Are you ready to take your voyage on the Hogwarts Express?
For me personally, I jump at the slightest chance of getting close to J.K. Rowling’s magical world– the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
So when I heard that Universal Studios was bringing the Hogwarts Express to, complete with the bustling area of Diagon Alley, dementors, more scenes from the Harry Potter movie and Kings Cross station, I knew I had to be one of the first people to experience this back in 2014.
Universal Studios has really outdone itself on this one. It is the only ride in the entire park that is not just a ride but a transport system as well!
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The Hogwarts Express
You see, the Hogwarts Express has two stops– Hogsmeade and Kings Cross Station, London (or a pretty darn good replica of it). These stops are in two different parts of the park– Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) and Universal Studios (Diagon Alley).
In addition, you can relive all the adventures Harry himself went on while on the train. My personal favorite is the part (SPOILER ALERT!) where Dementors enter the train looking for Sirius Black.
Anyhow, now that I am back after having toured Harry Potter’s amazing and fantastic world, I am going to tell you all about it!
So put your wands away and listen up, for I am about to give you your first glimpse of the Hogwarts Express, Universal Orlando!
History of the Ride
Some would say that the history of this epic ride began in 2010 in the Universal Creatives boardroom meeting. I am not one of them.
You see, the tale starts back in 1990 when someone travelling from Kings Cross Station thought up a little bespectacled boy with a scar on his head and the weight of the Wizarding World on his shoulders.
For J.K. Rowlingthe Hogwarts Express represented a means away from her then mundane and sad life to a place where she belonged and was happy.
It is safe to say that the Hogwarts Express is the beginning of the creation of the magical world of Harry Potter and I need to give credit where credit is due.
Mark Woodbury– the president of Universal Creative, recognized this in that Universal Creative boardroom meeting we talked about. The point of discussion at the time was how to make sure that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter did not hog up all the visitors.
If you have read the books or watched the movies, you know how compelling the series is. The creatives knew that too and didn’t want it to come in the way of the park’s revenue.
And then along came the brainwave– divide the Wizarding World between two parts of the Universal Orlando parks so that visitors are divided and are able to visit both staple parks. The best part of this idea was to use the iconic Hogwarts Express to link these two parts.
Such an incredible concept!
This was, however, just the beginning of years of hard work and planning undertaken by a huge team of about 150 people.
Hogwarts Express 2013 Construction Photo
In 2013, I made my way through both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, I could see all of the whimsical architecture of the Potter universe coming together.
What topped the trip off was when I turned down the alley on the side of the Beetlejuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue and saw the magnificent view of the locomotive sitting on the track in all of its glory!
The group of adult Potterheads and myself went loco! It was an amazing feeling and I am super excited for the grand-opening celebration of Diagon Alley.
2014 Diagon Alley Grand Opening
Finally in June, 2014, the Hogwarts Express Universal Orlando was open to the public in the soft opening which came before the grand opening day of July 8, 2014.
How Does the Hogwarts Express in Universal Orlando Work?
This is not where the creatives stopped their brainstorming though. To run an enormous attraction like this one would use an unimaginable amount of fuel, power and labor. These were costs that Universal Studios was not sure it would recover from.
The solution? To create one track on which two trains run. Although this sounds absurd and quite frankly dangerous, there is a little part midway where the trains can pass by each other, passengers intact.
Another such solution was a two-directional train instead of a unidirectional one using the funicular cable car railway technology. Why build a track to turn the train around when you can just get the train to move backwards right?
However, the prize for creative budget cuts won by adding the wheel-less train situation. Don’t be alarmed, the train still works fine.
However, it only has big old-fashioned cog wheels on one side and (you guessed it!) its the side where visitors can see it. The train actually runs on more modern hidden wheels.
5 Top Tips For Visiting Hogwarts Express Orlando
Now that you know what to expect on your Hogwarts Express adventure, let’s go through a few tips to make your trip so much fun.
1 – Eat on the way there, not on the train
Fans of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are intimately familiar with the dimpled trolley witch who always has an amazing array of snacks for Hogwarts students. But you will be disappointed to know that Universal has not placed a trolley witch in the Hogwarts Express attraction.
Therefore, you should buy snacks and in the queue of King’s Cross so that you don’t get hungry on the train.
