Since our last visit to Orlando, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has expanded to the Universal Studios park. I wrote about our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure a couple of years ago which we really enjoyed, and as a fan of both the books and films I was very keen to visit the new Harry Potter area at Universal Studios.
So the Harry Potter world now features in both parks. While Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade and Hogwarts (in an area that opened in summer 2010), Universal Studios now has London and Diagon Alley, with both parks being linked by the Hogwarts Express ride. This area opened in summer 2014, and in Diagon Alley you can find the entrance to the new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Harry Potter London
You are first welcomed to muggle London (you know it's London because the rubbish bins say so), or at least a very clean, sunny and traffic free London, filled with people dressed in lighter clothing than is usual in real London (although with quite a number in wizard's robes!) This area of the park was surprisingly quiet, and while it may not be exactly true to life it certainly evokes a sense of London, albeit a rather smaller version, with some lovely architecture and detailing.
Behind Leicester Square Station you will find the entrance to Diagon Alley, home of wizarding shops and delicious butterbeer.
There is lots to see here, and plenty to keep fans of the books and films happy, I'm sure that we didn't even see half of it. There are loads of little shops, some are just fronts and some you can go inside. There is regular live entertainment, along with places to eat and drink. I loved the scarf that was "knitting" itself in the wool shop. Although it was busy, it's fairly spacious so there is room to move around and see as much as you want to.
We all had some butterbeer, which we remembered fondly from our previous visit to Islands of Adventure, although personally I find it rather too sickly sweet and I can't manage an entire cup! You can buy other butterbeer variations, like frozen butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream, as well as a few British snacks like packets of crisps and chocolate bars. The dragon above Gringotts breathes real fire from time to time, so if you are hanging around for any reason it's worth waiting nearby to watch it!
The new ride - Escape from Gringotts
Escape from Gringotts is the new flagship attraction at the Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It's a 3D roller coaster ride, but the attraction is more about the 3D projection screens along the way that really make you feel as though you are a part of the action.
It took us several attempts to ride, and we only actually managed it once. The reliability of the ride isn't great, and as it seemed to be shut fairly often, the queues built up and were always long. Like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure, a large part of the ride is actually the substantial queueing area which takes you through Gringotts Bank and past several theatrical presentations which are technically very impressive. You can still join the queue to experience this even if you don't want to actually go on the ride - we queued up as a family and then my Mum waited with the children in a special waiting area while the rest of us rode.
We enjoyed the ride, but didn't feel the need to ride it again. It's not really a roller coaster - although it does throw you about - it's all more about the special effects. So while it's fun to experience once, especially if you are a fan of the books and can appreciate the huge amount of effort that has gone into making it an authentic Harry Potter experience, it's not the same as a roller coaster that you would ride again for the thrill of it.
King's Cross station and the Hogwarts Express ride
The new Hogwarts Express ride links the two Harry Potter themed areas at the different parks. In order to board the train at one station you need to have a ticket for the other park, so you will need a two park ticket. The King's Cross station queuing area is huge, but it's really well themed so the wait doesn't feel too long. It takes a while to unload and load each train, but each one can accommodate a lot of people and they arrive regularly. There is supposed to be a cool special effect as you walk through the wall at platform 9 3/4 but we completely missed it, so if you are visiting then do keep a closer eye out!
If you have a pushchair you need to fold it for the journey, and if your child is able to walk I'd recommend carrying it up and down the stairs at the stations rather than waiting for the lifts, as waiting can lose you quite a bit of time in the queue.
It's a bit disorientating to find yourself in the other park when you exit. Each Harry Potter area is at the far end of each park too, so if this is your last attraction for the day, as it was for us each time we rode it, you then have quite a walk back through the park to the main entrance and car park.
I'm really glad that I had the opportunity to visit, it's a fantastic new addition the park and definitely made our visit to Universal Studios worthwhile.