I was a young adult when the Harry Potter books came out. I can vaguely remember a buzz building about the books. However, it wasn’t until the fifth one was about to come out that I decided to give them a try.
I immediately loved the world that J.K. Rowling created. I devoured the available books and then waited impatiently for the subsequent books – and then movies – to come out.
Today, my oldest daughter shares that interest and regularly whips my butt at Harry Potter trivia.
So there was a moment when we walked through the entrance at Diagon Alley at Universal and saw Gringotts up the cobblestone street where our eyes met. I briefly found myself striding across two realities.
I was a father providing this experience to his daughter that they’d both longed to share. But I was in the same moment, a peer.
A fellow zealot immersed in a world that previously had only existed to us in the pages of a book or on the shimmering portal of a movie screen.
And then, the only thought that came to mind that was worthy of the moment was, “Wow. This is really effing cool.”
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Which Universal Park has Diagon Alley?
Universal Studios Florida has Diagon Alley while Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade.
Diagon Alley opened in 2014, and Hogsmeade opened earlier in 2010.
Is Universal’s Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade better?
It’s a difficult question. Diagon Alley is better in almost every aspect.
The entrance is better. Certainly, the immersive experience is better. The shops are better and the entertainment is better.
The Ollivanders wand experience is better. I think the Leaky Cauldron is better than the Three Broomsticks. And also, the Butterbeer options are better.
That said, Hogsmeade has two major factors going in its favor.
First, the Hogwarts Express station at Hogsmeade is significantly better than the King’s Cross counterpart in London.
The queue in Hogsmeade has a lot of open space and diverting magical touches to keep you engaged with the feeling of being in the Wizarding World. The whole purpose of the King’s Cross station is that you’re experiencing a lengthy queue in the muggle world of a regular old train station.
It isn’t until you get to platform 9 3/4 that you feel yourself in the wizarding world. Ever wait an hour in a massively crowded queue in a regular, boring train station? It ain’t fun.
Which park has better rides?
The other area of Hogsmeade that is superior is rides and attractions.
I think Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade are essentially a wash.
However, Hogsmeade has two more rides, the kid-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff coaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures – one of the best rides in the Universal complex. That is, at least, until Epic Universe opens.
It’s not enough for me to give the nod to Hogsmeade. For all of the greatness in Diagon Alley, it sorely needs some expansion.
Are there any rides in Diagon Alley at Universal?
Yes, the main one is Escape from Gringotts, a multi-dimensional thrill ride based on the trio’s Gringotts bank heist from the Deathly Hallows.
As you navigate perilous subterranean vaults, you’ll encounter Harry, Ron and Hermione. But you’ll have to evade the wrath of Voldemort, Bellatrix, trolls and other creatures that stand between you and a safe return to Diagon Alley.
In this version, the fire-breathing dragon that was kept captive and then freed by the trio sits atop the bank, belching flame every so often.
It makes for quite an effective background for pictures.
There’s also the Hogwarts Express train ride, but remember that you will need a park hopper ticket to ride it since it takes you to Hogsmeade.
What are the best things to do in Diagon Alley?
I’m glad you asked. Here are some ways to add a bit of extra magic to your trip to Diagon Alley in Universal Orlando:
11. Try your hand at spell casting
There are a handful of spell locations scattered around Diagon Alley. There are also a few in Knockturn Alley.
For an extra bit of fun, look for the “hidden” locations. For example, there’s one near the large scroll in the window of Scribbulus and another at the barrel of dragon dung in Slug and Jiggers Apothecary across from Ollivander’s.
10. Make a magical phone call
Outside the entrance to Diagon Alley is an old-fashioned London-style red phone booth.
You can dial 6-2-4-4-2 (Magic) to be connected to a witch (a recording) and hear a funny message from the ministry.
9. Check out Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees
To be clear, the “popular” music of fictional worlds rarely moves me with the rare exception of the excellent “That Thing You Do.”
And so when I watch a Celestina Warbeck performance at Universal, it’s with more of an attitude of academic interest than being actually moved.
This is not the fault of the very talented performers, it’s just that it’s really hard to write a great song and great songs are rarely just given to theme parks.
Still, there aren’t many characters from the books or movies that make it to the Wizarding World. So, go ahead and appreciate this one.
8. Go to Grimmauld Place
Just across from the Knight Bus is the former home of Sirius Black – which he’d donated to the Order of the Phoenix as a hideaway.
Inside is the Black family’s house elf, Kreacher. The elf is a complicated character in the book. He adopted all of the worst views on the magical bloodline from the dark and twisted wizard family which owned him.
Kreacher – who was treated poorly by Sirius, the “good but flawed” member of the Black family – becomes an ally in the fight against Voldemort in the books.
Anyway, he’s one of the few Harry Potter characters you can see in the park. He pulls back the curtains and peaks cautiously at the outside world every 60 seconds or so for photo ops.
7. Visit the Knight Bus
Technically located outside of Diagon Alley, the Knight Bus is one of the few places in the park you get to interact with a character from the Harry Potter universe.
