Less than a month after the new Diagon Alley and Hogswart Express opened in the summer of 2014, just over 1 million people made the trek to visit the crown jewel at Universal Studios Orlando. By the time we made it there in the fall, there were probably a million more, and it’s not hard to see why people will be flocking here for years and years to come.
Those not familiar with the books or movies may walk by this new attraction at Universal Studios with a bit of a yawn. While there’s no doubt it’s an impressive replica of Charing Cross Road in London, it doesn’t exactly scream excitement. In fact, it’s downright muggle-like. Harry Potter fans though must come upon this facade and feel their hearts skip a beat, because as all good witches and wizards know, the entrance to Diagon Alley is just behind the book store and the record shop.
With the completion of Diagon Alley and the Hogswart Express, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has become a completely immersive experience. A quick train ride from King’s Cross to Hogsmeade keeps guests far from muggle distractions like The Simpsons’ or Transformers (if they so wish). Robes and wands are commonplace here and you may find yourself longing for a Nimbus 2000. After all, this is all completely real, right?
Okay, fine it’s not, but don’t let that discourage you from at least pretending it is. It’s not hard to lose yourself in the fantasy. Upon entering Diagon Alley you’ll find Ollivanders, The Owl Post, The Daily Prophet, Madame Malkins Robes, and of course Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It’s a literal feast for the eyes as guests explore the bricks and mortar version of their favourite story.
Speaking of feasts, there’s also one for your tastebuds. The Leaky Cauldron offers traditional English comfort foods plus Butter Beer of course. At Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour you’ll find your favourite muggle flavours plus a few twists like Granny Smith, Peanut Butter and Strawberry, and Earl Grey and Lavender. Finally, your sweet tooth will find everything it needs at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, like U-No-Poo and Fever Fudge. What? You don’t find that appetizing? Hmmm, maybe only the youngest of wizards find it appealing.
Of course, what would a wizarding story be without a little death defying drama right? No need to worry, because you’ll find that on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. You enter this ride beneath the dragon, the actual fire-breathing dragon if you please, and then proceed to pass by some seriously creepy goblins. Does it feel like their eyes are following you? Why, as a matter of fact they are. GAH! Once you made it past their piercing stares you’re ready to enter the depths of the vaults. As with most rides at Universal, you’ll find it a thrilling combination between a traditional coaster and 3D technology. Trust me when I say that you’ll make it out of there….but barely. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.
You may need to take in a little entertainment at this point. Maybe a little Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees to calm your nerves? Relax as Celestina sings classics like “You stole my cauldron, but you can’t have my heart.”
Finally, what trip to Diagon Alley would be complete without a trip down Knockturn Alley. Those with a penchant for the Dark Arts will find all they require at the uber creepy Borgin and Burkes. Those crazy Death Eaters, can’t live with ’em….
After you’re done checking out every nook and cranny at Diagon Alley, it’s time to hop onboard the Hogswart Express to Hogsmeade.
The Hogswart Express is not to be missed. The experience changes depending if you’re traveling to Hogswart or to London. Make a point of taking it both ways while there, you won’t regret it. The “real” journey between the two attractions is quite short but as with everything here, you get to suspend your disbelief and play along for what feels like a very real journey through London and the English Countryside.
Once you disembark in Hogsmeade you are in the heart of the original Harry Potter attraction which is no less amazing now that Diagon Alley has arrived. I do believe that the most avid Harry Potter fans could and probably should allow for a full day to explore Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. If you’re interested in the rest of Universal Orlando (it’s amazing), then I highly recommend purchasing a multi-day pass.
Finally, there is another new addition that I think is absolutely delightful. You can now purchase wands that work within Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade to make your sorcerer’s experience complete. Each wand is $45 and comes with a map to help guide you to places where you can practice your magic. I know I just heard a small gasp from budget-conscious mothers everywhere. I hear you when you say that $45 is a lot of money. Multiply that by a couple of kids and you might be thinking I’m out of my mind. But can you say “Wingardium Leviosa?” I can tell you that when I return with my daughters I will be shelling out $90 for two wands and letting them perform magic for the day. Very rarely would I suggest a “souvenir” is worth every penny, but for this one, I believe it is. You may even want to get your own and join along in the fun.
Many thanks to Universal Orlando for hosting Life in Pleasantville. You continue to surprise and delight us at every turn.