- Travel and Places
The Ultimate Guide To The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Florida
Harry Potter fans rejoiced in 2007, when Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, announced that they would be building a Harry Potter theme park. J.K. Rowling, the series' author, worked with the theme park designers to develop a park that was just as realistic as the world she painted in her novels. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opened to the public in June, 2010.
The Universal Orlando Resort is split up into two different theme parks, one of which is the Islands of Adventure. The Islands of Adventure park has several different “lands” within it, and at the edge of the park sits The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The original WWoHP contained a re-creation of the Wizarding village, Hogsmeade, as well as the Hogwarts castle (which contains a ride inside of it), as well as several Harry Potter themed gift shops. The second part of the park, which opened in July, 2014, contains a re-creation of Diagon Alley, and areas of London. The newest expansion is located in Universal Studios Orlando, separate from Islands of Adventure. In order to visit both parks, you'll need a two-park pass.
I visited the WWoHP in 2010, and got to experience the magic first-hand.
As soon as the gates open, you're greeted by an immediate view of the theme park. It almost feels surreal to be there, especially considering how "realistic" it all looks. It's almost like being on the set of the films- but it feels even more magical than that- it's like being right inside the pages of the books.
The first main street is a replica of Hogsmeade, and all of the shops that line the streets look exactly as they were described in the books. There’s snow on thatched rooftops, streets paved with cobblestones. The Hogwarts Express waits at the entrance for you and will take you through to Diagon Alley.
Really, it's all the little details which make the park so realistic. All of the shop fronts have interactive displays; Dogweed and Deathcap has a screaming Mandrake in the window, while Gladrags Wizardwear has a replica of Hermione’s Yule Ball gown in the front window. Interactive wands allow you to do "magic" within the shopfronts. In Diagon Alley, Kreacher hangs out of a window at 12 Grimmauld Place. Even the ATMs that surround the area have been masqueraded to look old-fashioned and the signs above them read, “Gringotts Bank Automated Telling Machine.”
The Three Broomsticks restaurant (resplendent with a screaming wanted poster of Sirius Black out front) and the Hog’s Head pub are the two premiere restaurants in Hogsemade, while the Leaky Cauldron and Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor are the main restaurants in Diagon Alley.
Hogsmeade contains the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, which is to the right on the main street, as well as the Flight of the Hippogriff ride (more on those later), which includes a very impressive recreation of Hagrid’s Hut. Looming above everyone and everything is the massive Hogwarts castle. There are a few carts scattered throughout selling Butterbeer and other goodies.
On the other side of the park, Muggle London is recreated with Kings Cross Station (which is where you disembark the Hogwarts Express), Grimmauld Place, Leicester Square, and even a replica of the Knight Bus. Once you cross into Diagon Alley, the park contains various shops (including Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Flourish and Blotts, and the Daily Prophet), while Gringotts sits in the background.
The songs from the film soundtracks are played throughout the park, adding to the atmosphere. Moaning Myrtle can be heard moping about in the bathrooms. Everything is so exquisitely detailed and authentic; even though the park is in Florida, for those hours you spend inside, you really feel as though you could be inside of Harry’s magical world.
Hogsmeade has three main rides. Flight of the Hippogriff is an old-fashioned wooden coaster which is aimed at small children or families. The ride is only about three or four minutes long, and on a short track which goes past Hagrid’s Hut and around an animatronic Hippogriff. The small dips, close-up view of Buckbeak, and the slow pace makes the ride most fun for smaller children. At the very least, seeing the replica of Hagrid's Hut makes the ride worth getting on for adults.
For older age groups, there’s the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. The ride consists of two coaster tracks, each named for two of the dragons in the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire: the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball. The track has plenty of loops and sharp turns, and is certainly the most thrilling in the park, despite being quite short (only about two minutes long) and not featuring a very big drop. If you've gone to other theme parks, you've probably been on much bigger/scarier rides, but this one is still quite fun.
The main ride/attraction at Hogsmeade, of course, is Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey, which is located inside of Hogwarts castle. Part of the fun of the ride is honestly the queue, which starts outside the gates of Hogwarts, winds through the greenhouses in the courtyard, and inside of the castle. It's almost like a museum of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, which is pretty cool to big fans of the books and movies. You can even ask to go on a tour of the castle and forego the ride, if you’d like.
All of the details from the books and movies have been transformed and represented in the castle. There are hallways lined with "moving portraits", you can stop in front of the Mirror of Erised, or peak inside of the Gryffindor common room. The queue winds through Dumbledore’s office (keep your eyes peeled for the Pensieve), and through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. It’s all absolutely amazing- there are so many details packed everywhere and it all seems so authentic and realistic. After going through the queue and experiencing the entire castle (which takes close to 20 minutes, or longer, if you have a long line of people ahead or want to go at your own place and explore), you reach the actual ride.
If you’re familiar with Disneyland’s California Adventure attraction, Soarin' Over California, I can best describe Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as being similar to it; you sit in a seat, with your feet dangling, and “fly” above a screen that takes up the entire room, and shows a video from the Harry Potter cast. The video is unique to the park and contains its own storyline, separate from the other stories in the series, so I won't share many details or spoil it. However, I'll say the ride is very interactive- you aren’t just flying over the screen, you’re also encountering large spiders, Dementors, and the elements, as water and gusts of wind attack you from different areas of the ride.
Diagon Alley's main attraction is Harry Potter and The Escape from Gringotts. Much like the Gringotts bank escape scene in Deathly Hallows Part 2, you're taken on a track through Gringotts Bank with goblins, dragons, terrifying water falls, drops and dips. This is another ride which uses a screen/3D animation to aide the experience.
