Last month my wife Nicki and I flew to Hogwarts and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


We didn’t go by broomsticks, Hogwarts Express, or even flying motorcycle- we took a muggle flight from Memphis to Orlanado, FL. Nicki was able to find some affordable flights out of Memphis for us (which is hard to do these days), and a good deal on an on-site hotel. We got an extra bonus day at the parks, too.

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It was the first vacation we’ve taken together since our honeymoon to New Orleans three years ago, and the first time I’d been back to Florida since I went with my buddies to visit Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream over 1o years ago. This time it was not only the 3rd wedding anniversary for Nicki and me, but it was also the week of my birthday. I got a lot of Hufflepuff love during our visit. I think half the staff there were Hufflepuffs.
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil
The Sorting Hat

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We were able to get into the Universal Studios part of the park an hour early (thanks to our room keys) so we headed straight to London– or Florida’s version of London. Best I remember from my last two visits, this was the JAWS ride area, and the big shark still hangs around the corner on a dock just before you reach London. Oh, and be sure to step inside the phone booth to hear a message from the Ministry of Magic.


We entered through a secret entrance between King’s Cross Station and 12 Grimmauld Place and found Diagon Alley!


The entrance was next to the Leaky Cauldron, and we spotted Fred and George Weasley’s shop Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes just as we entered the wizarding shopping district (more about both of those locations next blog post). The bricks didn’t move, but you could hear the sound of it as we walked through the brick archway. Nice touch. I was really geeking out at this point, but have to say my wife was geeking out even more!


For her, this was like an Elvis fan going to Graceland for the first time. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan- movies and books, and has had a portion of her collection on display at our local public library. We’ve been waiting for them to open both Harry Potter parts of the park, and connect them with the Hogwarts Express.


We wanted to get to ride Escape From Gringotts first. It’s a 3D (or should I say “4D”?) motion ride inside Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the center of Diagon Alley, and one of the newest rides at the park.

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Atop Gringotts sits a huge dragon! Outside ofthe bank on the left is Hagrid’s flying motorcyle/sidecar, and on the right before you enter the bank stands a grand statue of Gringott himself (the goblin who founded the goblin run bank back in 1474) on top of a pile of gold coins. Before getting into the queue line for the ride, we were instructed to put larger valuables in a locker which were just outside the bank behind the statue. After all, like Hagrid says- “Gringotts is the safest place in the wizarding world.”
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After storing Nicki’s good camera in one of the lockers we hopped in the queue line, which was moving along pretty quickly. There were things to check out like the goblin rail carts that are used to travel though the underground passageways to reach the vaults below Gringotts. The weather was nice change from the Memphis area that week.

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Once inside Gringotts it was like we had stepped into the Harry Potter movie world! There was a huge chandelier, and rows of goblin teller windows on each side with goblins working away on ledgers.

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At the head of all the tellers was the chief bank teller who spoke to us visitors as we walked past his desk towards the next part of the queue line inside the bank.

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We passed a spiral staircase, a vault, and several desks with newspapers that had moving photos just like in the movie.

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It was a very clever effect! Saw some video, lenticular, invisible wire, and pepper ghost effects throughout the wizarding world. It may not be actual magic, but many times it made us think, “How did they do THAT?!!”

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There were also painted goblin portraits, goblin armor, and moving shadows and familiar voices behind closed doors. The shadow effect was used nicely on the Hogwarts Express.


While we waited in line we had a photographer take our photo, which was available for purchase as we exited the ride. After having our photo taken, we were informed over a loudspeaker that there would be a delay (the ride had broken down). It wasn’t too long of a wait, and we did get to talk to some other folks waiting in line- some from overseas. The ride was a blast. It’s a lot like the 3D Spiderman ride in Islands of Adventure, but after a simulated elevator ride you’re riding along on a magic cart underneath Gringotts.

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You meet a goblin named Blordak, and then Bill Weasley greets and escorts you as Voldermort and Bellatrix chase after you during the ride, and you encounter security trolls and the half-blind white fire-breathing dragon who guards Gringotts. The attention to detail throughout the park is amazing, and this ride had plenty of its own from front of the queue line, to the bank lobby, throughout the ride, the gift shop as you exit, and especially outside the building…or to be more exact what was “on top of the building”!


Yep- the dragon perched on top of the building. It’s actually a fire-breathing dragon! It growls and spits fire about every 15-20 minutes or so, and is incredibly impressive- and hot!

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I could feel the heat all the way at the other end of Diagon Alley! Of all the things we experienced that week, I have to say this was probably my favorite. Anytime I heard the dragon begin to growl I had to try and catch a glimpse. It was great to watch the reactions of folks who were seeing it for the first time.


Just up the street from Gringotts Bank is the Gringotts Money Exchange where you can exchange muggle money for wizarding currency.


Another animatronic goblin teller sits behind the counter and interacts with customers.

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Nicki exchanged a few bucks while we were there- $10 to be exact.


We actually exchanged quite a few bucks while we shopped in Diagon Alley- wands, chocolate frogs, butter beer and more, but that will have to wait until my next post.I’ll also post about our trip to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express, our visit to Hogwarts Castle, dining choices at the park, and some of the great entertainment we experienced in Diagon Alley and Hogsmead.