Hi there, Noah here, resident writer and eldest Nomad son. For my first post, I wanted to do something that I felt strongly about, something that I felt a burning passion for, something magical that could be enjoyed by all ages and will take your breath away; for those of you thinking Disney, you’re just a little off track (only about twenty miles off track though). No, I was thinking more Universal Studios; specifically, anything and everything Harry Potter related in Universal.
Now, as a huge Harry Potter fan (I’ve read all seven books about five times…not to brag or anything) I may be a little biased in my views. When it comes to Harry Potter, I’m quite confident we’re all at least a little biased, so I’m not too worried about that.
Upon walking into Universal, you see quite a bit of Harry Potter propaganda, but you are unable to see anything even remotely looking like it stepped from the creative mind of J.K. Rowling; there are no dragons, no levitating quills, no robes (except for the visitors who bring their own, that is; there’s no such thing as too much devotion). You might be a little disappointed; if you’re like me, and was expecting immediate Harry Potter satisfaction, you might have been crushed. And annoyed. Possibly devastated.
After journeying a little farther into Universal with the help of one of their free maps (maps are invaluable; get one and hang onto it), you come to a section loosely drawing up images of London. One look at the trash cans, which say “London” in big yellow letters, your suspicions are confirmed; you have suddenly been transported to England. What awaits one in Universal’s rendition of London, you might ask? The Knight Bus, that’s what.
Harry Potter fans, or anyone who knows what Harry Potter is, will easily recognize this iconic piece of magical transportation. If you don’t know what the Knight Bus is, and find yourself looking around in vain for it upon entering the London area of Universal, here’s a hint: It’s the big, triple-decker purple bus. Upon approaching the Knight Bus, the conductor, speaking in an English accent (false or otherwise, it was difficult to tell), offers to stand in the picture. So does the shrunken head that hangs from inside the Knight Bus; it also says your name, in case that sweetens the pot for any of you.
After you drag your drooling, Muggle self away from the Knight Bus, you are faced with two buildings; one is a train station. Unless you’ve thoroughly explored Diagon Alley, you might not want to take the train, because it goes to Hogsmeade. Going through the other building, you see a brick wall with a large hole in the center; through that hole, you enter and find yourself in Diagon Alley.
There will be plenty of people in Diagon Alley (the rest of Universal is pretty empty though…), and only some will be wearing robes. Pretty much everyone will be carrying a wand though; those Muggles have to feel like witches and wizards somehow. Let’s not focus on the crowd of people here; no, let’s focus on how every detail from the movies was painstakingly recreated exactly. Creative, colorful signs hang from the tall, old buildings, advertising wares such as wands, robes, spellbooks and quidditch supplies. For you pet lovers, feel free to drop into one of the several pet stores they have and pick up your own plush owl, or Pygmy Puff. But enough of that you say, you just want to know one thing: how was the butterbeer?
The butterbeer did not disappoint, but it is not the only drink you can order, other magical drinks such as pumpkin juice, gillywater and tongue tying lemon squash all being available and ready for consumption; don’t forget about the frozen butterbeer either! Having only had the butterbeer, I can only say my piece on that one drink, but I do have quite a lot to say about it; instead of doing that though, I will simply urge you to buy it. Having a butterbeer while walking Diagon Alley is just something you have to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For those of you who are just wishing I would get onto the part about wands, you’ll want to pay more attention to this next part.
There are kiosks set up through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, both in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade that sell wands; these kiosks, however, don’t even compare to the majesty and authenticity of Ollivanders (makers of fine wands since 382 BC). Some of you might be wandering just how authentic it is. Well, do you remember that scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone when Harry walks into Ollivanders and the store is stocked, floor to ceiling, with little wand boxes? Yeah, it’s like that. Floor to ceiling, boxes and boxes of wands; of course, they’re not all unique, but there are a wide range of wands, going from standard, popular ones (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Voldemort, etc.) to less notorious wands (Sirius Black, Minverva McGonagall, Kingsley Shacklebolt, etc.). I myself got Rufus Scrimgeour’s wand; I firmly believe that the wand chose me, as do they all. My brothers also got wands, however, none of us got the interactive wands.
