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Words cannot express how much I enjoyed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I’m a massive fan (and have been for 20 years now), but I’m also in my late 20s and I was expecting a “normal” theme park (which are not where we usually vacation), which is why I had held out on attending for a number of years. I also don’t ride roller coasters, so I was afraid that I’d be bored. Wow, was I wrong - the attention to detail is incredible. Around every corner was some new, unexpected detail. I could not have been more thrilled and can’t wait to go back. Here are a few tips, for my fellow millennials:
1. Buy tickets for both parks and do them in order (get there early)
It’s expensive. That's just a fact of theme parks. The Wizarding World is split between two parks within Universal. You will need the “Park to Park” pass in order to go to both parks. One way to save money would be to buy tickets only for one park. It is worth it. There really should be no question - if you’re going all the way to Florida, you might as well see the whole Wizarding World.
Do the parks in order - start in muggle London, which is found in Universal Studios Florida. Then, Take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts - which is in the Islands of Adventure Park. Take a fair amount of time to explore muggle London before going through the various entrances to Diagon Alley - see Kreacher at 12 Grimmauld Place, the Night Bus, and the Leaky Cauldron. Once you’ve had your fill, pass through the well-done entrance into Diagon Alley (I won’t give it away!) Once inside - spend some time looking through the shops and enjoying the thoughtful touches throughout. Don’t miss Knockturn Alley - hidden toward the back and just as dark and scary as you’d hope. Grab your first (and not last) beer of the day (there’s a cute little watering hole). Personally, I’d wait for lunch at the Three Broomsticks, but if you’re hungry, grab a bite at the Leaky Cauldron! The ‘best’ ride in Diagon Alley is Escape from Gringotts. When were were there (on a holiday weekend), the wait was over an hour.
2. You don’t need an interactive wand - save your money for beer
Unless you have a child with you (who particularly has her heart set on it), there’s no need to purchase one of the interactive wands. They are quite expensive and the things they can do are, if I’m being honest, not that impressive - there’s a fountain that sort of squirts water when your wand connects with it, etc. There are lengthy queues and children are (as they should be) on the front lines. I would have felt uncomfortable pushing my way up there to play with the wand.
3. They sell booze
Be sure to take your time in Diagon Alley, but once you’re done, it’s time for what was personally my favorite part. Enter the shockingly realistic King’s Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express up to Scotland! After you pass the ticket inspector (thanking your lucky stars that you splurged for the Park to Park pass!), weave your way through the train station. Be sure to stop at the convenience store as you walk through - they sell a great solution of British beers (I selected Boddington’s), which you CAN TAKE ON THE TRAIN. I REPEAT YOU CAN TAKE THE BOOZE ON THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS. Check out the amazing mirror where your co-visitors can watch you disappear onto the platform (and, be rude - take your time and get a picture - I rarely say that, in all honesty, but it’s worth it). Bon Appetit ran an interesting summary of the available food and drink throughout the park, if you're more of a connoisseur than I.
4. Ride the Hogwarts Express both ways (the show is different)
The ride on the Hogwarts Express is absolutely magical. You are seated in individual compartments with a handful of other guests (it’s not too crowded) and outside the window you’ll see screens displaying images - Malfoy Manor, the English countryside, and finally a warm welcome from Hagrid as you enter Hogsmeade Station. On the return visit, it’s a different show! There's also a stationary version, now just for pictures (Hogsmeade was the original park - Diagon Alley wasn't added until 2014, with the Express connecting them).
5. You don’t have to do the rides
Personally, almost any amusement park ride ends my day, so I took a firm pass (sadly no break on the ticket price for not doing rides). I will say that the trip is 100%, undeniably worth it, even if you don’t do the rides. I chatted with the sales clerk at the Hogwarts ride who told me people are sick all the time (it’s a combination, according to my husband of screens moving and you physically moving).
If you’re in a couple, this means your other half can take advantage of the single rider line, and get through the line much more quickly. Additionally, if you're braver than me, staff will allow you to tour the Hogwarts Castle entrance portion without ultimately getting on the ride (I was happy to skip it, but the husband said it was neat). I was happy as a clam while my husband rode the rides (he also ventured out onto some roller coasters in the other parts of the park, since they were covered by our ticket). I shopped, and spent a while just sitting down and taking it all in.
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