Exploring the World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando

Diagon Alley  Image courtesy of Universal Orlando
Diagon Alley. Image courtesy of Universal Orlando.

Welcome to part one of my Diagon Alley coverage. The latest addition to the Harry Potter-themed attractions at Universal Studios Orlando is filled with the magic of the movies from Knockturn Alley to the Leaky Cauldron and all the way to Hogsmeade aboard the Hogwarts Express. I’m not embarrassed to say that my favorite part of the expansion is the ability to get Butterbeer in both parks with just a train ride between them. There was so much to see and do in Diagon Alley, it was almost anxiety-inducing trying to write it all down into one article.

I know you will be eager to run right into Diagon Alley, but make sure you take a moment to look around outside of the attraction as well. Rushing past the London facade can make you miss out on seeing Creature’s appearance in Sirius Black’s window or hearing the wise cracks of the shrunken head over at the Knight bus.

Once you’ve taken in everything on the outside, take a deep breath and walk through the brick wall and into Diagon Alley.

When I first stepped into Diagon Alley, I was reminded of an old Universal Studios’ billboard that said, “Universal Studios. Where you can ride the movies.” In the case of Diagon Alley, you’re walking into the movies and from the tops of the buildings to the streets, you are surrounded 100 percent by Harry Potter’s world. To add to the experience, there are no directional signs anywhere in this area of the park. In my opinion, this adds to the fun of exploring and discovering things on your own. You will also notice that there are no benches. Instead, several of the fake store fronts have stoops for you to sit and rest your feet on.

Something I wasn’t expecting was to pay attention to Diagon Alley with my ears. The sound system pumps the sounds of Diagon Alley into the area and makes it that much more immersive for guests who want to feel like they are visiting the Wizarding realm.

Escape from Gringotts
After walking through the brick wall and entering Diagon Alley, the first thing you see is the centerpiece to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley, the Escape from Gringotts attraction. Beware of the fire-breathing dragon perched on top of the bank. I’ve stood halfway down Diagon Alley when this beast let his flames fly and even at that distance, I still felt the heat from his temper tantrum.

The inside of the bank is just as awe-inspiring as the scenery outside. From the moment you step inside, you are in an amazing lobby. The goblins are hard at work and will stare you down if you try to cross them. After the lobby, keep a look out for Ron, Hermoione, and Harry as they attempt to break into Gringotts to steal one of the horcruxes from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault.

My husband described the ride as a smoother version of Revenge of the Mummy, another popular attraction at Universal Studios Orlando. The graphics and special effects in Escape from Gringotts was far superior to anything else in the park.

A friend of mine had a chance to work on the art for the ride and he told me that one of the other artists left a “hidden Potter” so to speak between scenes nine and 10 (Gringotts is divided up into different scenes to make it easier for maintenance to know where to work when something breaks). You will never see it because of how dark it is, but between scenes nine and 10, he created scene “9 3/4.”

A few words of advice. If you plan on riding Escape from Gringotts, get there first thing. Matter of fact, arrive to the park before it opens so you can rush through the gates and into Diagon Alley. I arrived in the park a little after it opened and the wait time was already up to three hours. Later in the day, it dropped to 2 hours and 40 minutes and in my three visits to Diagon Alley so far, that’s the shortest I’ve seen the line get.

If your young witch or wizard does not meet the 42-inch height requirement, ask for a certificate for them to come back and ride without waiting in line when they are tall enough. For the time being though, you can relax with them in the child swap area while the rest of your party rides and then “swap” the child to them so you can enjoy it as well.

Olivanders is another must-see experience while visiting the Wizarding realm and takes you into the scene in the first film where Harry’s wand chooses him. I’ve never done this myself, but I’ve heard it’s worth doing once to see the show. Hogsmeade also has an Olivanders experience, but the wait time is much longer because of the limited space they have in the attraction.

Something else I wasn’t expecting was for Universal to have shows in Diagon Alley. I’m not usually a show person, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying tales from The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the show was just long enough to give us a break from walking around, but not long enough that we needed to find a seat on the pavement to enjoy.

For those who like a little music in their day, check out the Singing Sorceress: Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Celestina was just recently given her own back story by J.K Rowling and her first single, “You Stole My Cauldron But You Can’t Have My Heart” has hit Pottermore for fans to give a listen to.

The stage is located over in Carkitt Market right next to The Hopping Pot drink stand, so grab yourself a regular or frozen-style drink and enjoy the show.

You can’t have the good without the bad and Knockturn Alley brings the bad (in a good way) to this attraction. It’s just as dark and foreboding in real life as it is in the movie (and chilly too). Borgin and Burkes comes to life in the alley and sells all sorts of gifts for the dark wizard at heart. Make sure you look up, down, and all around while visiting, because there are special effects that are easy to miss if you don’t.

Something that’s new to both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are the interactive wands. For around $40, you can purchase a wand that will interact with various areas in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Most of the spell-casting areas are marked with a gold medallion in front of the jinxed artifact, while others you learn about through talking with the local wizards and witches. My favorite spell to cast is “Aquamenti” at the Mermaid fountain and “Metelojinx” at the Umbrella outside the restrooms.

Beware of the Mermaid Fountain!
I learned the hard way that talking to a wizard with your wand in your hand can result in an unplanned shower. (On the upside, the wizard I was talking to felt so bad for me that he treated my family to Butterbeers while I dried off.)

When you have experienced all there is in Diagon Alley, take a stroll over to Kings Cross and hop aboard the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Station. To make sure guests get the full experience of Harry Potter’s world, this attraction is limited to guests with a two-park ticket. Universal has ticketing stations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade for those who wish to upgrade their park ticket and take a journey on the train.

After I learned that Platform 9 3/4 was going to have a spot in Diagon Alley, I wondered how Universal would get away with the trick. I imagined it working similar to how the mirror trick works at Belle’s Cottage in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. I couldn’t have been further from reality. I won’t spoil how it’s done for you, but it’s nothing to write home about.

When we finally laid our eyes on the Hogwarts Express, it took our breath away. It looked like Universal had transported her from the movie and into the park. Each party is put into their own cabin and when it’s time to get rolling, the doors are shut and you are tucked away in your own little world for the 4-minute journey to Hogsmeade. I was surprised at how much happens while you’re in transport. The doors and the windows react with shadows, pictures, imagery, and other effects that bring the train to life. The experience from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade is different from the trip from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, so make sure you take the time to ride it twice. On nights where one park closes earlier than the other, the train will stop running until the other park is clear of guests and then you can ride it there and back without having to get off and wait again.

For true Harry Potter fans, this will be an overwhelming experience. From walking into Kings Cross Station and riding the Hogwarts Express, thrilling adventure through Gringotts, and checking out the many sights of Diagon Alley, Universal brought their game face and made this a must-see attraction in Orlando, Florida.

Tickets into Universal Studios start at $96 per adult and $90 per child (ages 10 and under). If you would like to ride the Hogwarts Express and check out Hogsmeade as well, you will need a two-park ticket. Two park tickets start at $136 per adult and $130 per child (ages 10 and under).

Disclaimer: GeekMom attended a blogger event about this attraction.

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Dakster Sullivan is a network administrator by day and a cosplayer by night. She loves discovering new books to read, tech to play with, and ways to express her herself. She has anxiety and depression and strives to educate others about these invisible illnesses.