Here it is! Diagon Alley! It really needed its own post almost all its own. There was so much to see in it, so there’s much to share. After are some tips I noted while on my time there.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
There was a lot to expect with this new place at the park. It’s the second Wizarding World to be built in Florida, the first being Hogsmeade over in Islands of Adventure. I heard that this was one of the best parts of a theme park ever, but was afraid I would still be disappointed. And, being a huge Disney fan I was worried I would compare it with those parks too much.
Let me explain how much I enjoyed both Wizarding Worlds. I went to Universal the first two days of my trip, and had planned to take up the rest of the days at Walt Disney World. By the end of my trip I was actually considering buying another ticket to Universal just to even spend half a day in Diagon Alley, let alone Hogsmeade.
The “outside” of Diagon Alley looks like parts of London, even complete with King’s Cross Station, which I’ll get to in a little bit. The Knight Bus was a great photo op, and located next to the waterfront of the park. Usually there was a driver character in front of it, but not always. Whoever would be in front was great in character to watch and listen.
Of course the real action is inside the walls of Diagon Alley. Immersive doesn’t quite describe this alley. Details down to little signs on windows, and even etchings are all around. It would take a day to explore every nook and cranny. Believe me I tried as much as I could. Several shops are found in the area, each with a unique collection of Harry Potter themed souvenirs. There’s Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Borgin and Burkes, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. Each had what would be appropriate to the name. Like Madam Malkin’s had real wizard robes for sale! The big store that could also be an attraction was Ollivanders. There were two locations for the wand maker, and also a third in Islands of Adventure. An option to take is to go straight into the wand buying section, where replications of character wands are buyable, as well as generic wand types that fit personalities. After all, it is the wand that picks you. And that leads to the second, attraction-like area of the shop. Groups can meet a wand maker as he selects a guest to receive his or her wand. Interactive parts of the room go off as Ollivander instructs the pupil on using the wand. It was a great thing to experience as part of being very immersed in the Harry Potter environment. I found that the best time to go to this part was at night within an hour of the park closing. There was almost no line and a good chance of being picked to test the wand.
The wands create their own attraction. If you purchase the interactive wand, usually indicated by a gold sticker on the box, there’s a chance to walk around both Wizarding Worlds and cast spells on windows for a surprise to be revealed. I did get such a wand and embarked on my quest to hone my spell casting skills. It was fun to see what would happen in the windows as I went, but I did not plan well the time it would take to go to each one.
Universal Studios Orlando has a great park transportation that serves as an attraction. For those who have a park to park ticket, the Hogwarts Express is accessible for travel from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure and vice versa. This train has a whole “show” to it where it appears that you’re really traveling from London to Hogsmeade. It was such a fun experience I went several times as my way of going back and forth. The King’s Cross Station in Diagon Alley also recreated the true way of getting onto the Hogwarts Express – through a wall. It was a fun detail that had people stopping in line to take video or pictures.
The signature attraction of Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Taking place during Deathly Hallows, guests get an interrupted tour of the bank. But, before embarking on the tour, several other things are worth a look. Outside and on top of the bank is a large dragon, which is security. Throughout the day the dragon will breathe real fire for all to behold.
When you step inside the building it is magnificent! The goblins have paid great expense to have such a lavish bank. Ceilings are high, and it really looks like there is marble all around. Animatronic goblins are in the main line area where they look at guests and one even spouts some dialogue as you wait to go deeper into the vaults. Paintings come to life to explain how to get through further. Doors have shadows that are of characters explaining the plot of the ride and movie and book. I loved the newspapers on the desks as even the details of pictures moving were on these.
A small preshow has Bill Weasley explaining what to expect on the tour along with Blordak supposed to be taking us along as host. Then, a large elevator takes groups even further into the vaults, and we can see more elements that will be part of the ride itself. Finally, guests climb aboard carts to take them on the tour.
Of course something goes wrong as it being part of the plot of the movie (and book). The carts go on a wild ride that stop in front of large 3-D screens. The interactions between projections and the vehicles were amazing! I haven’t been on many attractions that could make you feel like you were really traveling through something real. This was a ride that put me in the world of Harry Potter. It is definitely on my list of top rides in the world!
Besides all the attractions and shops there are places to eat! At Diagon Alley the main eatery is Leaky Cauldron, which is a counter service restaurant. The main fare is very English, and very good. I had the Bangers and Mash, which was filling and tasty. I couldn’t choose between hot and cold butterbeer, so I got both. The hot is sweeter, and possibly my favorite way to go. The cold was good, but not as sweet as the hot for some reason. I think I had 8 butterbeers in 2 days time. The atmosphere was just as detailed as the Alley. From pictures on the wall to the leaky cauldron itself, it was equally as fun to look around as it was to look around the whole area of the park.
Conclusion and Tips
Universal Studios Florida was set up to be a working studio like its predecessor in Hollywood. Over time the studios portion has left and a theme park has remained. Does it still hold up as a park? It certainly does. I spent a whole day’s worth here and still didn’t go on everything. Quite a few attractions are worth riding over and over again. A lot of the buildings and “lands” are worth checking out fun details. But, the main reason to visit the park? Diagon Alley. It’s like nothing experienced anywhere else in the US. Having visited Tokyo DisneySea I think that’s the only theme park experience to top it. It’s worth admission alone.
As far as some tips I picked up, I did say the Ollivander’s trick already. That’s a key one to go for, especially if you have multiple days at Universal Orlando. I had the Express Pass, but found I didn’t need it that much. The main Harry Potter attractions don’t use it, but they do have single rider which is what I used most often. Even still, the park being pretty busy the lines for the Potter attractions reached about half hour at the most which is not bad because most of it is inside air conditioned buildings. If you don’t mind breaking up your party, then single rider is the way to go as it’s found on most attractions. Also, Minion Mayhem had the longest and most grueling line to it, so I’d hit it first. Second to it was Rip Ride Rockit, as even the Express line took about 20 minutes to get through.
Eating wasn’t too hard if done at slightly odd times of the day. Wizarding World and Springfield has the most variety and good food. If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, save up for the souvenirs. There is a lot to buy that is unique to the park.
Is it worth getting the Park to Park option? Maybe. If you’re a big enough Harry Potter fan then it’s worth riding the Hogwarts Express multiple times. If you don’t care that much, you’re not missing much on the transportation, and especially that it did get regular ride lines and took another 10 minutes to get from park to park. That time could be spent on other great attractions.
In all, the park is not a Disney killer, but there are parts that I would say should prove some competition with what Disney has to offer. It didn’t take me away from Disney completely, but it did take a couple days away from what I’d spend at Disney World. Would I go back to Universal Studios Florida? Yes! Mostly because of Diagon Alley, but I liked E.T., Men In Black, and still haven’t been on Kang and Kodos, let alone some of the other shows. It’s worth visiting once. It’s worth visiting again!