The 20-acre Wizarding World - Hogsmeade is an amalgamation of landmarks, creatures, and themes that are faithful to the films and books. You access the area through an imposing gate that opens onto Hogsmeade, depicted in winter and covered in snow. This is the area's primary shopping and dining venue. Exiting Hogsmeade, you first glimpse the towering castle housing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, flanked by the Forbidden Forest and Hagrid's Hut. The grounds and interior of the castle house part of the queue for the super-headliner Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Universal went all-out on the castle, with the intention of creating an icon even more beloved and powerful than Cinderella Castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and very nearly succeeded – if only they'd added a bit more brick and rockwork to conceal the big honking sound stage that holds the land's groundbreaking ride.
Overview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade
The Wizarding World-n-Hogsmeade is in the northwest corner of Islands of Adventure, between The Lost Continent and Jurassic Park. From the IOA entrance, the most direct route there is through Port of Entry then right, through Seuss Landing (staying to the left of Green Eggs and Ham) and The Lost Continent, to the Hogsmeade main gate. The alternative route is to cross the bridge connecting The Lost Continent with Jurassic Park, then turn right after entering the latter area. Note that the bridge is closed on slower days.
For the moment, though, let’s begin our exploration at The Wizarding World’s main entrance, on the Lost Continent side. Passing beneath a stone arch, you enter the village of Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts Express locomotive sits belching steam on your right. 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. Add cobblestone streets and gas street lamps, and Hogsmeade is as reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes as of Harry Potter.
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 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, Cornish pasties, and turkey legs; kids’ fare includes the obligatory mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers. 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. Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head were carved out of The Lost Continent’s popular Enchanted Oak Tavern, which was Potterfied pretty effectively in its reincarnation, although a good deal of seating capacity was sacrificed. To dine at Three Broomsticks anytime from its opening until roughly 8 p.m., you’ll have to wait in a long queue during busier times of year, with waiting times for Three Broomsticks exceeding 30 minutes on busy days.
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 your can have mail stamped with a Hogsmeade postmark before dropping it off for delivery (an Orlando postmark will also be applied by the real USPS). The Owl Post also sells stationery, toy owls, and magic wands. Here, once again, a nice selection of owls preens on the timbers overhead. You access the Owl Post in either of two ways: through an interior door following the wand-choosing demonstration at Ollivanders (see below), or through Dervish and Banges, a magic-supplies shop that’s interconnected with the Owl Post. You can’t enter through the Owl Post’s front door on busy days, when it serves exclusively as an exit. Because it’s so difficult to get into the Owl Post, IOA sometimes stations a team member outside to stamp your postcards with the Wizarding World postmark.
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. 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. In the village, 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).
In keeping with the stores depicted in the Potter films, the shopping venues in The Wizarding World-n-Hogsmeade are small and intimate-m-so intimate, in fact, that they feel congested when they’re serving only 12-20 shoppers. With so many avid Potter fans, lines for the shops develop most days by 9:30 or 10 a.m., creating a phenomenon we’ve never seen in all our years of covering theme parks: The lines for the shops are frequently longer wait to ride the roller coasters. Filch’s Emporium is the only shop in The Wizarding World that you can enter during high season without waiting in line; problem is, it doubles as the exit for Forbidden Journey. As throngs of riders flow out continuously, trying to enter Filch’s is not unlike swimming upstream to spawn; still, it’s a whole lot better than standing in lines for the other shops. Because the stores are so jammed, IOA sells some Potter merchandise, including wands, through street vendors and in Port of Entry shops.
At the end of the village and to the left is the bridge to Jurassic Park, the themed area contiguous to The Wizarding World. This is the best vantage point to get your photo with Hogwarts Castle in the background, as the hordes of people posing in the middle of the walkway will attest.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade Touring Strategy
While the opening of Diagon Alley has taken some pressure off Hogsmeade, crowds at IOA's Wizarding World are still large during summer and holidays, and you’ll encounter lines for the attractions even at slower times of year.
When IOA offers Early Park Admission, on-site hotel guests are allowed into Hogsmeade one hour before the general public (either via the front gate or the Hogwarts Express). If you have early-entry privileges for the Wizarding World, use them, arriving as early during the early-entry period as possible. Otherwise, we suggest leaving The Wizarding World for late in the day, as the area will be occupied by hotel guests by the time the first day guests arrive.
Wizarding World crowd management has been a work-in-progress for Universal. Now, with five years of operation under its belt, Universal has settled on a flexible system of basic crowd-control options predicated on the expected level of attendance for any given day. (Similar procedures are in place at Diagon Alley)
On most days of the year, from the slowest off-season through the busiest summer weeks, you can enter and depart The Wizarding World-Hogsmeade as you please. The waits for the rides will still be more than an hour at times, but gaining entry to the themed area itself is not an issue.
On days when the park is busiest, such as during spring break or between Christmas and New Year's, access to Hogsmeade may be limited for part of the day. Barricades are placed at both entrances to The Wizarding World -Hogsmeade once the area reaches maximum occupancy. You can then go to touchscreen ticket kiosks outside the Jurassic Park Discovery Center and obtain a free return ticket (not unlike the old paper Fastpasses at Walt Disney World) to come back during your choice of designated time windows. You do not need your admission ticket to receive a timed return ticket, and one person can retrieve a time for your entire party (up to 9 people). At the specified time, return to the Lost Continent entrance and present your pass to the barricade crew to gain entry.
The return time on your pass depends on crowd conditions and how many Universal resort guests are in The Wizarding World-Hogsmeade before the park opens to the general public. Depending on demand, your possible return times may be many hours in the future, and it's possible (though extremely rare) for return tickets to run out entirely. Another factor that will affect your wait is how well Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is operating, since this is what those in line are waiting for. If the ride comes up on schedule and runs trouble-free, everything runs smoothly. If Forbidden Journey experiences problems, though, especially first thing in the morning, it gums up the works for everyone.
On these peak days, a standby queue may also be erected in the waterfront landing behind the Jurassic Park Discovery Center; since more guests can enter only as others leave, this line can be painfully slow, so a return ticket is strongly suggested.
Once admitted to The Wizarding World-Hogsmeade, you’ll still have to wait for each ride, store, and concession, as well as for the area’s one restaurant. Since Hogsmeade has less elbow room than Diagon Alley, it will reach maximum occupancy and require return tickets on days when Diagon does not, and feel more crowded once you finally get inside.
Note that guests arriving on the Hogwarts Express disembark outside of Hogsmeade, and must still retrieve a ticket before entering. The timed returned tickets are neither needed nor accepted for the Hogwarts Express itself.
If you leave The Wizarding World while the entrance barriers are in place and you wish to return, you’ll either have to wait in line to get another pass (provided they haven’t all been distributed) or wait until late in the day, when the barricades come down as crowds disperse.
Crowds finally dissipate by an hour or so before closing, even on the busiest days. A bonus of visiting late is enjoying the exquisite lighting and magical nighttime personality of The Wizarding World. Forbidden Journey will accommodate anyone already in line at park closing, and many of the Hogsmeade shops stay open awhile after closing.
However complicated, it’s all doable, as a multi-generational Grosse Pointe, Michigan, family attests:
Convinced of your rectitude, we went without fear to Universal. We made it to Harry Potter by 8:05, were out of the Forbidden Journey and on the Hippogriff by 8:30, and had our Butterbeer by 9.
Also in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade...