Don’t we look like we’re having fun? Let me introduce you – that’s Ally, Teen Services Librarian at Main, on the left with the awesome hair (she recently wrote a blog post about how to color your hair, if you’re interested), that’s me in the middle, Jordan, your Youth Services Programmer, and on the right is Dawna, the Teen Services Librarian at Scheben. This past October, we made the trek from Northern Kentucky to Orlando, Florida so that we could live out our dream of being real Hogwarts students. Here’s what you need to know before you make your journey to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In all of our hard work prepping for this trip, we made a few great decisions, and a few that maybe weren’t so great. We think this venture is one that every Potterhead should take at some point, and we want to share everything we learned along the way, so you get the absolute most out of your magical journey!
- Sort Yourself Before You Go
You can’t see Ally’s shirt, but as I’m sure you’ve started to gather from looking at me and Dawna, we’re all three in different Houses. If you’re a Potterhead, you’ll recognize the awesomeness of this little fact… because what are the odds? Ally is a Ravenclaw, I’m a Gryffindor, and Dawna is a Hufflepuff – and we’ve all had that verified via Pottermore, the official website for all things Harry Potter. Being sorted into our respective houses made all the difference while we were in Harry Potter World. (And before you worry that our group was incomplete, rest assured that we met up with a Slytherin friend who lives in Florida. We were definitely a well-balanced group.)
Knowing which house you belong in is vital when looking to buy merchandise, unless you have an affinity for a certain house because of a certain character. Harry Potter World offers a wide variety of merchandise, some house specific, some not. Knowing your house will simply give you an extra layer of pride. You’ll be able to wear your house apparel and you’ll know which house pins to buy.
We found it especially fun to engage the park staff in conversation that was, let’s say… heavily affected by our houses. It was all in good fun and one of my favorite aspects of the park. Ally made sure to wear a Harry Potter related shirt each day that we went to the park. Most of the time, they were generic shirts, relating to the Deathly Hallows or Ravenclaw. One day, she wore a shirt with the Dark Mark on it. We found it fascinating that she was treated completely different that day. We’re speculating a little here, but we started to wonder if the staff is required to treat Slytherins, or dark wizards, differently. The only time she was really welcomed and talked to openly that day was when we were in Knockturn Alley.
- Prepare for the Drive
Orlando, Florida is about a 13 hour and 14 minute drive from the Main Library (assuming you drive straight and don’t stop for a restroom break… or lunch… or Krispy Kreme donuts).
Since the car ride is so long, Ally came up with the brilliant idea of listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks while driving. Now, if you were to listen to books 1-7, that would take you 116 hours. Even though the drive from Northern Kentucky to Orlando, Florida is long, it’s nowhere near 116 hours. We managed to listen to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (approximately 8.5 hours) and part of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (approximately 9 hours) on the way down, and on our way back, we finished Chamber of Secrets and started Prisoner of Azkaban (approximately 12 hours).
For someone who gets carsick easily, this was a brilliant idea. I was happily distracted – and this was my first time ever listening to Jim Dale’s narration. I have to admit, while I don’t enjoy everything about the audio books, and would certainly recommend reading the physical books first, there is truly something unique about the experience. I’m still making my way through the rest of the books on CD, months after our trip came to its end.
- Spend the Extra Money to Have a Park-To-Park Pass
If you aren’t already aware, Universal Orlando splits their park into two halves – you have Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, where you will find Hogsmeade (among other, lesser islands which are, let’s face it, also a lot of fun) and Universal Studios, where you’ll find Diagon Alley (and again, there’s more to this side of the park than just Harry Potter themed attractions, but we all know you’re here for Harry, so we’ll just be moving right along…).
Going back and forth between these two parks is the Hogwarts Express.
YOU GET TO RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS.
The big catch with these two parks and the Hogwarts Express, is that you need to buy a ticket to both parks in order to experience the whole thing. Park-to-Park admission is required to board the Express, and that is something you don’t want to miss. While buying the Park-to-Park pass was an easy decision for us, it may weigh on you a little bit more. After all, these tickets aren’t cheap, especially if you’re taking your entire family, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the drive down or accommodations and dining while you’re in Orlando. The good thing is each extra day costs a little less than the first.
