The incredibly popular stories and characters from J.K. Rowling's books and the films they inspired cast a spell on millions of fans who have visited -- and adored -- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, which opened in 2010. The Potter lore continued in 2014 with an ambitious expansion at the resort's other park, Universal Studios Florida.
Dubbed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, it explores the London side of Rowling's mythical universe. Given the breakthrough attractions, meticulous attention to detail and storytelling, and overall level of quality Universal delivered at its original Potter land, it's hard to believe that the park wizards could have outdone themselves. But they have. Grab yourself an Elixir to Induce Euphoria (but try to quell your enthusiasm) as we explore the best things at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley.
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Enjoy an Immersive, Highly Themed Experience
The focus is on the high-profile attractions, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Epxress, as it should be. But as at its original Wizarding World, Universal has again proven itself masterful in crafting not only buzz-worthy rides, but a wholly believable and impeccably detailed land that fully envelops guests and transports them to a wonderful, magical place.
The bustling downtown London facsimile seems a world away from the rest of the Studios park, let alone guests' humdrum hometown locales. It's not just the spot-on architecture and whimsical features like the ominous fire-breathing dragon. Everything contributes to the story, and nothing breaks the mythology.
Want a Coke to quench your thirst as you explore the park? Forget it. Coca-Cola doesn't exist in the books or films, and it isn't available at the Wizarding World. Nor is anything else from muggle (non-wizard) society. The cast members all more or less stay in character. It's all part... of an extraordinary commitment to the theme. Go for the rides, but I'll bet you will find yourself charmed by the entire experience.
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Quaff Elixirs, Brews, and Other Beverages
Attendance soared as guests flocked in record numbers to Islands of Adventure after the original Wizarding World opened. But ticket sales weren't the only revenue keeping the goblins at Universal's Gringotts bank busy. You may not be able to purchase Coke, but beverage sales, mostly for the highly addictive (and highly delicious) butterbeer, increased to absurd levels.
There is plenty of butterbeer available at Diagon Alley as well, but Universal is also offering a slew of other exclusive drinks at the new land. It is all part of the plan to boost the resorts' absurd beverage sales levels. Among the drinks offered:
- Elixirs at Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment. Guests can watch as cast members prepare intriguing flavors such as Draught of Peace and Fire Protection Potion.
- Speaking of draught, microbrew selections, brewed exclusively for Universal, include Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew.
- In addition to Pumpkin Juice, which is also available at Hogsmeade, other... strange-sounding, but gotta-try-'em drinks include Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (essentially lemonade) and Fishy Green Ale (with bubble tea pearls standing in for fish eyes).
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Go Shopping for Quidditch Supplies and More
If you want a Potter tchotchke to take home with you, Universal is only more than happy to oblige. Instead of the usual array of T-shirts and other ho-hum gift shop merchandise, there is a selection of odd Wizarding items at shops such as:
- Borgin and Burkes, offering Death Eater masks and other "Dark Arts" products.
- Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, featuring armillary spheres and other stuff wizards apparently require.
- Scribbulus, which has old-timey feather quills, inkwells, and other items that people once used when they -- what was it they did? Oh yeah, write.
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Wreak Havoc with an Interactive Wand
As in Hogsmeade, there is an Ollivanders wand shop in Diagon Alley as well. And like the other shop, there is an engaging show with one of the clerks where the "wand chooses the wizard." There are also wands for sale. But unlike the overpriced, inert pieces of wood that were avaialble at the original Ollivanders, some of the wands at the new shop are interactive.
By following the movements indicated in emblems embedded in the ground, store displays suddenly animate and other interactive shenanigans occur as guests wave their wands throughout Diagon Alley.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Get Some Wizarding Bank Notes
You could pay for your Fishy Green Ale, armillary spheres, and interactive wands with your muggle currency. Or, you could trade in your Benjamins for some Wizarding Bank Notes. You can walk up to a Gringotts Bank goblin, hand in your cash, and get a stash of the special notes to spend at any shops throughout both of the resort's parks.
This is another brilliant money-making (literally) move on Universal's part. I'd imagine many guests want to take the notes home as souvenirs, thereby giving the park some extremely high-priced printed pieces of paper to sell.
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We All Scream for… Clotted Cream?
Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour has over 20 conversation-starting varieties available, including:
- Orange marmalade
- Clotted cream
- Sticky toffee pudding
- Earl Grey and lavender
However, because you could never get enough of the habit-forming flavor in any form, the shop also offers butterbeer soft-serve. It is absolutely scrumptious.
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Chow Down on Bangers and Mash
Get something more substantial than butterbeer soft-serve to eat with all of the crazy beverages available in Diagon Alley. Head to the Leaky Cauldron for British faves like:
- Toad in the Hole (sausage with Yorkshire pudding)
- Fish and Chips
- Bangers and Mash (sausage with potatoes)
The pub also offers the Ploughman's, a huge plate stuffed with English cheese, crusty bread, a Scotch egg, and other veddy Brit delicacies.
See where else to eat at the resort in my feature, best Universal Orlando dining.
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Scream Like a Banshee with Celestina
Diagon Alley offers two entertaining shows:
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
- The Singing Sorceress: Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees- Molly Weasley's favorite singer performs daily with her band. Among the songs are Potteresque hits such as "You Stole My Cauldron But You Can’t Have My Heart."
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard- The performance includes puppetry and scenery developed by an award-winning production designer.
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Ride the Hogwarts Express
Guests can travel back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade on an actual train -- although it is tricked out to make passengers believe they are traveling through the Scottish countryside. They encounter Hagrid the half-giant, Hippogriffs, and other oddities along the way.
More than a means of transportation, the Hogwarts Express is a full-fledged attraction and a must-do part of the Diagon Alley Experience. To do it, however, you must purchase a two-park ticket (since Hogsmeade is located at Universal Orlando's other park, Islands of Adventure). Read more about what kind of ticket you need to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Read my review of the Hogwarts Express. See Hogwarts Express and London photos. Also, check out my editorial, "Why the Hogwarts Express may change everything at Florida's theme parks."
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Blow Your Mind as You Escape from Gringotts
You can't miss Gringotts bank. It's the place with the fire-breathing dragon perched atop its roof and the one to which everybody is heading. After entering the bank, pass goblin tellers (startlingly lifelike animatronic characters) tallying Wizarding Notes in the richly appointed marble lobby. Then board an "elevator" that will take you deep beneath the bank to its underground vaults.
Hop onto single-train coaster cars and ride past actual sets, 3-D, high-def projected imagery, and sensory enhancements. The adventure brings you face to (noseless) face with I-don't-care-what-they-say-I'm-gonna-name-him: Lord Voldemort. As if that's not scary enough, Bellatrix Lestrange attempts to seal your fate in a not very pleasant manner and the Death Eater seeks his next meal at your expense.
Read my full review of Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.
So, is your mind blown? Perhaps you will want to ponder what might be coming next to the Wizarding World of Harry... Potter.