Hogwarts is that-a-way!
Here’s the dark, dirty secret about my trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: I fully expected to be disappointed.
I feel horrible admitting it, but the closer I got to leaving for Orlando and the more excited I got about going, the more I convinced myself that it wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. There was just no way it could.
Well maybe it was because I was prepared for the cheesey worst, or because I went at a time when the crowds were managable and the weather was perfect, but I can say, as a true Harry Potter fan, I was nothing but impressed and completely delighted with the entire experience.
Yes, it’s a theme park. It has to be kept clean-ish so you won’t find big spider webs everywhere or dripping sinks and creaky wood floors. But they’ve also been careful not to include anything you wouldn’t actually see in Hogsmeade. So there aren’t any posters advertising the new Harry Potter movie. There are no signs pointing you to Seuss Landing. There is no Coca Cola.
Here’s what you will see:
Dragon Challenge: It’s one of those rollercoasters where the track is above you and your feet dangle. Leave all of your loose items in the lockers by the entrance before you go in, then after the ride go back through the line area to take photos of the Tri-Wizard Challenge stuff and the Weasley’s flying car. (This was easy for me since there was no line and no one in my way.)
Flight of the Hippogriff: This is a kiddie rollercoaster but I still loved it. Buckbeak sends you on your way with a bow and Hagrid’s cottage is nearby.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Before you even get to the ride you get to walk through Hogwarts, which is pretty incredible. The stairway to Dumbledore’s office, the house points, the Fat Lady, the Sorting Hat – it’s all there. The ride itself is part rollercoaster, part 3D-ish flying ride. It might make you a little motion sick, but you’ll be laughing and shouting too much to notice.
Filch’s Emporium and Dervish & Banges: Lots of shirts and pillows and keychains and stuffed owls in these places. Hogwarts robes will cost you around $100, but there are plenty of more affordable souvenirs as well.
The hot weather kept me from buying up all the chocolate cakes and goodies in here on my first day, but on my last night, I loaded up.
Honeydukes: Get yourself a cauldron cake. That’s all I’m saying.
Zonko’s: I half expected to see the Weasley twins hanging out here among the wacky and sometimes gross tricks and treats. U-No-Poo? Yes, they’ve got it.
The Owl Post: If you buy some postcards, take them outside Dervish & Banges, in the covered seating area. There will be someone standing at a wood podium – with no sign saying why they’re there – who can postmark them with a Hogsmeade ink stamp. You can also buy Harry Potter postage stamps in Dervishes or at the stationary kiosk near the wood podium, but they’ll cost you $15 for 10 stamps, so save them for the people who will really appreciate them.
You have to have a meal at The Three Brooksticks. Preferably an English meal, but if Shepherd’s Pie isn’t your thing you can have a turkey leg or something else. If you get a package deal with Universal it may include a reservation. If not, get in line early for lunch.
The Hog’s Head is part of the same big building as the Three Broomsticks, but you can walk right in and order a drink at the bar. Go out back for a shaded table and a view of Hogwarts.
Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice: You can get these at both pubs or at one of the outdoor kiosks. Pumpkin juice is a bit like apple cider with some pumpkin pie spices mixed in and Butterbeer is like cream soda with an incredible caramel whipped cream on top. It wasn’t as butterscotchy as I expected, but I still drank three of them. Get the plastic mug (for a nice extra fee) and refill it with soda or iced tea anywhere in the park for something like .85. If you’re there for a few days, that’s a nice perk.
At some point during the day the Hogwarts Frog Choir will perform near the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster. Also throughout the day you can see the Tri-Wizard Spirit Rally by the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students, and they pose for pictures afterwards. The schedule fluctuates so ask at the front gate for a timetable.
Don't leave without saying hello to some of the visiting students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. They put on shows throughout the day.
Ollivander’s: This is a show that they put on for groups of 10-12 people at a time, but it’s in Ollivander’s tiny shop, so this might be one of your longest waits. Do it first thing in the morning, on your way to the castle.
As if all this isn’t enough, you can also see the Hogwarts Express steaming away, admire Hermione’s Yule Ball dress and dozens of other wizarding artifacts in the fake shop windows, get money at a Gringott’s ATM and in the women’s restroom… well, I’ll let you figure that one out.
My final tip is to see this place at sunset. When the sun goes down, the town and the castle look truly magical.