Arguably one of the biggest developments for theme parks in the past decade was the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Orlando Resort. This area, which now includes sections in both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. This immersive area contains rides, restaurants, shops, entertainment, and atmosphere straight from the pages of J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster series of books and movies.
The first part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Hogsmeade section in Islands of Adventure, was officially announced on May 31, 2007 and iIt officially opened to the public on June 18, 2010. This section incorporated both brand new attractions, like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and retrofitting of older attractions, like the Dragon Challenge. (On July 24, 2017, Universal officially announced that Dragon Challenge would be closing to make room for a new highly-themed and family friendly roller coaster experience that is slated to open in 2019.)
After the original Hogsmeade section was so well received, the Universal Creative team got to work right away on how they could bring even more Harry Potter to the parks. Their plan was announced on December 6, 2011, when it was revealed that Harry Potter would be coming to the Universal Studios Florida park. This new section, modeled after Diagon Alley, was built on the former Jaws attraction area and opened on July 8, 2014.
With the opening of Diagon Alley, Universal also opened a full replica of the Hogwarts Express to transport guests between the two parks.
In total, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has four rides, seven dining locations, and fifteen shops to fulfill all the desires of every Harry Potter fan. The Wizarding World is divided into two sections divided across two parks, the Hogsmeade area in Islands of Adventure and the Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.
The original section of the Wizarding World, located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, provides visitors with a breathtaking collection of sights and experiences that will instantly transport into the mindset of a student on holiday from Hogwarts.
The headliner attraction for Hogsmeade is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This attraction combines motion simulation, projection, models and animatronics to create one of the best theme park attractions in any theme park. It is located within Hogwarts Castle, giving visitors the opportunity to travel through various parts of the school on their way to the ride itself.
Hogsmeade also features a family-friendly coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff. On this ride, guests get to travel around Hagrid’s hut and the surrounding pumpkin patch.
The final attraction in Hogsmeade is also the only to be seen in both sections of the Wizarding World – because it connects them! This is the Hogwarts Express which not only provides travel between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, but gives guests a different show experience out the windows in each direction. Note: You must have a park to park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Part of the immersive experience of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is getting to eat and drink just like our favorite characters. Two of the most familiar to Potter fans both are present in Hogsmeade. First, the Hog’s Head pub is the perfect place for a Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice. If you want something more substantial, check out the connected restaurant, the Three Broomsticks. At this snow-capped tavern you can still get those iconic drinks, but can also enjoy British fare, from Fish and Chips to Shepherd’s Pie.
Hogsmeade provides guests with a chance to step inside some of the legendary shops that they have read about and seen through the Harry Potter series. Stop by Dervish and Banges for an assortment of magical items, from Sneakoscopes to Quidditch supplies to everything a prospective Hogwarts student might need to begin school. You can find some of those same school supplies, as well as movie prop replicas and toys at Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods.
If you have mail related needs, head to the Owl Post, where you can find a wide selection of writing implements, and even mail a letter with a Hogsmeade postmark. The last shop of Hogsmeade is also one of the most special – Ollivanders. Here, aspiring witches and wizards will have the opportunity to have a wand choose them, or can opt for a famous replica or an Interactive Wand that will make the Wizarding World come alive. *Note: Ollivanders also has a location in Diagon Alley.
Some of the atmosphere of the Wizarding World is created by performers that you can find throughout the area. In Hogsmeade, besides the wand-buying experience mentioned above at Ollivanders, you can also find performances by the Frog Choir singing famous wizard songs, and the progression of the students from Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang in the Triwizard Spirit Ralley. Both of these performances add to your ability to experience favorite moments straight from the Harry Potter series.
One of the most anticipated theme park expansions in recent memory, Diagon Alley brought even more of the Harry Potter universe to life, this time one the streets of London.
The headliner attraction for Hogsmeade is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. You are welcomed inside Gringotts Bank by a newly free fire-breathing dragon, and then get to essentially walk into a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You will experience a few pre-shows and then a wild ride combining 3-D film and a launched roller coaster. It is not to be missed.
As was the case in Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley has its side of the attraction connecting the Wizarding World. Here, the Hogwarts Express departs from the legendary Platform 9 3/4 and not only provides travel between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, but gives guests a different show experience out the windows in each direction. Note: You must have a park to park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Diagon Alley provides even more opportunities to eat and drink magical items directly from the Harry Potter stories. at Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment you can find a variety of magically transforming elixirs, like Fire Protection Potion or Elixir to Induce Euphoria. Florean Fortscue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, as enjoyed by Harry in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, offers some great and unique scoop and soft-serve ice-cream, including Butterbeer ice-cream.
All Harry Potter fans will be familiar with the Leaky Cauldron. In this version, you can have a meal of traditional British food, such as Bangers and Mash or Toad in the Hole. If you are just looking for a drink, you can head to The Fountain of Fair Fortune. Named for a fable in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, this location offers beer, and many specialty drinks, including non-alcoholic Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice, and Gillywater. For an even faster drink or treat, head to The Hopping Pot and grab some Butterbeer ice-cream, Tongue Tying Lemon Squash, Peachtree Fizzing Tea, and more.