Something you might want to consider looking into is their Vacation Package. This package isn’t necessarily cheaper, but it does help you piece together all the aspects of the experience that you won’t want to miss. With some fun, easy research, you’ll quickly be able to decide what works best for you and your travel mates.
The Vacation Package sets you up to have Park-to-Park admission, breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron, breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, and hotel accommodations on Universal property (though, it should be noted, because I know where my mind would go if I read that line, this does not mean you’ll be staying with Tom in the Leaky Cauldron — this hotel will not be within the park).
- Staying at a Hotel on Universal Property Will Make All the Difference
By staying at a hotel on Universal property, you are gifted the beauty of Early Park Admission.
Early Park Admission is quite possibly the most wonderful opportunity. If you don’t take my word for it, take a look at this picture:
That’s the ground, my friends. The beautiful, cobblestone ground. Look at it now, memorize it, kiss it, because if you don’t get Early Park Admission, you’ll never see that puppy again.
Early Park Admission allows you to gain early access to either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. This is something that’s totally up to Universal, so you’ll want to call and check the morning of so that you make the most of your time and go to the correct entrance.
It’s not like we know that from experience or anything… okay, so maybe we found that part out the hard way.
Point being, it’s awesome and it lets you ride the big stuff before the rest of the wizarding world is up and shopping for school books and fresh parchment.
Another huge benefit to staying at a hotel on Universal property is that they have shuttles running back and forth between the hotel and the park all day long. This means you won’t get lost, you won’t have to worry about parking, and you won’t have to walk all the way to the parking lot, struggling to remember where you left your car. One of the best decisions we made was going to the park early, taking a break around lunch time, napping at the hotel, and going back to the park in the afternoon when we had our second wind. We might not have been so inclined had we not had the shuttle service. Taking a break in the afternoon made us more energized for the rest of the evening and also cut back on the number of long lines we’d have
to suffer. We quickly found that the park’s busiest hours were during the heat of the day, that 1-3 p.m. time frame. Who wants to stand in line for an hour or more in that kind of heat? Not these ladies… The only true irritant we came across in terms of visiting the park came into play when we realized our trip coincided with their Halloween Horror Nights, meaning that we had to leave the park earlier than we would have otherwise. Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights are sold separately and require exiting/reentering. Make sure you check the park’s calendar for weird things like this when you plan your trip.
- Don’t Miss the Little Things
There are two major Harry Potter rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. In addition to these two large rides, you also have attractions like Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff. I want to give fair warning if you plan to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff. It looks like a kiddie ride, but trust me… it’s not. It goes EXTREMELY fast and both times I’ve ridden it, I’ve had to hold on for dear life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of it, but if you have a child sitting with an adult, make sure that adult is holding on to that child, because you really feel like you could slip out at any second.
While the rides are definitely a huge part of going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, something that’s very unique to this fandom and its fanbase, is that the entire atmosphere of being in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley means just as much to us as being on rides inspired by the story. I don’t want to completely ruin the magic for you, so I won’t describe every minute detail they’ve blessed us with (as much as I want to) but I do want to clue you into some of them.
There are a million and one opportunities for awesome pictures.
One of my favorite moments in Diagon Alley took place while we were standing in some shade regrouping from all our heightened emotions. Dawna and Ally and I are standing there, relaxing, swaying to some music that’s being performed a little ways away… and as I’m listening to the words and reveling in the moment, it occurs to me that this is Harry Potter World. Nothing is by accident and everything, down to the ATM on the wall (which is labeled “Gringotts Bank”) has been somehow worked into the world we’re all familiar with. Low and behold, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, Mrs. Weasley’s favorite singer, are the ones performing, and they’re singing, “You Stole My Cauldron But You Can’t Have My Heart.” It was absolutely perfect.
Other things that you won’t want to miss are the Magical Menagerie where you can
adopt three headed dogs and pygmy puffs, Madam Malkin’s, where you can purchase robes, or Borgin and Burkes, where you can become one on a short list of those who own one of the horcruxes. If tampering with dark magic isn’t your thing and you’d rather shy away from Knockturn Alley, stop by the Hogwarts Post to mail a postcard to your friends back home. Make sure you bring your own stamps! You can buy them there, but they’re expensive…
- Think About What To Buy In Advance
We’ve talked a lot about all the shops… and just like Harry in Sorcerer’s Stone, you’re going to want to buy all the things; it’s inevitable. However, unless you saved for, say, an entire year, you probably can’t afford to make the journey down, afford accommodations, and every single robe and jumper and magnet you come across. That’s why I suggest having a list of things you know you need to take home and having a secondary list of things you know you’d like to have, if say, the Weasley sweater is itchier than you expect it to be and you decide that you’d rather make your own. (For the record, the Weasley sweaters are 90% British wool and very, very itchy.)
