As I mentioned in my first post, last month I got to cross something off my bucket list - visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando! Most of you probably know all about it, but for those who don't, I'll give a little back story! It originally opened in 2010 at Islands of Adventure, which is one of the two theme parks at the resort. This section features the village of Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts castle. In July of this year they opened a new area in Universal Studios, which highlights Diagon Alley and London. The two parks are "connected" by the Hogwarts Express train!
I went to Florida with my parents for vacation in August, for the first time in almost 7 years. A college friend of mine, Sean, lives and works right in Orlando, so we had been discussing getting together while I was down there. Luckily, he knows how much of a Potterhead I am, and agreed to go to the parks with me for a day!
We got there as the gates opened and decided to go to Diagon Alley first. I thought if we got on line for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts as early as possible, our wait time would be shorter. Boy was I mistaken! We waited in line for two and a half hours - I guess everyone else had the same idea as I did! I didn't mind too much though, because it gave Sean and I time to catch up, and I could take in all the details of Diagon Alley! But I'm getting ahead of myself already, so let me back up a bit!
Before you walk into Diagon Alley, you're on a Muggle London street. The Knight Bus is set up next to a replica of Eros Fountain from Piccadilly Circus in London.
Unfortunately you can't actually go on the bus, but there is an area in the back that you can peek into!
For those of you wondering, yes, Stan Shunpike is standing at the door to the bus!
There are a lot of great little details hidden throughout both parks that only real Potterheads will appreciate. This may seem like an ordinary apartment building to some, but we know that it's really Grimmauld Place...
... and if you linger outside long enough, you may just catch a glimpse of a certain traitorous house-elf in the window of number twelve!
More of Muggle London...
You can actually dial the phone inside the booth, but unfortunately it wasn't working when we tried :(
After you get over the fact that you're in London, you remember that you came here for MAGIC! The actual entrance to Diagon Alley is hidden behind a facade (as it should be!) You can even hear bricks rumbling as you walk through!
Once I passed through the archway, I stopped in my tracks... I couldn't believe what I was seeing!
There are so many great little details within Diagon Alley. Like a House-Elf Placement Agency:
Dr. Filibuster's Wet-Start, No Heat Fireworks "Store" (just a front, you can't actually shop there):
Goblin statue outside of the entrance to Gringotts:
The main attraction in Diagon Alley is the ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The majority of your wait time is probably going to be spent outside, but once you enter the lobby, it just takes your breath away!
I think the goblin below is the one you can ask questions to and he answers, but the line was moving pretty swiftly at this point, so I didn't get the chance to try.
Yes, all portraits move and talk!
Once you get downstairs in Gringotts, you get your picture taken with whoever you are riding with, and proceed down a hallway lined with all kinds of cool things, like copies of the Daily Prophet (also had moving pictures!)
Discussing wizard business behind closed doors!
And of course, all the goblins need their own offices, especially important ones like Griphook!
The ride is absolutely incredible! I definitely will not spoil it for anyone, but I will say that it is a MUST for all Harry Potter fans. Or fans of exciting ride experiences. Or fans of thrill seekers. Okay, really, everyone should go on it.
The giant dragon on top of Gringotts has to do with the story of the ride. Every 10-15 minutes, it roars and breathes fire!
If your sweet tooth is aching, you can stop for an ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour!
After waiting for so long to go on the Gringotts ride, we were absolutely starving when we got off! Where does one eat lunch when in Diagon Alley? The Leaky Cauldron, of course! I got a chicken sandwich and it was absolutely delicious! (I was so hungry I didn't even think to take a picture of my food!)
And what else would you drink for lunch when in the Wizarding World, but BUTTERBEER!! They serve both frozen and regular, for my first I got a regular butterbeer in a souvenir mug! It was heavenly! I know there are some recipes floating around the interwebs, which I will try eventually, but I don't think anyone would be able to replicate the foam on the top of the drink, which for me was the best part! Throughout the day I had at least 4 drinks, 3 regular and one frozen - I definitely prefer the regular one!
We walked around a bit more after lunch and took a look in the shops. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was by far the coolest!
These characters - perched on top of the U-No-Poo bottles - reminded me of South Park!
The shop was designed to look like it was two floors, but only one was accessible. There were fireworks going off in the ceiling!
They even had a unicycle featuring Dolores Umbridge!
