The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, Wizarding Wands and more Part 1/2
|The dragon is above the Gringotts bank, and every now and again, blows out fire!|
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is found in two Universal Studios parks in Orlando. One is Islands of Adventure and the other is Universal Studios. There is a Harry Potter train (Hogwarts Express) ride that connects the two Harry Potter Worlds - but you can only get on this ride if you have a valid ‘Park Hopper ticket'. We spent one entire day exploring the world of Harry Potter in both parks. On our second 'Universal Studios' day, we did the rest of the parks rides- which are recommended also! We went after Spring Break in the U.S – towards the end of April. It was still incredibly busy.
Our strategy for the Harry Potter day was to go to Universal Studios first (home of Diagon Alley and Kings Cross Station), buy an interactive wand at Ollivanders, and then catch the Hogwarts Express train to ‘Islands of Adventure’ park (Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle). We chose to start with Universal Studios first as that had the better ‘train experience’ for the first timer apparently.
There is a lot to see around the entry point to Kings Cross Station - you can see the Night Bus – together with the talking shrunken head whom talks back to you! and you can have photo opportunities with!
|The red phone box hotline to the Ministry of Magic|
|The Night Bus with the Shrunken Head|
|12 Grimmauld Place|
Nearby is also 12 Grimmauld Place where you can spot Kreacher, the House elf, who is periodically looking out of an upstairs window at Grimmauld Place. I was unfortunately too slow to capture him on camera. Maybe he’s shy. A lot of people can be seen knocking on the door at Grimmauld Place as photo opportunities. There is also a red phone too that can connect you to the Ministry of Magic!
We then went through a brick ‘maze’, to Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley was amazing and like another world. So many shops to look in, people dressed up in black cloaks, kids (and adults) with interactive wands etc. The streets certainly feel like you are in England somewhere with the streets being quite narrow, ‘cobblestoned’ in appearance and crowded.
Firstly, the shops were amazing ‘The Magical Menagerie animal shop’ had enormous toads the size of soccer balls that moved and croaked in the shop front window. Similarly, there were also phoenixes in bird cages - and more animals to be seen. Of course, a large selection of plush toy items could be purchased.
There are shows periodically around both Diagon Alley (such as the Tale of the Three brothers) and Hogsmeade, but you really need to know the books or movies to get the most out of this experience (I think husband DH and daughter A.J were a bit baffled but I loved hearing the tale again).
Gringotts bank was a lot of fun! The animatronics of the goblins are very lifelike and very creepy “I prefer it if you just take a photo rather than just stare as it lasts longer” the goblin says to us!
|The Goblins bank|
‘Escape from Gringotts Ride’
Our first stop however was for the Gringotts ride as the ‘must do’ ride in this park. Queues at Universal don’t seem to get to Disney World wait time lengths. We went to this ride first and only had about a 40 minute wait (good). I noticed later in the day with the Universal Studios App, that this wait time could be over an hour. This ride is pretty easy to spot – as its directly underneath the Dragon! The ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride totally banned backpacks and bags of any type. I did notice some people did hold on to their mobile phones during the pre-ride– but you were told to put all loose items in a storage locker (free to access, using your finger print).
|Inside the ride 'Escape from Gringotts' (actually this is just the pre-ride)|
Once in line you went inside the Gringotts bank. There were about 7 animatronic goblins that ‘observed’ you as you entered, and continued to work with their gold bullion. The enormous chandeliers were a highlight of the room! It was quite a fantastic sight. You then went through a series of rooms with different things to look at until you got to the main ride entry point.
The ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride was really good. There is a very steep drop at the beginning of the ride (very steep like your stomach and head have separated), but after that, the ride is akin to the Transformers/Spiderman ride as you go from room to room – with fire breathing dragons and more! It’s a great ride with heat and water included! This ride has been said to be the best ride ever in any theme park. Did I think so? No, it is probably in my top 3 though (My favourite and best ride ever is Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom (more in another blog sometime).
Wand choosing Ceremony at Ollivanders
After this ride we went to Ollivanders to see the Wand Choosing ceremony. The Cast Members told us even Sir Paul McCartney had been once! About 10-15 people are allowed to enter the tiny store at one time as you meet a wizard and you view the wand choosing ceremony. It seemed to me the shiest kid in the room was picked for the wand choosing – not the child who was the most enthusiastic, in the front row, or wearing the most elaborate costume. I had heard this a few times in a number of Facebook groups too. I am not sure if this is general policy as only one child is ever picked at each ceremony.
During the wand choosing ceremony, the wizard puts the chosen child through a few tests to see what his compatibility with the wand is like, with some unexpectant results around the room (special effects). The room is quite dark and crowded. In the end a wand is chosen and that’s the end of the show and everyone is then herded to the wand buying part of the shop.
The Wand buying shop at Ollivanders (Diagon Alley), is the most crowded shop ever. There are literally 1000’s of wands to choose from and its probably a good idea to research at home what possible wand you would like before entering this store as the choice is mind blowing! And they are all in nicely packaged boxes – so to view them you need to take them out. You can buy an interactive wand for about $50 or a non-interactive wand for about $35. It is much better value in my opinion to buy the interactive wand though – although to get the best use out of it you need a few hours to play with your new toy. My daughter A.J bought the Hermoine wand (a popular choice).
|Ollivanders - a very tiny shop where you can choose your wand - or it chooses you!|
When you get your interactive wand you are given instructions and a map on where to find all the ‘magic spots’ to use the wand. I found the map a bit confusing – and found it easier to just look at the ground (there are bronze plaque markings) or where crowds of people were gathered or lined up to do a magic trick. The bronze plaque tells you how to do the spell with the wand and what to say!
|These plaques tell you how to do the wizarding moves with the wand|
Should you get an Interactive wand?
If you choose to buy the interactive wand there are over 24 places in Diagon Alley alone that you can do magic tricks in shop windows, fountains, statues etc. The interactive wand also works over in Hogsmeade with more areas there to perform magic tricks. The interactive wand also works in Universal Studios, Los Angeles and Osaka, Japan! And – if the wand ever stops working or is broken – Universal Studios will ‘repair’ it for you for free! Try not to drop the wand though as that’s when they are most likely to break. There is a black bit at the end of the wand that makes it interactive.
The magic wand does not work ‘easily’. There is a bit of a trick to it. Often we would stand for a good 5 minutes to get a magic trick to work, give up, and then a young wiz kid would come along, wave the wand and the magic would work in their first go. Argh. There were often cast members around to help you with the magic tricks – or you could ask them and they were only too happy to help. After a bit of coaching from them, we seemed to get the wand magic right. It seemed after spending about 2-3 hours on the magic wands (in both parks), that you needed small and slow movements to get things to work. It was at times frustrating – however it was a lot of fun when it would work so totally recommend getting an interactive wand! It is probably only worthwhile money wise if you are spending the entire day at Harry Potter World (a good 2-3 hours of just fun playing with the wands and exploring the shops).
|This was the wand we bought - Hermione's wand. The wand comes in a nice box with map.|
Don’t miss Knockturn Alley – there is only a dark cobbled alleyway as the entrance so the first time we walked straight past and I had to go specifically hunting for the entrance. It is noticeably colder inside Knockturn Alley and it is dark. But on the inside of this alleyway is a shop (for the Dark Arts), more shop window displays and more tricks for your interactive wand.
|Don't miss Knockturn Alley!|
Next week I will cover the Hogwarts Express Train ride, Hogsmeade, the Forbidden Journey ride, Souvenirs and Butterbeer (in all its forms!)
We are now on Facebook Theme Park Travel GuideUntil next week,
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