Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Studios Orlando was pretty much the main reason we decided to add five nights in Orlando to our New York trip. I’m a big Potter fan and having seen the Hogwarts Castle attraction in the process of being built when I was at Universal in 2008 I had always wanted to return. We were due to travel to NYC in 2015 and I’m so glad we waited till 2016 as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley was also completed and we got to experience both. We had added Universal 2 Park Bonus ticket to our Virgin holiday which allowed us access to both Universal Studios Park and Islands of Adventure Park for 14 days. Even though we were only there for 5 days this did work out the best value and the multi park option meant we could travel between the parks on the Hogwarts express.
On our first full day in Orlando we took full use of our Virgin early access passes and went to Universal Studios Orlando an hour before opening and headed straight to Diagon Alley. Its located in the park where Jaws the ride used to be and the first thing you’ll spot and the strangest for us British is Leicester Square tube and Kings Cross stations. At Kings Cross you can catch the Hogswarts express to Hogsmede in the other park or through an opening in the bricks at Leicester Square tube you can access Diagon Alley. The first glimpse of Diagon Alley is breathtaking, even if your not a Harry Potter fan. The pure accuracy and intricacy of Diagon Alley shops and signs with the amazing sight that is Gringotts Bank with the dragon perched on top is incredible. I must have taken a million photos in my first two minutes there.
My first port of call was of course Escape From Gringotts ride. As Ben isn’t at all a fan of rollercoasters I chose to ride the single rider line. This of course means you can ride the attraction super fast, in fact I rode it twice in the time it took Ben to get coffee; but it does mean you miss alot of the pre ride stuff. If you queue in the standard queue (which in mid January was timed at 20-30 mins) you get to see the inside of Gringotts with animated goblin bankers, plus an interactive lift journey down into the depths of Gringotts and have your id photo taken for your trip which you can purchase later. I was sad to miss these bits but given that I rode the Escape From Gringotts ride five times over our few days there and the longest Ben waited for me was 15 minutes I was pretty happy. It really is an incredible ride. A combination of 3D and 4D, rollercoaster and simulator technology this ride really is the highlight of Diagon Alley and worth riding more than once if you can. I blummin loved it. I was also so pleased to ride 4 out of 5 times in the front row of the front car and again this does make difference to the experience.
After two rides on Gringotts and a quick coffee we went next to Ollivanders Wand Shop where I knew I wanted to purchase an interactive wand. You can enter the shop directly or take part in the wand selection where a muggle from the group is chosen to try out wands until they find the right one. I’ll be honest I was pretty gutted when they chose a young boy to find his wand and not me! I did nearly elbow him out the way but resisted ha ha.
In the shop you can purchase regular wands from your favourite characters or by material or you can purchase an interactive wand which means you can cast spells around both the Diagon Alley park and Hogsmede. Only Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore or unclaimed material wands are available as interactive wands.
I opted for the Ash interactive wand (they cost around £35) and quickly started casting spells. Included inside is a map that shows all the spots for spell casting, these are marked by brass plates in the floor with an arrow that shows which way you should face. Spells are cast with a particular shaped flourish of the wand and range from making elements move to bigger spells like making it rain and turning lights on (definitely try this one at night too!)
This technology is so cool and gives the park an amazing interactive edge. As it wasn’t as busy as high season it was easier to cast spells and involved little queuing but I imagine in high season it would be much much harder. Also bear in mind that the wand and box are long and if you head into the rest of the park or on rides you will have to pop it in a locker. Also the gift bag it comes in won’t fit in most lockers and will have to be folded :-(((
The spells in Diagon Alley tend to be a bit harder than those in Hogsmede with some even harder to master than others, but keep your eye out for helpers who can assist with your spell casting.
My top Wizarding World of Harry Potter Spell Casting Tips
1. Keep your movements small as the infrared camera’s field of vision is only so big
2. The floor marker shows the direction you should face but make sure your arm is at the level of the camera (four red dots)
3. Use the map to find all spell locations but keep your eye out for hidden spells (the infrared camera four red dots are the giveaway)
4. Be aware that in busy times some spells may have large queues, seek out the more hidden areas for spells as they will be quieter.
5. Persist! Some take a few goes but once you do it, its brilliant!
Outside of Diagon Alley there are other Harry Potter elements including the Nightbus and driver who is always up for a photo as is his shrunken head. Plus for more photo ops is No 12 Grimmauld Place the Black family home and keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the grumpy house elf Kreacher in the upstairs window.
One of the other highlights of the Diagon Alley attraction is the periodic fire breathing of the dragon on top of Gringotts. Its amazing!! Be ready with your camera when you hear rumbling coming from the dragon.
Much like NYC I had saved a little pot of money to buy myself some souvenirs. See my New York Shopping Haul here. I had already bought myself a wand but also purchased for myself a time turner which I have wanted for ages!!!
We returned to Diagon Alley in the evening to see the attraction all lit up and it was beautiful. The place had a much spookier vibe and especially if you seek out some of the more hidden away corners of Diagon Alley. The dragon breathing fire was even more impressive and also as mentioned before the spell to switch on all the lights in Flimflams lanterns is even more magical in the dark too. Ben surprised me in the eve with a Griffindor scarf which you can spot in the last pic of me.
The best things about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal and Diagon alley in particular is most definitely the atmosphere and the setting etc. Despite it only having one ride it is my favourite of the two parks simply for how magical and immersive the whole place is. One thing that made this park for me was of course the interactive wand and the spells, this not only filled time but made you feel really part of the attraction. We returned to Diagon alley three times over our stay and each time we discovered something new, like an area we hadn’t seen before or a spell we hadn’t cast. One major benefit of the interactive wand was the included map which did help us find Knockturn Alley which had some great spells in it.
Of course Escape From Gringotts is an incredible ride and is one of my favourite memories from our entire trip. I tried my hardest to tell Ben all about it but I just couldn’t get across how great it was.
If I had to choose just one of the Harry Potter parks to visit it would be this one as I think it has the best value for money.
I’ll have more photos from our trip to Hogsmede but for now here are my
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Orlando Top Tips
Utilize your early entry if you have it and head straight to Escape From Gringotts to beat the queues.
Ride as a solo rider to beat queue times but remember you’ll miss out on some pre ride elements.
Buy your interactive wand early to maximize spell casting time.
Check out the Universal guide for shows/performances within Diagon alley.
Seek out the hidden areas and spells.
Take time to really take in the buildings and all the details, you’ll spot something different every time.
Catch the Dragon breathing fire on camera by listening out for the rumbles.
Visit Diagon Alley again at night for a different atmosphere.
Make sure you check out all the shops including Ollivanders, Quidditch Supplies and Borgin and Burkes
Go to the Gringott’s money exchange to swap your dollars for Gringott bank notes which you can spend in Diagon Alley or keep as a souvenir.
Don’t forget US sales tax will be added on top of all of your Potter purchases!
Let me know your top Wizarding Word top tips or if you are planning or would love to go soon!