By ATD’s Florida Experts Susan & Simon Veness
Orlando has been truly in a spell since the opening this July of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. It’s the new attraction that’s made Universal Studios THE park to visit, and we have the inside track on the best way to tackle Excitement Central.
It is such an immersive and compelling environment you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a theme park in its own right, such has been the fervour. But, with the popularity have come the crowds – serious crowds – and we thought it was worthwhile trying to give some sage advice to those heading here anytime soon.
And, while we can’t guarantee to get you on the Gringotts Bank ride (average wait time, two hours) in five minutes, we can help to ease your way through this wizardly world with the best use of your time, and maximum enjoyment of what’s there.
So, with no further ado, here are our Top 10 tips for your journey to Diagon Alley…
1. Universal’s Hotels
Perhaps the most obvious short-cut to a wizarding good time in this new area is to stay at one of Universal Orlando’s four resort hotels. Each one guarantees early entry to both Wizarding Worlds (Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure) and that means you can get an hour’s head start on the majority.
Admittedly, it can mean a really eye-watering start to your day (at peak periods, both parks will open at 8am, hence the early opening will be at 7), but, if you make the effort to be at the park in time, you will be at the head of the queues to start with.
2. Arrive Early – Or Late
As well as the advice to arrive as early as possible, the most important thing is to head straight for the key attraction of the Gringotts Bank ride, which has seen queue times of four hours – and more – this summer.
By the opposite logic, if you can’t make it here for opening time, leave it until later in the day. Diagon Alley will tend to quieten down a bit from 4pm, and the last two hours of the day (when the park may be open until 10pm) are considerably less crowded. The fire-breathing dragon also looks amazing as the sun goes down.
3. Midweek, NOT Weekends
If you can, schedule your visit for a weekday, especially a Monday or Tuesday. But definitely not the weekend. Universal Orlando has seen a big increase in annual pass-holders since the opening of Diagon Alley, and that means mostly locals.
Local visitors tend not to be able to head to the parks during the week, but they will be out in force at weekends, so that’s a good time to be elsewhere!
4. Dinner, NOT Lunch
Among the many enchanting elements of this Wizarding World is the chance to sample the fare of The Leaky Caldron, as featured in the books and films. But try to avoid lunchtime, as wait times then can be fully 40 minutes just to get in.
Instead, opt for an early tea or dinner and you’ll find little more than a five-minute wait to place your order. For the best budget meal, Toad in the Hole is the cheapest dish, while the excellent Ploughman’s Platter is also good value for two.
5. Butterbeer – The Ice Cream
Another distinctive taste of Diagon Alley is provided by the wonderfully enticing Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. This true original offers no fewer than 11 types of soft-serve (with Butterbeer the obvious No.1 choice) and 10 of the hand-scooped variety, with Salted Caramel Blondie the most popular flavour.
However, you will also encounter a queue just to get in here, too, unless you visit before 1pm. For some reason, that is the key time when the majority think it’s time for a n-ice break!
6. The Express Track
The area’s other top ride is the Hogwarts Express, which chugs back and forth between the ‘King’s Cross’ station just outside Diagon Alley and the Hogsmeade section of the Islands of Adventure. For a shorter wait, this is actually best in the morning and gets busiest from 5-7pm, when wait times can hit an hour.
Better still, on a day when the Islands of Adventure opens an hour before its sister park, go to Hogsmeade first and aim to ride the Express to Diagon Alley at around 8.45am, and you will be ahead of people coming through the gates at Universal Studios.
7. Shop Wisely (or Weasley!)
Wallets beware - the shops are a major part of Diagon Alley and there is some fabulous merchandise to tempt you. But the best times to shop are before 10 am and after 4pm. Sometimes there can even be a line just to get in!
Definitely make time for the signature store of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, where there are jokes and toys galore, and you can enjoy a non-stop firework display if you look up at the skylight.
8. Be Interactive
Another shopping highlight is the chance to buy an interactive wand, either at Ollivander’s Wand Shop or Wands By Gregorovitch, as these activate some hilarious effects in the shop windows and other places around Diagon Alley.
With your wand comes a map of all the places they can be used, in Diagon Alley AND Hogsmeade, and there are also three ‘unmarked’ windows. Clue: look for the red sensor lights that show where to point.
9. The Wand Chooses The Wizard
For those looking to relive the moment when Harry selects his wand in the book and film, there are two opportunities to visit Ollivander’s for a similar ‘reveal.’ Choose the Diagon Alley version, not Hogsmeade, as the former is much bigger and rarely has a wait to get in.
There is no way to guess who is chosen for the show, however. It is usually a child, but not always. Our best tip is to try to look keen and lively!
10. That Dragon Kodak Moment
At the top of Gringotts Bank sits the 60ft fire-breathing dragon that provides the iconic view of Diagon Alley, and you will want to get the perfect photo of it.
For the ideal view, stand in the centre of Diagon Alley, passing just under the railway bridge, and wait for the thunderous growl that precedes each fiery blast, every 10-15 minutes.
And now, get out there and have fun!