I always thought Harry Potter had its own theme park. Wrong. It has a section of park in the back corner of Universal Studios.
In a way, Universal Studios is a lot like Epcot’s World Showcase in Walt Disney World. There are so many fictional universes represented in this park that a walkthrough makes you feel like your traveling from one world to another. On what we attempted to be a straight shot to Diagon Alley, my family and I passed by characters from Back to the Future and Scooby-Doo.
The first bit of Harry Potter’s world we interacted with was number 12 Grimmauld Place. While my siblings and I waited our turn to approach the door bearing “12,” others around us were taking pictures with 11 and 13. Maybe they figured any door would do, but no one seemed to know that number 12 is the one of significance in the series. *shrug*
When we walked through the strategically arranged brick walls (which, disappointedly, were not located behind the Leaky Cauldron) to enter Diagon Alley, it felt like we had stepped into another world. All sorts of shops towered around you from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to Honey Dukes (which is supposed to be Hogsmeade). I was impressed by how many wand-filled boxes covered the walls of Ollivander’s, and trying on robes (which had deep pockets and an inside slit for your wand!!) in Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is when I felt totally emersed in the world I had stepped in to.
Knockturn Alley had a different vibe. Dark and dingy, you genuinely feel like you turned into the bad part of town. While perusing Borgin and Burkes, my siblings and I were explaining Harry Potter to Dad when Ansa voiced the title of he-who-shall-not-be-named.
“How dare you speak the Dark Lord’s name!” A passing teenage boy exclaimed.
Dad was taken aback and got all up in that boy’s business about Voldermort Lane up in Maine (made up, of course). “Haven’t you ever been there?” Dad asked. “I go there all the time!”
The boy, a promising Death Eater if you ask me, slithered away sneering while my siblings and I fled the scene thoroughly embarrassed. 😳
Out of the alley and around the corner, my family and I found our first Butterbeer. Although we asked for a traditional drink, the cashier gave us a frozen one, which was fine as it still tasted good. For those who are curious, Butterbeer is basically cream soda topped with butterscotch whip cream (I recommend drinking them together).
On the next street we found a pet shop (containing Crookshanks, Hedwig, and Kniffler stuffed animals alongside a very realistic snake 😬), Hagrid’s bike, and the entrance to our first ride: Escape from Gringotts.
For whatever reason, the wait was not terrible. Once underground, you pass tables covered in newspapers with moving images (which was cool). The ride itself was okay, but I don’t think any of Universal’s 3D materials were working.
Back outside of Diagon Alley, you can take the Hogwarts Express to the park next door where Hogsmeade is located. When we approached this transportation/ride combo, however, the wait was 59 minutes long. A nearby attendant informed us that at 6:00 the crowd dies down so you can basically walk right onto the train, so my family and I went to see what else Universal has to offer.
In the area of Fast and Furious, we took a party bus through a simulation where Shaw was looking for an unbeknownst fugitive amongst us. Down the street, we conquered the biggest coaster Universal has to offer and raced through New York with Jimmy Fallon. While waiting for the latter attraction, Dad walked us down memory lane where The Tonight Show was the last TV he watched every night. It was concluded that 4D simulation is the new generation of theme park rides (I think I prefer your traditional coasters).
Finally heading for Hogsmeade, I found the seats of the Hogwarts Express to be really comfortable. Through the fogged glass of the doors, silhouettes of characters seemed to be peering in as they looked for empty seats or walked by on other missions. Through the screens-for-windows, we passed classic Harry Potter sights and a few characters made appearances. When we arrived at our destination 10 minutes later, Ansa held my hand as we left Hogsmeade station.
Just inside the Hogsmeade archway, there is a replica of the front of the Hogwarts Express. When we entered, a conductor stood in front of the train and, naturally, Dad approached him. Soon a picture was in order and Dad called out, “I need a stick. Give me your stick,” he told me.
I did and then facepalmed. As I had told him many times before that day, only Muggles refer to wands as sticks. 😂😂
Around Hogsmeade are more shops, like in Diagon Alley, though most of them are merely facades. ☹️ Of the three rides, my siblings and I found The Forbidden Journey to be the best. Flight of the Hippogriff is for kids while Hagrid’s Bike Ride, during our stay at least, was not working.
We had yet to complete our first day at Universal Studios before we had summed up our impression of it: it is not as clean as Disney, the customers are not as nice as Disney’s, and the employees are not as friendly as Disney’s.
“They’re not like Chick-fil-A employees,” Ansa observed.
“I don’t know what they do underground at Disney,” Dad told the elderly gentleman he befriended, “but all they’re employees come out nice.”
The light show wasn’t at all like Disney’s either. Although it was projected onto a castle, the production was very short and only displayed each of the four Hogwarts houses.
My conclusion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that, yes, it is cool to see the universe brought to life, but the books and movies are a much better way to experience it as the accuracy is higher and the expense is much, much lower.
Our next two park days were spent covering the rest of Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure.
I found the Mummy ride to be very well done and absolutely terrifying while Dad was impressed by the realism of the harbor saying that he genuinly felt like he was in San Francisco. Surprisingly, the horror makeup show was the highlight of our day (*voluntold a Hispanic grandmother* “You don’t speak English? Perfect!” 😂😂). Ansa enjoyed picking out stars she recognizes from the Walk of Fame.
The green, Hulk coaster was how we ended our day. Though seemingly terrifying with its upside down maneuvers, I did not let out a peep. You see, the ride was moving so fast that I did not have time to react to it. In fact, it was moving so fast that my vision blacked out, just like it does when you stand up too fast. 🤔
On our last day, we ran into Olive and Popeye and strolled through Jurassic Park land. Since we didn’t want to do a water ride, we didn’t do any rides as everything else was shut down. 🤔 On our way out, we went back through Diagon Alley where we got a traditional Butterbeer (which is basically just any other cream soda with butterscotch whipcream). Outside, we stopped by the Knight Bus and spoke with the conductor and Dre Head, the shrunken head accessory. Finally, we did the Men in Black ride which turned out to be just like the Buzz Lightyear ride in Epcot.