Join Seth Kubersky on a Whirlwind Tour of Hogsmeade
Passing beneath a stone arch, you enter the village of Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts Express locomotive sits belching steam on your right. Next is your first ride, the Dragon Challenge. The ride, formerly known as Dueling Dragons and part of The Lost Continent, was renamed and incorporated into The Wizarding World in 2010.
The story line is that you’re preparing to compete in the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As you wind through the long, long queue, you pass through tournament tents and dark passages that are supposed to be under the stadium. You’ll see the Goblet of Fire on display and hear the distant roar of the crowd in the supposed stadium above you.
Riders board one of two coasters—Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail—that are launched moments apart on tracks that are closely intertwined. The tracks are configured so that you get a different experience on each. The trains are dispatched sequentially instead of simultaneously, so it looks as if one train is chasing another.
The village setting is rendered in exquisite detail: Stone cottages and shops have steeply pitched slate roofs; bowed multipaned windows; gables; and tall, crooked chimneys. With its cobblestone streets and gas streetlamps, Hogsmeade is as reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes as it is of Harry Potter. Hoegsmeade, depicted in winter and covered in snow, is The Wizarding World’s primary shopping and dining venue.
Your first taste—literally—of the Harry Potter universe comes courtesy of Honeydukes. Specializing in Potter-themed candy such as Acid Pops (no flashbacks, guaranteed), Tooth Splintering Strong Mints, and Fizzing Whizzbees, the sweet shop offers no shortage of snacks that administer an immediate sugar high. There’s also a small bakery inside; while we highly recommend the Cauldron Cakes, the big draw is the elaborately boxed Chocolate Frogs. The chocolate inside isn’t anything special, but the packaging looks as if it came straight from a Harry Potter film, complete with a lenticular wizard trading card.
Next door to Honeydukes and set back from the main street is Three Broomsticks, a rustic tavern serving English staples such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and Cornish pasties. To the rear of the tavern is the Hog’s Head pub, which serves a nice selection of beer as well as The Wizarding World’s signature nonalcoholic brew, Butterbeer. Roughly across the street from the pub, you’ll find benches in the shade at the Owlery, where animatronic owls (complete with lifelike poop) ruffle and hoot from the rafters. Next to the Owlery is the Owl Post, where you can have mail stamped with a Hogsmeade postmark. Dervish and Banges is a magic-supplies shop interconnected with the Owl Post.
Next to the Owl Post is the previously mentioned Ollivanders, a musty little shop stacked to the ceiling with boxes of magic wands. Here, following a script from the Potter books, you can pick out a wand or, in an interactive experience, let it pick you. This is one of the most truly imaginative elements of The Wizarding World: A wand-keeper sizes you up and presents a wand, inviting you to try it out; your attempted spells produce unintended, unwanted, and highly amusing consequences. Ultimately, a wand chooses you, with all the attendant special effects. It’s great fun, but the tiny shop can accommodate only about 24 guests at a time. Usually just one person in each group gets to be chosen by a wand, and then the whole group is dispatched to the Owl Post and Dervish and Banges to make purchases.
At the far end of the village, the massive Hogwarts Castle comes into view, set atop a rock face and towering over Hogsmeade and the entire Wizarding World.
Follow the path through the castle’s massive gates to the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride provides the only opportunity at Universal Orlando to come in contact with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore as portrayed by the original actors. Half the attraction is a series of preshows, setting the stage for the main event, a dark ride.
Entering the castle on a lower level, you walk through a sort of dungeon festooned with various icons and prop replicas from the Potter flicks, including the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. You later emerge back outside and into the Hogwarts greenhouses. Cleverly conceived and executed, with some strategically placed mandrakes to amuse you, the greenhouses compose the larger part of the Forbidden Journey’s queuing area.
Next, you reenter the castle, moving along its halls and passageways, past Dumbledore’s office and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. At the end of your queuing odyssey, you’ll naturally expect to be wowed by your ride vehicle. Surely it’s a Nimbus 3000 turbo-broom, a phoenix, a hippogriff, or at least the Weasleys’ flying car. But no, what you’ll ride on—in the most technologically advanced theme park attraction in America—is a bench! Yep, a bench. A bit anticlimactic, perhaps, but as benches go, this one’s a doozy, mounted on a Kuka robotic arm. Those Kuka-powered benches really do “levitate” in a manner that feels remarkably like free flight; while you don’t go upside down, the sensation of floating on your back or being slung from side to side is certainly unique.
Below the castle and to the right, at the base of the cliff, are the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Flight of the Hippogriff children’s roller coaster. The ride is short and sweet but not worth much of a wait. Potter fans will want to ride to see Hagrid’s Hut and an adorable animatronic of Buckbeak.
Near the gate to Hogwarts Castle, is Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, which offers all manner of Potter-themed gear, including Quidditch clothing, magical-creature toys, film-inspired chess sets, and, of course, Death Eater masks (breath mints extra).
Nearly every retail space sports some sort of animatronic or special effects surprise. At Dervish and Banges, the fearsome Monster Book of Monsters rattles and snarls at you as Nimbus 2001 brooms strain at their tethers overhead. At the Hog’s Head pub, the titular porcine part, mounted behind the bar, similarly thrashes and growls.
Don’t Miss the Street Entertainment at Hogsmeade
On a stage next to the castle, Potter fans can enjoy two shows. Our favorite is the Hogwarts students’ Frog Choir. The choir is composed of four singers, two of whom are holding large amphibian puppets sitting on pillows. Inspired by a brief scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the group sings three or four a cappella wizarding-related songs.
The Triwizard Spirit Rally showcases dancing, martial arts, and acrobatics performed by the students of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the Durmstrang Institute. Both shows generally alternate once an hour and are followed by a photo op.
In The Unofficial Guide to Universal, you will find a complete review of Hogsmeade and everything else there is to do at Islands of Adventure.