If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of your life imagining what it would be like to be a Hogwarts student.
What I find most tempting about the prospect is the ability to experience the everyday pleasures of — you know — going to a magical school in the hidden hills of Scotland and learning to perform astounding magic while developing lifelong friendships. We’ve all spent countless hours waiting for that invitation to come via owl post.
Over the years, I was positive that the Hogwarts inside my head would be the only version I’d ever experience in-person… that is until I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. Finally it was possible to see, feel, and taste so much of what was once in my imagination and in the Harry Potter films.
Hardcore fans, this one’s for you! If you’re planning to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and are craving an immersive trip, read on as I share the experiences that will almost make you feel like you got your Hogwarts letter.
STEP INTO DIAGON ALLEY
In The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, we can begin our journey in much the same way as 11-year-old Harry did. As we make our way toward the back of Universal Studios Florida, we find ourselves in the streets of London and on the lookout for a familiar first destination.
Remember the awe on Harry’s bespectacled face when Hagrid opened a literal and metaphorical gateway to an entire new realm of possibilities and the two of them crossed through the brick archway together? Yeah, you can that, too… and your face will likely resemble Harry’s very reaction.
Step into Diagon Alley, home to many of the wizarding world’s most famous establishments. The attention to detail is incredible; every window you’ll pass is a nod to something magical from the films. For example, directly to your right, you’ll get your first glimpse of the coveted Nimbus 2000 broomstick in the window of Harry’s favorite Shop, Quality Quidditch Supplies. Don’t worry, we’ll make it back there later.
VENTURING INSIDE (AND DEEP BELOW) GRINGOTTS BANK
Any young witch or wizard planning on attending Hogwarts will need to be equipped with the best school supplies, but before we get started, there’s the matter of money. Why don’t we tour Gringotts Wizarding Bank to decide if you’re ready to acquire some wizarding currency? Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a thrill ride that will have us navigating perilous subterranean vaults and coming face-to-face with Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort himself. That said, we’ve heard it is the safest place on earth for anything we want to keep safe, so we should probably check it out.
At Gringotts Money Exchange, we can converse with a goblin while trading U.S. currency for Gringotts banknotes to be used for purchases at select locations throughout Universal Orlando Resort. To be clear, all establishments do accept Muggle money, but we personally love the authenticity here.
STOP BY SOME FAMOUS ESTABLISHMENTS FOR IMPORTANT ITEMS
For me, it’s imperative to look the part. Well-dressed witches and wizards flock to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions for their head-turning threads. From uniforms, ties, scarves, sweaters, and cardigans to robes lined in every Hogwarts house color, you’d be ready to take on the school year in style.
As you’ll no doubt remember, Hogwarts students are allowed to bring one pet to keep them company and we’ll want to do the same — just think of how Harry’s life was brightened by the presence of his sweet snowy owl companion, Hedwig! The Magical Menagerie contains not only the usual assortment of owl, cat, and toad plush toys but also some familiar favorite animals like Buckbeak and Fluffy, so we’ll definitely stop here and pick up a new friend.
We’ve accomplished a lot this morning, but something important seems to be missing and we can find it at Ollivanders Wand Shop. Perhaps the most thrilling moment for any witch or wizard is when their wand chooses them. Here, we’ll witness this phenomenon first-hand as well as be able to purchase our very own wand from a large selection of unique wands. One of my favorite tips is to invest in an interactive wand that will allow you to cast spells and create amazing magical experiences throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Read more here!
Now that we’ve got all the basics, let’s peruse a bit and indulge our hobbies. It would be quite a boring school year without a prank or two, and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes has us covered. This isn’t your average quiet Diagon Alley location — there are trinkets buzzing and fireworks exploding. Take it all in as you shop for all manner of mischief including Skiving Snackboxes, Puking Pastilles, love potions, and Pygmy Puffs.
Aspiring athletes can also visit Quality Quidditch Supplies for Quidditch sweaters and team spirit accessories, plus everything you’d need to practice: brooms, Golden Snitches, Bludgers, Bludger bats, Quaffles, and more. Our Quidditch captain would be thrilled to see us so prepared.
ENJOY A HEARTY BRITISH MEAL
We’ve worked up quite an appetite — luckily there is no shortage of food and treats in Diagon Alley. Let’s stop by the Leaky Cauldron, both a pub and an inn, where Harry spent several summer weeks before heading to Hogwarts in his third year. We can partake in some traditional, delicious British fare to fuel up for the train journey to Hogwarts.
For those who share my sweet tooth, I suggest stopping by Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, another favorite of Harry’s. I can never pass up the Butterbeer ice-cream, but the Earl Gray & Lavender is a close second!
MAKE YOUR WAY TO PLATFORM 9 ¾
I’m ready! Are you ready? Grab your trunks and let’s head back through the streets of London toward Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station. Here, we’ll walk straight through the barrier and onto Platform 9 ¾ just like Hogwarts students have been doing every September 1st for decades. Once aboard the scarlet steam engine, we’ll sit in a snuggly compartment and maybe experience some surprises along the way.
