Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips for Super Fans and Non-Fans
by: CLAUDIA LAROYE, THE CURIOUS TRAVEL MAMA
The first glimpse of Hogwarts Castle will make the heart of any Harry Potter fan beat a little faster (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)
You don’t need to be a Harry Potter super fan (like me!) to enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My non-fan husband would be the first to admit this. He didn’t read the books and he’s not a big fan of the movies, but he enjoyed himself immensely at during our quest to experience all things Harry Potter during our trip to Universal Orlando. Meanwhile, my youngest son and I love Harry Potter books, Harry Potter movies and Harry Potter LEGO sets. We were both giddy with excitement about the chance to spend three days immersed in the land of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and Honeydukes. Here are six Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips to make the most of your visit, no matter where you land on the Harry Potter fan spectrum.
1. Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both Universal Orlando parks
If you want the full experience, visit both the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure AND Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeadestarted it all as the original Harry Potter land in 2010. It’s home to Hagrid’s Cottage, Honeydukes Sweet Shop, Three Broomsticks restaurant, Ollivander’s, two Dragon Challenge roller coasters, the incredible Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey multi-sensory ride, as well as numerous Harry Potter-themed retail shops. For an affordable and fun souvenir, purchase a postcard and send it to yourself from the Hogsmeade Post Office. It will be stamped with a special Hogsmeade Owl Post postmark.
The highlight at Hogsmeade is Hogwarts Castle, in which houses the Forbidden Journey ride. The (usually long) line for the Forbidden Journey ride ingeniously winds its way through the true-to-the-book interior of Hogwarts. You’ll find the Gryffindor Common Room, the Room of Requirement, and Dumbledore’s Office.
The newest addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience is Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, which opened in summer 2014. Diagon Alley is accessible from Hogsmeade via the new Hogwarts Express Train, leaving from Platform 9 3/4, of course. A ride on Hogwarts Express is included in a Park-to-Park ticket or Annual Pass. The exciting Hogwarts Express train offers two different stories for passengers, depending on where you take the train; King’s Cross Station or Hogsmeade Station. Harry Potter characters make appearances, as do the scary Dementors. The train ride is designed for the entire family to enjoy, so it should be good for everyone in your party. You can also access Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley via the Universal Studios entrance, which is separated from the Islands of Adventure entrance by Universal CityWalk.
Diagon Alley features the new and incredibly popular Escape from Gringotts. This ride could be too intense for younger kids, as there are lots of multi-sensory 3D movements. Animatronic goblins speak to you, and there are armored trolls, fire-breathing dragons, and scary Lord Voldemort flying above. New as summer 2014, the line ups for this ride can be tremendous. Expect to wait two or more hours on busy days. Similar to Hogsmeade, there are plenty of shops to visit for your magic wand and souvenir needs.
2. Get a 2-Day Day Park-to-Park ticket
The 2-Day Park-to-Park ticket provides the best bang for your buck, apart from an Annual Pass if you’re a Florida resident. The Park-to-Park tickets grant full access to both Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, passage on the Hogwarts Express, as well as all the other rides, attractions and shows at Universal Orlando (and there’s a lot!). Buy your tickets online and print them out at home ahead of time. Then breeze through the entry windows without having to waste a moment in the cue. As a bonus, the 2-Day Park-to-Park includes a third day free option!
Consider purchasing Unlimited Express Tickets if you want quick access to the front of lines during crowded holiday periods. Keep in mind, however, the two most popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter ride attractions, Escape from Gringotts and the Forbidden Journey, along with the Hogwarts Express experience, do NOT offer express access.
3. Go early and prepare to walk…a lot
The early bird gets the Butterbeer, so plan to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of park opening time. Every attraction at Wizarding World of Harry Potter has long lines, including the Butterbeer kiosks. Make sure to wear good walking shoes because you’ll be walking quite a bit. If visiting with young children, bring along a stroller. It can take several minutes to walk from the Universal Studio’s parking lot to the park entrance, and another 15 minutes or so to the entrance of Hogsmeade, and then another five minutes to get to Hogwarts Castle and the line for the Forbidden Journey ride.
4. Ride solo to cut wait times
If visiting with older kids who are comfortable on rides, take advantage of the single rider line at the Forbidden Journey to cut down on wait times. Yes, you are visiting the theme park as a family and want to do things together, but you also wants to maximize your time within the park!
5. Stay at an on-site hotel and purchase a Universal Orlando Vacation Package
There are many benefits to staying at on-site and purchasing a Universal Orlando Vacation Package at one of the park hotel properties. You gain easy access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and other Universal attractions, no car required. Unlimited Express Passes are included and complimentary for each day of your visit (except if staying at the new Cabana Bay Hot). You can also enter the parks and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour prior to official opening time with Early Admission. Finally, you can make breakfast reservations at the Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron, a perk not available to regular park attendees. There are variety of hotels around Universal Orlando, at a variety of price points. On the high side is the Loews Portofino Bay, whereas the more affordable Cabana Bay Beach Resort offers kitchenettes for families.
6. Plan your meals
Before leaving home make reservations at some of the restaurants near Universal Studios and Universal Island. Although there is no central reservations system for Universal restaurants, you can research surrounding restaurants online. A sit-down meal will give you a much-needed break. For the majority of restaurants that don’t allow reservations, eat early (before 11 am) or late (after 2 pm), to avoid the lunch rush. The food at the Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron is British pub-style, and surprisingly decent. If you are a AAA member, bring your card and receive 10% discounts in participating restaurants.