Hi! It’s Annie!
Lately I’ve been on a kick of sharing a little about some of my geeky travels and I figured that this was the next stop. Sure, I’ve been to Universal Studios and seen Hogsmeade tons of times. After Disneyland raised their prices for the upteenth time and my family couldn’t afford it anymore, it seemed like the natural place to go after was the much cheaper Universal Studios Hollywood. I’m actually not mad at this at all, though I do miss it since I’ve been in quarantine for so long. But I did actually visit the Orlando equivalent of my favorite home park, and I have to say that I absolutely loved it. Though it’s mostly because of Harry Potter. (The Cat in the Hat ride at ‘Islands of Adventure’ is terrifying). Though I will never be able to get over Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts castle, there’s something about Diagon Alley that I liked better. I don’t know if it’s the general feeling or the fact that it’s not something I can see as often, but I really do like Diagon Alley better. Let’s get into why this is one of my favorite things I have ever seen from a theme park in my life.
I know Hogsmeade has the weirdly shaped buildings that feel very cottage-y and cozy. I love those too! But the different shaped, colored, and leaning buildings really makes you feel transported into a distinctly wizardy world. Each shop has a unique sign to go along with it’s unique color and there’s also plenty to explore. The shops here feel much more diverse in what they sell as well and it makes it feel like there’s much more to see.
This is the shop that Harry, Ron, and Hermione shopped at to buy new robes and sometimes robes for special occasions. Like the Yule Ball for instance. Because of that you can see several costumes from the film inside the store including Hermione’s Yule Ball gown, Fleur’s wedding dress, and also some specific Death Eater robes. One of the best parts of the store is a large mirror that will talk to you if you stand in front of it and will give you an opinion on your outfit.
This is the ice cream parlor from the books. I distinctly remember it’s mention in the third book when Harry visits there every day to do homework during his stay at Diagon Alley. Florean Fortescue gives him free ice cream and even helps him out with his homework at times. Because this is a shop mentioned frequently in the books, it is to be expected that the shop has flavors that are mentioned in the books. The butterbeer ice cream is almost better than butterbeer itself and the shop also carries strawberry peanut butter ice cream as well as raspberry chocolate. I’ve tried all three of those flavors and fell in love with each of them. Seriously, some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.
Almost nothing beats the way you enter Diagon Alley. Outside is the depiction of a London street that includes Kings Cross Station (which is what you use if you take the train in between both parks) and it also actually features Grimmauld Place. If you keep an eye on the windows over the street you’ll be able to spot Kreacher peeking out. The street also has the Knight Bus, the purple double decker bus that’s from the third book and movie. You have to walk past a seemingly closed brick wall to see where the wall has come apart, just like it does when Hagrid taps the wall in the first movie, in order to then enter Diagon Alley.
I wasn’t actually entirely expecting the length to which they went in making this look authentic. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of Diagon Alley. The entrance is slightly secluded, but there is an ominous arrow pointing to the dark alley where it really feels like you might get mugged if it wasn’t in a theme park. Here you can visit Borgin and Burkes which features one of my absolute favorite props in all of the parks. Remember the vanishing cabinet that Draco uses in the sixth book and film to transport Death Eaters into Hogwarts? It’s there. If you stand close to it you can hear the chirping of a bird inside, like it’s possibly stuck in eternal nothingness after Draco’s first failed test of the object.
This is the focal point of Diagon Alley and it really is for a reason. When you enter, the first thing you see is the giant dragon from the seventh movie on top of the wizarding bank. Every once in a while it will roar rather loudly and spit fire, so if you’re sensitive to loud noises you might want to be aware of that. Upon entering the bank in order to get to the ride that is the focal point of the experience, you get an attraction within the ride. Every piece of this line is meant to be enjoyed once you enter the hall of goblins. Each animatronic feels real and the room is uncommonly big. Almost intimidatingly so. Throughout the line Harry, Ron, and Hermione, can often be heard or kind of seen shuffling about trying to find one of the final horcruxes. So this is Hermione as Bellatrix for some of it. You then enter an elevator where you are met by Bill Weasley (we should not forget that he’s a curse breaker for Gringotts), who takes you down a large elevator that really moves and shifts. The elevator was really fun for me, but I can see how it would make someone motion sick.
Escape from Gringotts:
When I first went on this ride the attraction had just opened. Because of this, they were having technical problems. The ride is still known for having technical problems, but it’s not as bad as it was. My family and I literally got to the very front of the line and were about to board the themed mine cars when the ride broke down. We stood there for an hour waiting for the ride to come back up. Thankfully, one of the people working on the ride was very kind and charismatic and talked to us through the entirety of the situation to help us pass the time. I do actually find Universal employees to be more pleasant than Disneyland ones in both California and Orlando, but I digress. This ride was totally worth the wait. It was fast paced and so immersive. The minute you leave the loading dock you are confronted with Voldemort which gets your adrenaline racing and you’re like that for the rest of the ride. It’s definitely one of my favorite rides I’ve ever experienced.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes:
Obviously, my favorite shop. Though I guess it’s not too obvious because I really love that ice cream. It looks exactly like it does in the movies and with the stairs leading upstairs it feels like Fred and George might appear at any moment. Maybe because they would considering Oliver and James Phelps love visiting this park in particular and have been spotted there. The shop is actually a little narrow and can be hard to navigate in large crowds. But it’s worth seeing even if you have to dip out right away due to claustrophobia. When I was there it was pretty empty. I just have to warn you though; if you buy a pygmy puff they will ask you what you’re naming it and announce it to the entire store. There are no exceptions. Just accept it and laugh. I did not know this going in and blushed bright red, especially because I hadn’t thought of a name for it when I bought it. I ended up just saying Arnold because that’s the name of Ginny’s in the books.
There you have it! Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Orlando is one of the most unique and amazing experiences that you’ll ever find in a theme park. I want to go back so badly now! Curse my need for travel!
See you across the pond!