From the books to the movies to its own theme park, Harry Potter has almost taken over the world.
In the summer of 2014, Universal Studios Orlando opened up its expansion of the Potterverse with Diagon Alley. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit this section of the park on two occasions and each time has never failed to “wow” me.
At the end of the park, where the Jaws attraction used to inhabit and next to the Men in Black area, is a row of English shops and Kings Cross Station. Those familiar with the world of Harry Potter will know that it’s by the Hogwarts Express taken at Kings Cross that Harry travels from London to Hogwarts. Those of us with enough money to buy a park-to-park ticket ($147-adult, $142-child) can ride the Hogwarts Express themselves! Unfortunately for me, it’s a little too pricey so I have yet to experience this luxury.
Before you enter Diagon Alley through the open brick pathway (which Harry uses behind the Leaky Cauldron pub), you can enter the magical world of Harry Potter early by viewing Sirius Black’s family residence (try to spot Kreacher in the window!) and hanging out by the Knight Bus.
Walking through the brick wall is one of the first of many times you will probably gasp because Universal Studios did an amazing job bringing this magical world to life. It feels like you are in the book and looks pretty similar to the movie. To the left is the Leaky Cauldron pub with your English theme park food (meat pies, bangers and mash) and Butterbeer! They include hot Butterbeer here which is actually pretty tasty, almost like a butterscotch hot chocolate, (and my second favorite next to frozen Butterbeer). To the right is Weasleys Wizard Wheezes with an assortment of gag gifts (sadly just like an ordinary muggle joke shop, no magical toys inside) from rattling wind-up dentures to fart cushions. What makes the Weasley shop a go-to destination is the candy inside! There is more of an imaginative design with Chocolate Frogs (you can collect all four Hogwarts founders and if you’re lucky, the rare Dumbledore card), Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Puking Pastilles (just hard candy, don’t worry!), Pepper Imps, Treacle Tart, and more!
There are a few shops you can’t enter which was disappointing. There’s a door for Flourish and Blotts (the bookshop) and the Daily Prophet. The only place you can buy the Harry Potter books are in a Universal Studios gift shop at the entrance to the park. It would have been neat to buy the Harry Potter series in Harry Potter world! The wand shop is completely stacked with various wands. They’ve came out with multiple characters wands which is awesome (I have Sirius Black’s wand), and you can collect wands from the trio (Harry, Ron, Hermione), to Bellatrix, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Draco, Neville, and Death Eaters. In addition to a “plain, old wand” Universal is selling interactive wands! Buy this special wand and cast spells in Diagon Alley. Included with the wand is a map of Diagon Alley with marked places where you can point your wand at something and make magic happen!
Shops you wouldn’t even think of to see have been included! Madame Malkins has school robes for sale, the Magical Menagerie has fluffy stuffed pets (and leashes!), Wiseacres has cups, glasses, journals, keychains and your average gift shop items. In a small side shop you can buy Galleons to use instead of dollars! What’s more to these shops is the fact that there is so much to see! Look up and find objects hanging from the ceiling, moving on their own! In the Weasley shop, see toys move and dangle. There is always something new to find.
And that’s not all! You HAVE to stop in the Fountain of Fair Fortune for a Butterbeer (or one of Universal’s specially created alcoholic brews for those 21+). Next door is Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour where you can eat Butterbeer flavored ice cream! I have yet to try this delicacy because I keep spending my money on frozen Butterbeer.
Have I mentioned the super awesome place they also included? Knockturn Alley! YES! They included this side-attraction and there is just as much detail put in this section of Diagon Alley as anywhere else in this park. It’s dark and shady, (but totally safe because this is Universal after all) which is appropriate as you enter Borgin and Burkes dark magic shop. The lighting is dim so it’s a little difficult to see the items. In this store they have glass cases of dark objects you have read about and seen in the movies like the Hand of Glory, cursed necklace, Slytherin’s locket, and more. Wanted posters for Bellatrix Lestrange and Sirius Black stare down at you as they hang from walls.
Last but not least, the main attraction: Gringotts wizarding bank. This stunning, marble building is one of the first things to catch your eye as you enter Diagon Alley. It’s crooked, it’s tall, and there’s a fire-breathing dragon on its roof. This is Diagon Alley’s only ride, and it’s a fair one like the Hogwarts adventure ride. One thing Universal really improved upon the building of Gringotts was that most of the waiting takes place inside the building. I think many people (as well as myself) were disappointed that while waiting for the Hogwarts ride, a majority of the standing time took place outside. When all you want to do is explore Hogwarts, it was disappointing to wait most of your time outside (and being in Florida, it gets HOT).
Inside Gringotts is a beautiful, large room which leads you through the bank just like you see in Sorcerer’s Stone. Tall desks line the hall on each side as goblins weigh, inspect, and account for their gold. The goblins look life-like and even move. What is incredible about this room are the huge crystal chandeliers that line the hall down the middle. Out of this room you are led down a dim, stone hallway until you get your picture taken by a Universal staff member. After, you meet a holographic Bill Weasley who explains the ride and you go through to an “elevator” (simulated) which takes you to stairs and to your ride!
The Gringotts adventure ride is a little fast but by no means a rollercoaster. You sit in rows on a cart while it moves you on a track, watching a large IMAX-like screen as you make your way through Gringotts. It’s almost identical to the Hogwarts ride, but with a little more adventure to it.
Despite how pricey everything can be while visiting Diagon Alley, you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy it. Personally, I would have loved to splurge on a Hufflepuff scarf ($34.95), buy Harry’s wand ($39.95-$47.95), buy a Hogwarts school robe ($109.95), a Chocolate Frog ($10), and enjoy my purchases while drinking a frozen Butterbeer ($5) at the Leaky Cauldron ($12-$16). But as you can see, that would add up when you already pay $108 (tax included) for a one-park ticket entrance at Universal. An annual pass would be worth while for those die-hard fans who live in Florida. So I settled for treating myself on one of my visits (while trying to be cheap), to a Hogwarts pin ($8), Butterbeer, and Chocolate Frog. It doesn’t have to be an expensive trip and for die-hard fans like me, entering the world of Harry Potter was blissful enough.
*This review was not endorsed by Universal and the opinions are of my own.
**Photos were taken by me.