It’s When it opened in June of 2010, the 10-acre Hogsmeade ★★★ was rightfully hailed as the most significant achievement in American theme park design, detailed down to the souvenirs. It’s as if the film set for Hogsmeade Village (the only British village for non-Muggles) and Hogwarts Castle have been transported to Florida, and indeed, it was designed by the same team. You don’t have to know the books or the movies to enjoy the astounding level of attention: Stonework looks ancient, plaster was painted to appear moldy, rooftops and chimneys slouch in a jumble of snow-covered gables, and nearly every souvenir is a bespoke creation expressly for the Harry Potter universe. Even the restrooms aren’t spared Moaning Myrtle’s whine. Spend time going from shop window to shop window to take in the tricks. In Spintwitches Sporting Needs, a Quidditch set strains to free itself from its carrying case. At Gladrags, the gown levitates. At Tomes and Scrolls, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) vainly preens himself among his best-selling travel books.
Those stores are brilliant facades, but there are real shops that are just as unmissable (and invariably thronged). Devish and Banges is where you find Hogwarts school supplies in the colors of all four Houses, from capes to scarves to diaries to parchment, wax seals, and quills. (The seething “Monster Book of Monsters” is kept in a cage here.) In the window of Honeydukes, there’s a macabre contraption in which a mechanical crow pecks out the gumball eye of a skeleton, which rolls through various chutes to be dispensed below, presumably for consumption. That signifies the wondrous candy store within, where colorful Edwardian-style packages contain Chocolate Frogs (they’re solid, not hollow, but they’ll still melt in the Florida heat), Fizzing Whizzbees, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (beware the vomit-flavored ones mixed in), Exploding Bon Bons, Peppermint Toads, and other confections that would faze even Willy Wonka.
The park’s signature concoction, Butterbeer, is pulled from two keg-shaped carts in the walkways. There are very few places in the world you can buy, such as at the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside of London. Served frozen or unfrozen with a creamy foam head on top, it tastes like a butterscotch Life Saver, and it’s addictive. I once did laboratory analysis on it and found out that, surprisingly, it contains no more sugar than a Coke. It’s $8 a cup, but for $13, you get a dishwasher-safe Butterbeer mug. The Magic Neep cart, between the Butterbeer stalls, sells Pumpkin Juice (really a Christmassy apple juice mix) in its unique pumpkin-top bottles for $8, along with actual fruit for $2.50 apiece.
After dark, you may want to check out the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a well-done, 4-minute projection mapping spectacle projected onto the school. It’s tight in Hogsmeade, but it runs continuously, so you might have to wait briefly in a holding area before seeing the next showing. Before the holidays, it morphs into a Christmas version.