NOTE: You’ll need a park-to-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express and visit both lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The train travels between King’s Cross Station in the London area of Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade Station in Universal’s Islands of Adventure and offers a different ride experience in each direction.
CATCH YOUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF HOGWARTS
Whether you’re a first-year or you’ve been coming to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for quite a while, that first glimpse of the castle never gets old. Let’s take it in for a moment…
Located near the back of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade, we’ll enter through the castle’s towering gates and gleefully make our way through the twists and turns of its corridors as we queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Our path will take us past familiar locations (I’ve always thought I would be great at Potions), as well as through the Herbology greenhouses and Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.
We’ll enter Dumbledore’s office for one of his famous chats, where we can spot artifacts Harry encountered like the Pensieve and the Sword of Gryffindor. And speaking of Gryffindor, we’ll pass through the cozy Gryffindor common room and our hearts will warm thinking of all the time Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent growing into such great friends.
As you can tell, I love to take my time in this queue and recognize memories as I go because there are so many things to see along the way. Eventually, we’ll pass the Sorting Hat and get on the ride for a thrilling adventure that will have us soaring above the castle grounds.
At this point, we’ve gotten a few basic classes under our belt and it’s time for something more advanced: Care of Magical Creatures. Don’t worry, we won’t need to open The Monster Book of Monsters, although we might spot it in the queue of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. This story coaster will not only teach us about Blast-Ended Skrewts, Centaurs, and Unicorns, but it will fly us deep into the wilds of the Forbidden Forest with a total of seven launches that can reach up to 50 miles per hour! Younger witches and wizards can also get their magical creatures encounter by bowing to Buckbeak on a family-friendly coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff.
In between rides, we might be able to catch one of two performances that may look familiar to a Hogwarts student. At various times throughout the day, you can gather near the castle for the Hogwarts Frog Choir to sing sweet a cappella with bass-throated frogs. At other times, the students of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrive to drum up excitement in a Triwizard Spirit Rally.
PRO-TIP: Download the official Universal Orlando Resort app to find showtimes and plan accordingly. You can also see wait times for all rides and sign up for virtual queues when available.
TAKE A TRIP INTO HOGSMEADE
Next, I’ve got great news: Every day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a Hogsmeade day and your permission slip is signed! Taking a quick leave of the Hogwarts grounds is never easy, but certainly worth it to stroll through the quaint, snowy streets of Hogsmeade village. Bustling shops and a cozy tavern greet us, and it’s immediately clear why Harry Potter broke school rules to come here in his third year.
First stop has to be Honeyduke’s. This legendary sweet shop has shelves on shelves lined with all the treats you always wanted to try: Acid Pops, Exploding Bonbons, Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs (complete with a wizarding trading card), Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, and my personal favorite, Fizzing Whizzbees.
Those aren’t the only delicious treats Hogsmeade has to offer. You’ll remember that Harry had his first Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. Since we’re going to head there later for dinner, I suggest we get this most beloved of treats from the Hog’s Head. Hot, frozen, regular… No matter what kind of Butterbeer you choose, it all tastes like a dream. Reminiscent of butterscotch and shortbread, it feels like it jumped right off the screen and into your hand. And not to make you wait, but before we head in to grab our beverages and a booth, let’s make sure we can catch up on our correspondence while we enjoy.
Owl Post across the street offers us the chance to purchase writing implements including stationery, quills, seals, and ink, and allows us to mail letters with a Hogsmeade postmark. I recommend picking up some postcards and sitting at the Hog’s Head pub to sip and write to our friends and family back home. Sending owls is such an integral part of life as a witch or wizard, and how amazing will it be to gift a personalized souvenir of your time in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?!
Every special day at Hogwarts culminates in — you guessed it — a feast. Right next to the Hog’s Head is the Three Broomsticks, which looks like it was plucked right from every scene where Harry, Ron, and Hermione warm up on a chilly afternoon. Among many other items, their menu contains a fan favorite, the Great Feast, a platter of rotisserie smoked chicken and spareribs, corn on the cob, and roast potatoes, plus a fresh garden salad.
TAKE HOME THE MEMORIES
Our day may be coming to an end, but just like our favorite Gryffindor trio, our memories will long outlast our time at Hogwarts. Before you leave The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I recommend celebrating with one last spectacle by gathering to see The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. We’ll watch in awe as projections are cast against the magical backdrop of the castle to the tune of heart-swelling, familiar melodies. All four houses are celebrated, so be sure to show up loud and proud for your colors.
PRO-TIP: That Universal Orlando Resort App I told you to download will also come in handy here for checking showtimes and availability. This show is known to change a bit with the season, so you’ll just have to keep coming back to see all iterations.
The time has come to bid adieu to beautiful Hogsmeade and hop on the Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station, which will drop us back off in London. We’ll emerge already eager to return and counting down the days we’re back at Hogwarts again.
This was only part of the magic, so click here to see EVERYTHING you can do in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley with The Ultimate Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort!