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You guys got to hear all about Hogsmeade last week, so now it’s time for Diagon Alley. First of all, I have to give the Universal people serious props when it comes to giving you the most “realistic” experience possible. After a short train ride from Hogsmeade, you find yourself exiting the wizarding world and into modern day London. Granted, the Knight Bus is parked right outside the station, but as we all know, muggles can’t see it anyway so it isn’t like it matters. From there, you walk down the street past a record shop and what I believe is a book store and then you make your way into what looks like, to me at least, a nondescript public restroom alcove. Duck around the corner, and you’ll find yourself in Diagon Alley.
As you enter, you’ll notice the Leaky Cauldron to your left and Weasley Wizard Wheezes on your right. Straight ahead will be Gringotts Bank; just look for the dragon, it’s hard to miss. Depending on how he is feeling that day, the dragon may or may not be sending a plume of flames onto the streets below every 10-15 minutes, just for funsies. Head down the way to your right and find yourself in the right place for a tasty brew or a sweet treat or two, even though it’s still no Honeydukes. Watch out for the fountain though; sometimes it likes to spit at passersby. Talk about resting bitch-face, right? Okay, now I have to warn you about something. Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour is super dangerous. We tried the Earl Grey & Lavender ice cream the first day, and we had to go back every single day we were there. We even got one to eat as we were walking out of the park. I feel like no other ice cream is ever going to be as good. Seriously, I have three pints in the freezer right now, and when I see them, it’s like “why bother?”
Also dangerous, and not pictured, are the damn Pygmy Puffs. Those fluffy balls of pink or purple made the cutest little coo-ing noises, and Andy had to physically make me leave the store because I was getting upset about not being able to take them all home. What if I picked the wrong one? What if one of them was broken and couldn’t find a loving home? I couldn’t pick between the colors, that would be racist (puffist?). It was a thing. It shouldn’t have been, and looking back now I don’t even understand what happened, but standing in the pet store, I seriously almost cried over a stuffed animal. Something I missed on my first trip last year was Eternelle’s Elixirs. This stand offers chilled Pumpkin Juice, Gilly Water, and a quartet of delightful elixirs you can infuse your drinks with (I’d stick to the Gilly Water for the base since the Pumpkin Juice doesn’t mix well). I chose the elixir to induce Euphoria, I mean it is vacation after all, and my mom opted for the Fire Protection Potion, something to do with avoiding sunburns I think. Both were highly concentrated, so we only needed have an elixir each. I was only mildly impressed, but my mom went back the following day to procure two more to take home as souvenirs. We did nip down and around to Knockturn Alley to get out of the sun for a bit, but lighting is a bit dodgy and not at all conducive to photo taking. Our last big stop was Gringotts bank; we briefly considered exchanging some of our muggle money for wizarding coins (seriously, there is a set you can buy), but we ultimately decided that dollars and cents would be an easier way to pay for things once we were back in the park.
As most of you know, I celebrated turning thirty last year by taking my very first trip to Universal/Islands of Adventure. As you’d imagine, I had an absolute blast. So much so that I knew I had to take my mom there ASAP. It took me a year to get things figured out and set up, but by the end of last month, my mom was in Florida and we were loaded up and heading to Orlando. We spent two and a half days running around from park to park, so for the sake of not completely oversharing in a single post, I’m highlighting what were her favorite parts of the parks in two posts. First up is Hogsmeade.
If you get the opportunity, you should absolutely take advantage of the “magic hour.” Hogsmeade is the most popular thing at Islands of Adventure, and later in the day the lines are maddening. However, during that hour, you can literally walk on to any ride available. Plus, the lines for the shops and the pub are much more manageable. As Andy and I are now seasoned pros at this whole theme park thing (insert eye roll), we decided the very first thing we needed to do was procure a wand for my mother. We went to Olivanders, watched the sorting ceremony (with plenty of elbow room since the “show” was only half full), and then ducked in next door so she could make her selection. In my opinion the interactive wands, while a bit pricey, are the hands down best souvenir you can buy if you are a Harry Potter fan. Not only does it look spiffy on display when you get home, you can use it to cast “spells” at dozens of locations in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. It takes the world immersion to a whole new level and is fun for any age. We also took advantage of the smaller crowds and headed to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast after the business with the wand was squared away. I highly recommend the Traditional Breakfast (full English breakfast). While it might seem a bit strange at first, we thoroughly enjoyed it, and for you meat-a-vors, it has three different types of breakfast meat. Andy and my mothers generously split mine and compensated me with some fresh fruit and additional sautéed mushrooms. Andy went nuts for the ham, which he said tasted more like a “flat pork chop” than the salty variety we’re more familiar with. Don’t rush this part of the park; the world building is incredible, and there are so many cool things to discover if you take the time. Peer into shop windows and down alley ways; one of the best views of the castle is on the back porch of the Three Broomsticks, and both times we went out there, we were alone. Honeydukes is another must see for this area. It’s a great place to find unusual sweet for yourself as well as anyone back home. We always make sure to pick up a chocolate frog and another story themed treat to try out. Something else I’d like to note is how many of the rides have walk through options. My mother and I both get motion sick very easily so we can’t always do a lot of the larger park rides, but with the way Hogsmeade is set up, we were able to use a whole other “line” and walked through at our leisure. Then we just stepped out a side door and headed into the inevitable gift shop at the end of the ride.
Hogsmeade is solidly my second favorite place to hang out in the Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios parks. Next up with be my absolute favorite, Diagon Alley.
In the 29 years I’ve lived in Florida, I have never been to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. I was a hard core Disney girl for the longest time, and now that Orlando is a 5 hour drive away, it’s been a while since I’ve even been to one of their parks. We figured this year would be a good year to change all of that, so we planned a 4 day trip that would include Epcot, The Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios. The trip was actually an early birthday gift from Andy. We would have loved to go on my actual birthday in March, but my work schedule wasn’t conducive to travel… plus, March kicks off spring break season in Florida, and any location that is entertainment based can be a bit over crowded. We had so much fun running around being touristy. Our first park day found us at the gates of Islands of Adventure clutching our dual park passes. I have a ridiculous amount of photos, but the ones I am most excited to share are the ones from the Harry Potter portion of the parks.
The Harry Potter series actually started when I was the same age as the mythical wizard. Unfortunately, he aged more slowly than I did, but I loved the books anyway. I’ve only seen the first two movies, so most of both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade were huge surprises for me.
Oh yeah, I went all out and got a wand. There were so many different interactive areas that I couldn’t pass it up. One of the wizards meandering around the village told me that my Ash wand was one of the better wands for working the spells on the village; I have no idea if it was true, but we managed to successfully cast each of the spells so perhaps it was.
It took so much willpower not to buy one of everything in Honeydukes; I totally geeked out looking at Fizzing Wizbees, Pepper Imps and Cauldron Cakes. We did end up with two Chocolate Frogs and a box of Every Flavor Beans.
The ambiance at Diagon Alley wasn’t quite as impressive as Hogsmeade, but they made up for it with the elaborate décor in the shops.
Plus they, you know, have a dragon so that was pretty cool. Even if he wasn’t breathing fire at the time.
Well worth the trip if you get the chance. My recommendations are to at the very least spring for one of the interactive wands and have one of their three types of Butterbeer. There are robes and sneak scopes to be had, but I didn’t feel overly compelled to buy them. I think the only other purchase I would have liked to have made was from Scribbulus; they had an excellent selection of quills, inks and bound books. Pretty and something that can be used in your every day muggle life.