Orlando, Florida, offers you so many vacation destination choices. How do you choose where to spend your hard-earned dollars? I love both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort for different reasons. However, Diagon Alley in the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ is fast becoming my favorite. Attractions, treats, entertainment, shopping, photo ops, and magic pack this one area with tons of fun for the family!
It’s no secret mi familia and I are huge Disney fans. I was a little nervous for our first family trip to Universal Orlando with my crew of five kids, ages 11 to 3, but I did have some Harry Potter fans in the mix. The older two had read the books, and the little ones had seen bits and pieces of the movies.
Okay, so the biggest Harry Potter fan may have been me. I do love me some Hogsmeade, but Diagon Alley is my favorite at Universal Orlando. Here are five reasons why.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS
This is the one attraction/ride in Diagon Alley, and I love it! Walking through Gringotts itself is an attraction. You walk through the bank’s lobby while keeping an eye on goblins working (or maybe they’re keeping an eye on you). Then go through passageways, into Bill Weasley’s office, up an elevator and a winding staircase to board the attraction. My eyes were already wide from excitement, but then the multi-dimensional adventure through the vaults of Gringotts was thrilling and amazing.
Admittedly, I am not a huge thrill ride lover. Some coasters I can handle, anything with a huge drop is crossed off my list. Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts does have a drop, but I always ask to sit in the front, because the drop is shorter that way. It has just enough oomph to make me nervous and excited to ride it. But yeah, I’m a pollito when it comes to rides.
Watching the Dragon on top of Gringotts was hypnotizing. Every 10 minutes the dragon breathes fire, and every single time I would cheer like a giddy schoolgirl. I watched it from different angles, in the morning, afternoon, and night. I was addicted.
I loved it so much, I let my five girls take all the time they wanted playing with their wands, perusing the shops, buying ice cream… What’s that? More candy? Sure, mama’s over here watching the dragon. But never tickle a sleeping dragon.
WANDS AT OLLIVANDERS: MAKERS OF FINE WANDS SINCE 382 BC
It’s really fun to watch a wand choosing at Ollivanders. The wand chooses the wizard or witch. One tip for a smaller crowd is to go right before the store is about to close. During the day, sometimes there is a line to go in for a wand choosing as they only let a certain number of people inside the room. Our family was the only family in there when we went.
Luckily my oldest was chosen, and she was very excited and old enough to understand the meaning and the importance of having a wand choose her. My other girls were thrilled to be able to go shopping and choose the wands of famous wizards in Harry Potter. They chose the wands of Hermione, Ginny Weasley, and Professor McGonagall. My youngest chose a toy wand that lit up, and she was in heaven.
The wands are pricey, but for $8 more (which make them almost $50), you can buy an interactive wand. No brainer and worth every penny, because you get a map with the purchase of your wand, and my daughters had a ball finding all the interactive activities. Just don’t do the math of five wands, because it makes my wallet cry.
Souvenirs like that are worth it to me, though, because it’s an experience unique to Harry Potter. So we make budget sacrifices elsewhere. We save a ton of money by not drinking soda or buying seven drinks every meal. Free cups of water keep us hydrated and happy. And we share meals, so we’re not throwing away food either.
Some of the spells included making eyeballs in a window move or making the umbrella rain with a flip of your wand. You actually have a marked spot to stand on and must move your wand in a certain pattern. Some were easier than others to master. We made it rain at least 30 times. It was that funny every time.
GRINGOTTS MONEY EXCHANGE
Gringotts Money Exchange is a separate building from the ride. You can bring in your dollars and exchange them for Gringotts Bank Notes. They are available in $10 and $20 increments and can be used to purchase merchandise around Universal Studios. They are fun souvenirs, but my daughters opted to spend theirs.
We usually give a gift card to each of our five girls for a certain amount that they can then use for the entire trip. This way they aren’t constantly asking us for everything, and they can make their own decisions about what’s important to them, be it a souvenir or an extra snack they don’t have to share with a sister. It also helps us stay on budget. The wands were an extra splurge.
In lieu of the gift card, they each were able to exchange money at Gringotts so they could have spending money, yet have the experience of “banking” with a goblin that speaks and interacts with you. So cool.
FLOREAN FORTESCUE’S ICE-CREAM PARLOUR
You know I can’t write about amusement parks without mentioning some sort of comida. I have a sweet tooth. Chocolate and cake are usually my desserts of choice, but the ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour is my jam. First of all, hello, Butterbeer ice cream! Yes, it’s more amazing than Butterbeer and Frozen Butterbeer. You’ll have to be the judge, though.
But not only is the Butterbeer flavor outstanding, I found other favorites, too. I’m looking at you pistachio, salted caramel blondie, and sticky toffee pudding. These are the benefits of having a large family – plenty of people to share with, so I got to try many flavors. I won’t mention how many times we went back. Research, people. Try a flavor you wouldn’t normally try. You won’t regret it.
As an extra bonus, there’s a photo op outside of Diagon Alley with the Knight Bus. The conductor was pretty chill, so we tried to play it cool, too. Even though on the inside, I’m screaming, “This is amazing!”
Diagon Alley was an every-day-of-our-trip thing. We kept coming back over and over and nobody got bored or asked to leave. Yes, you need Park-to-Park admission, because I can’t even begin to describe the awesome that is King’s Cross Station and the Hogwarts Express.
All my children are now full-fledged Harry Potter fans and have come home wanting to read and watch Harry Potter everything. Something I can fully support, except when they start trying to cast spells on me. Universal Orlando has been added into our regular rotation of family vacation destinations. I’ll see you there, amigos!