The regular wands, made of hardy, very difficult to break (I tried) wood are about $37 or so, while the interactive wands are $45, roughly; with only an $8 difference, it could be difficult to imagine why you shouldn’t go ahead and buy the interactive wand (it comes with a little Marauder’s Map; bonus!). The reason is lines. At certain marked places (they’re also marked on the Marauder’s Map that comes with the interactive wand) you can move your interactive wand in the specified motion and something will happen; water will spurt out of a stone fountain, a quill will levitate, an animated troll skeleton will move; pretty standard stuff. However, it appears that quite a lot of people buy those interactive wands, which means you might find yourself standing in line to see something happen after waving your hand about in front of you for nearly a minute trying to get something to happen.
If you’re going to buy an interactive wand though, do so at the very beginning of the day so that you can do all the interactive things. I didn’t buy an interactive wand, but that didn’t stop me from shouting “Reducto!” at miscellaneous things and doing the required wand movement (it’s the following symbol, minus the closing parentheses, for those interested: >).
After you’ve exhausted all avenues of Diagon Alley; you’ve ridden the Gringotts, 3-D roller coaster where you got slung around by armored trolls and cower in fear when Voldemort appears. You’ve had your butterbeer, bought your wand and taken a trip down Knockturn Alley (we’re all a little curious aren’t we?) and peeked inside Borgin and Burkes, you decide maybe it’s time to leave.
But wait, you haven’t done everything! So you skip on over (you’re so happy that you’re skipping, in case you were wondering) to the train station. After a bit of wandering you’ll come to a passage, where you can watch the other members of your party jump through a brick wall onto Platform 9 3/4. From there you hop onto the Hogwarts Express, which will drop you off at Hogsmeade. Begin Harry Potter adventures part two. Also begin hyperventilating, because part two is just as good as part one.
After the completely magical train ride, you find yourself in cute, snowy Hogsmeade, where you can enjoy a variety of iconic shops. You can get chocolate frogs, watch shows and move that wizard card you bought all you want! There’s still plenty to do inside Hogsmeade; it doesn’t quite have the variety that Diagon Alley does, but what it lacks in shops, it makes up for in roller coasters.
Particularly one roller coaster: Dragon Challenge. Dragon Challenge is a pair (yes, a pair) of high-speed roller coasters that features twists, turns, drops and loops; I should also mention that during this high-speed, potentially death inducing experience, your feet hang below you. Obviously for those of you who don’t like roller coasters; you might want to avoid this one. For those of you who do, this will be your favorite part. As you make your way through the line (we didn’t have to, there was no line for us), you should keep one hand extended; it’s not very well lit. At all. It’s bring-a-flashlight dark; serial-killer-around-the-corner dark. You’ll pass the Goblet of Fire and the TriWizard Cup (ooooh, shiny!), and finally make your way to the end.
There you have two choices; ride either the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Firebolt. The Hungarian Horntail has many more loops, drops, twists and turns while the Chinese Firebolt focuses rather on speed and sharp turns. If you ride one and still want to experience the other, not to worry; immediately after exiting, there’s a re-ride sign! These aren’t the only roller coasters in Hogsmeade (though they are the fastest); you also have the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster (a more mild coaster, suitable for the little kids and those that like tame rides) and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (an interactive, lurching 3-D ride that will make those with motion sickness, or even motion slightly-illness, quite woosy; if you can’t read in the car, don’t ride this one). After that, you can just sit down and take in the majesty of it all, or recover from the rides, whichever one works for you.
After you feel you’ve soaked it all up (really take it in guys, really take it in), you realize the magic isn’t quite over; you still get to ride the train back! After that, though, if you’ve already explored Diagon Alley, there really isn’t much left to do. You can always have some authentic English food (which the Nomads did not partake in) or stand in one of the dark corners of Knockturn Alley and just be really creepy, but by this time you’ve probably done everything. Not to worry though! You still have an entire park left to explore! A slightly less magical park, but still enjoyable all the same. Just make sure to get a butterbeer for the road, alright?