins must have been behind that idea.)
Hogwarts Express Conductor – Whether you’re starting off in Hogsmeade or getting off the train from Diagon Alley, ask the employees at London’s King Cross station how to find Platform 9 3/4. “You think you’re funny do ya?” They will look at you like you’re crazy, they will become annoyed, act confused or even make a sarcastic remark about how “bonkers” you are. When you do stand in line to board the train, you can see actual wizards and witches pass through the 9 3/4 barrier.
Hogwarts Express – The iconic Hogwarts Express is a guaranteed must-see because this is where Harry’s magical Adventure truly starts. Make sure you go both ways to see two different scenic views.
Call the Ministry of Magic – Outside Kings Cross Station is a red phone booth, go inside and dial 62442 (or MAGIC) and listen to the response. NOTE: Not every response is the same so try it a few times.
The Leaky Cauldron / Three Broom Sticks – The Leaky Cauldron can be seen from the London facade, just as it mentions in the books – “The Leaky Cauldron is a dingy London pub, sandwiched between a bookshop and a record shop on Charing Cross Road. The main entrance to Diagon Alley — where witches, wizards and others purchase magical goods — is located behind the pub.”
If you want a good place to eat, I would suggest either the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley or the Three Broom Sticks in Hogsmeade. Both serve large portions of fantastic food and good drinks.
Ollivanders – Even if you don’t get picked, it is still fun and whimsical to see. It’s fun to break Ollivanders shop while testing what wand works. After all, the wand chooses the wizard.
Cast some spells – I didn’t partake in this but I found a map that showed where each spell location was and I watched children attempt their magic skills. It was frustrating at times because I wanted to take their wand and show them how a professional does it. But when they finally did the correct movements or stood in the right spot, their eyes lit up with so much wonder and excitement. If you really want to completely immerse yourself, I recommend purchasing an interactive wand. Be a kid again. Go ahead and act your shoe size!
(Warning: Be careful where you stand, there might be some Fred and George proteges who will cast a spell and make you all wet.)
If you do purchase a wand and a map, take it into Knockturn Alley. The backlight will unveil more secrets and spells. For more information about the spell locations, check out the link to the Wizarding World Park.
Rides – This one is tricky. Because I went with a group of Adults, we always went in the singles line. This saved so much time and we almost always sat together anyway. However, you do miss seeing some interesting things. For example, when in the line for The Forbidden Journey, listen to the potions class being taught behind the classroom door. If you are visiting other areas in the parks, then I’d recommend purchasing an express pass or go in the offseason. Who am I kidding…. There is no offseason for Harry Potter! If you are going with children, then take the time and wait in the lines. There is a bunch of magical details to see and discover. I would recommend doing the rides first as soon as the park opens cause they do tend to be quite busy. If you are travelling with babies and smaller children, ask the ride attendants about baby swap. One parent goes on the rides while other watches the kids in a side room. When the first parent is done the ride, they swap out and the second parent can enjoy the adrenaline rush.
Knockturn Alley – Definitely something to see. If travelling with small kids, be careful as it can become quite spooky. As soon as you turn down the alley, there is a drop in temperature and the lighting is dimmed. I had a blast because you can listen to the fantastic singing of the shrunken heads and visit all the cursed objects in Borgin and Burkes. If you listen closely to the Vanishing Cabinet you can hear a subtle chirping. If you recall, one of the tests Malfoy performs was to send a bird to the sister cabinet located in the shop.
Moaning Myrtle – Of course, she’s hiding in the bathroom in Hogsmead. Where else would she be? Honestly, it was quite surprising while I was doing my business hearing Myrtle wail and complain. “Who would ever talk about ugly, miserable, moping, moaning Myrtle?” – Moaning Myrtle HPCoS.
Fire Breathing Dragon – When Harry Ron and Hermione escaped Gringotts on the back of the Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragon, he made his home on the top of Gringotts Wizard Bank in Diagon Alley. Every 15 minutes you will hear a grumble. Turn to face the wizard bank and watch this magnificent beast breath fire. But be careful, It can become quite warm.
