If you are a fan of Harry Potter as I am, then you must visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventures theme park in Orlando, Florida. As soon as you enter the gates, you’ll be transported to the world of Harry Potter, allowing you to visit Hogsmeade Village, Hogwarts Castle, and some very familiar shops all in one day.
It’s very easy to get lost in the magic that has been created here by Universal, as the park is not only a visual treat that gives you the feeling of being in Harry Potter’s world, but the level of energy and excitement created by others visiting the park adds to the magical atmosphere.
Everyone wants to feel like they are in Harry’s world and experience that magical place, if just for a few hours. I bet you will easily get caught up in the magic, too.
When to visit
They say timing is everything, and when planning to visit this park, you should definitely consider the time of year. As I mentioned in the title, this review is for adult muggles, so I recommend visiting the park in a month when the kiddies are in school. I visited the park over President’s Day weekend in February and arrived first thing in the morning. There were no lines to get on the rides, including the popular “Forbidden Journey” in Hogwarts Castle. However, as the day progressed, so did the crowds, but nothing like the busy season (from the pictures I’ve seen of what the park looks like on a summer day). Even with a small crowd, the wait time for the rides and attractions during the day was not that bad (30 minutes to an hour).
I’ve read that during the high-season, lines can be over 2 hours long, and they will close this section of the park if it gets too crowded. How disappointing would that be? The best times to visit the park are November, early December, late January, and February during non-holiday times and on a Sunday or weekday. Also, get to the park when it first opens, as this is the best time to get into Ollivander’s Wand Shop or on the Forbidden Journey ride at Hogwarts Castle without a line and to also get some great pictures without hordes of people around. Finally, about an hour before the park closes, the lines once again diminish. The Wizarding World was more like a ghost town an hour before closing time during my visit.
Go to the right park
If you don’t already know, there are two parks at Universal Florida – the Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure that are connected by the Universal Citywalk, a complex of shops and restaurants. The Wizarding World that includes Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade is located at Islands of Adventure. In June, 2014, the expansion of the Wizarding World opened in Universal’s other park, the Universal Studios. That is where you’ll find Diagon Alley, King’s Cross Station and London. To visit both parks, you will be required to buy a ticket for each.
For now, this post is focused on the original park located in the Islands of Adventure. The Islands of Adventure is a circular park consisting of 6 themed island mini-parks surrounding a large lagoon. When you first enter Islands of Adventure, you’ll be walking through the Port of Disney and its many shops. Continue straight until you reach the lagoon and take a right.
The Wizarding World is located in the back of the park, and you can enter it from either direction, but if you take a right and enter through the Lost Continent, you’ll enter it through the main entrance (the back entrance is via Jurassic Park). You will want your first view of Harry Potter’s world to be from this main entrance through the gate warning you to “respect the spell limits.”
Welcome to Hogsmeade Village
Although the park is visually impressive, it’s not all that big. There are only 3 rides, a few shops, 1 restaurant and 1 bar. If you go during the off-season, you’ll easily be able to experience the Wizarding World and all it has to offer in 3 to 4 hours, and that includes having a bite to eat and relaxing with a beer.
When you enter through the main gate, you’ll immediately see the Hogwarts Express train and be dumped into Hogsmeade Village.
Hogsmeade Village consists of a main street where you’ll find the shops and restaurant. Towards the end of the street on the right will be Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Definitely stop here first and then over to the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle.
The Forbidden Journey. This ride is the signature attraction in the Wizarding World located inside Hogwarts Castle. It is a flight simulator type of ride where the suspended coaster-type seats dangle off the end of a robotic arm. You will be whisked through Harry’s world for about 4 ½ minutes flying you around the castle and through the grounds of Hogwarts. Expect to participate in a game of Quidditch and an encounter with some giant spiders while being chased by Dementors.
It was a great ride filled with special effects, but it did run into a glitch when I was on it for the first time; it completely shut down midway through the ride. I was dangling in the air in total darkness for about a minute; not so fun! The system rebooted, and the ride continued. Granted, the park was fairly new when I visited, so I’m sure issues like this have since been resolved.
Walking up to the ride through Hogwarts Castle is also a treat. You’ll see the Greenhouse, Dumbledore’s Office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, and even encounter the Sorting Hat! If you don’t want to go on the ride, you can opt to do a castle tour instead.
Dragon Challenge. When I visited the park, this coaster was a dueling coaster with two cars going out at the same time. It no longer operates this way due to some injuries that have occurred on the ride due to flying debris.
Even without the race or the “duel” against the other coaster, it’s still a great ride with lots of twists, turns and loops while traveling at speeds of up to 60 mph. If you are not up for the excitement that this ride provides, go with the Flight of the Hippogriff for a much gentler coaster.
Flight of the Hippogriff. The Hippogriff is a small traditional roller coaster that simulates a test flight on the Hipporgriff over the Forbidden Forest.
