This summer, I was lucky enough to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, where I was finally able to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. It was AMAZING. The Wizarding World (both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, located in the adjacent Islands of Adventure park) is completely immersive and more detailed than you can imagine, making it really feel like you’re a part of the experience that, if you’re a reader of my generation, you probably grew up reading and loving.
There are many, MANY sources out there that can tell you all about Diagon Alley in detail (although I must say, the more you can keep a surprise, the better!), so I’ll just go over some of my highlights. The main attractions of Diagon Alley are, as you can probably imagine, all of the little shops that Universal has meticulously re-created from the stories. Unfortunately, while a façade exists for Flourish & Blotts (Diagon Alley’s bookstore, for those that don’t remember), you can’t actually go inside. 😦 However, those of us humanities-inclined, studious types can still get our nerd on in Sribbulus Writing Implements, a little shop attached to Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. At first I thought it might just be another façade, but upon walking in, I was surrounded by journals, parchment, stationary, and even quills and bottles of ink. Needless to say, this was my favorite spot in Diagon Alley.
My other favorite experience is one that I imagine is a little unexpected for most theme-park goers. On the hour in Diagon Alley, a group of actors puts on a show based on one of two stories from Beedle the Bard, the Potter-universe equivalent of, say, Aesop or the Brothers Grimm. While both the stories were pretty enjoyable, the best one was The Tale of the Three Brothers (fans of the book will remember this as the original story that sets up the mythos for the “deathly hallows”). My absolute favorite part of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the animated sequence that told this story. I don’t want to give too much away, but the show in Diagon Alley captures that art style so beautifully, making for a really spectacular visual experience. (If you’re curious and don’t mind spoiling the surprise, you can watch the entire show here).
Now, onto food. The restaurant in Diagon Alley is, of course, the Leaky Cauldron. Unfortunately, the lunch and dinner menu doesn’t have many veggie options, so we didn’t plan a meal here. However, I heard from a WONDERFUL Universal employee that they served hot butterbeer (in most of the Wizarding World locations, you can only get butterbeer cold or frozen). My mom and I went inside to check it out during breakfast, and I noticed that there were many more vegetarian options then (something I’ll have to do next time, I guess!). But y’all. Hot butterbeer is the way to go. While the cold version is more like soda, the hot version is like butterscotch hot chocolate. It might sound bad in the Florida heat, but if you get it early enough and drink lots of water after (as you should be doing anyway), it’s totally fine.
I was also really excited about Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, but I have to say, this was my only miss. I was intrigued by an Earl Grey and Lavender flavor I had heard about, but it was really more vanilla-y than anything else. It was fine, it just didn’t compete with Jeni’s Wildberry Lavender ice cream (an unfair standard that I unfortunately hold all other ice cream to). If I go back, I will definitely try the Butterbeer flavored ice cream.