From fire-breathing dragons to scarves that knit by themselves, Diagon Alley, the retail street for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is just as fun to explore for muggles like you and I. Supposed to be hidden from view from non-wizards, Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios Florida theme park is designed in such a way that you have to pass through a train station and a nondescript brick wall before you suddenly find yourself in a bustling wizarding street. Its unexpected appearance makes you feel that you are really stepping into an enchanted world.
1. Dine in the top-ranked theme park restaurant - Leaky Cauldron
Recently ranked as the best amusement park restaurant by USA TODAY and 10 Best, this British-style pub serves British fare like Fish & Chips and Cottage Pie. The food might not be gourmet standard but it tastes a lot better than the standard fare of burgers and fries typically found in theme park joints. When dining in the Leaky Cauldron, be sure to get your camera ready to capture the details of the beautiful wooden beams, the pictures of witches and wizards and, of course, the iconic leaky cauldron. With great ambience and satisfying entrees that cost 9 USD onwards, what more can you ask for?
2. Cast a spell with an interactive wand
Envious of wizards who can cast spells? Now you can too by buying an interactive wand. It is quite the norm to see kids and adults alike patiently queuing up at selected locations marked with gold medallions on the ground, before swishing their wands around to have window displays suddenly move or water suddenly spout out. The secret of these interactive wands lies in a sensor at its end. When you flick your wands in a certain way in accordance to the instructions at selected locations, it triggers another sensor that makes the water fountain spout water or window displays move. Such interactive wands cost about 47 USD and only work in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, but it is the closest thing to creating magic and definitely a good piece of memorabilia to bring home with.
3. Board the Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express train connects Diagon Alley (located in Universal Studios Florida) and Hogsmeade (located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure) at King’s Cross station and Hogsmeade station respectively. In order to board the train at either station, you will need to buy the Park to Park admission ticket, which is more expensive than a Single Park Admission ticket. However the train journey is a really special experience that recreates the journey that Harry took when he boarded the Hogwarts Express. When the train is moving, the window panes in each cabin are not transparent, but rather showcase extremely realistic moving scenes of the normal streets in the muggle world slowly transitioning to the magical world. Not just that, you will also see silhouettes of dementors and hear the voices of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger during the train ride. For any Harry Potter fan, it gives you a sense of how it must have felt when Harry Potter and his friends boarded the train to Hogwarts.
4. Experience the thrill ride "Escape from Gringotts"
Escape from Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange as you make your way out of Gringotts, the high-security wizarding bank operated by goblins. Before you proceed to this multi-dimensional 3D indoor roller coaster ride, you will pass through the bank’s grand marble lobby and get to see “goblins” going about their financial business. In my opinion, the ride is more family-friendly than thrilling; more interesting is seeing the very realistic looking goblins in person!
5. Get a moving picture of yourself
Unlike still photographs in the muggle world, people in photographs in the Harry Potter universe can not only move, but also talk. Shutterbutton’s Photography Studio in Diagon Alley allows you to realise the dream of starring in your own moving photograph and be a wizard for the day. You will be given a wizarding robe to wear for your video shoot in front of a green screen. Staff will be on-site to guide you through 12 scenes, which includes bowing to the hippogriff and boarding the Hogwarts Express that will be keyed in later. Such a “moving portrait” (essentially a DVD photo album) doesn’t come cheap, at about 80 USD per person. Also, it might not be suitable for shy people who would feel awkward acting without props and with the staff looking at you throughout.
Wear clothing with zipped pockets to keep your camera
Stepping into Diagon Alley is akin to stepping into the movie set of the Harry Potter movies because everything is just so well-designed with photo-taking opportunities everywhere. Even the queuing area for the thrill ride “Escape from Gringotts” has so many camera-worthy shots! However, it is advised not to bring cameras or phones along when taking the thrill rides, so most people will have to put their items in a locker before proceeding to the queuing area. This means that you will be missing out on the numerous photo-taking opportunities in the queuing area, which is quite a waste. Therefore, I suggest wearing clothing with zipped pockets. This will allow you to snap pictures all the way from the queuing area to the ride area before you need to keep your camera safe in your pocket.