Just after we returned from our first visit to the Universal Orlando Resort in 2008, Harry Potter’s Island was in the works featuring the Forbidden Journey ride along with a themed area of Hogsmeade. Actually, we could see some of the construction going on while we were there. It was serendipitous then, that just 10 days prior to our Summer 2014 vacation, Universal Orlando announced the opening of Diagon Alley, The Hogwarts Express, and Escape from Gringotts.
While Hogsmeade featuring Forbidden Journey was located in Islands of Adventure, Diagon Alley and Escape from Gringotts was located in Universal Studios, giving Potter fans something in each park. The Hogwarts Express traveled from park to park—or Diagon Alley—actually King's Cross—to Hogsmeade.
We started our day at Universal Studios heading directly to Diagon Alley along with hundreds of other people. We were shuffled into a queue to get a ticket for a return time to the area. The park opened at 8:00 am and we were there prior to opening. The time on our return ticket was 9:15 to 10:15. No one was getting into Diagon Alley with a ticket as the area was fenced off with one side only as an entrance and exits on either side.
|The magic portal that transports you to Platform 9 3/4.|
We decided to head to King's Cross Station and ride the Hogwarts Express. There was NO wait for the train. It took us longer to get through the enormously long queue that was well themed, featured its own set of restrooms, and included a snack shop, than it did to wait for the train. Know that the queue has several sets of steps, so be prepared.
When I tell people that there was no wait, may ask me why. My speculation is that guests do not realize that a park-to-park ticket is required to ride Hogwarts Express as you end up in the other park—Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios or the reverse. So, your ticket is scanned at the entrance to the ride as if you are entering the other park and in essence, you are.
Riding the Hogwarts Express was one of our favorite things. The rooms on the train were spacious and incredibly themed. The ride is short and of course there is a “show” on what would be the train window, but there is also goings on behind the frosted doors that lead to the hallway. It was hard to know which way to look.
We exited the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade and made our way through the shops, including Olivander’s Wand Shop, and then up the hill to the castle.
The plan was for all of us to ride Forbidden Journey until we hit our first “you must use lockers for your things” situation. Yes, the lockers were free. But the area was dark, cramped, noisy, and incredibly crowded. I just grabbed the backpack and told the guys I would meet them at the exit.
There were mixed feelings about the ride. The boy loved it; the husband not so much. Though I did hear great things about the queue.
The boy and I rode Flight of the Gryffindor while the husband bought a Butterbeer for all of us to sample. Sweet and yummy.
Since we had entered the window of the return time for Diagon Alley, we decided to get back on the Hogwarts Express for the return ride.
Again, the queue area is quite long and includes steps. But there was NO wait.
The show for this trip was different than the ride the other way so we were so glad we took the round trip!
After exiting, we went directly to Diagon Alley and showed our tickets for the return time. Now, since there never was a signed entrance to Diagon Alley, guests just sort of looked around for the entrance and Universal Staff play the part of “I’ve never heard of such a place” if you ask. So, just go to the blankest wall and follow the side walk. Eventually, there is an opening in the bricks that leads to Diagon Alley.
The dragon sits on top of Gringott’s Bank at the far end of the street lined shops. There is both a “light” side and a “dark” side to the area.
We walked into the bank and took a photo, but decided to not wait the four hours needed to ride the ride.
The Weasley’s have a shop at Diagon Alley, so we stopped there to take a look at all the fun things for sale such as chocolate frogs and flavored jelly beans.
On the way out, we stopped at the triple-decker bus for a chat and photos with the driver.
After taking a few more photos, we exited Diagon Alley and toured the rest of Universal Studios.