Decisions…decisions….I had a day in Orlando to visit Universal Orlando Resort theme park. My goal was a day in the world of Harry Potter.
So here was my dilemma. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is now located in two parks. Diagon Alley, the new world, is in Universal Studios Florida while Hogsmeade, a wintry version, and I think a bit smaller too, is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Why the dilemma? Cost and time.
Would seven hours be enough time to immerse myself fully in this magical world? If I was a kid with a wand and a family, I think one park would be enough. One park admission is a hundred bucks.
But since I didn’t bring (or buy for $35+) my wand or my family (sorry kids), I figured I had time to spend at two parks. That would mean $136 plus tax plus parking (another $17) plus food (I bought a $20 meal card).
What sold me was the opportunity to ride on the Hogwart Express. Twice. You have to have a two-park ticket to ride it.
Judging from the about-10-year-old kids I rode with, it’s a hit. You really do go somewhere on this ride but the scenery takes you from modern-day London all the way to Hogswart and back again. (I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I tell you each of the two trips is a little different.)
I’m not a roller coaster fan so I didn’t go near them but I did ride Hogmeade’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (for the record, three times) and Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s.
The Forbidden Journey takes riders through Hogwarts with plenty of twists and turns, fire and spider spit. Absolutely delightful. Even the walk through the castle makes the wait fun. The ride does throw visitors around a lot with twists, turns and dips that might be too much for some people. Well, guess what! You can take a walk through the castle. Take the camera you had to stow for the ride (although it’s pretty dark; my pix are terrible.) And take the time to listen to all those animated characters.
The Escape from Gringott’s, well, you’d think with all that magic they could get this ride to work. I spent 45 minutes in line only to hear an announcement it would be closed for the next few hours. It apparently had been closed the day before and when I returned later in the day, it was briefly stopped again. The waiting riders were surprisingly patient about the whole thing. So I waited in total about two hours for a five-minute so-so ride.
The wait is not nearly as magical. It’s more like herding and with lots of steps to wait on. The two Potter fans behind me even got into an argument about some trivial movie fact. If they’d had something to distract them, I don’t think they would have argued. The ride brings back the movie stars for a darker story than the Journey’s tale. It’s 3D but not very. I thought the motion was less exciting (and decidedly more tame) than Journey. Only time prevented me from taking the Hogwart’s Express back to Hogsmeade for one last ride on Journey.
Food is part of the experience. Anyone who has ever read the Potter books has been dying for a butterbeer. The park has it cold or frozen. And only non-alcoholic. It’s rich, very sweet and butterscotch-y with a thick creamy head. Go for frozen. It’s a dollar more but I think it tastes better. (Worth the brain freeze)
Window shopping — OK, and real shopping — brings the whole wizarding world to life. Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are beautifully crafted. I love Hogsmeade’s snow-topped roofs. Its paths are narrower and the whole thing is dominated by the castle.
Diagon Alley seems bigger with a wider street. Those with wands can stop at water fountains and store fronts and make a little magic of their own. I think watching the
children was as much fun as watching the musical numbers that seemed to pop up here and there. Diagon Alley has a dark side with Knockturn Alley devoted to the dark arts. The walkway is very dark. Don’t worry; Voldemort isn’t lurking about. But you just might think he is. It’s really dark.
I am glad I set aside enough time just to wander through the streets and into the shops. Take a look–
Here’s a peek at Hogsmeade:
And here is Diagon Alley:
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman