There is no doubt that the big attraction at Universal Orlando is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. In July 2014, Universal Orlando expanded the Wizarding World of Harry Potter from Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventures to also include Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida. The two parks are connected by Hogwart’s Express, an actual train that also serves as a ride and attraction lasting about 4 minutes each way. I recently spent a day exploring Diagon Alley, and it was nothing short of magical. Here is what you can expect on a visit to this wizarding world.
The Hot Ticket: Park-to-Park Admission
If you only have one day to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and you are not at all interested in anything else at Universal Orlando except Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, then your best bet is the Park-to-Park Admission ($136). This ticket will allow you to enter one park and ride the Hogwarts Express to the other park as much as you want in your one day. Granted, if you decide on this ticket, expect a busy day at a fast pace to explore the two parks. If you are visiting during a busy time of year, you may be tempted to bundle this ticket with the Express Pass ($190), which allows you to jump to the front of the lines. Considering there is only 1 ride in Diagon Alley, and 3 rides in Hogsmeade (not including Hogwart’s Express), I’m not sure it is worth the extra expense unless you plan to ride multiple times. You could definitely ride all the rides at least once in one day without the Express Pass, even on a crowded day. Alternatively, if you have already been to Hogsmeade like me (see my review here), you may opt for the more reasonable 1-Day Single Park ticket ($96) just to spend your day in Diagon Alley. If you are lucky enough to have more than one day to visit the parks, the best value is the multi-day ticket.
Trip Tip: Buy your ticket online and print it at home. It’ll save time from having to wait in line at the park to buy it.
When to visit
They say timing is everything, and when planning to visit this park, you should definitely consider the time of year. The best times to visit the park are in November,December,January and February (avoiding holidays and winter school breaks). I visited Diagon Alley in mid-November. There was a small crowd in the park, definitely a tolerable one. Wait times for the single ride in Diagon Alley (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s) was about 30-40 minutes first thing in the morning and closer to an hour as the day progressed. There was no wait time for a table at the main restaurant, The Leaky Cauldron, nor to get into most of the shops including Ollivander’s Wand Shop for the wand demonstration or the money exchange at Gringott’s (which is worth a short visit even if you don’t plan to exchange any money).
Let’s Get Tripping!
When you arrive to Universal Studios, there is no doubt that everyone entering the park is there for Diagon Alley. It’s located in the rear of the park, so just follow the crowds past the Minions and Shrek, through the streets of New York, and along the wharf of San Francisco. You’ll eventually end up in London.
Greeted by Kings Cross and Leicester Square Stations, you are now just seconds away from entering Diagon Alley. Hold on to your sorting caps, within seconds, you’ll break through the walls behind the London townhouses and enter the famous shopping area that wizards know all too well.
The attention to detail in Diagon Alley is incredible. Your time is not spent in line for rides because, as I mentioned earlier, there is just one ride in this park. Instead, you will spend your time admiring the detail in the design and of course, spending more money. Diagon Alley appears to be one giant Harry Potter shopping mall. Anything you could possibly imagine from Harry Potter’s world can be found in Diagon Alley.
So, what is there to see?
With all the visual stimulation in Diagon Alley, it’s hard to get focused when you first enter the park. But one thing is for sure, you should take your time to explore every nook and cranny in Diagon Alley including Knockturn Alley, Carkitt Market, and London.
Kings Cross Station and Hogwart’s Express
The first stop upon arrival is Kings Cross Station. This is where you’ll pick up the Hogwart’s Express to travel between the two parks. Without a Park-to-Park Admission ticket, you’ll only get as far as the turnstiles at the entrance of the train tracks. If you area able to ride the train, you’re in for a treat. They have created an illusion that makes it appear as if you are walking through the brick wall to the famous platform to pick up the train to Hogsmeade just like Harry Potter and friends did to board the famous train for wizards. Once on the train, you’ll experience a visual treat. The windows are actually TV screens that show the English countryside passing along with some famous characters making an appearance. The experience is different in both directions.
Before entering Diagon Alley, you’ll find the triple decker Knight Bus parked along the Thames Embankment of London. Here, you can either board the Knight Bus for a photo op or, better yet, banter with the conductor and his wise-cracking shrunken head. They will answer your questions, pose for photos, and even throw in the occasional joke about you or where you are from.
