Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.
I've been lucky enough to go to Harry Potter World in Universal Studios in Florida six times in the past eight years. I've been there with many different friends and family members. I have always found it to be a fun and magical experience for any Harry Potter fan. There's so much to see and do, so for first-time visitors, it can be hard to know where to start!
If you have your heart set on riding the Hogwarts Express, you will definitely need to buy park-to-park passes. However, if it doesn't fit your budget or time constraints, I highly recommend purchasing single-park passes. The park-to-park pass is really worth it if you can do it for two days since there's so much to do and long lines can zap up your time. I like the single-park pass purely for the fact that you can spend as much time as you'd like in each park and can ride the attractions as many times as you'd like without running out of time!
Whichever method you take, I recommend starting out on the Universal Studios side (instead of Islands of Adventure). This is where the Diagon Alley and London parts of Harry Potter World are located and I think it's fun to start your journey just as Harry did.
1. Explore London after grabbing a Simpsons' donut
If you begin your adventure on the Universal Studios side, you'll find London sandwiched between the Springfield and San Diego sections (I definitely suggest the pink donuts that are as big as your face). In London, you can dial the Ministry of Magic from a phone booth and view the front door of 12 Grimmauld Place. See if you can spot Kreacher peeking out from the curtains!
2. Check out the Knight Bus
picture with the Knight Bus -
Before you leave London, go for the photo op at the Knight Bus. The staff playing Stan Shunpike are always REALLY in character and make me laugh. It's also a super cute picture opportunity.
3. Enter Diagon Alley
I still remember the first time I walked through the brick wall into Diagon Alley. You catch the little glimpses of Harry Potter on the other side in "London", but once you cross the threshold, it feels like a completely different world. Kudos to the park designers on this one.
4. Visit Shutterbutton's
Tucked behind Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes is Shutterbutton's . I've only visited this park once, but if you have the time, it's really worth it. You and your friends will be in robes in front of a green screen and you'll be guided through different scenarios. At the end, you can purchase a keepsake DVD. It's really fun and different from anything else in the park.
5. Get ice cream at Florean Fortescue's or a draft at The Hopping Pot
ice cream at Florean Fortescue's -
Pick whichever suits your fancy, or both! At The Hopping Pot, you can get draft beer, Firewhiskey, or any of the fun non-alcoholic drinks. Florean Fortescue's offers delicious ice creams in a variety of unique flavors.
6. Watch The Tale of the Three Brothers
There are lots of live performances throughout the parks, but I recommend stopping for The Tale of the Three Brothers. Much like in the film this is told through puppetry. It's visually interesting and worth seeing.
7. Pick out your wand at Ollivander's
wand choosing ceremony -
While most of the shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are open for you to visit and shop, Ollivander's has a line. Once you enter Ollivander's the clerk will pick one person from the group to come up and do the wand choosing ceremony. Then, they will hand select a wand for you. Both my boyfriend and I have been chosen for the wand ceremony and purchased our wands!
8. Go back to London and enter the King's Cross Station
Platform 9 3/4 -
If you have park-to-park passes, you'll be able to enter King's Cross and ride the Hogwarts Express into Hogsmeade. The train ride definitely beats walking all the way to the other side of the park, although the line can get pretty long.
9. Walk through the wall into Platform 9 3/4
Crossing over from the Muggle side into Platform 9 3/4 is another wonderful design in the park. If you have the park-to-park passes, you'll be able to make your way through King's Cross so you can board the Hogwarts Express.
10. Buy a butterbeer or pumpkin juice
my first ever Butterbeer
Pumpkin juice is actually my preferred beverage between the two, but I can never say no to a Butterbeer in Harry Potter World! I personally like the frozen butterbeer!
11. Just enjoy yourself and soak up the atmosphere!
it's always a fun time -
It can be very tempting to spend lots of money in the park. There are so many fun souvenirs and shops. But I think it's also fun to just explore and be there! If you are going to buy a souvenir, I recommend a wand. This is a very unique souvenir that you can't really get somewhere else (such as the clothing, for example). Plus, the wands are interactive on both sides of Harry Potter world.
12. Bask in the glory of Hogwarts castle
it's truly a sight to see -
It's hard to explain how it feels to be in the park and see the castle for the first time. I definitely teared up the very first time I ever went. No matter what, it's always magical to see the castle in the distance. The ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey takes you through the castle, and it's actually one of my favorite rides in the park.
When you visit Harry Potter World, make sure you don't miss out on all the amazing little details and features throughout the park. Honestly, I am quite sad that the Dragon Challenge coaster has been taken down, as it was one of my favorite parts of Harry Potter World. Regardless, it is still amazing no matter how many times I've been. It's definitely worth the trip.