Galleons, Sickles and Knuts… Oh, My! – You can exchange your old muggle money for Wizarding currency. To do that — you have to interact with a sometimes grumpy goblin. You can exchange your U.S. currency for Gringotts banknotes which can be used for purchases within Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in Universal Orlando Resort. For more information, visit the Universal Orlando Gringotts Money Exchange website.
However, I skipped Mr. grumpy and bought my coin set at the Orlando airport Harry Potter Gift Shop, which came in a black case. I’d rather keep the souvenir coins.
Kreacher – When visiting the outside of number 12 Grimmauld place, be sure to keep an eye on the windows to see the cranky house elf who serves the black family open and close the curtains.
The Knight Bus – You can talk to a conductor of the knight bus, Stan Shunpike, along with the shrunken head in the window outside of Kings Cross Station. They interact, answer questions, tell stories and make plenty of jokes all specific to the people they are talking to. However, it is generally pretty busy with crowds of kids listening and taking pictures. My trick is to go around to the back of the bus. There is a platform where you can stand in the bus and get some great pictures.
Everything Moves – Even the Hogs Head in Hogshead pub – That’s fun to say. The hogs head in the pub behind the bar snarls and grunts at guests. I should not have been surprised but that thing startled me. The black carriage moves as if an anxious thestral is waiting to bring students up to the castle. Basically anything in windows, cellos play themselves, a tape measure cat sways its tail, Mandrakes cry, owls hoot and move their heads, chess pieces fight themselves and so much more.
Beverages – Yes, Butterbeer is a must try just to say you’ve had some. I, myself did not like it one bit. It was overly sweet and not what I imagined reading. It’s literally cream soda with butterscotch syrup. Kids, on the other hand, probably love it. But don’t be discouraged, in addition to butterbeer, there are other fantastic drinks to try such as Fire Whisky (which is a warm, cinnamon delight), Gilly Water, Pumpkin juice and the Hog’s Head Brew. I can’t wait to go back and try more of their magical drinks.
The Magical Menagerie – Before going inside this furry animal shop, go around the corner and see if you can understand parseltongue spoken by the giant boa constrictor inhabiting the shop window.
All Employees – The wizards working at both Potter-themed parks know their stuff — and they seriously stay in character. If you’re up for it, they will even challenge your brilliant Harry Potter knowledge. You never know what discussion you will get into.
At various points throughout the day, you can see the lovely ladies of Beauxbaxtons and the proud wizards of Drumstrang in Hogsmeade. You can also catch amazing performances from the re-enactment of “The Tale of the Three Brothers” or the musical stylings by renowned singing witch Celestina Warbeck (Molly Weasleys favourite singer).
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – Even the shop is magical. Much like the movie, the large Weasley tips his hat to you but when you look closer you can see a bunny rabbit appear and disappear before your eyes.
Madame Maulkins – This is such a Disney aspect. While you’re trying on your Hogwarts robes, you can expect the mirror to talk back to you and give compliments and comments in the robe shop.
Advertisements and Signs – While walking through Kings Cross Station to board the Hogwarts Express, my mom wondered why I was so excited and taking pictures of perfume advertisements. #1, It’s the same advertisement Dumbledore looks at while picking up Harry in the Half-Blood Prince. But I guess only a true Harry Potter fan would appreciate the smaller details. #2, I’m in marketing….. Duh! I absolutely love everything to do with promotions and advertisements.
Owl Post – Yes, you can send a letter to friends and family by owl…. well kinda, at least it has the official Hogsmeade postmark.
Movie Props – The whole place looks like its the actual set from the movies. They have replicas of almost everything. But, there are actually three actual authentic movie props used by the actors in Orlando’s Wizarding World. These three props are; Harry’s Yule Ball suit, Hermione’s Yule Ball dress and Mr Weasley’s Ford Anglia. But I’m not telling where they are. Other lesser-known props include the Quidditch trophy in The Quality Quidditch Supplies store and the luggage in the Leaky Cauldron.
Even though it feels like I spoiled a lot of the secrets behind this magical world, there are much more details and magic to discover for yourselves. You could easily spend an entire day seeking out all the subtleties — I did, and it was amazing! Although, there is probably a lot that even I missed. My advice again is to take your time and HAVE FUN.