We have wanted to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a long time, and so when we got the chance to spend time in Florida it was the first thing on our list of things to see. You need a park hopper pass if you want to see the whole thing – there are parts built in both Universal and Islands of Adventure. We started in the Universal side which has a small bit of London and then leads into Diagon Alley. As soon as you walk into Diagon Alley you are greeted by a large dragon on top of Gringotts bank.
The streets are filled with shops. Our first stop was Olivander’s wand shop. You can go to the experience where the wand will pick the wizard, but out of a group of 15-20 they will pick 1 or 2 people. Inside the shop the walls a lined floor to ceiling with boxes of wands.
If you decided to get your wand from the store and not the experience (or if you do not get selected) one of the shop attendants will match you based on birthday or personality with an interactive wand that will work throughout the park. If you do not want the wand to be interactive you can select a famous wand for a little bit less money.
You can then go get outfitted as a wizard. It was a very, very hot day so I opted not to get a robe. We did get hats though, Slytherin for Max and Ravenclaw for Erica.
After we checked out the shops we went to Gringotts bank. This was the first ride that we did. All of the inside areas for rides are appropriately decorated, I am glad that I went on the rides if only just to see the set up inside all of the waiting areas.
The ride itself was a lot of fun, it is hard to pick a favorite ride – they are all really well done. The ride is a 3D experience, and for fans of the series it hits all the highlights in the scenery and the ride (the elevator, bank tellers, bank vaults etc)- yet it also manages to be just different enough to be unexpected. Nocturn Alley is small and I only saw one shop that you could actually go inside – however it was so shaded and cool. I spent time in here just to get a break from the heat and it was much needed.
After the that we went to platform 9 3/4 and got on the Hogwarts Express. This ride is not 3D it is played on a screen that serves as the train window and there is some that plays on the walls of your box car. We exit into Hogsmeade and again are surrounded by the appropriate shops. We had a lunch at Boar’s Head (good food. Try the Shepherds Pie!) The branch of Gringotts on this side has a currency exchange that you can use in the park. Kind of an expensive souvenir if you keep it, and all the stores do take all the normal muggle money as well.
We browsed all of the shops here as well. Even the gift shops attached to rides had a broad range of items and were fun to just walk through. As a big fan of the series I did not need to spend much to still enjoy the aesthetic all around.
We also stumbled onto a few live shows that were being put on. Some told stories, one was a musical show with some humor thrown in. All the actors, shop keepers and ride attendants were constantly in character and as you would expect from such a big park did a great job of helping to build the world. I kind of saw the whole experience as an immersive show.
At the end of Hogsmeade is the castle. We had a view of the castle from lunch, but walking up to it is the way you really get the best experience.
The castle is just a ride, this was probably my biggest pro / con moment of the day. The line takes you through big moments in the castle, you see classrooms, talking artwork and castle scenery but if you do not go on the ride you only get to see the outside. I was really hoping to be able to explore the castle a bot more, and interact with the iconic spots. It would be really nice to have the student-esque experience.
The ride itself would have likely been my favorite, except it got stuck and stopped twice. When we got off the ride and mentioned that to the photo attendant they did not seem surprised. I got the impression that this ride might get stuck a lot due to the fact that to get on the ride you have to get on a conveyor belt and get into the seats while moving some what quickly. If anyone took too long or fell the conveyor belt would have to stop. So that was kind of a bummer, but still a good experience.
Then we went on the Dueling Dragons rollercoaster, and it was the best coaster I have been on in a long time. Make sure you empty your pockets though, even change in your pockets has to go (if you forget you can run it back or donate it in the line). When we got off there is a spot to get back in line for a second ride – we wanted to go back on but it had started to lightly rain so we did not get back on.
After the ride, that was our last major stop, so we went to the sweets shoppe and got some chocolate frogs. These come complete with a holographic card of a famous wizard (We got Dumbledore!!). My last recommendation is to bring a water bottle to fill up at the fountains – water is expensive so spend that money on a Butterbeer or more fun drink.
We spent 90% of our day in Harry Potter world, and then when we did try to see more of the park it rained and most things closed down. I do not regret that choice at all, the Wizarding World was totally worth it.