You’ll spot a giant pumpkin patch leading up to Hagrid’s Hut on your way to the Hippogriff while listening to Hagrid himself talk about the Forbidden Forest.
And as if it couldn’t get any better, the actual coaster cars are designed to look like a Hippogriff, and you’ll see an actual animatronic Hippogriff sitting off to the side of the first hill bowing to all the riders.
Ollivander’s Wand Shop. I had no interest in purchasing a $30+ wand that came with no magic, but the shop was still worth a visit to see the 5 minute show where the “wand selects the wizard” for one of the lucky 25 guests who enter the shop. (Note, the shopkeeper picks the wizard who will participate in the show, and if you are selected, you’ll have the option to purchase the wand that selected you.)
However, the line gets very long, and it moves very slowly. If you are able to hit this shop first thing in the morning, do it. If you get there, and there’s already a long line wrapping around the backside of the building, I’d probably avoid it and try it again closer to closing time. It’s nice to see, but it’s not worth a wait more than 30 minutes.
If you really want a wand that bad and don’t want to wait in the long lines for Ollivander’s, just buy it from one of the street vendors. These vendors are not on the black market or from Diagon Alley, so no worries about your wand’s authenticity.
Zonko’s Joke Shop. This shop is right next to Honeydukes, and it is where you can find all kinds of joke articles. Friends that know me well know that this was probably my favorite shop, as I am known to be a bit of a prankster.
You can find all kinds of crazy items in this shop such as a crazy face flyer, inflatable tongue, extendable giant ears, screaming yo-yos, and my personal favorite, the Rubby O’Chicken, a magical rubber chicken that was bewitched to do an Irish stepdance.
Honeydukes. It’ll be hard to leave the Wizarding World without stopping by this colorful candy shop. When inside, you will truly feel like a kid again.
However, this is no ordinary candy shop. Here you’ll find such treats as acid pops, cauldron cakes, fizzing whizzbees, and exploding bon-bons. I need to find a recipe for those; I’m thinking they’d make a great party treat for my friends!
You cannot leave without buying the infamous chocolate frog and some of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans to take home with you. They make great gifts, too.
Dervish & Banges. A shop you’d normally visit to repair your broken exploding tuba or other magical musical instrument, this location in the Wizarding World serves as the primary gift shop for the park. You’ll find everything and anything Harry Potter related in this shop such as a Deathly Hallows necklace or a Golden Snitch. (I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, there was nothing “golden” about a snitch, but I digress).
When I was visiting the park, NBA player Kobe Bryant happened to be visiting, too. How unfortunate was I that he decided to enter Dervish & Banges when I was attempting to go in. I had actually bumped into him because I had my head down, looking at my camera, and this misstep put him two steps ahead of me as we both approached the entrance to the store. The Universal Studios “handlers” that were with him immediately blocked my passage and closed up the store. They were actually very rude about it, too. I simply had my camera in my hand with no intention or desire to take a picture of Kobe Bryant in the store, but was warned that if I did, they would confiscate it. I was then told to put it “out of sight.” At that moment, they were really lucky I didn’t spring for the $30 wand earlier because I was one minute away from putting an Avada Kervada spell on them. Geez, and I thought the doorman at the nightclubs in the Meatpacking District of NYC were mean. After about a 15 minute wait, “Master Kobe” was finished shopping, and the store reopened for the lowly muggles. #frustrating
There’s great ambiance at the Three Broomsticks Tavern, the only restaurant in the park. However, the menu isn’t that big, just serving fish and chips, shepherd’s pie or turkey leg.
You can get your Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice here if the lines at the vendor carts on the main drag are too long.
If you are looking for something a little stronger than Butterbeer, you can walk next door to the Hog’s Head Pub for some real beer in a pub setting. The pub also serves wine and mixed drinks. Yes, you can drink alcoholic beverages at Universal’s theme parks, and that includes in the Wizarding World.
You can also find some entertainment close by while enjoying your beer. Check out the Frog Choir which performs at the end of the street at the crossroads close to Ollivander’s Wand Shop.
Don’t forget to return to Hogsmeade when the sun goes down. The park is especially enchanting at night when all the lights go on!
Have you had enough of Harry Potter’s World yet? Probably Not!
If you are like me, visiting just one of the Wizarding Worlds is not enough. Check out my review of Diagon Alley, the second Harry Potter theme park to open at Universal Orlando in the summer of 2014. Located in Universal Studios, there’s plenty more of Harry Potter’s world to explore at Diagon Alley including:
- King’s Cross Station and train service on the Hogwart’s Express between the two parks for patrons holding a park-to-park ticket
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Bank, an indoor coaster attraction
- Diagon Alley and all it’s glorious stores featuring everything a wizard could possibly want or need
- The Leaky Cauldron Restaurant and Bar
- A larger Ollivander’s Wand Shop
- Knockturn Alley and shops for the dark arts
- Interactive wands so wizards can practice their spells
Have you been to Hogsmeade? What were your favorite attractions? Do you have any tips? Share in the comments below.