Back in December, I got to celebrate paying off all of my debt by going to the one place I'd dreamed of going for over six years: Harry Potter World. AND YOU GUYS it completely lived up to all of my expectations, and then some. I was pretty much a twelve year old the whole time I was there, and truly had the time of my life entering into the magical world dreamed up by my girl J.K. Prior to the trip, I had heard that there were a lot of hidden gems throughout the two parks - Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley - so before making my way to Orlando, I made sure to do my research and compile a list of HP World Secrets. Make sure to keep reading for some of those trickled throughout this post as I share some of my experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Like mentioned above, Harry Potter World spans Universal Orlando's two parks: Universal and Islands of Adventure. So if you want the whole HPW experience, you really need to get park hopper passes... trust me, it's worth it. Once you get there, I recommend starting at Islands of Adventure since that is where Diagon Alley is located. As you prepare to have your little muggle heart burst, imagine you're a first year getting ready to head into the magical world for the first time, just like Harry when he found out he was really a wizard (year one, Sorcerer's Stone). Make your way to the back of the park, and all of a sudden you'll notice you're in London, staring right at King's Cross Station. Secret #1: head into the red telephone booth, dial "MAGIC" (62442), and get connected directly to the Ministry of Magic. Then head over to the Knight Bus, and be sure to strike up a conversation with Stan Shunpike and the shrunken head. Secret #2: the shrunken head will talk to you directly, even using your name and cracking jokes at your expense.
What I loved about heading into Diagon Alley was that it was an extremely discreet entrance; look for the opening in the brick wall and walk on through, but be prepared for your jaw to drop as you take it all in. For real, no detail was spared or overlooked. Your first stop should absolutely be Ollivander's Wand Shop. While I was there, I was actually the one chosen out of the group to have "the wand choose the wizard!" I won't lie, I almost lost my ish as Ollivander had me handle a few wands before we got the right one, which meant trying a few spells that failed miserably (like trying to water a flower but killing it instead, or sorting books and inadvertently making the bookshelf fall). But when the right one chose me - and I am not kidding - light shone down on me, wind blew in my hair, and the most glorious sound echoed throughout the room. It was pure magic! And you best believe I bought that wand and used it all throughout the parks to cast spells! Secret #3: If you choose to buy a wand, spend the extra money on the interactive wand, which comes with a map of the parks that show the spots where you can cast spells. It's so worth it (even when you're 27 years old). Secret #4: there are two places that are not on the map where you can cast spells; the first is at the storefront of Slug and Jiggers Apothecary on Diagon Alley, and the second is in the right-hand window of Scribbulus Writing Implements on Horizont Alley. Also, be sure to just hang around on the street for a bit, because every 15 minutes the dragon on top of Gringott's bank roars and breathes fire!
More fun things in Diagon Alley include heading into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes for some of Fred + George's fun inventions, making your way through Carkitt Market into Gringott's Money Exchange (Secret #5: you can exchange your muggle money for galleons that can be used in the park to purchase wizarding goods), hopping in line for the Escape from Gringott's ride, wandering through Madam Malkin's Robes for all Occasions (Secret #6: go up to the mirror and see what she has to say about your outfit, and be warned: she can be real sassy), and drinking all the butterbeer you can get your hands on. That means drinking it cold, hot, and frozen (my favorite!), and then be sure to get some butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. Don't forget to get some grub at The Leaky Cauldron, where I'd highly recommend you order the Cottage Pie. So much yum! Now, if you're feeling like a walk on the dark side, make your way into Knockturn Alley. There, you can head into Borgin and Bourke's for all of your dark wizardry needs. Secret #7: in Bourgin and Bourke's, find the vanishing cabinet, get as close as you can, put your hand on the handle and listen for the chirping of the bird that Draco put in it in year 6 (Half Blood Prince). Secret #8: while you're still in Diagon Alley, find the giant snake outside of the Magical Menagerie and listen carefully as he speaks to you in parseltongue.
Alright friends, by now I think it's time to head on over to Hogwarts, how does that sound? Exit Diagon Alley the same way you entered, but before you head to King's Cross Station, be sure to check out 12 Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix (year five). Secret #9: if you look closely, you might find Kreacher the house elf peering out of the window directly above the door of 12 Grimmauld Place. Once you're back to King's Cross, be sure to (Secret #10) ask the muggle train conductors at the entrance where Platform 9 3/4 is located, and prepare for them to look at you like you're crazy. As you make your way through the train station, make sure you get ready for the best photo/video opportunity as you "walk through the wall" onto Platform 9 3/4. Board the train, and keep your eyes and ears open to hear from some of your favorite Hogwarts troublemakers: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Also, let it be noted that whoever they got to voice Hermione on the train is a travesty... I'm pretty sure I could have done a better impression of my girl Granger. Secret #11: be sure to ride the Hogwarts Express both ways, as it is a difference experience each way!
Welcome to Hogsmeade Village! First things first, head into the Hog's Head for some butterbeer, because you really can't have enough. Then make your way into Honeyduke's for some Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees, Pumpkin Pasties, and of course a package of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. Secret #12: make sure to use the toilets in Hogsmeade Village, because whether you're a witch or a wizard you will be able to hear a familiar voice while inside, as Moaning Myrtle likes to hang around and make sure everyone knows just how miserable she is. Head on over to the Dragon Challenge**, not just for the ride, but for the experience of walking through the most magical line (okay, second most magical). Check out the Weasley's Ford Anglia, all beat up from its meeting with the whomping willow in year 2 (Chamber of Secrets), make your way into the Triwizard Tournament tent from year four (Goblet of Fire), then wind your way through the magical corridors and be sure to check out the floating candles on the ceiling. So much magic, guys. And remember that you can choose the red dragon or the blue dragon to ride! I'd recommend riding both, though the blue one had more twists and turns and ended up being my favorite. I'm pretty sure my friend and I rode this one like twenty times, it was SO fun!
**Update: as of late 2017, Univeral Orlando is replacing the Dragon Challenge ride with another Potter ride, set to open in 2019.
FRIENDS, it is time (finally!) to head to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! And, if you're as big of a fan as I am, prepare yourself for ALL the tears. Yes, I legit cried when I saw Hogwarts for the first time. It's massive, it's beautiful, and it's really just so freaking amazing to take in. IT IS PURE MAGIC! After you're done marveling at the castle itself, head inside to join Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the Forbidden Journey. This line is the longest (by far), but it's worth the wait, because the line winds through the castle itself! You will get to walk through Professor Sprout's green house, the hallways of magical portraits - including those of the famed Hogwarts founders, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin, Dumbledore's magical-artifact-filled office, the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom (my favorite!), and other various classrooms (Secret #13: listen closely outside of the potions classroom and you will hear teachers and students chatting away). You'll even get to see the Sorting Hat in his natural habitat, after which you will be totally ready for the ride! You'll exit through Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, where you can't forget to look up into the rafters to see some of the things Filch has managed to confiscate throughout the years. After that, head back into Hogsmeade for more butterbeer (duh!), or maybe switch it up for some pumpkin juice if you're feeling fancy.
Man, Harry Potter World really was the best. I had such an amazing time in the few days I was there, and it was completely worth waiting over six years to finally visit. I think that I would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance, but for now I am content knowing that these tips might help some of y'all enjoy the wizarding world a little bit more the next time you find yourself walking from London into Diagon Alley.