I didn’t do a lot of research on our trip because I started seeing too many detailed photos and didn’t want the entire experience spoiled for me, but I did do some which meant we were able to find some of the secrets of the parks. We also had a charming family, I guess, because we had wizarding assistants helping us quite often and sometimes they told us things we might not have known if we hadn’t researched it ourselves. So! Here are some of the things we discovered while we were there.
First, You need a Wand
I think Ollivander’s at Diagon Alley is a little more like the movie, but we got our wands in Hogsmeade Ollivander’s. You need to go do the 7 minute “demonstration” show first because it’s really cute. If you have kids, go early and make them wear their robes. Chances are they’ll get chosen for then demo. NOW – they don’t get the wands for free, of course, but my kids both felt really honored and those are the wands they picked out. There are 14 “Ollivander Originals” and the shop in Diagon Alley has little plaques on the wall explaining each of those. But then you can choose character wands. I chose Luna’s. The gold labels are the interactive wands and they’re $45 but totally worth it if you’re going to be there for a few days. Regular wands that aren’t interactive aren’t much cheaper so might as well get the ones that do magic. If you’re only going to be there for one day? It might not feel worth it, but by the time the trip was over we had all had fun with all of the spells in both parks. It takes awhile to get the hang of it and we really enjoyed the early morning hours to practice/play without lines and crowds at each spell.
Find the sensor
There are black camera looking things at all of the spell locations and those are the sensors. You can’t always find them, but if you do, it gives you a place to kinda “aim” and you know when the red lights around it blink that you’ve done the spell right. Some of the window displays (like the plant shop) have so much going on and moving around, it’s not always obvious what your spell is supposed to do. You don’t need the spell map because there are gold plaques on the ground at each spell so you’ll know where to stand and those plaques show you the wand motion you’re supposed to do.
BUT! Take your map to Knockturn Alley
You do want your spell map in Knockturn Alley. And you want to stand with it under one of the blacklights. That’s all I’ll say so you don’t get spoiled!
While you’re in Knockturn Alley…
There is one big spell location in the middle of Knockturn Alley, right outside Borgin and Burkes. You point your wand at the sensor and there’s a giant skeleton on a screen that will start doing what you’re doing. It was the kid’s favorite spell spot of both parks. There are 5 spells in Knockturn Alley and I think they were all “easiest” because – evidently – bright sun can affect the sensors and it’s always dark in Knockturn Alley.
Also – go to Borgin and Bourkes and go stand by the vanishing cabinet in the back corner. You’ll hear the canary that Draco used to try to get the cabinets working in the 6th book/movie. Also – look out for the great moving WARNING! posters and fun ads around Knockturn on the walls. There’s a lot to see there even though it’s dark. Also, the shopkeepers in Borgin and Burkes stayed in the character of evil wizards.
Speaking of Shopkeepers
All of the employees stay in character and there are great ways to take advantage of that. If you or your kids buy stuffed magical beasts and carry them or their wands through King’s Cross, the employees will all act bewildered by the “sticks” and the “weird animals”. Wesley carried around Buckbeak and all of the attendant’s at King’s Cross (because you’re in London at that point) were all, “What is that?” It was cute.
Outside of King’s Cross you can go see the Knight Bus and talk to the conductor. He stays in character as does Dre Head hanging in the window. Dre Head will talk to you for REAL. Like, he told me he loved my naturally curly hair! Make sure you talk to them as much as possible because they’re fun. The conductor told the kids not to use their magic in London. It was cute.
In Diagon Alley there are TWO hidden spells currently. It seems like there might have been three at some point but we made sure to ask several employees and there are only two now. They’re not on your map. One is in the window of the Scribbulus Writing Implements, the window to the right. There’s a mapped spell on the left window, but the right just point your wand at the book and do a triangle motion. (You’ll see the sensor.) What happens next happens in (evidently) 14 different ways so you can stand there for awhile and do it over and over again. Makes you look really cool too because there’s no stamp on the ground so it’s like you’re really magic! The second location is in the window of Mr. Mulpepper’s Apothecary. Point your wand at the pile of poop and do the same triangle motion. That one is not as obvious visually but you’ll feel the wind coming out of the window as you do it.
Goblins of Gringotts
Go to the Gringotts Money Exchange and ask the Goblin questions. We asked him if there was a dragon in Gringotts and he answered perfectly. You have to be loud and clear. He also asked us follow-up questions and was impressed we knew the answers. This was all super impressive since he’s animatronic, not a human in a costume. Also – if you want a great reaction, ask him (clearly), “ARE YOU A HOUSE ELF?!?!” Let’s just say he does NOT like that question.
Ride the Forbidden Journey
There are so many wonderful treasures to see in the line going to Forbidden Journey that you have to ride it. You’ll see so many things from Hogwarts like the entrance to Gryffindor Tower and the statue with the humpback that the characters use to sneak into Hogsmeade. There’s also great interaction between portraits and scenes with Dumbledore and the Trio that will give you a type of “backstory” to the ride. When you get to the actual ride, ask the staff if they’re legs get tired walking on the treadmill all day. They stay in character to answer. If you’re motion sensitive (it’s one of those “simulator” rides) then keep your eyes closed during the “screen” parts – that’s what I did. But then non-screen parts didn’t bother me and you get to see the whomping willow and Aragog. As long as I closed my eyes the second we got to the screen, I was fine. The visuals of the screens is what screwed with me.
Ride Escape from Gringotts
This ride is the same with with the screen but it’s harder to ignore. I only rode that one once because the lines were AWFUL for that one. And the majority of it was the screen scenes so I kept my eyes peaked a little to see what was going on so it made me queazy. This one is interesting though because you’re basically Bill’s guest of the bank DURING the robbery scene of the 7th movie. There are TWO Bellatrixes – the real one (with Voldemort) and then Hermione with the trio trying to steal the goblet. It’s fun. Glad I did it, but only did it once!
There are two shows at each location and try to see them both. They’re short but fun. It seems like there are variations to them but in Diagon Alley there Celestina Warbeck and a great puppet show performing stories from the Beedle and the Bard. In Hogsmeade you have the Tri-Wizard pep rally AND the frog choir which was my favorite!
The food is stupid expensive like with the entire park, BUT, I thought it looked way better. Most of the other park you’re talking pizza and hamburgers but both at 3 Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron you could get meals that felt more like they were fresh and unique. Also a quicker way to get Frozen Butterbeer as those lines get REALLY long in the heat of they day. If you don’t like regular Butterbeer, give the frozen stuff a try. We all loved it. Also – notice there are NO sodas in either place. They really try to keep the “feeling” of the magical world completely different from the rest of the parks.