A Stroll Down Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Florida
[AD: We visited Universal Orlando free of charge, in exchange for blog coverage.]
In my last post about our trip to Universal Orlando, we were at Islands of Adventure, where we’d just enjoyed a visit to the village of Hogsmeade, complete with a trip around Hogwarts castle. And, once you’ve done all that, there’s only one thing left to do, isn’t there?
Go to London.
Er, by which I mean go to Universal Studios, where they’ve turned a huge section of the park into Diagon Alley, from the Harry Potter books.
Now, the first thing to note here is that the two Harry Potter attractions are in separate parks, located right next to each other. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Where you’ll find Hogwarts, and everything else from my previous post) is located in the Islands of Adventure park, while Diagon Alley is right next door, at Universal Studios. This is a pretty clever marketing ploy from Universal Orlando, because it means that if you want to see both, you’ll have to buy tickets to both parks: on the plus side, though, it does mean you get to ride the Hogwarts Express, which links Hogsmeade Station to London King’s Cross:
You can take the train in either direction (We did, and I highly recommend it if you have the time, because the ride is slightly different depending on the direction of travel…), but, for our first trip, we boarded at Hogsmeade for the short ride to London/ Universal Studios.
While this was me and Terry’s first time on the Hogwarts Express, my parents rode it not long after it opened, and haven’t stopped talking about it since, basically, so we were keen to give it a go. Well, all I can say is we weren’t disappointed: while the train is actually transporting you between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, once you’re on board, you’ll feel like you’re travelling from Hogwarts to London – with a few little surprises along the way. I won’t say any more here, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but suffice to say that, as a Harry Potter fan, I had a bit of a lump in my throat by the time we arrived in “London”: as with every other aspect of these two parks, the train ride is just so perfectly imagined that it’s easy to believe you’re actually inside the Harry Potter world, which is truly magical if you’re a fan. Max, of course, is still too young to have any awareness of Harry Potter, but I’ve been looking forward to reading the books to him since before he was born, and I can’t wait to bring him to Universal to see it all for himself!
Once we’d arrived in London, we disembarked the train, and stepped outside the station, where we found the Knight Bus waiting for us:
Now, I thought THIS was pretty cool: but then we turned into an unassuming side street right next to it, and here’s what was waiting for us:
Only a freaking fire-breathing dragon, folks. (Yes, it breathes real fire: if you stand close enough, you’ll feel the heat from it…)
In this part of the park, J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley has been recreated, right down to the tiniest detail. As well as Gringott’s Bank, which is the centrepiece of the park, and home to the ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride (No, we didn’t go on it: the line was super-long, and the description on the front made it sound like the most terrifying thing in the entire world to me…), you’ll also find stores like Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour (We DID go into that one, obviously…), Ollivanders, and, of course, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes:
As with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, these are all real shops and restaurants, so it’s a totally interactive experience. In terms of comparison, I’m not sure what the size difference is between the two parks, but Diagon Alley feels larger, with more to see – in fact, there’s even a suitably sinister feeling Knockturn Alley to explore, where you’ll find Borgin and Burkes, as well as other attractions dedicated to the Dark Arts. The thing that really struck me as we wandered around, though, was the attention to detail: it’s very obvious that this park has been created by people who know the Harry Potter books inside-out, and, if you’re a fan, you’ll notice countless little details that I don’t think you could fail to appreciate.
For Max, meanwhile, the highlight of his visit came while we were watching some children use the wands they’d purchased at Ollivander’s to make one of the water fountains do tricks. (As I mentioned in my last post, when you buy a wand here, you’ll find various places dotted around both parks where you can use it…) When the “witch” (a.k.a. cast member) supervising the fountain noticed him watching, she came over to speak to him, and then, seeing how interested he was in her wand, she not only let him hold it, but went off to the nearby Butterbeer stand to fashion him a wand of his own from some drinking straws. Max was absolutely delighted with this, and it was just so nice of the woman to take the time to come and speak to him – and so typical of the kind of staff you find at Universal, who’ll all go out of their way to interact with guests, and particularly with children.
Once you leave Diagon Alley, meanwhile, what do you find just outside?
Grimmauld Place, of course! And if you look very carefully at the windows of number 12, you might just see a certain little house elf peeking out of the window…