It has now officially been a year since I last set foot in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I still really, really miss it.
WWoHP is by far the most incredible theme park attraction I’ve ever encountered. I’d go so far as to say that it’s more of an experience than a park. You don’t line up to meet characters or get autographs and there are very few rides. The real draw of this place is bringing Harry’s world to life and it has been executed with admirable precision and care.
I spent two whole days there with my family in October 2014 and it barely felt like enough. A lot of my happiest moments were spent just sitting down and taking in the atmosphere, watching as people lined up for ice-creams or butterbeer (which tastes, by the way, like shortbread, marshmallows, butterscotch, creaming soda and happiness). Whether you were dressed as a Muggle or a wizard or something in between, it brought the whole place to life.
I honestly don’t know if I have the words to talk about everything in detail because it would quickly descend into excited keyboard smashing. So instead I’ll just dump a whole bunch of photos in here for you to look at. Most of these were taken by my mum, because I was too busy running up and down the streets and having an emotional overload to take many pictures. (This was also the perfect place to wear my Black Milk Marauder’s Map leggings! So many compliments from fellow nerds who recognised them instantly!)
HOGSMEADE: The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head Inn
The food at Wizarding World was excellent, by the way. After a month in America, where burgers and pizza reign supreme, I’ve never been so excited for fish and chips. ACTUAL CHIPS. Not potato crisps.
Rather than creating two separate areas, The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head share a space. The Three Broomsticks is the main eating area in Hogsmeade and The Hog’s Head serves the more grown-up drinks.
HOGSMEADE: Shops and attractions
If you spend too much on merchandise, don’t worry; there’s a Gringotts ATM for your convenience. (I also hear the exchange rate from Galleons to USD is pretty fair.)
With a visit to Owl Post in Hogsmeade, you can send a special Hogsmeade-postmarked letter to your friends who aren’t experiencing the magic firsthand.
Dervish and Banges have all your merchandise needs covered with Quidditch memorabilia, Hogwarts school uniforms and stationery.
No trip to Hogsmeade is complete without a stop at Honeydukes for some treats. Almost every confectionery item mentioned in the books is available on these shelves. The Chocolate Frogs are the size of your hand and are made of solid milk chocolate so be prepared for a jaw ache.
You can test a whole bunch of different sweets by filling a bag and paying for whatever weight you end up with. Out of all the things I tried, my favourite would have to be the Sherbet Lemons. My whole family loved them and they looked great in the collectable Honeydukes glass jar.
HOGSMEADE: Hogwarts grounds
You can catch performances at Hogsmeade from the Durmstrang boys and Beauxbatons girls, as well as a Frog Choir who do some awesome a cappella arrangements.
There aren’t many rides in Hogsmeade but Universal is well-prepared for long lines. If you happen to get stuck in peak season, your wait will be a bit more exciting with opportunities for photos as you slowly edge your way to the ride itself.
The line for the Dragon Challenge weaves through the grounds of Hogwarts and is set up for the Triwizard Tournament with banners supporting the four champions.
You’ll also be able to get pictures with the Weasley family’s rogue Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s hut!
When you get to the front of the line, you have to make a choice: do you want to brave the Chinese Fireball or the Hungarian Horntail? Luckily for us, the lines weren’t too long so we just retraced our steps to take on the second roller coaster.
And, of course, everyone wants to see Hogwarts. I may or may not have cried. This is the entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride that uses ‘state-of-the-art technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind ride experience’.
It’s quite dark inside and a bit difficult to take photos but you’ll have a similar in-line experience as you wait for your turn. You’ll weave through the halls of Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s study, and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, interacting with talking pictures as you go.
You’ll exit the ride through Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, which is filled with even more beautiful Hogwarts memorabilia.
To the right of the Hogwarts castle you’ll find Flight of the Hippogriff, a roller coaster perfectly suited for any youngsters. It’s a much more gentle ride than either of the Dragon Challenge coasters but it’s still a lot of fun.
THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS
Before you leave Hogsmeade, get a photo taken with the Hogwarts Express conductor. He’s a busy man but he makes time for everyone.
Then, get ready to board the train to London for a whole new experience.