Knockturn Alley is where you go to explore the world of the dark arts. In this dark area of the park (it’s actually enclosed with a black roof to give the appearance of nighttime), you’ll find some interactive wand spots as well as more shopping. The large souvenir shop, Borgin and Burkes, is located in here.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s
The only ride in Diagon Park is the Escape from Gringott’s, a ride based on the story found in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Once again, the attention to detail once inside the bank and leading up to the ride itself is amazing. You’ll stroll through the Great Hall of Gringott’s, where animatronic goblin tellers are perched above you busy at work. You’ll walk through the bank’s offices on your way down to the elevators that will take you to the vault that sits “10 miles below.” Once in the vault, you’ll board a roller coaster train for the ride itself.
Let’s Get Shopping!
As I mentioned earlier, Diagon Alley appears to be one giant shopping mall. I can’t fault Universal Studios for that, because even in the movie, it is the place for wizards to go shopping. Perhaps Universal Studios used up all its imagination with the design of Diagon Alley, as I think they could have come up with at least another ride for guests to enjoy especially for those adult muggles who have no need for a $100 polyester robe, a $45 wand, a $20 foam quidditch ball, or a pair of $10 plastic chattering teeth. In any event, the stores are delightfully decorated and worth a visit for some window shopping (you never know what you’ll find in the windows in Diagon Alley!). If you don’t like to shop, then check out my recommendations for a Harry Potter pub crawl. Otherwise, get your wallet out as you explore over nine shops because Harry Potter memorabilia is plentiful, and wizardly objects are not cheap!
Diagon Alley shops are set up to sell you anything and everything related to Harry Potter. The shops include: Ollivander’s Wand Shop (traditional wands), Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (novelty items, jokes,and toys), Borgin and Burkes (death eater masks, skulls), Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions (robes, school uniforms), Magical Menagerie (creature character toys and plush toys), Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment (telescopes, magnifying glasses, astronomical items), Quality Quidditch Supplies (Quidditch sporting equipment including brooms, balls, sweaters), Wands by Gregcrovitch (wands), and Scribbulus (writing supply store including parchment paper, journals, feather quills). Gringott’s Money Exchange can also be added to this list if you are interested in buying Gringott’s Bank Notes or chocolate coins.
Diagon Alley offers several options for grabbing a bite to eat, but for a true Harry Potter dining experience, there is no other place to go than the Leaky Cauldron. Here, you can sit down in an air conditioned restaurant with incredible Harry Potter ambience to enjoy your meal. The food is English style pub food, and it’s actually pretty good (with prices ranging from $8.99 to $19.99). I ate both lunch and dinner at the Leaky Cauldron, especially enjoying the fish-n-chips.
Other dining options include The Hopping Pot in Carkitt Market right off the main street. This outdoor walk-up counter is great for picking up a drink or a snack (limited menu). There are a few picnic tables available here, too. There are two other options for quick bites out in London, and these are the London Taxi Hut (baked potatos, hot dogs and fries) or a cafe at Kings Cross Station (lighter fare like fruit platters and hummus).
For dessert, head over to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, where muggles line up to try the iconic (and super sweet) butterbeer soft-serve ice cream. There are also other unique flavors offered, like sticky toffee pudding, chocolate chili, orange marmalade, and Earl Gray and lavendar. A cup of soft serve or hand packed ice cream will cost $4.99, a waffle cone is $5.99, and a souvenir glass is $10.99. There are also several baked good offerings at the ice-cream parlour.
Finally, if you are just interested in grabbing a cold drink, visit The Fountain of Fair Fortune. Although they specialize in Butterbeer (regular, frozen, as well as butterbeer soft-serve ice cream), you can also find some adult beers here as well. The same draught beers found in the rest of Diagon Alley, Wizard’s Brew and Dragon Scale, are available here.
A visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will not disappoint, whether you visit Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, or better yet, both of the magical parks in one trip. I simply recommend visiting at the right time of year,which will help make your trip more enjoyable with less crowds.
Have you been to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios? What did you like most about it? Do you have any tips? Share in the comments below.