On April 1st, we visited Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. We went with my parents and Christopher (who will turn 6 on April 18th). The Hogsmeade exhibit opened in July 2010, two months after Christopher was born, so we’d all been waiting almost 6 years for this visit.
It was worth the wait! We entered the park carrying only a handful of items in our pockets. It was 90 degrees that day, so I didn’t want to be lugging around a backpack. We wore comfortable walking shoes and light clothing (obviously). Jim carried his wallet (with my ID added to it), his phone, sunscreen and 2 cereal bars for Christopher (in his cargo shorts), his hat, and his sunglasses. I carried my phone, my sunglasses, my hat, Christopher’s sunglasses, and Christopher’s hat. Christopher carried the map.
Because we stayed in one of the Universal hotels, The Hard Rock Hotel, we were able to enter the park 1 hour early: at 7 AM. Jim, Christopher, and I choose to do this, while my parents did not. Jim was anxious to get into the park when there were few people. It was dark when we walked over to the park from our hotel. It was so beautiful with all the lights reflecting off of the water. It was a short walk – maybe 5 minutes. There is a boat ride option, which we’d done the night before when we picked up our tickets, but Christopher voted for walking that morning. And we agreed it would be faster.
We decided to go to Universal Studios first since it was closer. Diagon Alley is the newer exhibit, so it’s a little bigger. We had to walk through the rest of the park to get there, but not much was open that early. When we arrived “in London” the first thing we saw was Kings Cross Station. We walked right by knowing we’d be back to it when it came time to ride the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade.
Then we saw the Knight Bus with a very aloof Stan Shunpike standing in front of it. Christopher wanted to know how the talking head was talking, but he was too shy to ask, so I asked for him. Of course Stan played along and said he was talking of his own accord. Christopher didn’t really understand. As we walked away I told him it was a robot.
Then we saw 12 Grimald Place, the home our Sirius Black and headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Christopher took our picture on the door step. And he managed (accidentally) to catch Creature peaking out of the window. He slides back the curtain and peaks out every a couple of minutes. We hadn’t even really noticed him until after we took the picture. That was kind of cool.
Then we walk past 12 Grimald Place. I was looking for the Leaky Cauldron, so we could get into Diagon Alley. We ran into a guard telling us the rest of the park was closed. We were confused for a minute, but then we turned around and saw people going into an unmarked brick building next to a bookstore. We decided to follow the crowd. Jim really liked that the entrance to Diagon Alley was so hidden. It was authentic considering Muggles don’t even see the Leaky Cauldron.
Once we entered Diagon Alley, everything was magic! The shops looked exactly like the movies. We watched the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday, and it was so cool to see Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade after just “being there”. We went into the Quidditch supply shop, and Christopher found a few items he wanted to buy right away, but I wanted to minimize the time we had to carry stuff around, so we said we could get stuff later.
We went into Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and enjoyed the details, including a puking girl in the window. I regret not taking more pictures in Diagon Alley because it got crowded, but it was kind of dark, and we were so excited, I just forgot. Luckily we came back later with my parents and we got some good pictures. We kind of rushed past everything from that point on, trying to get to Gringotts to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride while there was no line.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley)
Christopher made the height requirement for this ride, 42 inches. Yay! The wait takes you through the main hall of Gringotts, which looks exactly like the movie. So amazing! I loved all of the details. I wish we’d had a longer wait on this ride, so we could have stared at everything longer.
Then we got our first glimpse of a moving picture as a little wizard talked to us about how we’d be mad to steal anything from Gringotts. An older boy (maybe 10) in front of us told Christopher all about the ride as we made our way down into the lower level to await our cart. It was kind of nice to know what to expect since Christopher hasn’t seen movie 7 yet.
Down below we saw an open high security bank vault and desks with newspapers with moving pictures – so cool! They’d used the same “ink” technology as the early Kindles. It looks very authentic. And again we tried to explain to Christopher how they’d done it. He had guessed earlier that the moving portrait was a TV screen.
We had to wait an extra 10 minutes before taking the elevator down because there was an issue with the ride. Luckily it was fixed quickly. The elevator ride was pretty cool. We’re pretty sure we didn’t actually go down any further, but because the walls moved and there was air blown through the room, it really felt like we did.
The ride itself was awesome! It was two cars holding about 16-20 people each, connected like a train. They moved forwards, backwards, and sideways as we twisted through the lower levels of the bank. Bill Weasley was the narrator with cameos by Harry, Ron, and Hermione (although we suspected they weren’t the original cast members). There was a dragon and fire. It scared Christopher a little, so we didn’t ride it again later in the day, but he enjoyed it well enough that he didn’t cry or regret going on it.
