We were in Orlando, Florida for one main reason: Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I was pleased to learn our motel ran shuttle buses to both Universal Studios and Disney World, however was less impressed when I found out the time they ran – it would not have got us to the park until an hour after opening, and the last one came back several hours before closing – so we decided to get an Uber instead. It was our first experience with Uber, and worked really well. The ride to Universal Studios wasn’t too far and only cost us about $5.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split across the two halves of Universal Studios, so if you want to see both halves you have to buy a Park-to-Park pass. Diagon Alley is on one side, and Hogsmeade (with Hogwarts) is on the other. To get between the two you can take the Hogwarts Express, which has screens for windows showing the british countryside and a few HP-themed features (such as dementors and the Weasley twins flying around shooting off fireworks). We arrived as soon as the park opened, and took the Hogwarts Express to the other side first thing. This means you get to ride the train and see the window display, explore one half of the park, then return on the train, which gives you a different display on the return trip, then explore the other half of the park.
I was surprised how empty the park was when we first arrived, but I suppose this was thanks to visiting on a school day. We lined up for the Hogwarts Express, which didn’t take long, and took the trip across to Diagon Alley. I was really impressed with the ‘King’s Cross’ station at the other end – they had done a good job making it look like a real London train station, and the exterior looked just like a miniature version of King’s Cross. They had also constructed the facade of 12 Grimmauld Place with one or two of its neighbours, and they looked just like the houses you would find on Claremont Square where Grimmauld Place was filmed. If you watched carefully, you could see Kreacher the house-elf peer out from one of the windows at number 12!
Diagon Alley looks pretty much spot-on with the version in the movie. You can go into a lot of the shops, such as Quality Quidditch Supplies, Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, the Magical Menagerie and Ollivander’s. Ollivander’s even features a little tour where a volunteer gets to experience a wand-choosing; the Magical Menagerie is full of plush animals that you find in the Harry Potter stories (such as snowy owls, three-headed dogs, snakes, cornish pixies and more); Quality Quidditch Supplies sells quidditch paraphernalia and souvenirs, and Weasleys Wizard Wheezes is filled with all sorts of novelty sweets, pranks, and is where I bought a little pygmy puff!
You can even take a turn down Knockturn Alley and visit Borgin and Burkes (which features a range of Dark Arts-, death eater- and horcrux-inspired souvenirs).
Most of the rides are on the Hogsmeade side of the park, however Diagon Alley does have the ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride, which is very good (as are all the rides at the WWOHP!). We had lunch in the Leaky Cauldron and I was quite impressed with the very British menu, including such things as bangers & mash, ploughman’s lunch and toad in the hole. There were also some very Harry Potter drinks on the menu such as pumpkin juice and gillywater. There were also periodic performances on a public stage from ‘Celestina Warbeck’ (Mrs Weasley’s favourite singer) and you could see the dragon escaping from the top of Gringott’s bank, where he breathed fire intermittently!
We then caught the Hogwarts Express back across to the Hogsmeade side of the park. Hogsmeade had some of my favourite theme park rides I’ve ever been on. The Forbidden Journey ride is an indoors rollercoaster with 3D screens which made flying over Hogwarts Castle (among other scenes) feel as realistic as you could possibly expect. The Dragon Challenge is a more traditional rollercoaster and there are two tracks you can choose from – each are different so we went on both! Universal has done an outstanding job on the rides at WWOHP.
In Hogsmeade there is another public stage where you can watch performances from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang ‘students’, although I found the American accents jarring. We stopped for a drink at the Three Broomsticks and also visited the Honeydukes Sweet shop, where we bought a cauldron cake to try.
We spent nearly the entire day at the WWOHP and saw both parks in their entirety. We had about an hour to spare before the entire park closed, so on our way out we went through the Jurassic Park area and went on a rapids-kind of ride which was also good fun. We had tea at the onsite Burger King before getting an Uber back to our motel for the night.