A very happy October to you, my fellow Witches and Wizards! For me, October is my “year end” which I suppose does make me very witchy, but the timing seems very sensible when you’re a gardener in the northern hemisphere. Now that autumn, and all the joy it brings, is upon us, what better time to share my recent visit to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Universal Studios, Orlando.
Let me start with this, if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, or magical themes in general, and are wondering if visiting this park is going to be worth it for you, I assure you, it will be. I am not really into theme parks and all that hullaballoo. I don’t really care for roller coasters, superheros, cartoons, and suchlike but I love fantasy (more of a Tolkien, Alexander, Rowling, Pratchett, etc. gal myself.) Like millions, I am a huge Harry Potter fan and was excited to see the “world” that had been created at Universal Studios. I was not disappointed. We spent the majority of our day in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and definitely felt we got our money’s worth. Ready to start the tour?
When you arrive, you first see Grimmauld Place and the Knight Bus parked out front with Stanley Shunpike greeting passersby. That street looks pretty realistic, doesn’t it? It gets better…
Just like the books, you enter Diagon Alley via the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron. That’s when I started freaking out because everything suddenly felt very real. I will hand it to Universal, they put an insane amount of attention to detail and something else that I really loved was that once you were inside Diagon Alley, the sights and sounds of the rest of the park disappeared. (Not so with Hogsmeade which I’ll talk about in a minute.) In fact, it felt remarkably cooler in this section of the park, perhaps due to the shade from the taller buildings, but it was very welcome since it was about 90* the day we went. There was also the theme music from the Harry Potter movies playing on a sound system, not too loud to be distracting, but just enough that it really put you in the zone.
We made a beeline to Gringotts. I think I must have been the only person there that didn’t know that the dragon on the roof spewed actual fire (the heat was intense.) The photo at the top of this post was taken the moment I discovered that fire will shoot from it’s mouth and I’m surprised that it’s in focus because I jumped out of my skin. The bank tour was fantastic. Part of the experience is the line for the Escape From Gringotts ride which takes you through various rooms in the bank with a lot of interactive stuff which I won’t say anymore about so as not to spoil it for you!
Of course, the point of walking through Diagon Alley is to visit the shops and I was really pleased with how many were not just fake shop fronts but places you could actually walk into. I want to take a moment here to talk about the one real takeaway from our visit, for me, was not only the incredible attention to detail but the whole aesthetic of the place. The very Farrow & Ball paint colors with their worn finishes, the ornate carpentry, the masonry made to look like old stone or brick, the old-timey looking typography, the signage, the beautiful lighting and hardware, the tilework– all of it was just perfect. As we went from shop to shop, I was so inspired to get back to work on renovating our own home. Even the very Victorian-looking public bathroom was exactly what you would expect to see. No Moaning Myrtle, though, she’s in Hogsmeade. 😉
I had my first taste of Butterbeer which was too sweet for my tastes but the Pumpkin Juice was exactly as I imagined. We watched a puppet show which reenacted a tale from Beedle the Bard and listened to Celestina Warbeck sing “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love.” The shopping aspect was wonderful and even though we really didn’t buy very much, it was a joy to be able to see and touch everything. PS, that’s my daughter Madison up there wearing her new Slytherin (yup, Slytherin) cloak. I remember taking her to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when she was about 8 years old and here she is now at 21. How awesome is that?!
Knockturn Alley was a real hoot. The way they have it set up, you really do have to sneak down a side alley and it’s cold, dark and spooky back there! In fact, so dark that I didn’t really get very many photos of it. Borgin & Burkes is a bit smaller than I imagined in the book, but definitely gives you the creepy vibe, and, again, the decor is spot on.
For lunch, we popped over to The Leaky Cauldron. I remember I kept saying to my daughter in excited amazement, “We’re having lunch at The Leaky Cauldron!” If you’re a vegetarian, get the Ploughman’s Lunch (and give the toad in a hole to someone else) because it’s delicious. The witches that work there were very sweet and friendly, too.
Once we felt like we’d seen everything we could at Diagon Alley, we jumped on the Hogwarts Express and zipped over to Hogsmeade. So, the Hogwarts Express train ride was a little less impressive than I thought it would be. I think I went into it imagining it to be more fantastical but that was probably me being unrealistic. This wasn’t actually Scotland, after all.
Hogsmeade was much more crowded. This may have been due in part to the fact it’s in a side of the park that has all the more thrilling rides, hence more people. It was also SO HOT which felt strange since there was fake snow on all the buildings. I kept wishing it was actually snowing. There was a post office where you could send an owl but most of the storefronts were not actually shops, with the exception of a few, including…
…Honeydukes!! How great is this green paint, by the way? It was so much fun just walking through this shop looking at all the colorful candy from the stories. Like all the other shops, it was so well designed and executed to give you that immersive Harry Potter experience.
Once you walk up to the top of the hill, you can enter the castle of Hogwarts and take a tour and get on the ride at the end. The tour was amazing, with a feeling like you are actually in an ancient castle and the various rooms had so much to look at. I especially enjoyed the hallway with all the portrait paintings talking to you but Dumbledore’s study was my absolute favorite. I think I had such googly eyes over everything I was seeing in there (it really did look like you stepped inside the set from the movie) that I didn’t get a single photo of it. Honestly, the ride at the end was not very enjoyable, so if you don’t like feeling sick and dizzy, you can tour Hogwarts and then dive back out a side door right before the ride. Speaking of rides, we ran out of time and energy and missed getting on the Flight of the Hippogriff. Something I didn’t like about Hogsmeade as much as Diagon Alley was that you could see and hear rollercoasters in the rest of the park so it didn’t have the same magical feeling. It was worth going there just to take the tour of the castle, though. All in all, I had a wonderful time. Seriously, one of the more happy days I have had in a long while. Hope you enjoyed the tour and Happy Halloween!