During our trip to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, we spent a good amount of both days in the Harry Potter sections of each park. Let’s be honest- it is what drew me to this theme park to begin with. I have wanted to go from the moment I heard they were building it. And it didn’t disappoint. To fully enjoy this section, you have to get the two-day two park pass. This will allow you to ride the Hogwarts express train. However, if you choose to only get a one-day pass for each park, you can still experience the Harry Potter area. You just can’t hop back and forth between the two without going all the way out and through the front gates of Universal.
This section of Universal is broken into two areas, the London area and the Hogwarts school area. Each has its own rides, food, and entertainment but they are both connected in their ability to fully immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter. You will hear the music and sounds from the movies all through this area giving you the feeling of being in one of the movies. It truly is a magical place to experience!
We first visited the London side, which is found in the Universal Studios theme park. As you near this side of the park you find King’s Cross Station, the Knight Bus next to a fountain from the Magical Beast movie, and a strip of homes on Grimald Place (where the home of Sirius Black is located). Each of these sections are perfectly designed to look as if you are in London. You can go to the train station and hop on the Hogwarts Express through platform 9 ¾ , visit Stan and the shrunken head at the Knight Bus, knock on the door at number 12 Grimald Place, or enter through the secret entrance to Diagon Alley. We passed by this entrance the first time and didn’t realize we had missed it until passing King’s Cross and leaving the area completely. Look for the crowds of fans entering what looks like a small hallway. They have created an illusion to make the entrance look like a flat wall when looking straight on. There are two of these entrances or exits. One will lead you through the brick wall and straight to Diagon Alley with a straight shot to the Gringott’s bank and life size dragon, the other will lead you to the right side of the alley called Carkitt Market and more shops.
In Diagon Alley you will find several stores to shop at that are from the books and movies each complete with a store front that is decked out! You can find joke items at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, candy at Sugarplum’s Sweetshop, clothes at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, decorations, toys, food, and anything you could possibly want to look the part of a Hogwarts student. Just remember it is all overpriced items that can be bought anywhere online. Save your money on the trinkets and spend it on the butter beer options instead. On day one we were a little overwhelmed when we first entered and didn’t know where to start. We decided to go straight to the Escape from Gringotts ride and then go from there. This ride was one of my favorites. You do need to put your belongings in the free lockers. (Remember the size is small for the free ones) I would definitely suggest riding before buying all the fun stuff or eating too much. The lockers are at the exit of the ride if some of your family stays behind. When you enter into the bank you will see that it looks just like the movie!
It has a huge chandelier in the main foyer, with all the goblins at their teller stations counting coins. We lucked out and didn’t have a long wait for this ride. You funnel through into a large room as a group and watch a short video, before boarding an elevator that takes you to the main ride. Once in the dungeon or ride entrance, you board a small cart similar to a mining cart. The ride is 3D and requires glasses that are picked up before getting to the boarding area. Once on the ride be prepared for sudden drops, spinning, tilting, and fun. It will trigger equilibrium problems, so if you are like me just don’t wear the glasses. That way you can look around and level your head easily in the turns. I rode this ride twice, once the first day and once the second. I wore the glasses the first day and got a little dizzy, but not on the second day when I was already messed up from other rides. The second time didn’t have as much surprise, but was much easier on my head not wearing the glasses. After this ride we got our first butterbeer, watched the outdoor theatre performers do The Tale of the Brothers from Beedle the Bard, and then caught the dragon above Gringotts spew its fiery flames.