The kids enjoyed their banter with Stan Shunpike and the shrunken head so much, it made me wonder why there aren’t more characters in the Harry Potter world.
You’re telling me Universal can do Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and the Blues Brothers but doesn’t have any of the dozens and dozens of characters from the Harry Potter universe?
Look, I have to think there are a few British improve actors who – for the right price – would come in and play Dumbledore, a young Tom Riddle or even Voldemort.
Maybe when they open the Ministry of Magic in the Epic Universe park we can get meet and greets with Cornelius Fudge, Kingsley Shacklebolt and even Dolores Umbridge. It would be wildly popular.
6. Eat at the Leaky Cauldron
I liked the Leaky Cauldron much better than the Three Broomsticks, mostly because no one on the staff yelled at me.
Specifically, I wasn’t confronted by a giant man whose whole job was to apparently stand at the front of the queue and explain how the reservations I’d purchased as the hotel concierge were not, in fact, reservations at all.
I’d simply pre-payed for a meal I could obtain after waiting in the same line as other guests whether they purchased reservations or not.
Anyway, I’m a fan of British food, so I’m happy to order bangers and mash, a cottage pie or toad in the hole. The fish and chips aren’t bad. Also, there’s a fun assortment of beverages that takes your Harry Potter drinking beyond Butterbeer.
We tried Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice and the Wizard’s Brew specialty draught beer.
The desserts are fine but not overly interesting. They offer a handful of soft-serve ice cream options mostly. Most of them you could get at the ice cream parlor up the hill.
The thing is as much as I liked the experience of dining in The Leaky Cauldron that’s what it chiefly is, an experience.
In terms of the actual dinner, I’d rather walk out of the Wizarding World and down towards San Francisco or New York where some of the better of the Universal Parks restaurants are waiting. For example, we liked Lombard’s quite well.
5. Go shopping
Look, I’m not a huge advocate of buying a fairly expensive ticket just to go spend some more money. For example, three Harry Potter wands put a decent dent in our souvenir budget. But a huge part of the Harry Potter experience is the shops.
Where to go? Well, I don’t consider myself a fan of the dark arts, but I love the turn going down Knockturn Alley to Borgin & Burkes. And I’ve got just enough goth in me that I like many of the objects they’re selling.
Magic is supposed to be a little dark, a little mystical and a little dangerous. After all, a witch or wizard cannot live by brooms and robes alone.
Another shopping must is Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, full of the fun, wonderment and magic of the Wizarding World. I think my daughter was almost excited to select from the Magical jokes and toys in the shop as she was to finally get her wand.
Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is another must-visit as is Magical Menagerie – which is great if you’re shopping with the young ones.
Harry’s entry into Diagon Alley to purchase school supplies was also his introduction to the wizarding world. If you want to embed yourself in this world, at least visiting the shops is a must.
4. People watch
Generally, I don’t recommend going to a place like the Universal Studios Florida theme park to sit on the sidelines. However, a couple of times I found myself waiting for my family – like on some of our many attempts to get selected for the Ollivanders Wand Ceremony – and found myself people-watching.
It’s fun to see kids’ excitement as they scurry from shop to shop trying to wave their wands and bring the interactive displays to life.
And it’s fun to gauge the wonder as they come out of the ice cream shop with a treat or explore the inside of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.
3. Have a Butterbeer
The Butterbeer flows more freely than wine in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter unless you get one of the frozen concoctions – and it’s all quite good.
You can grab a pint of the non-alcoholic beer at the Leaky Cauldron, The Fountain of Fair Fortune or the Hopping Pot.
The frozen variety is available at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour.
2. See the Tales of Beedle the Bard
One of the most successful elements of the Harry Potter movies, in my opinion, was the animation style used for the Tales of Beedle the Bard.
This show, which tells the story of the three brothers, uses that animation style. The puppets are controlled by the actors.
The show itself is brief and outdoors. However, it’s exceptionally cool, quite effective and significantly better than any of the shows at Islands of Adventure.
1. Visit Ollivander’s Wand Shop and get selected
This is tricky. We had three kids who wanted an interactive wand but they didn’t just want to go in and buy one. They wanted to be chosen for the wand ceremony.
Our eldest wanted it quite desperately. So we knew it was going to take multiple trips to get the job done.
The experience, the showmanship and everything involved in the wand selection ceremony are excellent. But I have to say the awe is somewhat lessened when the selectee is a 6-year-old from Texas.
It’s still cool. But it’s much better when it’s someone you know.
Ultimately, we batted about .500 getting a kid chosen every other trip but I can say the ratio, understandably, trends toward the younger kids.
Therefore, if you have an older teen or young adult in your party who wants to be chosen, I would recommend getting there at rope drop and trying to beat the crowd, and if possible, don’t get in a group with any other kids in it. Of course, this is likely easier said than done.
What do you like to do at Diagon Alley when you’re visiting Universal Orlando Resort? Do you have something to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!