2 – If it rains, run for Kings Cross Station
The queue for the Hogwarts Express on the Diagon Alley side is indoor whereas the queue on the Hogsmeade side is both outdoor and indoor.
So, if you do happen to visit Universal Orlando on a rainy day, be sure to start your journey in Universal Studios (Diagon Alley side)where you can queue up at Kings Cross Station first.
The cavernous area is filled with happy muggles (you will have to pretend to be one of them), food and most importantly is completely indoor.
3 – Buy the right ticket or stay out of Hogwarts Express
Other than rain, buying the wrong ticket can definitely be a damper on your trip to the Wizarding World.
Remember that Hogwarts Express connects two separate theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) and therefore needs you to buy a two-park ticket in order to ride it.
The good news is you can upgrade your one-park ticket in the booths next to the attraction.
4 – Choose between experiences not rides
Now, many people may not know this but the ride from King’s Cross to Hogsmeade is significantly different from that from Hogsmeade to King’s Cross.
The former is much scarier and includes a whole lot of Death Eaters and spooky Dementors furiously searching for Sirius Black while the latter is more of a happy ride with the Weasly twins swooping over you with a special appearance from you know who at the Malfoy Manor.
So, if you have kids with you, head to Hogsmeade.
5 – The queueing time is almost as bad as being turned into a ferret
I think everyone can agree with me when I say that the worst thing about theme parks are the long, awkward and boring queues. Due to the sheer number of rabid Harry Potter fans, the queue for Hogwarts Express can get quite long on peak days.
On the bright side, the attraction now accepts the Universal Express Pass that allows you to skip the queue. You’re welcome.
Frequently Asked Questions to Know Before Your Trip
How does the Hogwarts Express work at Universal?
As mentioned earlier, it works as a two-directional train instead of a unidirectional one using the funicular cable car railway technology.
You can access the train from both parks and get transported from one to the other.
On the way there, instead of the backstage operations of Universal Orlando you will see beautiful scenes of British countryside with a slight chance of Dementors through the cleverly curved screens posing as windows.
How much is the Hogwarts Express at Universal?
The most common ticket: one-park-per-day ticket, costs about $125 (please check Universal Orlando’s website for updates).
However, since the Hogwarts Express takes you from one park to another, you can upgrade your one-park-per-day ticket to a two-park version at the nearby ticket booths for an extra $55-$70 or buy a two-park two-day ticket and enjoy Universal Orlando in all its glory.
Does the Hogwarts Express go both ways?
Yes. You can either begin from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley or vice versa. These two boarding points are in two different parks at the Universal Orlando Resort.
A fun fact is that the two trains are two-directional ones and do not turn around at any point in the ride.
What train did they use for the Hogwarts Express?
The train used for the Hogwarts Express is an exact replica of the one in the movie, down to the shiny red color and billowing smoke.
J.K. Rowling is known to be a stickler for accuracy so you can be excited about stepping into the exact train that 10-year old Daniel Radcliffe did back in 2001.
The trains were built in Goldau, Switzerland by CWA Constructions.
Does the Hogwarts Express cost extra?
That depends on how you view it. As the Hogwarts Express gives you entry into two parks– Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, you will have to buy tickets to both the parks.
However, by doing so you get access to both parks and the Hogwarts Express. I would argue that you are getting good value for your buck.
How long is the Hogwarts Express Universal Orlando ride for?
The entire ride lasts for about 4-minutes.
However, with all the action happening around you (sorry about the spoilers)– Fred and George swooping in to say hello, an interesting encounter with Hagrid and a mildly terrifying recreation of the scene where Dementor enter looking for Sirius, the time seems to pass in a flash.
Is Hogwarts Express Universal Orlando worth the money?
The answer: YES. A million times yes.
Not only is it one of the most iconic parts of both the movies and the books, it also gives you the chance to explore two parks at once. Personally, I think that’s great value for the money you spend on it.
Let’s Wrap it Up
As you can see, this Harry Potter inspired attraction offers you so much on your Universal Orlando trip that you MUST NOT miss it!
So pack up your trunk and put your owl back in its cage! It’s time to get on Platform nine and three quarters, go through the brick wall and hop on the train to Hogsmeade!
Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!
(Original Article Date: November 19, 2013/Updated June 16, 2020)