You can feel the heat from the flame even when you aren’t directly by it! After that we took our youngest to Olivander’s wand shop. Our youngest up until this point didn’t want anything to do with the Harry Potter movies. But once he saw all the other kids with wands trying to cast the interactive spells, he was hooked. Here is where we got a little bummed. They let in a small group at a time to go see Mr. Olivander. Once in the room, he will talk about wands and do the exact spill he did in the movie with Harry. He then chooses one child to come forward and have the wand choose him. Unfortunately, only one child per group gets picked, so some children will get upset when they aren’t the chosen child. Be prepared for that, so your child knows in advance that they might not get picked. Also be prepared that if your child does get picked, you will still have to pay for that wand, it isn’t a free gift. Ours wasn’t chosen, but that was ok, because he then got to pick out the wand, he liked best. They have several to choose from. Some are replicas from the movie, and some are interactive. In order to do the spells throughout the park you need the interactive $63 wand. This thankfully is repairable! As our son scratched the censor on the tip within the first few hours of obtaining it. Once you have your wand go locate all the fun spots marked with gold plates on the ground. The markers show you the wand movement and words to say. These can be silly, but fun. One of the markers is in Carkitt Market near the far-right entrance/exit. It is a wishing well with one of the merfolk from the lake by Hogwarts. When you activate the spell water shoots out towards the crowd. Be sure to watch for water and a drain. That is where not to stand if you don’t want to get wet. It is also near a good spot to sit at a picnic table and enjoy one of the many drinks themed to that area. I believe you can even get some adult beverages there, but I stuck to the frozen and regular butter beer and a pumpkin juice.
Speaking of beverage, you can find several options throughout both park areas. I saw a stand selling with what looked like different flavored drinks made to look like potions under the elevated train track. The last area of Diagon Alley we went through is the dark Knockturn Alley where you can find all things creepy. We never ran into any of the death eaters, but I have heard you can find them on occasion dressed completely with their capes and mask. We didn’t spend much time in there, but instead used it as a cut through to the restrooms found in Horizont Alley. Given more time I would have explored Borgin and Burkes, but we had lots more to see in the park.
On to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. We spent our second day there. After getting really motion sick on some large rides we made our way to Hogsmeade for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Be sure you have the Universal app before going! We used the app to order and pay for our meal while standing in line. By doing this we were able to pick out the items, notify of food allergies, and pay without standing in another line. I’ll talk all about the food later, for now I want to mention the service and ambience. It was so simple! You stand in line until they lead you to a table big enough for your party number. Then you either order or wait for your food to be brought out. If you have any allergies, as I do, they will send a chef out to your table who asks about the allergy and assures you how your meal will be prepared. The food comes out marked to your table number and once done you either pay at the exit by the bar, or just leave. We were able to just leave since our bill was paid and the receipt was sent straight to our email. While waiting you can relax in a cool area that looks like a rustic wood building. I was in love with all the wood arches and walkways. I would love a building like that, but glad I don’t have to worry about dusting one.
After eating we cleaned up and went to watch the tail end of the Hogwarts Frog choir (performers singing with their toads). The boys then road the Flight of the Hippogriff while Jim and I sat and took pictures under the Hogwarts Castle.
The Castle is the site of another ride. You enter and get to tour through some walkways inside the castle complete with moving and talking paintings. This ride is called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, it takes you on a virtual ride through the skies around Hogwarts school. Be advised it will make you ill if you have any motion sickness! If this happens to you during the ride, do like I did and close your eyes while massaging your ears. It helped a little bit. Needless to say, that was my cue to take it easier for the rest of the day. After that we strolled through a little of Hogsmeade before catching the Hogwarts express back to Kings cross station and entering Diagon Alley.
We came back to Diagon Alley right at dusk to enjoy some more butter beer and get our son’s wand fixed at Ollivander’s. It was a completely different atmosphere at this time.
The crowds had died down a bit and we were able to access the interactive spots a little more easily. We went straight to the front on the Gringotts ride at this point as well. I do heavily recommend seeing the Dragon spew fire at night at least once. It is such a cool sight. And if you are able to hop back and forth from the parks that makes it much easier. I hope all of our experience helps you to better plan your trip. We had a blast and would definitely go back to see all the things we missed. And if nothing else get more butter beer! I think I need to make a copy cat of it one day. It was really good!