The Harry Potter Studio Tour in the UK is impressive but nothing can prepare you for the scale and attention to detail that you experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. Even if you are not a Harry Potter fan it would be very difficult not to be impressed by this amazing world that has been created, it really feels as though you have been transported into the Harry Potter movies.
To make your visit even more magical here are 25 things to look out for and do during your next visit to Hogsmeade (Universal’s Island of Adventures) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Visit the red telephone box outside Leicester Square station, dial 62442 (MAGIC) and you can speak to the actual Ministry of Magic.
When in London before going to Diagon Alley, look at the upstairs windows of 12 Grimmauld Place. Kreacher can be seen peaking out from behind the net curtains.
Visit the Knight Bus and have a chat with Dre Head who is interactive and can answer your questions and make jokes. If you go at the back entrance of the bus you can actually go inside.
The Leaky Caldron can be seen from the London streets before you enter Diagon Alley which is meant to be invisible to muggles. Its in-between the bookshop and record shop on Charing Cross Road as described in the books.
Keep looking at the giant animatronic Weasley on the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes store. As well as lifting up his hat and moving his eyebrows if you look closely you will see a rabbit come out of his hat.
Take time to talk to the muggles and wizards throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They are all in character, so friendly and can answer any of your questions. Try asking the muggles at Kings Cross where is platform 9 ¾ or show them your magic wand and watch their reaction !
At the Magical Menagerie store, we had such a fright because when you stand outside the window the snake (like the boa constrictor at the zoo in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) will speak to you in in Parseltongue. Within the store look up at the ceiling to see some strange creatures.
You can have a conversation with the interactive animatronic goblin at the Gringotts Money Exchange which was so much fun. Try asking it questions such as “about the dragon”, “are you a house elf” or “do you know Harry Potter”. You can also exchange your muggle money (US Dollars) into Harry Potter bank notes that can be used in the shops and restaurants at Universal .
The giant dragon that perches on top of the bank breathes actual fire at random times during the day – just listen for the grumble. You can feel the heat generated on the streets of Diagon Alley below.
Visit Ollivander’s Shop. The attention to detail in the store is amazing and was one of the highlights of our visit to Universal. You can either choose your own wand from the huge selection available or you can have a special experience with the wand maker, where the wand chooses you – just like in the Harry Potter movie. If the shops are busy, you can also buy wands from carts located outside Hogwarts Castle and in Diagon Alley.
The wands that you purchase in Ollivander’s or at Hogsmead are no ordinary wands, they are magical. Using our maps and wands we cast special spells at shop windows, fountains and statues throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmead (there are gold plates throughout the park with the spell name and wand motion for casting it ) – the effects that occur are amazing. Although the interactive wands cost $63 we had so much fun and it made the Wizarding World of Harry Potter even more magical especially when trying the “wingardium leviosa” spell to float a feather.
Not all of the spell locations for the interactive wands are marked on the map. There are two hidden locations which can be found in the storefront of the Slug and Jiggers Apothecary on Diagon Alley, and the other can be found in the right-hand window of Scribbulus Writing Implements on Horizont Alley.
Go for lunch at the Leaky Cauldron or the Three Broomsticks where you will be served a distinctive English themed Harry Potter menu including fish and chips and shepherd’s pie along with Butterbeer and pumpkin juice drinks. Watch you don’t get wet however as the sign outside the Leaky Caludron really does leak water!
Visit Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions where you can purchase a Hogwarts robe. At over $100 the robes are not cheap but are excellent quality. There was even a special inside pocket to keep your wand safe. Complete with their wands from Ollivander’s the girls loved trying on these magical robes and looking into the interactive mirror which gives you advice (be warned its not always nice advice!).
When casting your Aquamenti spell to get the fountain to squirt out water, watch out your spell makes a stream of water shoot down on you. (Remember to look for the hidden sensor when casting your spell and use small movements.)
There are so many things to experience and lots of great shops, each unique in their own way, full of merchandise from the books and the movies. For example at Gladrags Wizardwear, look out for a cat made from measuring tape moving its tail and look out for Hagrid’s motorcycle.
All of our expectations were surpassed with our Hogwarts Express experience. As you walk through Kings Cross station at Universal Studios the theming is so authentic it was like being back in London. The times on the train timetable correspond with the real destinations and the actual time of day back in the UK.
Make sure you that you ride the Hogwarts Express both ways. The experience is different depending on which way you travel. Remember you need the park to park ticket.
Look out for people going through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ when taking the the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station. If you stand back from the entrance to the tunnel leading to the train, you will see the people in front of you will appear to walk through a solid brick wall – it’s a really cool special effect.
As you wait on the Kings Cross Platform you should be able to spot a special passenger waiting to board the train – Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl.
When in Hogsmead you have to visit Honeydukes – the legendary wizarding sweets shop famous for its chocolate and many, wonderful and wild sweets, and the store at Universal is just like the film. The experience is brilliant and the chocolate frogs were delicious – you also get a trading card like in the movie.
If you fancy a cool down from the Orlando heat then we recommend Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley and their famous Butterbeer-flavoured ice creams.
You can get a private tour of Hogwarts. In front of the castle ask one of the attendants could you take a castle tour. Subject to availability and volume of people within Hogwarts they will take you on a private tour. This is great for families with younger children who can’t ride to experience Hogwarts.
You can send real mail and postcards from the Owl Post. You can even buy Harry Potter themed stamps and every piece of mail gets a special Hogsmeade postmark, which makes a great souvenir when you arrive back home.
As you walk down Knockturn Alley you will notice a big temperature drop and the sky changes to night. There is even a dancing skeleton spell that mimics your own movements. Even your map that comes with your wand becomes more magical at Knockturn Alley. There is a secret hidden message that is only readable in this darkened cobbled street.
At Enternelle’s Elixr of Refreshments you can mix your own drinkable potions. Or try the famous butterbeer which comes in fresh and frozen varieties and tastes much nicer than the one served at the studio tour in London.
If you have younger children who don’t want to go on, or are too short to on some of the faster rides you don’t need to miss out. Ask staff about baby swap, where one parent goes on the ride while the other watches the children in the baby swap room. If one of your children is not tall enough to ride ask for a height certificate. This will give you an express pass to return to the ride in the future when they are tall enough.
When to visit
I would recommend visiting midweek (Mon-Wed) as early as possible in the day, especially for the key attractions such as the Hagrid’s as there is no Express available. Alternatively arrive later in the day after 4pm as it starts to quieten down. Even better than Express passes is choosing to stay on-site at one of the Universal Hotels where you get an hour early access before the park opens to the public
Ready to book?
From the UK, the best value tickets for Universal Orlando’s can be purchased in advance at Attractiontickets.com or FloridaTix – these include unlimited 14 day access to the Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay Water Parks.