It took me entirely too long to get my daughter to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida.
I was an adult when I fell in love with JK Rowling’s magical books. So when we had our first child, I couldn’t wait for her to get old enough to share.
However, even though it seems like you blink and your kids are grown – it actually takes them a really long time to grow when you’re waiting for a specific age.
Sofia resisted reading the Harry Potter books for quite some time. However, right around 11 or 12, it finally clicked and she fell in love just as I had.
We did Potter-themed gifts at Christmas. She got to the point she could beat me at Harry Potter trivia, no small feat. And of course, we talked about getting to the Universal Orlando Resort.
But as much as we wanted to see Hogsmeade and the Leaky Cauldron and the dragon in Diagon Alley, there were two experiences that stood out above all others. Sofia wanted desperately to get chosen for the wand experience and we wanted to visit King’s Cross Station and ride the Hogwarts Express.
I’d visited the actual King’s Cross Station in London previously. It was in the nascent days of the Potter phenomenon. Therefore, I was unaware of the import. I thought it was just another train station. And not a magical gateway – through a solid brick wall – to a different world.
What is King’s Cross Universal?
It’s multi-purpose really. A short walk from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Diagon Alley, the station serves as an important part of the streets of London theme in Universal Studios Orlando.
Additionally, it’s the queue for an absolutely must-do ride for Harry Potter fans, the Hogwarts Express. Also, it’s a connector point for the two Universal Orlando parks. If the line isn’t too bad, it’s better than walking out of one park, across CityWalk and over to the other park.
What is the Hogwarts Express ride?
First of all, like all of the Wizarding World, it’s an exceptionally accurate recreation of the train that takes Hogwarts students from London to the famous wizarding school.
At Universal, it connects the Hogsmeade Station and the amazing Hogsmeade Village in Universal’s Islands of Adventure to London and the even more amazing Diagon Alley.
Note that since the train transports riders between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, you will need a park hopper pass to ride it.
The ride itself isn’t overly intricate. The theming and design are excellent but it’s essentially a slow train ride. The train windows are screens – which could use updating. And you experience your little adventure seeing Harry Potter characters like Hagrid and some dementors.
Inside the train, through the frosted glass doors of your passenger compartment, you see the shadow of the trolley witch. You will also hear Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
It’s a one-way trip. If you want to go back from whence you came, you have to get out and queue up again.
The train ride itself isn’t anything special. The joy of the ride is embarking from the famous platform, looking for Easter eggs and soaking in the immersive experience of being in some of the most famous fictional train cars in the world.
And, theoretically, you get a nice cool spot to rest for a couple of minutes. Although, on our ride from King’s Cross, the air conditioning was out. As a result, the temperature in the train car was just south of hellish.
Can you ride Hogwarts Express without park to park?
Currently, Universal has two theme parks and a water park. To visit both theme parks on the same day and thus both sections of the Wizarding World, you need to have a park-to-park ticket – which does cost more. You cannot ride the Hogwarts Express without a park-to-park ticket.
There are agents in the Hogsmeade Station and the Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station who can upgrade your ticket to allow you to ride. If you’re a Harry Potter fan or if you just want the entire Universal experience, you must do it.
How long is the journey from King’s Cross to Hogwarts?
It takes about 4 minutes to ride from London, through the British countryside and into the Scottish countryside at Hogsmeade. That’s not the issue.
The issue is the queue and the wait times, which can be excruciating.
What’s the average wait time?
According to thrill-data.com, the average wait time for the Hogwarts Express is about 35 minutes. I’ve read that according to the data, there’s not much average difference between the wait going from King’s Cross to Hogsmeade or vice-versa.
However, when I check wait times, it seems to me the ride from King’s Cross almost always has a longer wait than that.
Also, you have to do it a couple of times to get both experiences. However, I found the queue at Hogsmeade much more entertaining and much better designed.
The King’s Cross queue was excruciating. We got in line with a 30-ish minute wait but an announcement not long after we got in the line indicated it was up to 55 minutes.
The Hogsmeade queue takes you over and under and around and lets you be outside some. There’s more visually to keep you entertained. Also, it’s a long queue which allows you to spread out some, not just rows and rows of tourists stacked upon each other.
The King’s Cross queue feels like cows in a corral. It’s up one line and down another, over and over again. At some point, the people you pass ahead and behind you become familiar faces.
The line is crowded. It’s slow. The King’s Cross queue is so bad, that they stuck a strange little sandwich shop at about the halfway point. Evidently, it was designed to give you something to focus on as you trudge forward.
By the time we got to the famous platform filled with a pile of luggage and Easter eggs, few people in line had the willingness to check it out. They just found enough of a perch where they could sit for a second and rest their weary souls.
Is the Hogwarts Express worth it?
Absolutely it is. The Wizarding World is the best theming in the Universal Parks. It’s worth it just for the attention to detail.
Nevertheless, I would say if the wait is more than 30 minutes going from King’s Cross, hold off if at all possible.
If your choice is waiting in that queue or walking out of Universal Orlando and over to Islands of Adventure – I’d eschew the air-conditioned line and make the walk.
That’s how bad that King’s Cross queue can be under the wrong conditions.
Have you been on the Hogwarts Express? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.