Full disclosure: My kids love Universal Orlando theme parks. I don’t think they will ever really outgrow Mickey and Minnie, but the older they get, the more they clamor for a visit to see the Transformers or the Minions fromDespicable Me. So it’s no surprise that the opening of the newly expanded Harry Potter attraction at Universal Orlando Resort was big news at our house. We live nearby, so my family and I seized an opportunity to explore Diagon Alley and its newest attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which lies at the heart of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.
The minute you step through the London facade, you forget you’re inside a theme park. High walls protect the illusion that you’re in Harry Potter’s world, since you’re unable to see or hear any other attractions. The cobblestone streets are home to shops where you can buy everything from butterbeer ice cream to your own interactive magic wand. We used the latter to unlock spells by stepping on the marked floor medallions found throughout Diagon Alley (a map of all magic window locations is included with each new wand). A wave of the wand and suddenly a bird in a window takes flight—and loses all of its feathers. We saw just as many adults as kids following the treasure map to unlock the spells because the special effects are just so cool.
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Exploring Diagon Alley is a blast, but the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, is what has folks waiting in line for anywhere from one to three hours on average. Express passes are not available for this attraction, so your best bet is to stay at a Universal hotel and score early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour prior to the park opening. Before stepping inside, marvel at the 60-foot, fire-breathing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon atop Gringotts Wizarding Bank. As you wind through the line, you’ll feel like an extra in the film scene where Harry and his pals break into the bank. A long marble hall is flanked by goblin bankers hard at work. Step near one and he’ll lift his head and look right at you, courtesy of floor sensors. Once you’re finally on the action-packed ride, it’s a wild romp as you race through a labyrinth of underground vaults and come face to face with both Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort, eventually being led to safety by Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Our kids’ minds were blown—and so was mine!
Before leaving Diagon Alley, we fueled up on cottage pie, bangers and mash, and more British pub fare at the Leaky Cauldron, a quick-service eatery made to resemble the dining hall in the Harry Potter films. Checking out the decor here is as much fun as digging into a plate of fish and chips.
You’ll need passes to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks to board the Hogwarts Express train at King’s Cross Station and travel to the other Harry Potter world, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Instead of a view of the theme parks, the faux train “windows” show images of London as it fades into the English countryside, where you eventually reach Hogsmeade. The effect is both clever and innovative, and my kids loved it.
To learn more about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley and all that's new at Universal, click HERE.
Please note I was invited to review Diagon Alley as part of a press visit, however all opinions are my own.