ENTERING DIAGON ALLEY
When you emerge from King’s Cross, you’ll find yourself in Muggle London. But only for a little while. And if you remember Harry’s first description of the Leaky Cauldron, you’ll be doubly impressed:
It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry wouldn’t have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn’t glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all.
Now, this little door is not the actual entrance to Diagon Alley. That would cause massive traffic flow problems. But, since it would be a bit of a hassle to have a constantly opening and closing magic brick wall, Universal has set up an entrance kind of hidden behind another brick wall.
And once you walk around it, you are standing in the entrance to Diagon Alley, with pure magic laid out in front of you.
DIAGON ALLEY: Shops
One of the closest stores to the entrance is Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The first thing you’ll notice about Diagon Alley is that it has a sense of space that Hogsmeade lacks. While the streets of Hogsmeade were by no means narrow, these shops are on a whole different scale. There’s a bit more room to move and there’s a whole lot more to look at.
No, you can’t go up all those levels. But nothing’s stopping you from staring at them all day long (save for some people who might want to get to the Skiving Snackboxes).
Sadly, you can’t enter all of the stores. Some just exist as beautiful shopfronts. But they simply add to the magic.
Madam Malkin’s is open for business! Inside you’ll find all your Hogwarts uniform needs.
I desperately wish that these jumpers were available in all letters of the alphabet because I would absolutely fork out my money for one with a giant S.
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment was one of my favourite stores if only for this glorious display.
You can also head down the dark and mysterious Knockturn Alley for a trip to Borgin and Burkes, which is filled with some of the more dark and creepy merchandise.
DIAGON ALLEY: Gringotts
Yes, there is a DRAGON atop Gringotts! This poor thing has been trapped in the cavernous labyrinth below and he’s none too happy about it. Every 15 minutes or so, you’ll hear a low grumbling that will eventually result in a roar from this guy.
And FIRE. The fire is hot. It shoots high above your head but it does blast you with a wave of heat and it’ll scare the crap out of anyone who isn’t expecting it.
Inside, Gringotts is every bit as beautiful as you would expect it to be. And it houses Diagon Alley’s only ride: Escape from Gringotts.
This roller coaster was still quite new when we went and the lines were atrociously long. Since my sister and I were the only two who wanted to go on the ride, we were coaxed into the singles line. I honestly think it would have been faster to just join the main line because I heard them calling for groups of two far more frequently than singles.
In the end, though, the ride was pretty awesome and I’m glad I got to experience it.
DIAGON ALLEY: Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour and the Leaky Cauldron
You HAVE to try ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s. There’s an awesome range of flavours, including a butterbeer soft serve. I could’ve mainlined butterbeer during our trip. I still miss that flavour.
The meals at the Leaky Cauldron are the same ones you’ll get in Hogsmeade at The Three Broomsticks, but good fresh food never gets old and it’s worth it just to say you’ve had a meal at the Leaky Cauldron.
DIAGON ALLEY: Muggle London and the journey home
Before you leave Universal Studios, have a bit of a play in Muggle London. The Knight Bus makes for great photos (even if your sister steals the best spot).
And, looking so commonplace you mightn’t notice, is Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Kreacher peeks through one of the windows every so often but he’s useless at answering the door.
This telephone booth was one of my favourite surprises. I stepped in, thinking it might just be a cool prop. By then I should’ve known better. If you dial the right numbers, you’ll receive a special message from the Ministry of Magic.
Since we started with Hogsmeade on both days, we had to take the reverse journey on the Hogwarts Express for an opportunity to go through the barrier of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. The first time I went through, I think I nearly tripped on my sister and ended up looking like a stomping ogre.
The second time I elected to make a slightly more graceful crossing.
And then it was back to Hogsmeade for one last butterbeer and a few tears. I knew I was going to love this place but I didn’t know how much I would hate leaving it. I know Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home but it doesn’t stop me from missing it desperately.
Another trip to America might be a long way off but next year I am heading to ENGLAND to experience some magic firsthand. Because I am going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! I managed to get tickets this week and I still can’t believe it’s real. I’ve never been to England and I’m already researching all the literary places I want to visit. It’s going to be AMAZING. And, even better, I will be reunited with my favourite drink in the world, BUTTERBEER.