As a massive Potterhead (yes, I said it) I can’t explain how happy I was to visit both Harry Potter themed attractions that exist.
I started reading about Harry’s world when I was 11. I grew up with him. To actually see all the things I read about and to try the things he and his friends ate and drank – was an overwhelming experience for me.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The first HP theme park I visited was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, USA. It is one of the seven parts of Universal Parks and Resorts’ Islands of Adventure.
Traveling all the way to Florida more or less just because of this attraction, I really hoped I won’t get disappointed. In the end, it was one of the best days of the whole summer.
When you enter the HP area you will see a sign warning you: Please respect the spell limits. You are entering Hogsmeade. And Diagon Alley. I personally don’t like the fact that they merged these two. Yet, I can’t complain – it works perfectly.
On your right you will see The Hogwarts Express. You will also see many people pushing their way to take the best photo. You will see children and teenagers in Hogwarts’ houses robes strolling around with wide smiles on their faces.
In front of you, there will be a long queue of people waiting for the unbelievably delicious Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice. Even if you hate standing in lines – it’s not that bad. Everyone is happy – they are in Hogsmeade, for heaven’s sake!
You can continue strolling around the streets. You can have a meal in the Three Broomsticks. You can stop by to the Owl Post. You can buy some of the Quidditch equipment.
If you decide to follow most of the people, you will end up next to the Honey Dukes and Zonko’s – the candy and pranks shop. Chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (from vomit and dirt to blueberry and marshmallow), Extendable Ear – you can buy it all there.
In Ollivander’s you will be able to meet Ollivander and he will recommend a wand for you. Be prepared for magic and things flying around the shop.
There are three rides in the HP area. The Dragon Challenge was inspired by the Triwizard Cup and The Flight of the Hippogriff will take you on the journey to the Hagrid’s hut. For the best one you will have to stand in line from one to four hours.
The main ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It will take you through the familiar corridors of Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s office, Gryffindor’s common room and Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom.
Before the ride itself, holograms of Harry, Ron and Hermione will amaze you. They look so real – I actually thought they were actors. The snow will fall from the ceiling, portraits will move and talk…It’s magical.
Once you finally get to the ride, you will fly with Harry, meet magical creatures on your way, try to catch the golden snitch and fly all around Hogwarts. It was so realistic that I almost cried. It wasn’t almost. I did cry.
Harry Potter Studios
Harry Potter Studios are situated in Watford, just outside of London. It is an actual Warner Bros studio where all the films were shot.
It is filled with props from all the eight movies and the real costumes used in them. You will see everything: from Gryffindor’s boys dormitory and Potions classroom to Ministry of Magic and Professor’s Umbridge Office.
You will be able to drive the flying car and see yourself on the screen while you do it. You can ride the broom over London in Gryffindor’s or Hufflepuff’s robe (as a Slytherin sympathizer, I wasn’t thrilled with this fact).
Children will run around trying to find all 15 hidden golden snitches. Adults will look for an empty piece of paper so that they could collect all the Harry Potter stamps.
In the outside area you will be able to try Butterbeer – which I was lucky enough to try again. I honestly don’t know why don’t they sell it everywhere. It is that good.
You will see Tom Riddle’s grave, Privet Drive 4 (an actual house), ride the Hagrid’s bike or ride the Knight’s bus. You can walk around the Hogwarts bridge or imagine how it felt like to play chess with those large figures that now stand in front of you ready for battle.
You will move on to the actual Diagon Alley used in films. You won’t be able to enter the shops, but even the short stroll around the street will make you feel like you are in the film.
The next area is about the practical side of filmmaking. How was everything created and how many people worked on it. It’s not magical at all – it’s realistic.
For example, you will find out that all those old books about magic from Dumbledore’s office are actually just phone books of London!
The tour will end with the huge and impressive model of Hogwarts. You will stay there for a long time – just looking at the Hogwarts and how the lights switch on and off, as the day and the night shift.
Once you leave the studio, you will have the opportunity to spend a lot of money in a really good HP store. Also, while there, you can try all the candy from the Honey Dukes.
This is not about UK vs. USA or films vs. books. Which one of the HP attractions will you love more depends on your personality.
If you want to hear behind the scene stories, see costumes, make-up and props, find out how they made the brooms fly, see the drawings and plans for making Hogwarts and Quidditch pitch and if you don’t like too crowded attractions – choose The Harry Potter Studios.
If you want to have adrenaline pumping, if you want to keep Harry’s world magical and if you don’t mind queuing – choose The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
As for me, I think I will have to go to the both places again, before I definitely decide. If for nothing else, just to compare once again where they serve better Butterbeer.