At the end of July, my daughter and I got to visit the Harry Potter expansion at Universal Studios on our trip to Orlando for the LeakyCon convention, a yearly conference hosted by the Harry Potter fan site, the Leaky Cauldron.
I wish I had a pensieve so I could relive that memory of walking into Diagon Alley and taking the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade for the first time. So A*M*A*Z*I*N*G!!!
When we first arrived in London, we headed straight for Gringott’s, the goblin-run bank from Rowling’s book series, since we’d already visited Hogsmeade on previous visits to Islands of Adventure. We weren’t scared of the six hour wait time … we were there on opening day in June of 2010 for the first Harry Potter park and waited that same amount of time just to get into the park! And after all, going on the new ride, Escape From Gingott’s, is what we came for! I knew the bar was set high. The Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts was just … mind blowing.
First, we passed through the massive, marble-lined banking hall. I love shiny objects, so just hanging out in the lobby would’ve provided hours of enjoyment. But of course, the ride itself was the real star of the show. Since I suffer from motion sickness, I have to say I preferred this ride over the Forbidden Journey, which violently thrashes you about (lending to the experience of in-your-face spiders, Dementors and a Whomping Willow, but also effectively making me throw up in my mouth a little). And although it’s hard to believe the creators could top the special effects inside Hogwarts, I think the effects improved a lot during the four years since the first park was built.
We spent the rest of our day walking the streets of Diagon Alley, enjoying perfectly made butterbeer ice cream and patronizing the shops, which felt so authentic with all the little details from Rowling’s world. One thing I’d suggest is buying a couple of chocolate frogs before boarding the train so you can eat them on your way to Hogwarts Castle just like Harry and Ron did (you need a two-park pass to visit both areas). One thing I don’t suggest is squealing like a twelve-year-old fangirl since you have to share your train cabin with other passengers and you might scare little children like I did. But it’s hard to contain your excitement when the engineers did such a great job recreating this magical world. Throughout our day, I constantly forgot I was at an amusement park. The atmosphere was charming and fun, straight out of the pages of the books we love, and you’ll come away believing in impossible things.
The Harry Potter Series is regarded as the best books of our time, and for good reason. The pages of these books contained everything a good book should. There was adventure, mystery, romance, and everything in between. We didn’t just fall in love with the story though. We fell in love with the characters. The characters were our friends when we had none. They taught us important life lessons we will carry with us forever. They taught us about perseverance, true friendships, and the power of love. They helped us through our toughest times, and showed us that while destroying our Horcrux’s might seem impossible, there was always a way. The best part of the Harry Potter series though was the world author J.K. Rowling created. And even though bad things occurred in her magical world, I think every single one of us still dreamed of living in it at one point or another. This is why it’s so amazing being able to see it’s replication in Universal. Because while these books will always be real in our hearts, this will be the closest we will come to experiencing the magic in real life.
Breathtaking is the only word that comes close to describing how it felt to step into Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Both parks follow the books description of the areas beautifully. While you’d need to be an actual wizard to perfectly recreate Rowling’s words in the flesh, Universal definitely did them justice, especially when you consider they have Muggle backgrounds like us. They created street performances with the frog choir, a reading of the tale of The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard, Celestina Warbeck singing, and the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons even take to the stage for us. If you fancy some book themed restaurants they have that covered with the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks serving meals; while Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and Honeydukes take care of your sweet tooth. Then there are the rides. They all have a really long wait, but they’re all totally worth it. Especially the Forbidden Journey, it’s absolutely phenomenal. The best part of the parks though is the shops. They set the tone for the whole area. It’s just amazing being able to buy a wand from Olivanders or a Pygmy Puff from Fred and George’s joke shop, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. They also set up extra window display shops for you to peer into.
So which park is better? Shop and layout wise, Diagon Alley is definitely better. Hogsmeade has very narrow paths which are hard to travel through in a crowd, whereas Diagon Alley has very wide paths. Not to mention Hogsmeade layout is already smaller to begin with. Diagon Alley’s larger area allows it to accommodate more shops, which is my favorite part. Ride wise though Hogsmeade is the obvious winner. They have three rides (The Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge, and flight of the Hippogriff), whereas Diagon Alley has the Escape from Gringotts. And the Escape from Gringotts isn’t even as good as the Forbidden Journey. Show wise and food wise, I have to say Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are tied. They are all just so amazing in their own way. If you’re trying to pick which park to attend, I personally suggest Diagon Alley, but they’re both amazing. Remember to have a magical day!
The next installment awaits...The Jedi and the Padawan: The Jedi and the Padawan: Holiday Gift Guide