When Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando opened Hogsmeade: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, it bucked the idea that a theme park needed to be a basic, artificial facsimile of the original. On the streets of the 20-acre island of Hogsmeade, the magic seemed real, and for a couple of hours, any family would find themselves immersed in a world they’d spent so much time imagining while reading the Harry Potter books.
Since its grand opening, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has doubled in size, now spanning across two distinct areas—Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. Phase two of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios features a little bit of London and a lot of Diagon Alley. Thanks to this expansion, Muggles can escape their ordinary worlds for twice as long.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “theme-park person,” every fan of the books and movie should experience the wonder of walking through the halls of Hogwarts on the way to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Here are the 12 greatest things to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Do note, you will need to buy separate tickets to each location.
Fans of the book will recall this fast-paced, ever-shifting means of magical transportation and its eccentric staff. The real life version does not disappoint, with a hanging shrunken head that you get to know on a first name basis and friendly conductor eager to pose for photos. The personalized experience makes this encounter well worth the wait. If the line is lengthy, however, you can take turns with others in your party to enter the phone booth a few feet away, and listen to a message from the Ministry of Magic.
Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley feature shows throughout the day, from The Frog Choir to Tales of Beedle the Bard to a musical performance from Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.
There are many stores that offer respite when the park starts to get crowded and hot. First, ditch your credit card and use the local currency instead. Stop by Gringotts Money Exchange, just outside Gringotts Bank, to convert your dollars into certified Gringotts Bank Notes that are valid throughout the resort. Make sure to talk to the animatronic goblin teller while there. Walk over to Madam Malkins Robes for All Occasions for your robes and uniforms (it’s not uncommon to see guests dressed in full character despite 90 degree weather). Dervish and Banges is home to the Monster Book of Monsters. It bites, and is caged for your protection. Then, stop by the Owl Post to get any letter, envelope or postcard stamped and mailed out with a special Hogsmeade postmark. Just don’t miss the Weasley twins’ joke shop, where burgeoning pranksters can buy any trick their impish hearts desire.
If you have small children, this ride is a must. The wooden roller coaster is short, about 60 seconds total, but it’s just the right amount of excitement for kids under 12. Also, while in the queue, you pass Hagrid’s Hut, an authentic replica of the one featured in the films. Universal adapted Flight of the Hippogriff from a 2000 rollercoaster called “Flying Unicorn,” adding Hagrid as the Care of Magical Creatures professor, who’ll train you to ride a hippogriff over his hut and into the Forbidden Forest. It’s an entertaining ride especially for young-ish children or adults without the constitution for 60-mph loops, and offers great views of the park at night.
There are multiple branches of the famous wand-makers shop in Diagon Alley, but admission into the one Hogsmeade shop is limited to 20 guests at a time. Guests attend a selection ceremony, wherein one special audience member is chosen to receive a custom wand. There are special effects involved, including a dramatic spotlight and choral moment when the fated wand is chosen. If you’re an adult who holds sincere hopes of being selected, aim for a Diagon Alley location since Hogsmeade almost exclusively selects young children before masterfully ushering out their parents to foot to bill. Also, if you’re buying a wand, you may as well spring for an interactive version. It costs roughly $10 more but has the added benefit of allowing you to cast spells throughout the parks. The theatrical presentation is a treat, whether or not you plan to purchase a wand of your own.
The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron are great taverns to get a bite and a drink. Traditional English pub fare like fish & chips adds a level of authenticity to the experience, and butterbeer (more below) is every bit as good as J.K. Rowling describes it in the books. You won’t find any Muggle sodas ruining the vibe, but there are decent English-style beers on tap at The Hog’s Head (you might need one to get through a day of kid-friendly attractions). After lunch or dinner you can shop for dessert at Honeydukes, where just about every kind of sweet ever mentioned in the series is for sale, from chocolate frogs to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.
Butterbeer has evolved since the park first opened and is now offered in five forms: frozen, ice cream, hot, regular and fudge. There is nothing like the classic Butterbeer, a refreshing cold drink made to taste like a cream soda and topped with butterscotch foam. You can purchase the drink in a plastic cup or collectible mug, though the collectible mug does not offer any free or discounted refills. Ice cream is very popular in the park on hot days, and instead of waiting on long lines at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, grab a Butterbeer ice cream from a corner stand. Available only in the winter months, the hot Butterbeer is described as a butterscotch laced latte, and the fudge is available at Honeydukes.
While the original Hogsmeade section featured the locomotive from the Hogwarts Express, you can now ride between the two parks on the famous train from Platform 9 3/4. An optical illusion takes you through the magic wall before boarding, and the scenery includes famous landmarks from the books. Just bring some chocolate frogs in case you encounter any Dementors. It’s worth noting that each leg of the roundtrip offers a different view of the Wizarding World. If you want to hop aboard the Hogwarts Express, you’ll need a Park-to-Park ticket. A one-day upgrade is costly at $50 more per person, but the convenience is unparalleled. The train drops you off directly in front of both Harry Potter areas, so you can remain immersed in the magic all day long. This is the last of the “no Express Pass” group, and lines get very long in the afternoon, so aim to do your park hopping in the morning, ideally while knocking out the top rides.
Dragon Challenge may be more of a conventional roller coaster, but that makes it no less exhilarating, especially being the only adult roller coaster in either Harry Potter park. The coaster has two separate dragons (tracks) and each dragon is a separate experience so, if you’re up for it, go twice. The pair of intertwined roller coasters will make you feel like you’re flying on the most ornery Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail this side of Romania. The coaster actually pre-dates The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, when it was the first fully inverted roller coaster in the world and simply dubbed Dueling Dragons. It’s since been refurbished with a Twiwizard Tournament theme. The Chinese Fireball cars reach 60mph during the ride.
New additions to both parks are the interactive wands available for purchase ($47.95). Replicas of the wands used by Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood, along with an assortment of unclaimed Celtic calendar-related wands from Ollivander’s shop make magic come to life throughout the park. Quiet the singing shrunken heads in Knockturn Alley with “Silencio” or fix a broken suit of armor with “Reparo.” The spells only take effect with the right motion of your hand, and, as the students of Hogwarts learned, getting the spell motions just right isn’t always easy. The wands come with a map of where you can perform the spells, but be sure to look at the map under the blacklights in Knockturn Alley to reveal secret locations that others may miss.
The crowning jewel of Diagon Alley is Gringott’s, the wizarding bank run by goblins. A 2,000-foot long indoor rollercoaster incorporates 3-D projection screens, physical effects and an impressive set design to take you through the cavernous bank, where you’ll encounter several characters from the series, including Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange and He Who Must Not Be Named. The entrance to the ride is the grand lobby of Gringott’s where animatronic goblins are hard at work and every 10 minutes the dragon perched atop of the bank lets out a huge fireball. There is a single rider line with reduced wait times but it bypasses the main lobby, which is worth seeing. There’s no Express Pass available for this attraction either, so make it your first stop.
Hogwarts Castle is the main landmark of Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Even with all the wonderful new attractions in Diagon Alley, nothing surpasses the experience of this 3-D RoboCoaster simulator that takes you through the castle, into the Forbidden Forest and onto the Quiddich pitch. It’s as immersive an experience into the world of Harry Potter as you could imagine; a coaster track, a robotic arm, 3-D screens and animatronic monsters to whirl you around the Hogwarts grounds. It’s not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but children can’t get enough. And even if the park is crowded, the line itself is entertaining, winding its way through the castle, where the paintings come alive and holograms of Harry, Hermione and Ron cast a spell. This is as close to magic as us Muggles can get. Those prone to nausea can opt out of the ride and simply enjoy the castle tour. Go early (before 10 a.m.) or at dusk to avoid the crowds. Keep in mind that this ride does not offer a Express Pass option and wait times can easily exceed two hours during peak season.