Having grown up being a big fan of the Harry Potter books, I have of course jumped on the opportunity to experience any kind of HP attraction that there is.
Back in 2012 I was able to get over to Florida on holiday, where I obviously had to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios (it wasn’t the only reason I went to Florida, honest…). Then, last year I finally got around to going to the Harry Potter Studio Tours, just outside of London. Both attractions were amazing, let me start off by saying, but they were very different too. Here is my (geeky) opinion on how they compare, and which I loved most…
Focus & Experience
You need not have any insider knowledge to guess that the focus of the HP Wizarding world in Orlando is the rides. It is in a theme park, after all. The setup is that you are in Hogsmeade, complete with train station for the Hogwarts express, and pubs. Attention to detail isn’t the point here, since half of the shops from Diagon Alley also feature, including an Olivander wand picking experience, but I can only imagine that the makers of the park wanted to include all of the best draws from the book, and having Hogwarts at the end of Diagon Alley was more of an inconsistency than having Diagon Alley shops in Hogsmeade, so there you go.
All of the shops on the street are packed full of merchandise, and this was the other big focus in HP Wizarding World (perhaps the biggest, in fact). I must say I didn’t like this. Whilst I appreciate that all theme parks are full of gift shops I’d somehow hoped for a bit more substance, but the whole thing really felt like it was just a massive money making exercise, and it lost some of it’s magic as a result. Whilst the Hogsmeade area was dressed up to look like the Wizard world, there was almost nothing to see or do outside of the rides, only money to spend. I also felt as though the dedication and excitement of fans was so blatantly being taken advantage of, based on the sheer price of everything. I am talking way more expensive than other like-for-like merchandise elsewhere in the park. To give an idea, the cost of a Universal Studios postcard was (back in 2012) 50 cents. The cost of a Universal Studios Harry Potter postcard was $1.50. Three times the price! I think a step back from cashing in, and a little more substance in terms of things to experience would have really helped.
The rides themselves were good, although I did note that one was an existing roller coaster called Duelling Dragons which was already in the park back when I visited Florida the first time in 2006, and this ride had basically had a Harry Potter entrance stuck onto the front of it and was otherwise unchanged since the Tri-Wizard Tournament already applied so well, et voila – one less ride to build! It was a good roller coaster then and it is a good roller coaster now, but HP World can’t take credit for it. I did love the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride which involves queueing through Hogwarts, which frankly ended up being my favourite thing about the whole place based on the fact that it really did feel like I was experiencing a bit of the Harry Potter world without the glaringly obvious money-making motive present. The ride was great too, if not a little scary at times (see below!).
The focus of the Harry Potter Studio Tours is the films. Considering that it is in the studios where they were filmed, and that this is the whole premise of the attraction, that isn’t really surprising! And I have to say I loved it! It didn’t only have the magic factor of being stood inside the sets from the films which you and know and love, but also the other slant of interest because you were able to learn how the films were actually made, behind the scenes information about the sets and the actors, how special effects and makeup were done, and the sheer level and attention to detail which went into everything. It really was fascinating. Where HP Wizarding World lacked detail, HP Studio Tours had it by the bucket in every direction you looked. I spent a good 20 minutes staring at the potions room in awe as I saw that every single one of the jars stacked wall to wall had tiny handwritten labels of what magical ingredients they contained and different contents, and read that a props mistress had spent the whole duration of the films’ creation sourcing weird and wonderful things to put inside each jar and building the set up bit by bit. I spent another half an hour stood in front of a wall displaying all of the various pieces of artwork created for the films in the form of Daily Prophet issues, all the wanted posters and sweet wrappers and adverts that had featured in the film and countless other things that probably went entirely unnoticed whilst viewing the films but which were all beautiful and fascinating. If you go through the tour at a snail’s pace reading every piece of information and taking about 5 million photographs, as I did, then it takes hours to see all that there is to see. The final thing you come to is the breathtaking scaled down model of Hogwarts used for filming the shots of it during the films. In winter they cover it in snow, which I didn’t see during my visit in summertime but I can imagine is amazing.
In case I’ve not made it obvious yet, for focus and experience the Harry Potter Studio tours is a clear winner in my opinion.
View of Hogwarts
Although the HP Wizarding World didn’t win on experience for me, and although the Hogwarts model at the HP Studio tour was pretty amazing, I think the best Hogwarts out of the two was definitely at the Wizarding World. It was bigger, outdoors and from a distance you could almost believe that it was a real sized Hogwarts castle. Check it out:
The merchandise you can get in both places is for the most part identical, as far as I can remember. It is endless, too. Anything and everything you can possibly think of involving Harry Potter has been made and put up for sale in the gift shops at both attractions, from full sized marauders maps, to the whole Hogwarts uniform for each of the 4 houses, some really nice pieces of artwork, any and every type of sweet mentioned in the book and countless other things. However I’ve already touched on prices above and the case is same in both attractions – everything is ridiculously overpriced. In fact I went to Florida with a large chunk of my spending money set aside for Harry Potter merchandise (because I’m lame like that), full well expecting it to be a rip off but wanting to get stuff anyway, and even I was so taken aback by the prices that in the end I bought almost nothing. I did try on some Hogwarts robes for a photo op in the gift shop though, classy as ever…
For Merchandise, I believe that there were some items which you could get in the Studio Tours (such as the nice artwork and other more expensive items) which couldn’t be purchased in the HP World, but this was the exception and almost everything was available in both attractions. However as most things are generally, the merchandise was more expensive in the UK compared to America, so if you do want to buy HP themed gifts and you have the fortune to go to both attractions, I’d wait and make your purchases Stateside!
Both places are really popular, of course, and really busy. Both are also subject to seasonal busy periods such as school holidays etc, where there are lots more people. But considering that we went to the HP Wizarding World outside of high-season for Florida, it was still completely packed to the point where you couldn’t move in the various shops, and the queues were the longest in the whole park. The studio tours were busy at the time we went too, but you have to book in advance and numbers are limited, so they are never too busy, and it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t stand and read information without being in the way, or get the photo opportunity I wanted because there was always a massive line of people waiting to do the same thing. I found it much more bearable in terms of crows in the HP Studio tours, so this is another plus factor it has over the HP Wizarding World for me.
In conclusion, if you are a big fan of the Harry Potter books and/or the the films, then the Studio Tours is a real treat where you can get excited about seeing those sets and props you are familiar with at every turn, and actually learn a lot of things you never knew along the way. However, you are likewise guaranteed to have fun (and better weather!) in the Wizarding World theme park in Florida, with a few more thrills thanks to the rides and slightly cheaper prices if you are planning on buying a full wizard wardrobe and forgoing muggle clothes forever more.
And now I’ve given you my take, I’ll leave the last element of Harry Potter World vs Harry Potter Studio Tours up to you; which Aragog arachnophobia induced picture of me is more hilarious? A. The ride photo taken on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in Orlando, owing to the fact that (spoiler!) hordes of spiders feature right before the picture is taken (yeah, thanks whoever planned that one out). or B. my run in with Aragog at Harry Potter Studio Tours.
Fun fact: One of these pictures displays genuine terror…