I’ll freely admit that this is probably one of the tourist-iest places I’ve ever been, and under most circumstances wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
BUT GUYS IT’S HARRY POTTER.
A couple weeks after we got home from our epic New Zealand adventure, my friend Sarai mentioned that she had to go to Orlando for a work conference, and asked if Brek and I wanted to come down and see her. While I’m on the record as NOT being a fan of Orlando (or crowds, or lines), I’d been intrigued by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since the plans for the park were first announced.
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I came to the Harry Potter books a bit later in life than most people my age, who grew up reading them. I’d never really paid them much attention until the summer after I graduated from college, when I moved halfway across the country to Atlanta and ended up with a couple weeks of inactivity before starting a job. One afternoon, the second movie was on TV and I ended up watching it, and was immediately hooked. I went out and bought the first book right away, and the rest is history. I can literally quote them word-for-word at this point.
I enjoy the movies for what they are, but the books are pure magic to me. And I went pretty deep when I fell in love…I listened to podcasts, read articles, listened to the audiobooks, and even went to a wizard rock show. This world is a part of my DNA now, so I knew that some day I’d have to visit the theme park. When Sarai issued the invitation, I jumped at it.
Logistics and (sorry) costs for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando:
- Annoyingly, the Wizarding World is actually within two separate parks..which means if you want to see both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, visit the Leaky Cauldron and The Hogs Head, and ride both of the really good rides, you’ll have to pay two exorbitant tickets.
- Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure, and you can ride between the two via the Hogwarts Express. You could buy one ticket for Universal one day, and one ticket for Islands the next, but you won’t be able to ride the Hogwarts Express—to do that, you have to buy a Park-to-Park ticket, which runs about $165 for an adult for one day.
- It’s maddening to try and get clear answers on tickets, so I recommend calling, but this website should be a good place to start on figuring out what ticket is best for you. If you’re staying in the park, the costs change a bit too (as do hours that you’re allowed in).
- We did this all in one day, but if you have the time I’d definitely recommend two days and get a 2-day pass. And don’t forget that it not only gets you into the Wizarding World, but also you can ride any of the other rides in the parks.
- There’s a wait times app you can download to see what the lines are like for various rides. If you have the flexibility as well, try to go during the off-season (we went in early November, right after the crazy Halloween extravaganza they have, and it was still pretty crowded).
- It should go without saying, but get there before it opens to beat the worst of the crowds. Like half an hour early if you can. Have a plan, look at a map and know where you’re going, and hit your top-priority ride first thing before the lines get long.
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The wand chooses the wizard…
No question, I had to get myself a wand at Ollivander’s. I tried a few out (including Hermione’s), but actually ended up with the Elder Wand. Not sure what that says about me…but it’s the most fun one to hold, and has some serious flair. They run around $50 (unless they’ve raised the price).
There are tons of different interactive displays throughout the Harry Potter parts of the the park where you can use your wand to do spells. I felt kind of weird creeping behind all the little kids trying to do mine, and MAN, is it way harder than you would think. Rather like Ron, I had some trouble with my wand motions…
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It really is like stepping into J.K. Rowling’s world. Last week I was re-listening to an interview she gave a number of years ago, not too long after the park’s concept had been announced but before anyone really knew anything about it. And she was talking about how one of the biggest things she insisted on was having Stuart Craig involved in the park’s design. He was the production designer for all of the Harry Potter movies, and she was always astounded at how he brought her imagined world to life.
If you have time, get some sweets in Honeyduke’s, take a gander at some robes in Gladrags’, and poke through some confiscated goods at Filch’s Emporium. Shopping opportunities abound. Don’t forget to go see Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Borgin & Burke’s, or any of the other iconic places. We just didn’t have enough time, which made me sad.
Let’s talk rides for a minute:
Let’s be honest, you’re probably not coming specifically for the rides. If the rides were the only draw, these probably wouldn’t live up to the price tag. Instead, the rides are just one more piece of the whole world experience, and you can tell that the design team put a lot of thought into creating them.
- The Forbidden Journey: this was the first ride we did, and the first one I’ve ever done that’s CGI (vs. out in the open air). The whole thing, even the (quite long time) you walk through the queue to get on the ride, is part of the experience. As you wander through the hallways and stairwells of Hogwarts, you get to experience the Sorting Hat speaking, the portraits talking, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, and the trio talking to you. The ride itself if very cool—not what I’m used to (and doesn’t replace a legit scary roller coaster), but fun.
- Escape from Gringott’s: similar to the Forbidden Journey, this is CGI and a really fun experience. You do get jerked around quite a bit, your legs are hanging in the air a lot as the ride kind of reacts with the CGI. They’ve done a really good job with it.
- Flight of the Hippogriff: for kids. Unless you are a small child, don’t waste your time.
- They had announced the Dueling Dragons ride before we were there and were working on building it, but we didn’t get to ride it so not sure how good it is.
Potentially my favorite part of the whole park.
He’s not just for show—he breathes fire every 10 minutes, hard to miss. I was literally listening to this part of the audiobook (Jim Dale, naturally) while on my long run this afternoon. So. Good.
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That is the face of happy people at the beginning of the day, not tired, hot people at the end 🙂
Bottom line: was it worth it??
For me, yes. But probably only the once, unless someone randomly decides to give me free tickets or I have a close friend who’s a major fan and is DYING to go (and I can’t think of one right off). Yes, it’s super expensive, it’s kind of cheesy, lines are awful…but it’s still magic. It was so much fun to wander through the snow-capped little shops of Hogsmeade and fail terribly at doing spells with my wand and sip a butterbeer in The Leaky Cauldron (WAAAYYY too sweet for me). If you’re a big fan of the books or movies, this is a pilgrimage you have to make at some point.
Since we had to rush through both parks in one day, we didn’t get to try as much food, poke through as many stores, or see quite everything. So if you’re still jonesin’ for some more intel on the parks, I’d recommend The Blonde Abroad‘s detailed account of her adventures in the wizarding world.
What wand would choose you? Any favorite tips for the Wizarding World that I left out??