Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Universal Studios - All your questions answered



This week, L.C a former WDW Cast Member was able to answer all my questions about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) at Universal Studios Florida. As a Florida resident and Annual Pass holder, he was able to go to Universal Studios regularly. Below he shares his tips and experiences about the Harry Potter rides, suitability of rides for young kids, what to see in the shops, how to beat the queues, food options and whether its worth getting an interactive wand or not! 

Universal Studios has Diagon Alley and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade, Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff and (the now retired) Dragon Challenge. Both parks have an Ollivanders store to buy wands in.


Flight of the Hippogriff and the now retired Dragon Challenge

Flight of the Hippogriff is targeted more towards a younger crowd from the rest of the park and involves a small rollercoaster that has some twists and turns but nothing too exhilarating for those that don’t enjoy or aren’t accustomed to fast rides with loops and corkscrews. I would say that the younger fans of Harry Potter are more suited to this ride since I believe it doesn’t have a tall height restriction and was designed with this target audience in mind.

Dragon Challenge however was more targeted to the adults due to its height restriction and level of speed. Personally I really enjoyed the wait queue for the attraction as it featured Hagrid’s Hut, the flying car dented by the whomping willow and going through the tent and dragon holding area for the tri-wizard challenge. This ride was retired in September 2017.



 Forbidden Journey is located inside Hogwarts


Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Forbidden Journey does not appear to have a set movie or book time period within the franchise. The queue line is well designed for long waits and was probably my favourite out of all the ones on Universal property aside from maybe The Hulk with its gamma-ray testing facility. As the ride is set inside Hogwarts the entire queue involves walking through the dungeons, herbology greenhouse, past Dumbledore’s office, through the defence against the dark arts class, Gryffindor common room and into the Room of Requirement. For all you Harry Potter fans like myself this is not something to miss. I personally remember the first time I went in and the feeling of wonder seeing what I grew up with in physical form for me to experience. Some characters will appear along the way from Dumbledoor’s painting in his office, the original House owners in their picture frames and even the main Harry Potter trio give you information on what’s about to happen. This ride focuses on taking you on an adventure from the Room of Requirement by levitating benches in order to join Harry for a quiddich match. However, things go a bit out of hand and you must escape from a variety of different creatures and events. This takes you through different areas of the castle grounds to the forbidden forest and around the outside of the castle on this adventure with many nods towards characters, creatures and memorable moments in the franchise. The ride vehicles, since designed like a bench, sits four people and a restraint that has an arm mechanism attached to raise, lower and tilt the vehicle whilst following the story.  This overall attraction is difficult to describe as it moves between video screens to animatronics and you are constantly raised for the duration. At best you could call it a simulator but it is more of a moving ride rather than just sitting still in vehicles that just tilt or shake. This ride, although having a smaller height restriction than Dragon Challenge, can be scary for young riders at times as it features dark environments and animatronic creatures such as Dementors and spiders from the movie. So if your young ones aren’t fans of anything too scary be aware that it may be distressing for them. 

Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts

On the Universal Studios side, their attraction Escape from Gringotts is a similar ride to Forbidden Journey in its sister park. However, the ride vehicle is instead a moving cart that spins during the attraction which is designed on the ones used in Gringotts bank within the Harry Potter franchise and is also accompanied by 3D glasses. As the name suggests, the attraction takes the wait queue through Gringotts bank through the main foyer with its Goblins down to the vaults as you yourself are opening an account to deposit your galleons, knuts and sickles for safe keeping. On this trip you are joined by Bill Weasley to act as your guide whom shows you the vaults and who also explains your adventure whilst waiting for your cart. This ride is set during the last book of the franchise or the 7th movie (Deathly Hallows Part 1) during Harry's escape from Gringotts after breaking into Bellatrix's vault. Without getting into too much detail I will say that it involves fast moving and spinning within the cart as you are whisked away from dangers in the vault and trying to escape as safe as possible. Just like Forbidden Journey, the ride has screens which follow the story and elaborate sets which you move through on the vehicle. Like Forbidden Journey before, it also is dark and features scary moments that may be alarming to younger riders including Death Eaters from the movies.


One of the Goblins at Gringotts


Outside of the Escape from Gringotts ride

Hogwarts Express Complete Experience HD (Train ride from Diagon Alley To Hogsmeade) ...What is this ride like? I know you must have a Park hopper ticket to do it!

The Hogwarts Express is available to take between the parks at platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross on the Universal Studios Park and Hogsmeade station over at Islands of Adventure. I personally liked the idea of this attraction as it is a clever way to get between the two Harry Potter sections of the park and continues an immersive Harry Potter experience for the fans. When on board, the window and door in your train compartment are screens which displays an interactive element to the experience as you see locations through the window to signify your travel from London to Hogwarts. The ride shows different scenes and characters from the franchise, and silhouettes as if other students are moving around the train as you travel. Although brief, it is a fun experience and the ride is different when travelling in either direction. So if you make your way to Hogwarts from Diagon Alley just note that it is not the exact same thing on the way back! Personally I would recommend to go and see Diagon Alley first, get your wands and wizard attire and then take the Express train to get that authentic experience, rather than start in Islands of Adventure and go the reverse route.    