Gringotts Bank Notes It is a fair trade and this currency can then be used to make some of your purchases within the Wizarding World. You could also keep these as souvenirs. $10 and $20 notes are available. Parents, this is a great way to limit your children’s spending. Make this one of your first stops, make your monetary exchange, and let your kids buy their souvenirs with their official bank notes.
While exchanging your Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes does not cost you anything, if you’re interested in owning a Knut, Sickle, or Galleon, you will have to fork over a few extra Muggle dollars. A very legit looking display of Wizarding currency is available, but it is not an even monetary exchange.
Wands You absolutely do not want to miss the wand choosing demonstration at Ollivander’s Wand Shop. While you may not get chosen during the demonstration like Ally did, this is something you will NOT want to miss. It is so much fun to watch. Wands are pretty reasonably priced, and you now have the option of purchasing one that’s interactive. This is a HUGE game changer. If you buy an interactive wand, you’ll be given a map that directs you to certain spots where you can cast spells and charms with the reward of, what else? MAGIC. Face it: you’re going to buy a wand anyway. You might as well buy one that’s interactive. This isn’t the time to let pride get in the way – you’re in Harry Potter World. Milk it for all it’s worth.
Robes You’ll see people of all ages walking around Diagon Alley in their house robes, and you’ll definitely want them. The only problem is that they very well may drain your vault of all its Galleons. These things are not cheap… one huge reason you may want to do some house research if you’re interested in making this your big purchase.
- Splurge on the Food — Try Everything
The Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron Breakfast or lunch at the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron is a must. Not only is the food great, but the atmosphere is unbelievable. You’ll be able to pick from a selection of (mostly) traditional British dishes that are filling and, in my opinion, fairly priced. Unless you’re getting the kids meal of chicken tenders and applesauce (which I did one day) you’ll be served a hefty portion of food. The inside of both these dining venues is designed to make you feel like you’re in the real place, and they’ve honestly done a wonderful job.
The Hog’s Head After you’ve had your fill at the Three Broomsticks, you’ll definitely want to pop over to the Hog’s Head for a Firewhiskey, Firestrong, or a Deathly Hallows. We highly suggest trying one of these if you’re of legal age!
Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, Honeydukes and Weasley Wizard Wheezes If you’re not inclined to dine at the park, or the Hogshead doesn’t seem like your scene, have no fear, because there are plenty of other sweet treats available in both parks. If you’re on the Diagon Alley side, stop by Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour for a treat that will help you cool down. While their soft serve is definitely good, we recommend that you try one of the flavored scoops of hard-packed ice cream. Dawna got Earl Gray & Lavender with Salted Caramel Blondie which was to die for. Can’t have ice cream? No worries. Try a Chocolate Frog or box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Honeydukes or apparate over to Weasley Wizard Wheezes and try the Skiving Snackboxes.
No matter what you do, there’s one thing you have to be sure to try, and that’s Butterbeer. Don’t worry, it’s completely nonalcoholic. Butterbeer is served two ways, cold or frozen. I prefer it cold, but Ally assures me that it’s best served frozen… I guess you’ll have to try it both ways and decide for yourself! If you’re planning on going to both parks and buying Butterbeer more than once, you might want to buy the souvenir cup. While it’s a little more expensive than the cup that can be thrown away, you’ll walk away with two souvenirs. The Butterbeer in Diagon Alley is served in a stein mug while the Butterbeer in Hogsmeade is served in a goblet.
If you can’t go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter World right now, no worries. Stop by the Library and pick up all eight movies, one of the new illustrated copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets or the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and throw yourself a Harry Potter party, complete with cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties, jam tarts, and pumpkin juice. If you’re committed you can even try making your own Butterbeer. The possibilities are endless!
Jordan Padgett has worked for Boone County Public Library for eight years and is currently a part of the Youth Services Department. She can often be found reading fanfiction, taking notes for her novel, or knitting house scarves. Jordan is an avid S.P.E.W. supporter.