This post is long overdue. Part of me feels that I was lost in a whirlwind of Harry Potter heaven to really give this section of Universal Studios Orlando a recap, but I think that sums up the experience well. For those of you who are HP fanatics, you must get here if you haven’t already.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
All I have to say is wow. I think this new ride gives Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey a run for its money. The talk I heard throughout the park was that the Forbidden Journey was the winner, but it really comes down to personal preference. So let’s talk specifics.
- Atmosphere: Gingotts Bank is exactly how you would think of it. You see it in the movies, but walking through the main hall of the bank is awe inspiring. You’re flanked with goblins working away on your left and right. As you continue to move forward through the line, you feel yourself moving deeper into the bank. Then you enter an elevator that makes you feel like you are moving into the depths of Gringotts. Can you imagine your excitement building at this point?
- On the ride: Grab your 3D glasses and get ready for some fun. Going into the ride, I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be like the Simpsons ride or like Revenge of the Mummy? It’s more like the latter but surprisingly even better. I won’t spoil the ride for you but do know that this is a roller coaster, although a family friendly one. It’s not like Rip Ride and Rockit. Final advice: Sit front row at all costs.
- The best part: There is a fire breathing dragon on top of the bank. Every 15 minutes, the dragon lights Diagon Alley up with flames. How cool is that?!
This section of the park is all about the shops. How can it not be? Diagon Alley is where Harry and friends went to shop for their upcoming year at Hogwarts. Some of my favorite shops are the following:
- Florean Fortscue’s Ice-Cream Parlour: If you want to be boring and have normal ice cream, they have it here. If you want to try some fancy HP inspired ice cream, they have that here, too! Like soft serve? Go with the Butterbeer soft serve ice cream. Really, you can’t go wrong with ice cream.
- Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes: You can’t come here and not go into this store. It has such a strong presence in the books and movies — and now in Orlando. Go in and see what kind of tricks you can take back home with you.
- Gringotts Money Exchange: This is something you may overlook. It doesn’t look impressive from the outside, but I highly recommend heading inside for a treat. There is an interactive goblin that works at the exchange. Take a stroll inside and ask him a few questions. You can try: Where is Harry Potter? How much money do you make? Who’s your favorite wizard?
The hidden gems
Did you expect Universal to put everything out in the open for you to easily see? This place is all about magic! Here are some hidden gems to look out for.
- Secret spells: You heard it right. There are secret spells throughout the park. Use the wand you just bought at Ollivander’s and use the swish-and-flick motion you learned from Hermione. Look for little metal markers in the ground that will signal you can do a spell. Note: If you purchased a wand during past visits at Hogsmeade, your wand won’t work with the new interactive spells.
- The phone booth: It looks like a simple phone booth, but there is something special about it. If you go into the phone booth and dial M-A-G-I-C, you’ll get to hear a message from the Ministry of Magic.
- Hagrid’s motorcycle: Want to sit on the bike the delivered Harry Potter to the Dursley’s? Don’t miss the chance! You’ll find this across from the ice cream parlor and next to Gringotts.
- Knockturn Alley: This isn’t necessarily hidden because people know it’s here, but be sure you head down to the dark side of the magic world. What’s cool is that this area of the park is always colder than the rest to set the tone that you’re heading somewhere chilling. The workers down here stay in character. I wondered if I was going to be kicked out because of my Gryffindor shirt!
- The Knight Bus: This clearly isn’t hidden. It’s big and you can’t miss it. But be sure to stop there when the conductor is there. The guy who plays this character is awesome. And, don’t worry, you get to talk to the shrunken head too!
I’m sure you’ve noticed that one major important piece of the puzzle is missing. The Hogwarts Express. I was here for a special event and they did not have the Hogwarts Express running. Needless to say, I was sad. I got to look at King’s Cross Station, but not enter. I guess that gives me even more reason to head back.
Until then, here are some questions. Leave your answers in the comments!
1. What was your favorite thing about Diagon Alley?
2. Which ride is better: Forbidden Journey or Gringotts?
3. Was there something missing at Diagon Alley you thought would be there?