Are there good areas to eat? Bargain places? Things to try?

Both sections of the parks have a restaurant themed around locations within the franchise if you wish to pick up food during your time there. Diagon Alley has the Leaky Cauldron if you wish to stop by whilst getting your wizarding accessories or you can head over to Hogsmeade and grab a Butter Beer over at the Three Broomsticks just like in the movies and books. Both are quick service locations so the pricing won’t vary too much between the two so if your set at eating in either of the Harry Potter locations its best to pick which experience the fans in the group would prefer. Chefs were especially consulted during the production of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade so there is a variety of food to try based on the Harry Potter universe. Personally nothing was better on a hot day at Universal than grabbing a Frozen Butterbeer over in Hogsmeade to cool down (which I would highly recommend over the normal version). In addition there’s items such as pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs and a large array of sweets based from the books within Honeydukes over at Hogsmeade also. 

Butterbeer? What does it taste like?

Butterbeer is like a creaming soda; it has a creamy taste to it and it typically has foam on top. I think they are the same price throughout the parks but you will only be able to find it in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter sections of Universal Studios. There is a cart that is located outside the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmede that my friends and I typically got our frozen ones from. The line does fluctuate but its never typically a long wait to try it out there. I found that the frozen Butterbeer tasted better out of the two options myself and I probably wouldn't have tried it after tasting the original if they hadn't told me it was better. 

Some people say that Escape from Gringotts is the best ride ever in a theme park. Do you agree?

Honestly I think that Escape from Gringotts is a really great ride and love how immersive it feels and it creates a more detailed story over Forbidden Journey. Forbidden Journey is good but there is a lot going on during the ride and they seem to have tried to put in as much as possible. Escape from Gringotts doesn't overload the riders with too much information or too many people/creatures to make the ride seem rushed. However, everyone has their own take of what they enjoy. I, personally, prefer Avatar Flight of Passage over at Disney's Animal Kingdom for the role currently. Before that I may have said Escape from Gringotts was definitely high up for overall experience but Flight of Passage really feels other worldly and I feel could be enjoyable for an overall audience since those that aren't fans or haven’t fully seen Harry Potter won't get the same experience on this ride. There is a dragon perched on top of the Gringotts tower and it is hard to miss. Make sure to keep an eye on it though as it likes to shoot off flames and make people aware of its presence. 

What are some of the fun shops to visit at WWoHP?

Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade both have a variety of shops to get your Harry Potter merchandise. From wands to robes, sweets from Honeydukes to tricks at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Not all the shops you see or read about are open but a few are. From what I’ve heard a good experience for the fans is to stop by the Ollivanders shop in Hogsmeade as they will do wand choosing to an audience (like a mini-show) and a lucky attendee may have a wand choose them. Personally I liked looking into Quality Quiddich Supplies towards the entrance to Diagon Alley for their collection of Quiddich themed attire and also the shop towards the exit of Forbidden Journey as it had a mix of merchandise including some of the collectable replicas that I own myself. One thing not to miss out on however is Nocturne Alley which is cleverly hidden to the left of the Leaky Cauldron and I feel is missed out on most peoples visit. In there you can see the darker side to wizardry which makes an interesting change and features Borgin and Burkes shop from the second and sixth book for those who would rather get Death Eater merchandise.


Choosing a wand at Ollivanders


Did you buy a magical interactive wand at Oleanders? Was it worth it? What sorts of things can it do? I think they cost about $50 USD, but they last forever and are replaced by Universal,  if broken,  for free!

No, I didn’t buy an interactive wand despite being really tempting. I already have a couple of wands and felt if I bought more it would be excessive and I wouldn't stop. However it was really fun to see people taking advantage of how they worked. From what I could tell you are given a map and notes in order to cast spells around the Wizarding World. It seems there is more in Diagon Alley to play with but there are some also over at Hogsmeade. These wands allow guests to make things move or happen to the scenery in specific locations that have a marker. From what I saw this included making water appear by using 'Aguamenti' to pulling out a Mandrake from a pot which seems highly entertaining for Harry Potter fans. 

What are the lines like? Apparently the lines are shorter near closing time? I have read you can ride the Single Rider for the Harry Potter rides, but you will miss some of the pre-ride entertainment. Can you advise?

The lines always seemed to fluctuate like they normally do depending on the season. I found ones like Forbidden Journey didn't have too bad a line during the day but its obviously changes on a day to day basis. Out of the attractions I would say that Gringotts will typically have a longer wait time but I have only seen the line ridiculously long maybe three times during the amount of times I visited with friends; otherwise it was bearable. I would say they could span from 40-60 min wait times at the worst off season but mainly I was dealing with 20 min or so the majority of the time. I would say they would get a lot shorter towards closing as most people start to clear out of the park.

