“Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is a Potterhead’s dream

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“Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is a Potterhead’s dream

Hogwarts castle, as viewed from Hogsmeade

Hogwarts castle, as viewed from Hogsmeade

Cayla Fronhofer

Hogwarts castle, as viewed from Hogsmeade

Cayla Fronhofer

Cayla Fronhofer

Hogwarts castle, as viewed from Hogsmeade

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Walking into a small side alley at the back of Universal Studios and hearing the grinding noise of brick on brick, I know we’re in the right place. Around a corner, through a brick archway that looks as though it could have been a wall only moments ago, lies the magical world of Diagon Alley.

 
I grew up with Harry Potter. When I was a child, my parents decided that we would read the series as a family. We took turns reading aloud to each other and then waited in united suspense for the next book to be released. The series enchanted me like little else, which says a lot considering the number of books I read. I love the writing, I love the characters and, most of all, I love the world.

 
When the Universal Studios Resort unveiled “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in June 2010, I knew I had to get there somehow. Six years later, I finally stumbled upon the opportunity.

 
As it turns out, the wait was a good thing. Four years after the Hogsmeade zone opened in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the Diagon Alley zone opened in the resort’s other park, Universal Studios.

 

 

Although Hogsmeade is beautiful and Hogwarts is positively majestic, I prefer the cozy, bustling, crookedly magical atmosphere of Diagon Alley and it would have been a shame to miss it.

 
In Diagon Alley, everything is built tall. None of the shops have more than one level, but their façades soar up to at least three. With the thin, winding nature of the cobbled street between them, this gives the zone a shaded, secluded feel that separates it from the rest of the park. When you’re in Diagon Alley, Diagon Alley is all you see and all you hear. It really is like stepping into another world, and it’s perfect.

 
Gringotts Wizarding Bank sits at the end of the street, drawing your eye up the road to its white, Greco-Roman structure and the large dragon perched on its dome. While not a usual sight in Diagon Alley throughout the book (or movie) series, the dragon does add an extra magical touch and heats up the area with its occasional bursts of flame.

 
The shops that line the meandering street include Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. A few shops from the series are represented only by façades that hold the overflow of other shops behind them, such as Flourish and Blotts.

 
The Leaky Cauldron is the only interior that uses the full height of its façade, containing a high ceiling of exposed beam construction. Large chandeliers hang down into the open space and “aged” pictures are scattered chaotically across the walls. The restaurant’s seating is made up of wooden tables and benches, imitating the establishment’s rustic style in the films.

 
The menu at The Leaky Cauldron is decidedly British, containing such items as fish and chips, cottage pie, and bangers and mash. Drinks include butterbeer, pumpkin juice, wizard’s brew and fire whisky, allowing diners to partake of wizardly beverages alongside their meal.

 
Exorbitant prices are a staple of theme parks, but, when compared to a $12 hot dog seen elsewhere in the park, The Leaky Cauldron’s entrée prices of $9 to $14 are actually quite reasonable. The quality flavors of the food also make the cost slightly easier to swallow.

 
The shops and sights of Diagon Alley are wonderful, but for those seeking more of a thrill in their Harry Potter experience, Gringotts houses an indoor virtual reality rollercoaster called “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.” The ride’s line takes you through the impressively replicated atrium of the bank — which includes animatronic goblins that are not actually as creepy as you would think — past the goblins’ offices, and into a simulated elevator that carries riders to the catacombs far below the surface.

 
The ride itself inserts “a group of Muggles touring the bank” into part of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” allowing you to cross paths with Harry, Ron and Hermione as they break into Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault and escape on the back of a Ukrainian Ironbelly (the same dragon seen on top of the building in the street outside). Saved by Bill Weasley, your “tour group” escapes from Voldemort and Bellatrix and returns safely to the alley above.

 
If you or someone kind to you has purchased park-to-park passes, you can enjoy the experience of taking the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station to Hogsmeade or vice versa. Although the wait isn’t necessarily worth it once the line time passes 15 minutes, since you could simply walk over to the other park in about the same time, the simulated ride through the English countryside is a must for those seeking a truly immersive Harry Potter experience.

 
Hogsmeade is made up of cottage-like buildings that house the village’s shops. Even in 80 degree weather, snow rests upon the thatched roofs and a robed snowman sits at the end of one building with a snow-owl perched on its stick of an arm. Hogwarts rises majestically above the skyline when entering the village from the Hogwarts Express.

 
Much of the same merchandise from Diagon Alley’s shops is available in the shops of Hogsmeade. Dervish and Bangs sells clothing, robes and other wizardly supplies, while Honeydukes offers sweets and treats from the series. You can also peek into the window of Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, the book-only location of Harry’s disastrous first date.

 
The Three Broomsticks, famous in the Harry Potter universe for its butterbeer, is a similar culinary experience to The Leaky Cauldron but offers a different selection of entrées, including a roasted turkey leg, Cornish pasties and “The Great Feast,” a $50 meal that feeds four.

 
We found that the lower ceiling and slightly more spaced out tables of The Three Broomsticks presented a better dining atmosphere, but preferred the food of The Leaky Cauldron enough to choose it for a second lunch on our third day in the park. That being said, both are brilliant representations of their book and movie counterparts and are definitely worth trying.

 
Although the inside of Hogwarts is not open for casual perusal, it does contain many recreations of the film sets. It houses the line for “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” a ride stylistically similar to the one in Gringotts. During your time in the line, you pass through the greenhouses, a hallway full of moving and speaking paintings, Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the painting of the Fat Lady, and the Sorting Hat. You board the coaster itself in the Great Hall, which has a ceiling full of candles and an entire wall of mirrors to make the room look larger. The ride is well-engineered and brilliantly replicates the feeling of flying by mixing projected video with the motion of the coaster, making for an exhilarating ride.

 
Hogsmeade is also the home of two more traditional coasters: “Flight of the Hippogriff” and “The Dragon Challenge.” The second existed prior to the Harry Potter theming of the zone and was known as “Dueling Dragons,” but has been given a new façade based on the first challenge of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

 
Throughout my years of loving fiction, I have fallen in love with many different worlds, but the world of Harry Potter is one of the few that I honestly wish I could live in. Being able to wander around Diagon Alley, wearing my authentic Ravenclaw robes and sipping butterbeer, is an experience that filled me with a unique kind of joy. I have rarely felt so incredibly lucky to have the chance to visit any location and, although this may label me an incurable geek, it is an opportunity that I wish upon anyone who loves the beautiful, magical world that J.K. Rowling created for us.