My camera batteries died and I couldn't replace them for almost an hour, so I didn't get any pictures of Knockturn Alley! :( But it was so cool, and very dark! You can even go shopping in Borgin & Burkes, where they have a lot of Deathly Hallows, Sirius, Bellatrix, and Voldemort merchandise. They also have replicas of the Vanishing Cabinet and the Hand of Glory!
I did find this one picture on my phone, which I took because the phoenix is one of the symbols of my sorority!
After thoroughly exploring Diagon Alley, we took the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure! But getting to the platform is an adventure of it's own! They actually built a mini King's Cross Station!
Traveler, beware: Since the train goes between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, you MUST purchase a two-park pass in order to ride! Tickets are checked as you walk into the station, and you will not be able to get anywhere near Platform 9 3/4 without having the correct ticket.
I still didn't have batteries for my camera at this point, so these are the only few pictures I had on my phone!
This is the actual Platform 9 3/4, it was HUGE!
Hedwig was even there!
The train ride to Hogsmeade isn't your average journey! There are lots of surprises along the way, none of which I will spoil for you! However, I do offer this one piece of advice: ride the train twice, once in each direction. It is a different trip each way!
This is where you arrive once you get to Islands of Adventure - Hogsmeade Station!
I was in love with the sign at the entryway arch, "Please respect the spell limits" instead of speed limits!
Everything was covered in snow, it also reminded me of the village from Beauty and the Beast!
We went into Honeydukes! They had obscene amounts of candy - all I wanted was a Chocolate Frog!
The attention to detail was astounding - this "sickles only" sign was on a machine in the shop.
We didn't go into the Three Broomsticks (below), it seemed very crowded at that time of day, and I was very eager to get to Hogwarts!
I highly recommend checking out the Owl Post! They have a lot of cool souvenirs, including a Gryffindor baby onesie!
Right outside the back door of the shop, they have a little area where you can buy journals, picture frames, quills, and postcards. The postcards are only $1 each, and if you ask, they will stamp them with the official seal of Hogsmeade! I sent 4 cards to friends, and kept one for myself! You can mail them right there too, but I advise bringing your own stamps - unless you're okay with paying $14.95 for 10 stamps!
The Monster Book of Monsters is inside a cage!
Now, I don't have children (yet), but if I'd had more spending money, this absolutely would have been purchased for my future child. Some day...
And then we finally made it to Hogwarts!
To get to the ride in the castle - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - you first have to make your way through the dungeons (too dark for pictures), the greenhouse, Dumbledore's office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and some other rooms! It was so incredibly magical, I will let the pictures do the talking!
The House points! (I almost walked right by this without noticing!)
Just before entering Dumbledore's office, you pass a giant griffin statue.
Huge chamber of talking portraits
Dumbledore's desk - there is a video of him, it's hard to capture a picture but you can just make out his beard!
The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom
Another video that was hard to get a picture of - the trio, setting up the premise for the ride!
How to cast a Patronus!
Quidditch supplies in the hallway
The Sorting Hat!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was the most incredible ride! I definitely can't compare it to Escape from Gringotts, but they were both just unbelievable. We didn't go on any of the other rides (because they were outdoors and it was 100+ degrees that day) but it was worth the price of my admission ticket just to experience everything.
I had such a wonderful, truly magical day, and came away with some great souvenirs! Besides my Butterbeer mug, I also got a Hogwarts crest glass, a Ravenclaw pint glass, Ravenclaw magnetic bookmarks, a Ravenclaw patch (can you tell I which house I was Sorted into on Pottermore?), a Pygmy Puff (named Tuna), and a Chocolate Frog!
Side note: If you get a Pygmy Puff at Weasley Wizard Wheezes, they will ask if you want to have an adoption ceremony. SAY YES! It doesn't cost anything. Make sure you have a name picked out beforehand! I named mine Tuna, in honor of my friend Sean who came to the parks with me (it's his fraternity pledge name). The ceremony takes less than a minute, but it is SO worth it. I wish I had recorded it, because I laugh every time I think about it. Sean was hysterical the whole time it was happening.
Any Potterhead has to visit these parks at least once in their lifetime. Yes, it's somewhat expensive (I paid $137 for my one day, two park pass - and that was slightly discounted), but if you are a true fan, it is entirely worth it. I had a huge, little kid smile plastered to my face the entire day (at least that's what Sean told me!) and it was honestly the most magical day of my life.
Bucket list, CHECK!
Thanks for sticking with me til the very end ;)
Please enjoy this Harry Potter meme.