We take our time through the whimsical corridors tucked away in a shop along Diagon Alley, before being emptied out into what looks like an ancient library. We’re in a room deep within Ollivanders, makers of fine wands since 382 BC, and after allowing our eyes to adjust to the dim glow of the chamber and the magnitude of its contents, we realize that it isn’t books adorning the uneven shelves of this timeworn room, it’s wands. After quietly assessing everyone in our group, a wizard standing at a center podium says, “I have been waiting for you,” to a woman in our group. The rest of us quickly fall into the eclipse of a spotlight that shines directly on her. In true Harry Potter fashion, what happens next is nothing less than extraordinary.
Hidden behind a giant brick wall (so brilliantly placed that Universal employed people with the sole task of helping theme park goers find the entrance) the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Diagon Alley offers numerous one-of-a-kind options for groups. The entire space—with its cobbled streets and true-to-movie shops and restaurants—can be rented out for events. After choosing or being chosen by a wand at Ollivanders, groups are given a map of Diagon and its offshoot Knockturn Alley to practice spells and create magic. It’s team building like no other to wander through the streets muttering Latin-like gibberish in search of medallions and other secret symbols, the Gringotts Bank dragon looming overhead with an occasional burst of flames. We missed out on the new 3D multi-dimensional ride, Escape from Gringotts. (We’re using that as our excuse to go back.)
And don’t think just any word or wand waving will do. As my group learned, spell work is taken very seriously in Diagon. In order for a spell to render the desired effect, it must be spoken precisely with equally specific wand work. Groups will have interactive chats with animatronic Goblins, receive instruction from live witches and wizards—and as we learned, mirrors and other ‘inanimate’ objects along the way—while leaving their Muggle ways far behind. Organize a Hogwarts supply list scavenger hunt or a dine around through Diagon’s iconic eateries such as the Leaky Cauldon for bangers and mash and, of course, butterbeer, or bottled pumpkin juice and butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. After working on our spell work, we sat on steps beneath the Gringotts dragon with our butterbeer ice cream and just took it all in. As witches and wizards stroll through the laneways, your group will definitely be inspired to don their own magical duds as we did—whether a Death Eater mask from Borgin and Burkes or a cardigan from Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions. They may be inclined to “choose a side as well,” whether Gryffindor or Slytherin, opening the door for even more interesting team building options.
Within such a complete ambience of whimsy, it’s easy to envision organizing a two-park event that places groups aboard the Hogwarts Express, after locating platform 9 3/4, of course, for tours of magical and mysterious Hogwarts castle. On this side of the world, groups can taste the legendary Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes from Honeydukes. The point, whether Diagon or Hogsmeade, is to “let the magic begin.”