After that ride, we explored Diagon Alley a little more. By this time the sun had fully risen, and it was after 8 AM, so the park was officially open. We went into the magical animal shop and saw an animatronic Crookshanks that was huge. Christopher saw a Fluffy doll he wanted – again, we said wait for later. And in the alley to the side of the shop, there was a huge talking snack. Kind of cool.
Then we went to Ollivander’s. We looked around at all the wand boxes. We easily found Harry’s and Hermione’s wands, obviously the most popular. There were wants for every major and minor character you could think of as well as some unassigned wands. We spent a few minutes trying to find Ron Weasley. He must not be that popular because he had only a small stash on a high shelf. Then we waited in line to watch a wand choose a wizard.
Ollivander’s (Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade)
This was my favorite “ride”. A group of people (maybe 30) is taken into a room and arranged in height order, so everyone can see while standing. The “wand keeper” picks a young boy or girl from the audience who is around 11 years old to come forward and select their first wand. It was awesome! When we did it in Diagon Alley, a boy was selected, so his experience was similar to Harry’s. He tried 3 wands. When the wand was wrong, there was thunder and lightning in the room or the drawers in the wall rattled. When he selected the right wand, the room glowed and music played.
When I went with my parents in Hogsmeade, a girl was selected. She tried two wands. When the wrong wand was used, flowers wilted and died. And when she chose the right wand, again the room lit up, and the expression on her face was priceless!
We found a bathroom after that first wand experience. Restrooms and food were not abundant throughout the Harry Potter exhibits. And then I called my mother to check on their progress as it was almost 9 AM. She said they wouldn’t be ready until at least 9:30 AM, so we arranged to meet them in Hogsmeade as we were almost finished exploring Diagon Alley. I could have spent the entire day looking at all of the store fronts and exploring the shops, but that wasn’t going to happen with Christopher.
I caved and let him buy a wand next. All of the kids were so cute walking around with their wands. Some even had robes on. Christopher surprised us by choosing to get Ron’s wand. I guess he’s his favorite character. We opted for the non-interactive wand since that portion wouldn’t work outside the parks, and I assumed it would be a lot more expensive. The non-interactive wand cost $42 after tax.
At this point we left Diagon Alley and headed back to London to go to Kings Cross Station and board the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
This early in the morning there was almost no line, so we moved quickly through the ropes. There were authentic ads on the walls (from the movie I found out when we watch yesterday). And going this direction there is an area where you can watch people disappear through the wall between platforms 9 and 10. You can’t see the affect yourself when you walk through, but as you watch others from around the corner, you can see them walk through a projection of a brick wall. It was pretty neat, but if the people in front of us hadn’t stopped to take pictures, we might have missed it. We didn’t get any pictures, but Jim did stay behind to watch Christopher and me disappear.
Closer to the train there were stacks of luggage, trolleys, and owl cages. I really wanted to be able to pose for a picture beside some, but they were all fenced off. Jim was a little disappointed that the train wasn’t more ornate, but it was still pretty impressive to see.
We were assigned a row and then taken to a specific compartment on the train – about 6-8 people per compartment. The compartment door closes you in just like in the movies. Instead of a window to the outside, there is a TV screen, so you see more authentic scenery. The compartment door is frosted and during the experience shadows are shown on the door and you can hear voices in the corridor. Ron, Harry, and Hermione discussing the sweets trolley and a dementor even appears.
I had no idea any of this would happen. I just thought it was a train ride. It was so much cooler than I was expecting. The trip back is different, as we would find out later in the day, so it’s worth going both ways. I was a little surprised that the other passengers we rode with (we rode 3 times) weren’t as awed by the experience as we were. We commented on the experience as things were happened, but perhaps that was only because Christopher is so young. Or maybe they just weren’t as big of fans as we are.
Hogsmeade is the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit, so before they had the Hogwarts Express ride, I guess they just had this engine. There was a conductor there answering questions and posing for pictures, but we just walked by.
We made our way through the village, opting to skip the shops since we’d explored them a little in Diagon Alley, and found the castle. We caught the end of the Hogswarts choir singing, but I took the opportunity to climb up on the wall and take a picture of the castle above everyone’s heads.
Since my parents still hadn’t joined us, we got in line for the Hippogriff roller coaster, something we knew they wouldn’t want to ride.
Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmeade)
Again, Christopher met the height requirement of 36 inches. At this point we used our Express Pass to skip ahead in a special line. The Express Pass comes free with a Universal hotel stay or you can buy one at the park for an additional $22 I think it was. It was well worth it! The longest we wait on any ride all day was 20 minutes, and for this ride we were on within 5 minutes.
The line weaves past Hagrid’s hut and a nesting Hippogriff. The roller coaster itself was pretty short, but still very thrilling. I could only ride it once because I get kind of sick on roller coasters, but Christopher and Jim rode it 4 times throughout the morning. While they rode it the second time, I saw some characters from the movie come out for pictures.
I got a text that my parents were finally boarding the Hogwarts Express in London (after entering the wrong park), so we headed back to the station to find them. While waiting we finally put on sunscreen since it was almost 10 AM. Then once we got them, we walked through the village again up to the castle. We stopped to watch the Hogwarts choir again. They were awesome! They sang the Double Bubble, Toil and Trouble song from the movie as well as some of the instrumentals – including my favorite song, the Hogwarts march from the Triwizard Tournament in movie 4.
My mother had downloaded the Universal app, so she knew that we could walk through the castle even though Christopher wasn’t tall enough to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. (You have to be 48 inches.) I’m a little sad Jim and I didn’t get to go on that ride without him, but the castle was amazing! There was a stairwell with tons of talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office (complete with a holographic, talking Dumbledore), and another room with Harry, Ron, and Hermione (the real actors this time) doing something (we weren’t in there long enough to follow the plot) and a dragon skeleton hanging from the ceiling.
When we came out, we finally got some snacks at one of the carts in the street. Other than actual sit down restaurants there wasn’t much food around, which was authentic to the experience, but challenging as I was so hungry by this point. We got a soft pretzel and some pumpkin juice. I was worried it would be gross, but it was so good. It tasted like liquid pumpkin pie. Jim, my mom, and I all tried it. Christopher ate a cereal bar.
Then Jim and Christopher rode the Hippogriff ride a couple more times, while I took my parents to do the Ollivander experience. They really enjoyed that, and it was cool for me to see it done with a different wand keeper and child.
We explored some shops after that, but then decided to head back to Diagon Alley. The ride back to London on the Hogwarts Express was different as I said above and cool because my parents were with us this time.
We had lunch in the Leaky Cauldron. It was traditional English food. My dad had fish and chips, Jim and I both had Cottage Pies (like a shepherd’s pie), and my mom had a fisherman’s pie. Christopher had his second cereal bar. That boy! Jim also got a Butter Beer. He loved it! I had a sip, and it was about how I expected it would be – mostly tasted like cream soda.
Then we went to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream shop for dessert. There was a long wait, but the ice cream was good. Christopher had chocolate and I had Apple Crumble or something like that. It tasted like apple pie, so it was amazing. We ate our ice cream on the steps next to Gringotts and by Hagrid’s motorbike. Jim had taken a picture of Christopher and me on it earlier in the day, but the picture is on his phone, so I can’t share it here now, as he’s still sleeping this morning.
I finally snapped some pictures of Diagon Alley. As you can see it was really filling up with people by this point – around 12:30 PM. We found my parents and took them through the line in Gringotts. They didn’t want to ride the ride, and Christopher didn’t want to do it again, but I knew they shouldn’t miss seeing the Goblins.
Then we finally did some shopping. My mom bought Christopher a Gryffindor scarf for his birthday, and we bought him a Gryffindor Quidditch shirt and the Fluffy stuffed animal, which we found out snores when you squeeze him. He’s been sleeping with it ever since. And when he wore the shirt the next day, he looked so cute!
At this point, we left Diagon Alley. We were going to ride the Hogwarts Express again over to Islands of Adventure to explore the rest of the park, but the line was insanely long, and the Express Pass doesn’t work on that “ride”. My parents went back to the hotel to rest, and we set off into Universal Studios to see other attractions. We ended up spending 6 more hours in the two parks, riding other rides and having dinner at Mel’s Diner with my parents.
We walked a total of 21,000 steps in our 12 hours in the park. It was as full of a day as we could have made it. Christopher was so well behaved all day. It was seriously a little strange. I think he knew the importance of the day, and the experience was very magical for him, so he didn’t have reason to whine or complain. He asked for things, yes, but never in a whiney voice. I carried his on my back for about 45 minutes during the day, but even then he asked nicely and wasn’t annoying. It was so great. I had been so worried about going to a theme park with such a young child, but he was better than I could have ever imagined. I’m so glad we went. It was a perfect day!