• Caitlin McAninch

Escape to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Two weeks before school ended in sixth grade, my parents packed up all their stuff, and me, and moved back to Oklahoma. I think it was because my mom wanted to be closer to family. But, with only two weeks left, I didn’t really make friends.

Summer started and I had three months with nothing to do. From our recent move, I was cut down to a handful of books, but I kept Harry Potter 1-4, and I only had two DVDs: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I also had the Sims 2 on my computer – who else played that game?!

So basically my summer went like this: I would wake up, play Sims, watch one of the Harry Potter movies, play more Sims, parents would come home from work and we would eat, then I would go to bed and read Harry Potter. I would start with book 1, and read through book 4, and then start over again. I think total I read those four books about 20 times that summer.

We ended up spending less than a year in Oklahoma before we moved to Reno, NV. We moved right as summer started before eighth grade. I remember right when we moved to Reno, book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was coming out. My mom and aunt took me to the Barnes and Noble midnight celebration of the book. People were dressed up, and all these Potterheads had come together to celebrate the new book. I finished book 5 in two days. And cried when Dumbledore died.

The Harry Potter books got me through two summers of being friendless and alone. I spent my days and nights reading those books, and I never grew tired of the amazing world that J.K. Rowling had created.

I think that’s why I was so unexplainably excited to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I mean, I had seen the movies, I knew what it all looked like. But for over a decade I had imagined what Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and everything would be like in person. And damn, did the park do an amazing job of putting it all together.

So with the end of my throwback tale, continue on to learn all about Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter!


Like with most theme parks, Universal Orlando is broken down into different lands. As you walk from Marvel Land to some sort of movie land (wherever Men & Black is), you find yourself in London. Double Decker buses, townhouses, King’s Cross Station, and just, British vibes. But, one of those buses is Purple. Yes, it’s the Knight Bus. And just a few steps from there, is 12 Grimmauld Place. And if you wait long enough, you’ll see Kreacher in the window.

But if you know the way, which is really just following the crowds, you’ll find youself in a different area of London…

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley! Yes! With the music in the background! You Harry Potter nerds know exactly what I’m talking about! But Diagon Alley is everything I dreamed of and more. Busy streets filled with people sipping on Butterbeer and eating ice cream from Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour. But my first stop had to be to the only place a real wizard should go to get a wand, Ollivander’s, of course!

Visiting Ollivander’s and the Magical Experience

Now there are two parts of visiting the Wand Shop: the gift shop filled with wands anyone can buy, and the mini show where groups of people are taken in to visit Ollivander, himself.

We, of course, went into the little show because, duh, I had to. The group of about 15 is brought into this small, dimly lit room resembling the shop straight from the first movie. You stand there in silence just waiting. But then, Ollivander appears from above and begins walking down stairs. He starts talking, but then pauses. And looks straight down, and says, “I’ve been wandering when you were going to come in,” and points at a guest. “Step forward!” It just so happens, I was the lucky one selected.

From there, everything is straight out of the movie. I am given a wand; I swish it, a set of shelves fall. Wand number two, the latter shoots across the room. The special effects are absolutely fantastic. But then, with the third wand, wind begins to blow, the song comes on, and a light shines down on top of my head. “The wand chooses the wizard,” says Ollivander.

That wand is actually the replica of Harry Potter’s wand, and you do have the option to purchase it. I instead chose to buy Cedric Diggory’s wand, because I liked the way it looked.

The rest of Diagon Alley is just as wonderful. Escape from Gringotts is an amazing ride! So much fun! The goblins look amazing. And you get to see friendly faces from the movie all throughout the ride! It is a 3D motion ride plus rollercoaster. Important: I did not get sick on this ride!

Hogwarts Express

Once you’re all finished wandering around Diagon Alley – and getting your school supplies – it’s time to head to Hogwarts. And at Universal Studios, the only acceptable way is by the Hogwarts Express. Because yes, there is a train that travels between the two parks.

I’m not sure if you know, but there are actually two theme parks at the resort: Universal Studios, where Diagon Alley is, and Islands of Adventure, where Hogwarts is. There are two entrances, one for each park, but you can hop between the two parks by taking the Hogwarts Express. YOU MUST HAVE A HOPPER PASS TO DO THIS. If you don’t have a two-park pass, you do not get to experience the Hogwarts Express. And yes, if you were wondering, it is because of me that we got the two park pass because I almost cried when I was told we would only be spending the day at Island’s of Adventure. God, I am a child.


The Hogwarts Express has mini little train cabins that seat six – perfect for my family! I highly recommend you sit by the window! During the ride, you get to see the countryside, with surprise guests from the films! But don’t ignore the cabin door, because you actually see shadows of Hogwarts students and the Trolley lady!

The Hogwarts Express is truly a ride in itself. It cannot be skipped. And I highly recommend riding it both ways, because the scenery is different each time.


Once off the train, you enter beautiful Hogsmeade. The village includes a number of stores and restaurants from the books that you can enter, some just for show. There’s also three main rides in the area. All are totally fun – especially the Dragon Challenge, a full rollercoaster that guides you through the Triwizard Tournament.

We went through the shops, and had our first butterbeer while wandering around. I thought Hogsmeade was truly just beautiful. It was everything I thought it would be!


The Hogwarts Castle towers over this area of the park, and you actually do get to go inside. The entire castle is a line queue for the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a 3D motion ride that tells the story of you trying to make it to Quidditch match on time. I have never in my life gotten sick on a theme park ride until this one. I felt so nauseous. And I seriously never get motion sickness. If you do in the slightest, I do not recommend this ride.

I do recommend walking through the line, though. There are so many amazing rooms taken straight out of the movie. You get to go into Dumbledore’s office, see the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and even see talking pictures. It’s so cool!

Just taking a selfie in the Mirror of Erised, no big.

"Lemon Drop!"

Like I said, I am a major Harry Potter nerd. I always have, always will be. This park made me so giddy, and I could probably spend days there enjoying all the details. So if you are also a Potterhead, book your ticket now!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando

Distance: 2,750 miles

Driving Time: 1 day, 15 hours

#ThemeParks #Activities #EastCoast