The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Anybody: “You remember that part of Harry Potter when …”
Me: “I remember every part – go on.”
That’s me and my co-Binge Watcher’s Council members. We’ve read and re-read the books. We’ve watched and re-watched the movies. We’ve followed and made the Pinterest boards, posted the memes, followed the Instagrams, looked at the recipes, played the trivia, joined Pottermore, been sorted into our houses, discussed books for hours and hours and boy – have we bought the merchandise!
The only thing left to do was to have the Harry Potter experience.
(If you did not read that in Snape’s voice, then just go on to something else.)
“First Years – Over here!”
Since we live in the United States, it made the most sense to try “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in Orlando, Florida. There is one in California too, but we live on the East Coast so we can drive to Orlando.
I am not gonna lie, once in Universal Park– after making our way to the “London” part of the park – asking the Kings Cross personnel where one can find Platform 9 3/4 and having him respond to us as though we are nuts (they stay in character which is brilliant) and walking through the bricks (they make the noise!) into the Alley – it all makes us emotional EVERY TIME! Seriously, they pipe in the music from the movies all around you as you find yourself standing in Diagon Alley. It is a pretty special feeling.
From there …
What can you do?
- You can buy a wand at Olivander’s
- You can use the wand as you sip your Gilly Water and make objects move.
- You can buy Quidditch supplies or Robes at Madame Malkins
- You can ride through Gringott’s Bank to escape Voldemort and Bellatrix (see the goblins and moving photos on the Daily Prophet while you wait)
- You can watch the dragon breath fire (if you miss, don’t worry.. it comes around every 20 minutes or so)
- You can buy cauldron cakes, chocolate frogs, and every flavor beans (and they NAIL it!)
- You can dine at the Leaky Cauldron (no Muggle sodas!)
- You can see yourself go through Platform 9 3/4
- You can ride the Hogwart’s Express (views from the window and the shadows in the halls are straight from the movie)
- You can see Hogsmeade Village
- You can see the Castle!!!
- You can walk the halls and see talking portraits, the potions class, Dumbledore’s office
- You can ride through the castle (plus over the woods, through a Qudditch and even see a Dementor)
- You can drink Butterbeer – both regular and frozen are delicious, but frozen is fan favorite
- You can eat at the Three Broomsticks
- You can buy sweets from Honey Dukes
- Hear the Hogwarts quartet sing, see the Beaubaton girls dance, and see the Durmstrang boys do gymnastics
- Ride Buckbeak (okay, okay, it’s a ride not a real hippogriff)
- And so many other experiences that it is hard to type this without wanting to get into my car and go back right now!!
I am leaving out a dozen things but you get the idea. It is brilliant!
The extra details such as the music everywhere, snowcapped cottages and the Night Bus parked in “London” make it an experience you will want to repeat each year (and we do!)
“But Hagrid, I’ve got no money.”
Not gonna lie. You are going to spend some galleons! Fees vary but, you are looking at:
- Park Tickets – $90 – $190 depending on when you go and if you want to cut the lines
- believe me, cutting the line is worth it
- Meals – $5 – $12 per person
- Souvenirs – not cheap but excellent quality (more selection than Warner Brothers in London has!!)
- Transportation and lodging
I am sure there are ways to cut those costs – get discounted tickets, car pool, take sandwiches, buy no souvenirs, stay for free with friends that live in Orlando … but some of that diminishes the experience. Save your money so you can immerse into it all.
Is there a down-side?
When you look at the brochure or website photos and see someone strolling along by themselves in Diagon Alley … that doesn’t happen. Even with early admission, it is crowded and the lines are long. Again, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money for the “Fast Pass” which helps you cut most of the line. You will get to do so much more.
Also – and this is super, nit-picky because we love it all so much – but whoever they got to be “Hermoine’s voice” on the Hogwarts Express does NOT sound like Hermoine at all. Other than that, they go to GREAT lengths to make it as though you are truly there!
- If it is your first time, go as early as possible (the Fast Pass will allow you early admittance and you will want to be there for it… you won’t be the only one but it definitely cuts the time you’ll have to wait for everything)
- Stay close to the park – even on the park if you can
- Buy the fast passes (I’ve mentioned that so much, you’d think I get commission)
- Don’t buy the photos of you on rides. You will like it when you are there, then it goes into a drawer and you forget you have it
- Take tissues for the first time you walk into Diagon Alley – it is an emotional and magical moment
The Warner Brothers Studios Tour
“How dare you stand where he stood!”
There’s only one thing better than being at Harry Potter World (we know that’s not its official name but come on, everyone calls it this) in Orlando and that is traveling to England and visiting all the sets and props of the Harry Potter movies at the Warner Brothers Studios.
First of all – its England!! Where even the car rental guys sound like Harry Potter. (Seriously, we made them say “Pottah!” over and over while we waited on our rental car.) Even if you are not going to the studio, you can visit Windsor Castle, eat beef pies and see the Tower of London… but I digress.
When you wait in line to go into the tour at Warner Brothers, the guide tells you “don’t keep asking if this is the actual item from the movies – it is!!” for good reason. You really do keep wondering, “Is this the ACTUAL ____ from the movies?!?” It really was!
The only thing that tops the moment you walk into Diagon Alley is when (Spoiler!!) they pull back the curtain and reveal the doors of The Great Hall. It is a gasp-worthy/scream type moment for a fan of the Potter world. Then you are standing in the Great Hall!!!!
Then, you begin a self-guided walking tour where you can:
- Stand in the Great Hall
- See the letters from Hogwarts flying around in the Privet Drive living room
- See the Gryffindor Common Room
- See all the costumes
- See Dumbledore’s office
- So much behind the scenes footage and making instructions
- Walk in the Forbidden Forest and bow to Buckbeak
- See a Spider
- Stand at the Hogwarts gates
- See Hagrid’s Hut, the Borrough kitchen, the Malfoy Manor dining room
- Film yourself riding a broom
- Take a “Wanted” photo
- Walk the bridge
- Stand in the Privet Drive driveway
- Sit on the Hogwarts Express
- Walk in the real Diagon Alley (way smaller than Universal!)
- Buy souvenirs
And so much more…
- Tickets are hard to get – you have to buy them months out. In fact, my co-bingers don’t know this but that was what determined the date for when we traveled to England.
- Tickets are not that expensive – about $50 USD per person or $140 for a family (2 adults and 2 kids). If you are traveling from US to England, do yourself a favor and order the hard copy tickets to be delivered. We saw a woman spend 2 hours during a tour to Warwick Castle on the phone arguing about her tickets that were “no longer available.”
- Take pictures of EVERYTHING. It makes you so happy to look back at the time when you were inches away from the Philosopher’s Stone. (Yes, I know the book is called Sorcerer’s Stone, but JK Rowling regrets that she capitulated to the publisher’s recommendation that she change the name of the stone, so we honor that.)
- I cannot stress this enough: Pause in the middle of the tour to eat the Butterbeer Ice Cream. It is as magical as you can imagine!
This is not the end of the Potter experiences for us. Over the next year, we will ride the new ride at Orlando (yes – we go EVERY year). Someday soon, we will try the one in California … the cruise … the Yule Ball in the Great Hall. That is the beauty of Hogwarts. It is always there to call you home.