Your Inside Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The magic of Hogwarts is only a plane ride away.
By Calvin Hennick
My kids are obsessed with Harry Potter.
My five-year-old daughter dressed up as Harry for Halloween (and sometimes wears the costume eyeglasses as part of her regular outfit, along with a drawn-in scar on her forehead). My eight-year-old son rushes to his bedroom to curl up with one of the increasingly doorstop-sized books nearly every day after school. The audiobooks start playing when I turn on my car. And more often than not, my children choose one of the films for their weekly movie night.
So, it was more or less a forgone conclusion that we would end up at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. Here is our report from our muggle scouting expedition:
The Basics – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between two parks, connected by the Hogwarts Express. To see both, you’ll need a two-park ticket granting you access to Universal Studios Florida (home to Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley) and Islands of Adventure (home to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle). We had three-day passes, so we dipped in and out of the wizarding life in between jaunts to other parts of the parks. Much of the fun comes from just wandering through the magical world and seeing the delight on your kids’ faces as the books come to life before their eyes.
The Hogwarts Express – The slowest Harry Potter ride of all may also be the most fun! You can take the train in either direction, but we started at King’s Cross Station, just outside of Diagon Alley, and made our way through the line to Platform 9 ¾. Yes, you really do pass through the brick wall, thanks to the magic of … I think it’s something to do with mirrors? (Honestly, I was too busy getting the perfect photo of my little wizards evaporating into the bricks to investigate thoroughly.)
The trip is more than just transportation. I won’t give too much away, but you’ll see plenty outside your window, and you just might hear your favorite characters’ voices (and get a glimpse of their silhouettes) as they pass outside your cabin door.
The Rides – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure has only been open since last July, and it’s extremely popular, with lines often stretching for up to two hours. It will definitely whip your hair back, but for younger kids, the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster is plenty exciting.
I opted out of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, warned by my wife and son that it wouldn’t agree with my weak stomach. But fans who have steelier nerves (and who, unlike my daughter, clear the 48-inch height requirement) won’t want to miss the chance to fly around with Harry and escape from Dementors. I did make it through Escape from Gringotts, a spooky, thrilling, 3D indoor coaster that very nearly had me believing in dragons.
The Wands – Let’s be real: If you come to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a kid, you’re leaving with a wand! An interactive wand goes for $55, and it will allow your little wizard to “cast spells” at some marked locations in the parks – where, for instance, water will start falling from an umbrella. You can buy wands from carts or shops, including the famed Ollivanders (where you can also view a wand selection show).
Hogwarts – The castle cuts an impressive figure above Hogsmeade, and you can tour the inside either by waiting in line for the Forbidden Journey ride, or simply telling the ride staff that you want to take the tour. My kids beamed, getting to see the talking portraits and the Sorting Hat and Dumbledore’s office. At night, an impressive lightshow plays on the castle’s exterior, with a little bit of fireworks thrown in at the end. We must have watched the show five or six times over three days, and the kids never grew tired of it.
The Food – We didn’t actually eat any meals inside the Harry Potter-themed sections of the parks, but there are several options, including the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks. Instead, we focused on the treats! Honeydukes in Hogsmeade and Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop in Diagon Alley both offer up a myriad of delights that will be familiar to book readers. My kids were into the Acid Pops and Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, while I indulged in the novelty of sharing a chocolate frog on the Hogwarts Express, just like the characters in the books.
Butterbeer, a delicious non-alcoholic, butterscotch-flavored drink, is on offer around every corner. It comes either cold or frozen (and hot, during the winter), and is topped with a satisfyingly frothy head. If you want to take the flavor home with you, the candy shops sell butterbeer-flavored fudge. But be sure to buy enough! Ours was gone before our plane arrived back in Boston.