There has been something of a learning curve with Universal’s handling of the Harry Potter property in its theme parks, despite the fact that everyone knew before its debut that it would be an extremely popular part of Universal Orlando Resort’s lineup; the necessity of having, say, a permanent queuing area for the original Ollivander’s Wand Shop or an actual stage for the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally to perform on was something that only first-hand experience could’ve laid bare. It’s obvious the company took all these lessons to heart when designing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley four short years later, and it’s obvious that the second theme-park land was made all the stronger for it – to the point where many fans prefer it over the Hogsmeade original (as a recent poll in our Facebook community made abundantly clear).
But this is selling the first Wizarding World short – in fact, there are several pertinent (if, perhaps, a bit subtle) ways that the sleepy Scottish village still remains superior to the bustling slice of downtown London. As we continue to prepare for the arrival of the new Harry Potter roller coaster next summer, it might behoove us to either keep these items in mind or to rediscover the charm and magic that Hogsmeade provides.
Here, then, are the four main ways that Hogsmeade is superior to Diagon Alley. (And don’t worry your little muggle heart – we’ll soon be considering the other side of the equation, how Diagon Alley is better than Hogsmeade, in the very near future.)
4. The quaintness
There is a simple, rustic charm to Hogsmeade Village that is both minimalist (well, comparatively, at least) and abundant. The way the buildings lean in towards one another, the snow that freshly caps every structure, the more intimate storefront displays – it all combines to create a refreshing experience that is still every bit captivating and immersive.
Then there are the village’s stores themselves. Honeydukes may still very well be the best (not to mention the most delicious) gift shop out there, whether it be Potter-centric or not, particularly after its 2014 expansion; Dervish and Banges features exemplary theming, from the broomsticks perched overhead to the attention-grabbing Monster Book of Monsters sleeping in its case; and the Owl Post, where guests can get mail stamped with the official Hogsmeade Village postmark, remains a unique experience unto itself.
But towering over it all, both literally and figuratively, is Hogwarts Castle on its hill. It’s a cliché within theme-park circles to say that fans love their castles more than anything else, but that doesn’t make it any less true – and having one as iconic and beloved as Hogwarts providing that last picturesque element is the icing on the theming cake in more ways than one.
3. The Three Broomsticks
Yes, The Leaky Cauldron is big and beautiful and not without its own appeal, particularly with its (slightly) expanded menu. However, it’s extremely difficult to top The Three Broomsticks, and that fact can mostly be summed up in one word: theming. Nearly every inch of the restaurant is covered in some form of wizarding flourish or another, from the rows of antlers above its fireplace to the gorgeous light fixtures and chandeliers. The muffled conversations of those witches and wizards who are staying overnight in the inn’s fictitious second floor drift down, while the silhouettes of house-elves and other fleeting magical beings can occasionally be spotted on the walls. Three Broomsticks is more than just another quick-service eatery – it’s a window onto the Wizarding World itself.
(Of course, helping with this immersive feeling is the little fact that the movie series’s art designers were able to incorporate the theme-park land’s blueprints into the film set for The Three Broomsticks, meaning that guests can sit exactly where Harry, Ron, and Hermione do on the big screen. How can any other location possibly beat that?)
Hogsmeade’s flagship venue, we should point out, also brandishes a few other top-notch elements, such as the underappreciated backdoor patio, which provides some wonderful views of its own, and the attached Hog’s Head Pub, which may be small but which features the absolutely delightful titular hog’s head.
Nearly any way you turn at Three Broomsticks, you just can’t go wrong.
2. Hogwarts Castle
We may have already spoken about how the majestic Hogwarts Castle dominates Hogsmeade’s skyline – and does so splendidly – but there are still (true to its namesake) so many secrets left lingering inside it.
The main function of the legendary building is, of course, to house Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and it performs this job handily. The queue to the ride doubles as a tour of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an experience that is so filling and rewarding on its own that it can – and sometimes does, during certain swaths of the year – operate as its own standalone attraction. The incorporation of the Potter characters, the recreation of the films’ sets, the talking portraits’ exclusive conversations, and the infusion of details in even the greenhouse, which doubles as the overflow section of the line – it all adds up to something very nearly approaching immaculate.
But after all that comes the last of Hogsmeade’s shops, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, which is a veritable explosion of wizarding world Easter eggs and details (one of our favorite touches anywhere on Universal property is the fully-animated Marauder’s Map). And the coup de grace is the various projection-mapping shows that use the castle’s exterior as their canvas, painting the four houses’ mascots (in The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle) or winter-inspired scenes (in The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle) across the structure’s various curves and nooks and crannies. Both instances are rather clever usages of this previously-conceived space, working the realities and demands of a themed land seamlessly into author JK Rowling’s source material.
1. The rides
It is easy for us to declare Hogsmeade’s lineup of rides superior to Diagon Alley’s just on quantity alone – the former boasts three (or it will once the new coaster is up and running), whereas the latter only has one (well, we could technically give it two, as the Hogwarts Express only popped up when the new wizarding area did).
The quality of these rides, however, also bests Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (and, okay, the Express, too). No matter which side of the Forbidden Journey/Escape from Gringotts argument you come out on, there is still the quaint, surprisingly-fun experience delivered by Flight of the Hippogriff (which also manages to work in Hagrid’s hut into the proceedings, ticking yet another Harry Potter box) and the bigger, more thrilling ride that the still-unnamed roller coaster will deliver next year.
You’ll notice that there are two important points contained within that explanation. Both Hippogriff and the mystery attraction are (or will be) more family-friendly, allowing younger fans to get in on the magical action, and both are roller coasters, physical rides that physically move you through space instead of simply providing more screens in a theme-park resort that is increasingly known for its motion simulators (not that we dislike or otherwise find digital experiences invalid, mind you). The breadth and the depth here just can’t be beat, making the Orlando Hogsmeade arguably the definitive version of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Definitive, that is, until we consider Diagon Alley’s case for thematic supremacy next time…
Find out everything you ever wanted to know about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – plus more! – in our complete guide.