My family was on vacation in Florida the first week of March (when my husband had a teaching break for the University of Michigan’s spring break). We spent three days at Universal Studios and six days at Walt Disney World. In this week’s homework packet, my daughter had an assignment to write a paragraph about any topic. She decided to write about our trip to Diagon Alley, the new Harry Potter area at Universal Studios. I thought I would share her paragraph with you.
I went to the new Diagon Alley area at Universal Studios. The Gringott’s Bank ride was a lot of fun, so I suggest riding it. It was fun to do magic with my interactive wand. The Butter Beer at Universal is made with cream soda. They also have Butter Beer flavored ice cream. My dad liked it, but I preferred the apple cider. A fun way to travel between the two parks is Hogwart’s Express. You also should ride both ways, because the ride is different both ways.
While her paragraph is a nice summary, I want to expand a bit on her writing.
Diagon Alley at Universal Studios
In 2007 Universal Studios announced that they would be adding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to their Florida theme parks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opened at their Islands of Adventure theme park in 2010. The second phase, Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley opened in the Universal Studios theme park in summer 2014.
Gringotts Bank Ride
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is the only ride in Diagon Alley. In the ride, you get to explore the vaults at Gringotts. Along the way, you will meet Harry, Ron, Hermione, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Lord Voldemort. The queue for the ride winds through the main lobby of Gringotts where the goblins are hard at work at their desks. Everything looks and feels so real.
During the ride, you will be in vehicles with several rows of 4. The ride vehicles can pivot, bounce, and otherwise simulate motion as you proceed through a variety of scenes that are a combination of projected movies and three dimensional sets.
The ride has a 48″ height requirement, but offers a child swap service for those with smaller children. The line can get fairly long, so your best bet is to ride it first thing in the morning or late in the evening. My family took advantage of the single rider line in order to ride it a second time with a shorter wait. I do recommend using the normal line at least once as the single rider line bypasses most of the queue including the bank lobby.
As with many rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, no bags or loose items are allowed on the ride. Free* lockers are offered outside of the ride entrance. Locker access is controlled by a finger print. Don’t be tempted by your child’s pleas to use their finger print. I gave in to my daughter on our last trip and it was unable to find her fingerprint to unlock the locker and I saw others with the same problem. My guess is that they do not save fingerprints that are under a certain size because of child privacy laws.
*Lockers are free for a short time that corresponds to the ride’s typical ride/wait time. They were always sufficiently long enough for us to ride and retrieve our belongings well within the time frame.
Wands are available for sale in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. You have the choice of letting the wand select the wizard (i.e. choosing your own), or selecting the wand of one of the characters. My daughter opted for a Hermione wand. Wands are available for many of the main and secondary characters (including dark wizards). The wands are available both as a plain wand and as an interactive wand. I don’t remember the exact prices, but the plain wands are around $37 with the interactive wand around $45. Also, be sure to bring either a AAA card or your American Express card for a 10% discount on purchases of $50 and more in merchandise and purchases of any price on food.
With an interactive wand, you can do magic at a number of points throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. My daughter was able to setoff fireworks at Honeydukes, turn a water fountain on and off in Diagon Alley, unlock doors in Knockturn Alley, make it rain, turn lanterns on, and much more.
If your child has any interest in Harry Potter, I would add an Interactive Wand to your vacation budget. It is a big enough portion of the activities in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I would consider it an activity cost instead of a souvenir cost. If you have more than one child, you may be able to convince them to share a wand.
Gringotts Money Exchange
In addition to your stop at the Escape from Gringotts ride, you should stop at the Gringotts Money Exchange located in the shops. There you will encounter a goblin that you can speak with and you can also exchange your Muggle money for Wizarding Money. Wizarding money is accepted throughout the Universal Resorts.
We were able to charge the exchange to our on-site room so we did not need actual Muggle cash. You can also make the exchange using a credit card.
Butterbeer & Other Beverages
Butterbeer is available throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. It is served hot, cold, or frozen. Cold butterbeer is basically a cream soda with a froth layer on top. My husband is a big fan of butterbeer, but my daughter and I are not. My preferred beverage in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Pumpkin Juice. My daughter prefers the Apple Cider. I am not surprised that my daughter doesn’t like butterbeer since she does not like carbonated beverages. We didn’t try the hot or frozen butterbeers.
And yes, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor in Diagon Alley sells butterbeer flavored ice cream. My husband ordered it and both he and my daughter really liked it.
As in the books and movie Hogwart’s Express runs between King’s Cross Station and Hogsmeade. In order to ride Hogwart’s Express you need to have a park hopper ticket that allows you to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the same day.
From Diagon Alley, you need to exit to London (make sure to stop and see the Knight Bus and talk with the conductor and shrunken head) to reach King’s Cross Station. As you enter the station, you will need to present your ticket for entry to Islands of Adventure. After presenting your ticket, you will pass through the wall to reach Platform 9 3/4.
On Platform 9 3/4, you will see Harry’s cart complete with Hedwig.
Once on the train, you will be assigned to a compartment with up to a total of 10 people. Each compartment has a video window that will show your journey on the train. Harry, Ron, & Hermoine will also travel the corridors and you will see their silhouette through your compartment window and hear their discussions.
I do recommend riding the train in both directions as the ride is slightly different. If you only ride it in one direction, I recommend riding from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade to go through the wall to enter Platform 9 3/4.
The Leaky Cauldron
Dining is available in Diagon Alley at The Leaky Cauldron. We had breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron. After placing your order you are provided with a candlestick to take to your seat so that they can deliver your food.
The best part of the breakfast (aside from the beverages) were the fresh croissants. We all ordered pancakes as our breakfast. We had tried the eggs the previous day at Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and were not impressed so we did not order them again.
As part of our vacation, we had booked the Harry Potter package which included one breakfast at Leaky Cauldron and one breakfast at Three Broomsticks (in Hogsmeade).
Shopping in Diagon Alley
There is a wide variety of shopping in Diagon Alley. You can visit many of the stores described in the books like Ollivander’s, Madam Malkin’s Robes, Borgin & Burkes in Knockturn Alley, and Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. Yes, you can buy many of Fred & George Weasley’s creations at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. We actually did most of our purchasing at Hogsmeade since we were there on our first day (my daughter’s wand) and our last day (candy at Honeydukes). While we didn’t buy anything in Diagon Alley, it was fun to explore the shops.
Lots of Fun at Diagon Alley
We had a great time in our 3 days at Universal. They have done a great job on Diagon Alley and Hogwart’s Express. It was unbelievable how realistic parts of the park look. It truly was like being in Diagon Alley.