Personally between Universal and Disney, Disney does a better job at keeping people there for longer and are able to draw crowds for firework shows and later closings. This could also potentially be due to the smaller space Universal has to work with so the crowds start to disperse quickly later into the evening as they’ve done all they need to see in one of the parks for the day. From what I remember the single rider and express pass queue for Gringotts did cover most of the area that you see in the queue but as the line is short you do tend to quickly pass the detail as you are more intent on getting on the ride itself. Honestly I don’t remember the one for Forbidden Journey as I went as a group whenever I went to Universal. I feel between those two attractions you would miss out more on a Single Rider at Forbidden Journey since the queue is long winding and does cover a lot of the castle interior. 

I think there are fireworks over the castle.  Are they worth watching -or a good idea to sneak in a few more rides?

In regards to the fireworks, I never watched them. To be completely honest I wasn't aware that they did them over the castle but I think that’s something they are just now bringing in and wasn't happening while I was there. I would probably see it if I had the chance and only one day there at the parks myself. I feel things like performances and shows should be experienced if you are only visiting for the one day as you get the overall experience of the park. That said; since I was a Florida resident and had access to the Disney Parks and bought a Universal Annual Pass I wasn't fussy with seeing shows every time and took full advantage to get on the rides that typically had long wait times as the visiting guests went off see the fireworks. 

Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley? Which do you prefer and why?

Between the two I feel like I prefer Hogsmeade for the overall scenery but Diagon Alley has more in regards to shops and interactive elements. Personally, I have also been to the Harry Potter studios tour in London prior to visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and have been able to walk through the set for Diagon Alley so I feel that does contribute to my opinion though. Hogsmeade is something different and since it has all the elements that the students experience during their schooling that I appreciate it more. I grew up reading the books and watching the movies so being in that environment and being able to see the Castle and walk along the shops to the Hogwarts Express it feels closer to the student experience than Diagon Alley. I especially like the fact that the buildings in Hogsmeade are unique and different as well so it feels more other worldly that walking through what essentially could be an English street. Plus its set up during winter so the buildings are given a layer of snow to add to atmosphere and feel like you are walking through during Christmas holidays like in the movies.


Hogsmeade
If you could only go to one Universal Studios Park, which one would you go to?

If I could visit only one of the two parks I feel like I would aim to go to Universal Studios itself. Currently I feel that between the two, Universal has a larger amount of attractions and would be better use of my full time than Islands of Adventure. I feel like Islands of Adventure has more of the better rides out of the two parks including Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto's Bilgerat Barges to get you completely soaking wet on those hot days as well as The Amazing Spiderman and The Hulk which are both really fun rides. However, more space is dedicated to Universal Studios and there is more to see in that park in regards to entertainment and shows which fills up more of your day. If it was for rides alone I would struggle to decide but if you only have one day its best to get the most out of your time which seems more attainable at Universal Studios. Obviously it would all come down to what you want out of your day. I would argue that Universal Studios has a bit more for the younger kids but it would be a case between what you would rather see. Marvel, Jurassic Park and Hogwarts over at Islands of Adventure or Shows, Minions, Transformers, Springfield and Diagon Alley over at Universal Studios?



Thanks L.C for you answering all my questions regarding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If anyone has any further questions, please feel free to post them on this blog.



You can also refer to L.C’s other blog stories here: 






And you can read about other Universal Studios Parks below: 








Until next week,


KJ



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Comments

Liz Powley said…
Wow, I've learnt a lot reading this. I've wandered through Luna Park in Syney while it was closed, but that and the Royal Adelaide Show is the closest I've come to visiting an amusement park, so to me this sounds something wondrous :D

There are amusements in the waiting lines? That is something that has never occurred to me. Good idea if you are waiting so long.

I have to say that these two places do sound positively mesmerising and you've encouraged me a step closer to one day actually going somewhere like this. Very thorough without spoiling anything and definitely enticing.

Thanks so much for sharing :D

Best wishes,
Liz
KJ said…
Thanks Liz for your kind comments. Yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter does look amazing. We hope to visit there next year - so there will be more posts and photos later next year about this amazing park. I am glad that this post has inspired you. Thanks again to L.C who answered all my questions.

On another note, I had one reader on my instagram account (@sotaram1) who asked whether the Wizarding World of Harry Potter celebrates Halloween. I followed this up with L.C who said he wasn't sure if specifically they do Halloween theming for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. He said however that they use the evenings at Universal Studios park to do Halloween Horror Nights every year which features areas based on different horror movies.
This looks awesome! I hope I have a chance to go someday!
<3 Brooklyn | latidoblog.weebly.com
KJ said…
Thanks Brooklyn for your reply. It does look amazing doesn't it. We are heading there soon so hope to have more photos and updates on what is currently there later this year.
OMG, we went here and all of us had fun - especially my husband hahaha!!!
KJ said…
Thanks Jacqueline for your comments

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