Both parks contain Ollivander's Wand Shop. Small groups (typically of twenty or less) are allowed into the shop at a time, and then Ollivander himself chooses one special person from the audience to find their wand. The lucky person assumes the role of Harry in the first film and gets to choose different wands until the right wand chooses him or her. There are fun special effects, like lights flickering or shelves falling down as the wrong wands are chosen. The Ollivander shop is part show/part shopping experience, as you get to watch the "show" of someone's wand being chosen, and afterwards, get to walk around the shop and also buy your own wands. The lines are always quite long for this attraction, but it's well worth waiting for!
You'll really work up your appetite after getting on all those rides; luckily, there's plenty of places to grab some grub. There's The Three Broomsticks or The Leaky Cauldron, both British-style restaurants. There’s all sorts of British staples, from fish and chips, to shepard’s pie or sausages. Most of the meals are about $15 or less. There's also drinks like pumpkin juice and butterbeer.
Butterbeer can be bought at the restaurant, or from the various street carts. I recommend purchasing one from the carts for $10; they come with souvenir mugs (which could also be used for discounted refills in other areas of the park). You can have the butterbeer served as a frozen slushie, or without being frozen, and it’s topped with a light whipping cream. The taste is like a combination of cream soda and butterscotch and it is very sweet, but definitely hits the spot on a hot Orlando day.
If you're in the mood for beer, Hog’s Head is the adult pub. There’s a few different home brews on tap, and you can purchase a souvenir beer mug there as well. There's also beer over at the Leaky Cauldron, or in Carkitt Market (part of Muggle London).
The other main attraction of the parks consists of the shops. You can buy food and Harry Potter inspired-sweets from Honeydukes, a candy shop from the series. All of the candies from the books and movies are there, from Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, to Chocolate Frogs and Sugar Quills. Be careful, though- the candy is very pricey (a a small chocolate frog costs $10). Zonko’s Joke Shop and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes have gag-items, souvenirs, and toys.
Meanwhile there's shops like Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and Dervish and Bangs, which contains costumes and robes. You can buy everything from a snitch replica, to a set of Gryffindor robes, to a Slytherin scarf, to a broomstick! The items in the shop are also fairly pricey, so I'd recommend to save your galleons up before visiting the park, so you can splurge on at least one big-ticket item!
Of course, wands are purchased at Ollivanders. There are plenty of options- from the choice to buy a wand unique to you (and based on your birth date), or you can buy a replica of a character's wand. Almost all the character's wands are presented, from Hermione's to Sirius'. You can even purchased Lucius Malfoy's wand and staff! Though the wands are plastic, they are heavy and quite sturdy and feel like they're made from real wood.
Ticket prices are currently $96 USD for an Adult one-day, single park admission (getting you into Hogsmeade OR Diagon Alley), or $136 for a one-day pass into both parks. I highly recommend getting a pass for entrance into both parks, and getting at least a two-day pass (but I think 3-4 days is best), as you'll want to visit both parks, and you'll want to come back again after your first visit to see and do more. A 3-day, two park pass is currently $175 for adults. You might even want to spend a day visiting the rest of Universal, which has quite a lot of fun rides and attractions, as well.
I went to the park six months after opening when it was still relatively busy. I arrived first thing in the morning, but there were probably about a hundred people already waiting at the gates as I was. The park was packed by noon, with massive crowds, to the point where you had to push through people at some of the more congested areas.
However, the lines went pretty fast, considering how busy it was. You can obtain an Express Pass earlier in the day to come back at a predetermined time and skip ahead of the line. My friend and I also got ahead in lines because it was just the two of us; often, staff would select small parties (like parties of 1 or 2) to skip ahead of big parties and fit into rides where they only needed one or two people. Ollivanders had the longest line, as we waited about an hour just to get inside. Apparently the new Ollivanders at Diagon Alley has a better line/queue experience, but I've yet to see that first-hand.
On the days I visited, the staff were all extremely helpful and friendly. Everyone is dressed up as Hogwarts students (in proper house robes, and all) and they all stay in character, which is a lot of fun. I even tried asking several staff members how I could apply for a job at the park, and no one ever broke character, with all of them telling me that I’d have to ask Dumbledore, or wait for an owl. It's definitely quite a lot of fun to interact with the staff and really brings the Hogwarts experience full-cicle. I even got reprimanded at by a staff member dressed as a Prefect for going to a “forbidden” part of the castle while in the queue for the Forbidden Forest ride. I felt exactly like Harry Potter in that moment ;)
Do you plan on visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the best theme parks I've ever been to, in every sense. The details and design spread around the park is jaw-droppingly impressive. The rides are unique and fun. The food is affordable and delicious (seriously, you must try a butterbeer). The shops, though a bit on the expensive side, are still fun to explore and have all the souvenirs any Harry Potter fan have ever dreamed of collecting.
From the moment you walk into the park, you'll feel as if you've been transported right into the books or the movie, and it'll make you want to go back again and again. We stayed until closing both nights and both nights I didn’t want to leave. I truly felt as if I left my heart behind at Hogwarts, and I can assure you that you'll feel the same way, too.
Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Tell us about your experience below!
All photographs used in this article belong to the author (Brittany Doherty); all Diagon Alley photographs from www.orlandoinformer.com. Portions of this article were once posted on Epinions.com, which is now defunct. All rights belong to Brittany Doherty.
More articles about Harry Potter:
- Where Is The Harry Potter Cast Now?
Though we may never see Daniel, Rupert and Emma on the screen as Harry, Ron, and Hermione again, at least we can keep up with them (and the rest of the cast) in their new film roles.
- How To Create A "Hogwarts Student Uniform" Costume For Halloween!
Are you a fan of Harry Potter? You can easily dress up this Halloween as a "Hogwarts Student" using things you have around the house!
© 2014 Brittany Doherty