Even if you have never watched the Harry Potter movies you could not help but be blown away by the technology and the attention to detail.
If like me, you are a Harry Potter fan, then be prepared for sensory overload. There are now two Harry Potter experiences, the Forbidden Journey at Universals Islands of Adventure, and Escape from Gringotts in Universal Studios. You need tickets to both parks to experience the Wizarding World properly.
Take a stroll through the streets of London and wander through Kings Cross station in Universal Studios, walk through the ‘magic wall’ to platform 9 and 3/4 and board the Hogwarts express to Hogsmeade. The train journey itself is fantastic, the same as the one Harry took in the movie. You have a different experience on the return journey too, so make sure you make a return journey. You have a choice of visiting Hogwarts castle and not taking the simulator ride if that suits you. Hogsmeade itself is fantastic, you can try some butter bear, have some ‘toad in the hole’ at the Leaky Cauldron or send a postcard home with a real Hogsmeade postmark. Although the Forbidden Journey ride is one of the best, it might not be suitable for younger children as it is a mainly dark ride and has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Harry plays quidditch and needless to say you feel like you really are on that broomstick! Like most of the rides at Universal they have a child swap facility. If the parents want to ride but cant leave the kids alone, one parent can wait in the child swap area with their child and they wont have to queue again.
The newest attraction which only opened in June of this year is Escape from Gringotts. I just loved exploring Diagon Alley and all it’s magical shops and characters. Like Hogsmeade, the detail is incredible, it’s so like the movie, its uncanny. Make sure you go to Ollivanders, where they randomly choose a child from the audience to receive a wand. It’s the same way that Harry got his wand, or should I say the wand chose him! Obviously, you can buy a wand in the shop afterwards. They are beautifully made and presented in a box with the official Ollivanders bag, a really nice gift around ($30 or so) to bring home. My 6 year old son was very impressed and it was brought into school to show his teacher!
If you have kids with you, I would recommend getting an interactive wand. They come supplied with a map with locations of where it works in Diagon Alley. After taking a stroll around the area then venture into Gringotts bank and see the animatronic Goblins in the great hall. Enter the lift to take you down 10 imaginary miles for your rollercoaster ride. You help Harry, Hermione and Ron escape from Gringotts. The effects are amazing but be careful. If you get motion sickness at all, it can be hard on the tummy. It is mainly a dark ride and the minimum height is 42 inches. Remember the child swap facility is available so if the kids are too small you can still enjoy the ride. Within the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the simulator rides are only part of the experience. The Hogwarts Express train, Diagon Alley and of course Hogwarts are worth the trip on their own.
I’m often asked about how long the queues are. Unfortunately there really is no simple answer. Generally speaking peak times, July / August, Christmas and Easter are the busiest but otherwise you shouldn’t have to queue too long. If you are lucky enough to stay at one of Universal’s Hotels you can enter the park an hour before official opening time and this is a huge advantage, especially in the busy season. Unlike the other rides at Universal Studios, express passes are not valid for Harry Potter so staying at one of their Hotels is one of the only ways to avoid large queues. See my other blogpost on where to stay in Orlando for more details.