When fans are first introduced to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books and movies, it is as a shopping location. As such, the unique and interesting shopping locations here make perfect sense. For those wanting to peak into the darker side, head over to the famous Knockturn Alley shop – Borgin and Burkes. Here you can find film replicas, accessories, and even a very famous cabinet. Want to shop like a Wizard? Trade in some of your U.S. currency for Gringotts bank notes at the Gringotts Money Exchange. You can use the money throughout the Wizarding World and trade it back to traditional currency at Guest Services.
For the fashionable visitors, you must stop by Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions. Here you can not only get Hogwarts uniforms and clothing, but also wizard hats and authentic replicas of such items as Dumbledore’s robes and Hermione’s Yule Ball gown. Once you have your robes, you’ll need an animal companion, and can find them at the Magical Menagerie. You can find plush versions of all of your favorite magical creatures. Looking for special stationary, pens, or other writing materials? Head to Scribbulus.
As was the case in Hogsmeade, one of the most special shops in Diagon Alley is Ollivanders. Here, aspiring witches and wizards will have the opportunity to have a wand choose them, or can opt for a famous replica or an Interactive Wand that will make the Wizarding World come alive. *Note: Ollivanders also has a location in Hogsmeade. Not to be outdone, you can also check out the other wand shop – Wands by Gregorovitch (a must for Victor Krum fans).
Not many things can spark your imagination like special sweets, and you can find them all at Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop. From Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans to Acid Pops, good luck walking in without grabbing something for late (and even better luck actually saving it that long!).
For the tricksters out there, you’ll feel right at home at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. This novelty joke shop from Fred and George Weasley you can find all of your favorite mischief making devices. If you are looking for more traditional wizard supplies, then Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment is the place for you. You can find crystal balls, moon charts, hourglasses, and apparel for every Hogwarts house.
Just like any stranded witch or wizard, guests to Diagon Alley can flag down the Knight Bus. You can look inside, hear some banter from the shrunken head, and talk to the conductor. Note: The Knight Bus here is one of two actual props used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Additionally, Diagon Alley has some incredibly exciting live performances. First, you have the musical stylings of Molly Weasley’s favorite singer (and band), Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. On top of that you have the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts presentation of the Tales of Beedle the Bard. This presentation includes the telling of several of the tales with some fantastic sets, props and, puppets. This should be a must see for every visitor.
Mouse For Less Tips
Want to get the most out of your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Here are some of our best tips!
Take Advantage of Early Park Admission
Guests who book a vacation package, stay at one of the Universal Resort on-site hotels, or have a Preferred or Premier Annual Pass have the opportunity to enter one of the parks an hour before scheduled park opening with Early Park Admission. During this time, you will be able to enter Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley and ride all of the rides except the Hogwarts Express. This time is incredibly valuable to maximize your time in the parks and experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions with shorter waits.
Get a Park to Park Ticket
As mentioned above, to get the full experience of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you have to get the “Park to Park” add on for your ticket. Without it you are unable to ride the Hogwarts Express, so even if you are planning on spending a day in each park you still won’t be able to hit everything. You will undoubtedly feel the draw of Platform 9 and 3/4 when you are there, so why not plan ahead and get the park to park ticket ahead of time.
With the Universal Express Pass you can make the most of your time in both theme parks by skipping the lines! The Express Pass is valid at participating rides and attractions; separate theme park admission is required. Many of the attractions of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter were recently added. Guests can use Universal Express at the following attractions:
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express
- Flight of the Hippogriff
Visit During Special Events
While always magical, a few times during the year the Wizard World becomes even more magical. First, you have the Celebration of Harry Potter, which include celebrity guests, panel discussions, and more. Around the holiday season, you will also see Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a part of the Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort. This includes not only beautiful decorations, but also special food options and performances.
Use an Interactive Wand
When Diagon Alley opened, they also introduced Interactive Wands in addition to the existing stock of replica wands. These wands, while they do cost a little more money, interact with the environment at special marked spots (and a few secret ones). There are a variety of options, and the best selection is at Ollivanders. Bonus tip: Universal also allows you the opportunity to order your wand in advance, so you can start making magic right when you arrive.
Grab a Butterbeer
If you’re looking for this unique treat at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you have the ability to pick it up in many places, in many different versions! While most places have lines for Frozen and regular butterbeer, The Hogs Head is actually somewhere you can pick up one of these beverages, with a generally smaller wait. Not in the mood for liquid butterbeer? Consider picking up butterbeer fudge, butterbeer ice cream, and more.
Take your Time
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly set a new standard for an immersive theme park environment, and did so with one of the most beloved stories of modern time. As such, each of these parks has a ton of details, surprises, and secrets to be discovered. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to not only ride the rides and drink some Butterbeer, but just explore and exist in the space itself.