* Prices may differ from that shown
I have reservations about the fact that our English Jewel that is the Harry Potter series, a multi-million pound best-selling series of novels and movies, has a resort in Florida. Boris Johnson has expressed his disdain for the fact and complete bafflement at why it was not placed in London.
Of course, Warner Brothers own the rights to the movies, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located in the Universal Studios resort, Orlando. Seeing as the resort is a tribute to the movies and the creators are based in the US I can understand the thinking. Florida is the destination of all places magical, Walt Disney's Magical Kingdom just a few miles south from Orlando in Kissimee and Spook Hill known for the ghostly road where you park your car at the bottom of the hill, release the handbrake and the car begins to slowly roll....uphill! Creepy.
All that aside. I'm here to review The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
- How to Get There -
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a relatively small themed area nestled right at the back of the Universal Studios resort in Orlando, Florida. The parking is in a huge multi-storey carpark with themed levels e.g. We were parked in Jurassic Park's level. There are walking escalators that take you right over the road and straight into the resort. There are a number of bars and restraunts with a large multi-screen cinema located just outside the ticket booths and you do not need to purchase park tickets to access any of these areas. The resort is split into two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can purchase tickets for one or both of the parks. To get into Harry Potter World, you need to go to Islands of Adventure.
The sneaky designers have placed the Harry Potter World right at the back of the park with (I would call hidden) entrances and exits which meant we actually missed it completely and ended up looping around the whole park. That's ok though, it's right next to Jurrasic Park World - and my 3 year old loved looking at all the dinosaurs.
- Diagon Alley-
The wonky street of Diagon Alley is picturesque with its snowy rooftops and cobbled ground. It is packed full of actors and refreshment stalls which sell the famous Butter Beer and candies. The Hogwarts Express sits at the Entrance blowing steam into the air and looking very impressive for tourists to have pictures taken with the Station Master who calls out to the crowd in his fake British accent. The buildings tower over the street and there's magical music playing which create this illusion that you really have stepped into the real Diagon Alley.
There has been a lot of attention to detail, the buildings look extremely authentic and aged. The cashiers dress like wizards, the shops are cramped and jam packed full of Harry Potter Merchandise. (And you need a small fortune to purchase any of it! More on that later on) Diagon Alley rests in the shadow of the fantastically realistic Hogwarts School of Wizardry and the overall feel is truly magical.
There is not a lot to say about the shops in Diagon Alley, Zonkos (The Joke Shop) and Honeydukes (The Candy Store) are linked inside. They are cramped and there is no space for a buggy, so they need to be left out in the buggy parks located closeby to the shops and the rides. The merchandise is costly and there is little variation to the stock. Zonkos seemed to sell two or three unique items, the rest of the *junk* nestled on the high shelves were props.
Dervish and Banges have all the touristy products, hats, scarfs, jumpers, t-shirts, whole Hogwarts uniforms and lots of odd bits here and there - all at an estronomical price! (One of the jumpers was ~$80!) These products are duplicated over and over in various locations in the park which make you think there is a lot to offer, but when I thought about it, I realised that the actual product portfolio is very small.
The Owlery is fun. A howler screams when the door opens and the high ceilings are swamped with owls. You can even send a postcard (Not unlike the novelty of sending a postcard from the Vatican, but arguably more fun) with a real Hogsmead postage stamp!
Olivanders had a queue the length of the great wall of China when I went. This is because you can have your very own experience of choosing a wand from Olivanders. You'll be given a wand and various visual effects make you feel completely drawn into the experience and when YOUR wand is in your hand, the room glows with beams of golden light and beautiful music fills the air. Worth the long wait?
Well not to worry if it queues aren't your thing, they sell the wands in all the stalls up and down the street anyway. They cost ~$30 each.
The toilets are worth a quick mention - they are fashioned to look like the toilets in Hogwarts and in the ladies toilets Moaning Myrtle screams obuse at the occupants. Delightful.
There are a few shops which are just props, though I suspect they will be developed and open for the public at a later date. It was a treat to see Emma Watson's pink dress from Prisoner of Azkaban next to Daniel Radcliffe's Dress Robes in a shop window. There were also wanted Posters up for Sirius Black.
The highlight of Diagon Alley is the Three Broomsticks. It is the only Restraunt/Bar but does not disappoint. Surprisingly large inside, the ceilings are high and crooked with various shadows of birds and animals. The lighting is dim and the tables and benches are wooden.
The menu was limited. We purchased a Cottage Pie and Fish and Chips. It was a real treat to eat English Food as we had been staying in the US for a month. Yet I must admit that it tasted like something you would get from the school cafeteria. The ButterBeer though was a real pleasure to drink! It was ice cold (or can be served at room temperature if preferred) and clear with huge froth on top. When I first took a sip, it tasted very similar to cream soda, but then I tasted the warmth of butterscotch on my tongue. The froth was sugary. The Butterbeer was incredibly moorish and refreshing.
- The Rides -
There are three rides. Unfortunately I was 22 weeks pregnant at the time I visited with my family and all the rides had warnings for expectant mothers therefore I was unable to ride them and unable to give a comprehensive review of them. There is a ride which looks similar to Nemesis at Alton Towers which is called "Dragon Challenge", there are actually two tracks and depending on which dragon you decide to ride you get a different experience.
There's a small wooden roller coaster called "Flight of the Hippogriff" which my 3 year old went on with his dad. My husband remarked that the ride was faster than he expected and a little rough. My 3 year old absolutely loved it.
The third ride is within the Hogwarts Castle. This is called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. My understanding is that is it some sort of glorified version of a simulator. But the remarkable aspect of this ride is all about the queue line. The line takes you all around Hogwarts on a tour and involves some impressive holographic technology that has been patented with Warner Brothers until 2015 so you wont see anything like it in DisneyWorld!
- Prices -
It cost us about £150 for my husband and myself to take our two children (under 3s are free) to the Islands of Adventure park. Parking cost $15 for the whole day.
Drinks are extortionate at ~$3 each (bare in mind you need a lot of fluid to stay hydrated in the unforgiving Florida sun!) The food at the Three Broomsticks was about $60 for two meals and two drinks. We were able to share our food with our toddlers but we all left the restraunt feeling hungry.
The Merchandise varied in price, but one small chocolate frog cost $10 and that was the cheapest thing I saw. Let that be your guide.
- Is it worth it?-
It's a rip off. A waste of money and gives very little back for what you paid. That is if you are only going for the Harry Potter world, the rest of the Islands of Adventure park has a lot to offer and suddenly it doesn't seem so expensive. I would like to see more shops and more choice of produce, I would also like to see more rides and attractions - a show would be nice! But over all? I would go again in a heartbeat. Despite all it's flaws, it was Harry Potter. For a day, I was in that Magical World and that is absolutely priceless.