If I'm any indication, visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is the Millennial Dream. Check out the top 10 things you won't want to miss, when you finally make your pilgrimage.
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One of many great things about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that it's surprisingly large. The portion of Universal dedicated to The Wizarding World has actually doubled in recent years - growing to include the portion I would visit "first" - Muggle London and Diagon Alley (previously it was just Hogwarts and Hogsmeade). For more tips on how to plan your trip, including planning a trip specifically for adults, check out my post: 5 Tips for Millennials Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Visiting Kreacher at Grimmauld Place
The first place you will see upon entering the Harry Potter section of Universal is a small portion dedicated to "Muggle London." But never fear, the little winks and nudges from the designers begin even here! Don't forget to stop by Grimmauld Place to visit Sirius - who is still alive and well, as far as I'm concerned, obviously- and, if you stay long enough...
Kreacher will poke his head out from the upper window to say hello!
Try to stop by here fairly early if you can - later in the day the front step is full of people taking pictures to the point that there's a massive line and sometimes an employee directing traffic. Of course, if you do the parks in order, this will the first thing you see.
Through the Barrier at Diagon Alley
After exploring Muggle London (don't miss the Night Bus!), you'll go through the (unmarked) barrier into Diagon Alley.
No need to tap the bricks, and wind through the gateway - watch the Wizarding World open up before you! Interestingly, they've chosen not to have the entrance be through the Leaky Cauldron. I'm assuming this is so that the Leaky Cauldron can be fully within Diagon Alley, and it is right next to the entrance once you get inside, but I thought it was a unique choice.
It's an incredible moment, as Diagon Alley has been well-designed to spread outward and upward in front of your eyes.
Gringotts Dragon's Fire
Just about every 10 minutes, you'll notice a certain amount of excitement among the crowd in Diagon Alley - cameras coming out, and people jockeying for position! Well, that's because the Dragon, having just broken free from the bowels of Gringotts, presumably with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine on his back, is expressing his delight with a fresh burst of flame! Gringotts is the central feature of Diagon Alley - everything sort of orients toward it, so no matter where you stand, you'll get at least a bit of a view!
It's really quite incredible - you can actually feel the heat throughout Diagon Alley! And, with the frequency of the blasts, it's hard to miss!
Knockturn Alley in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you can escape Hagrid's watchful eye long enough, take a turn down the discrete Knockturn Alley - and you'll find a very detailed section of the park that many visitors overlook. Including Borgin and Burke's, necklace and all!
Knockturn Alley is actually quite easy to miss - while it is sign posted, it truly is an alley - and the crowds definitely do not make it back here. It's also extremely dark (as it should be!) And, perhaps best of all, the temperature drops about 10 degrees the moment that you step out of the Florida sun!
Window Shopping in Diagon Alley
The attention to detail on each and every shop in Diagon Alley's storefronts is incredible. Most of the stores are full-sized shops, stocked with authentic merchandise or displays. If you have plenty of time (which you should!!) or if you are a non-ride-goer like me, take time to look in as many windows as you can!
Catching the Hogwarts Express at Kings Cross
One of the highlights of our experience was entering Kings Cross Station - which takes you to the Hogwarts Express (if you have the Park-to-Park ticket, which, incidentally you should - check out the full post here).
Make sure to spend some actual time in Kings Cross - I can see a lot of people just whizzing through, excited to get into Hogsmeade (which is totally fair), but it is absolutely an experience - especially if you're been in the real Kings Cross in London. It's quite a massive structure, actually, and one shudders to think that it is like on an extremely crowded day - if they've built it out with that much space for lines! But, on a normal day, it's just a slightly longer walk than you were anticipating!
The attention to detail throughout the entire station is remarkable - it's so much more than just a mechanism to get you from one part of the park to the next.
There's something new to see around every turn. From the advertisement from the first scene of Half-Blood Prince,
To the convenience stores serving authentic British beers and snacks,
To the AMAZING experience of walking through Platform 9 3/4!
While you'll certainly be tempted to make your way through to get to the Hogwarts Express - there are a lot of places to pull over to the side of the lines and really take in the station. And drink your newly purchased pint.
Drinking on the Hogwarts Express
If you're a follower of the Blog, you'll know that this was an all-time favorite of mine! I mean seriously - the Millennial Dream.
Seeing the beer in Kings Cross, I imagined a nightmare scenario where they'd make me chug the beer before I could take the ride of a lifetime. But it was so much better - Platform 9 3/4 is phenomenal- and the experience of entering it for the first time is made all the more perfect when accompanied by a cold Boddington's and hops right onto the train with you!
First View of Hogwarts Castle
Coming out of (gorgeous) Hogsmeade Station after you step off the Hogwarts Express, you're immediately immersed into snowy Hogsmeade, with all the shops, bustle, and snow (just take it in - don't think about the snow too much!) Hogwarts looms in the distance, perfectly framed - but, at least for me, I was so overwhelmed with Hogsmeade that I'm not sure I really noticed at first!
Once you get inside Hogsmeade, keep looking up! You'll notice that Hogwarts is constructed to perfectly suit the perspective - it looks far larger from down below than it actually is. The ride "in Hogwarts" is not actually in the Castle, but in the "rock" below it - making the Castle purely ornamental, but perfectly done.
You'll never forget that first view. Welcome Home.
The Hog's Head Inn
There are three pubs in Harry Potter World - The Hogs Head, The Three Broomsticks, and The Leaky Cauldron (full post on eating and drinking, available here). They're all amazing, but for me, grabbing a pint in The Hogs Head was definitely a highlight. The animatronic hog's head is simply stunning (and massive), and with a mixture of their own brews and good British imports, you really can't go wrong with the selection. Just make sure Aberforth uses a clean rag on your glass!
Sending Mail from the Owlery in Hogsmeade Village
This one is perhaps a bit more for those of you traveling with younger companions - the Owlery in the Wizarding World is a functioning post office!
If you mail something from the owlery - it'll have the Hogsmeade postmark! Beware - post cards are sold in packs of 10, so you may want to bring a piece of your own, if you only want to send one!
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