Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando was my most magical adventure yet. Wandering Diagon Alley with butterbeer flavoured ice cream and a wand is every Harry Potter fans dream come true. Universal Studios captures the magic of Harry Potter, and with a few insider tips, you can make the most of your experience. If you grew up alongside the Harry Potter books and movies like I did, then you will love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, in Florida.
I took a weekend trip to Universal Studios Orlando in January 2018, and spent most of the time in the Harry Potter sections of the parks. There are a few tips that I picked up before my visit (and a few things I learned while there that I wish I had known before going) that every muggle heading off to the magical world needs to know. Having mastered a few simple spells myself, I feel qualified to pass these tips and tricks along to you.
Grab a quill and take notes – here’s how to have a magical experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
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- My Top Travel Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando in 2018!
- Harry Potter World Tips to Make the Most of the Rides
- Exploring Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade
- Practical Tips for a Magical Experience
- Planning Your Visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
My Top Travel Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando in 2018!
1. How to Purchase Tickets to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is spread out across two parks, which can make the ticket-buying process a little confusing. Diagon Alley is located within Universal Studios, and Hogsmeade (where Hogwarts is too) is located in Islands of Adventure. Travel back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express with a Park to Park ticket.With a One-day Park Ticket, you can visit Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but you cannot visit both on the same day and you cannot ride the Hogwarts Express.
I recommend a 2 Day Park-to-Park ticket! Visit Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade as much as you like and ride the Hogwarts Express. And – the longer you stay, the better the deal.
2. Get Early-Access by Staying on the Universal Orlando Resort
My trip to Orlando was only 2 days, and I didn’t want to waste any time travelling back and forth to the park. I stayed on the Orlando Studios Resort, at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
The best part about staying on the resort is having early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The rest of Universal Studios and the Island of Adventure still open at 9AM, but early access lets you start exploring Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade as early as 8AM! Only other people staying on the resort have this perk. Take advantage of very short ride cues and amazing photo opportunities!
Harry Potter World Tips to Make the Most of the Rides
3. Ride Twice and Listen to the Portraits
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are home to a few of the top-rated theme park rides in the world, and that includes Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. One of the things that makes these rides so incredible is the storylines in them, which begin before your board the rides. Take your time making your way through Hogwarts and Gringotts, respectively, and make sure to eavesdrop on the conversations the portraits are having! Check out Flight of the Hippogriff too, and say hello to Buckbeak.
Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts twice if you can! There’s a lot going on in these rides, and some impressive animatronics. I noticed way more details (and, admittedly kept my eyes open more, as I have a tendency to recoil when magical creatures come at me) the second time around.
The Hogwarts Express is also a ride itself. Ride it both directions, it’s different!
4. Use Lockers While You Ride
Many of the rides in both the Universal Studios park and the Islands of Adventure park have lockers where you can stash your things while you ride. The lockers are free for the first little while, in accordance with how long the line up and ride are expected to take.
The lockers are about 16 inches deep, 11 inches tall, and 10 inches across. This is an approximation, of course – I measured by holding my wand up to the locker, taking photos, and measuring the wand when I arrived home. Magic! Or at least, a very practical use for a wand. Purses, small packs, and wands fit comfortably in the lockers.
5. Take Advantage of Single Rider Lines
One of the best Universal Orlando tips that I can share is to use the single rider lines. You can drastically cut down on the wait time for most rides by going in the single rider line! This works best if you’re travelling with other adults, as the height requirement for the single rider line is greater than the requirement for the regular lines.
You will be separated when you climb on the ride, sitting in different rows or different carts, but you will get on the ride much faster than the regular line. In my experience this works best earlier in the day. As the park fills up, or during the high season, consider the Universal Express Pass for even faster entry.
Exploring Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade
6. How to Use Your Interactive Wand
Make the most of your visit with an interactive wand. Go through the wand choosing ceremony at Olivander’s to find out which wand chooses you, or purchase the wand of your favourite witch of wizard from the Harry Potter series. A map comes in the box with your wand, and it will show you all the sites around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade where you can do actual magic. Look for the golden interactive wand symbols on the ground, complete the appropriate wrist movements with your wand, and chant your spell.
I was chosen for the wand ceremony in Olivander’s! If you already have a wand when you go in like I did, hide it behind your back if you want a chance to be chosen 😉
Here’s a Harry Potter, wizard-level tip for you: truth is, there’s not actually magic happening (*gasp!*) so if you’re having trouble getting a spell to take effect, all you have to do is locate the sensor that recognizes your interactive wand. Direct your wand at it for a few moments, and this will activate the magic.
7. Exploring the Shops
Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, Owl Post, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and Honeydukes are just a few of the shops that you can explore in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Take the time to explore inside and out, as many of the window displays are enchanted.
Keep in mind that at the end of the day, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a theme park. The shops for you and me (muggles) so they’re not exactly the same as the shops in the books or the movie – but they do come pretty close!
8. Food & Drink in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade
Make sure you try the butterbeer! It’s delicious. Best frozen, and fantastic in ice cream form from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
I think my favourite activity was eating ice cream and watching people cast spells throughout Diagon Alley. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley or The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
Just to give an idea of prices, I had fish & chips at the The Three Broomsticks on the second day, for $15 USD. Butterbeer is a treat, at $7 for a frozen one. Everything was delicious!
9. Keep An Eye Out for Magical Details
Wander your way in to Knockturn alley and burst through a brick wall when you board the Hogwarts express. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is full of small, enchanting details. I loved visiting for 2 days because on the first day I wanted to run everywhere and see everything. On the second day, I retraced my steps and discovered so much more than the day before!
10. Capture the Magic Through Photos
Take the time to capture the most magical moments in photos. One thing I can’t emphasize enough is how much the magic is in the details. When you look out over Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, it looks like a lot of muggles were given permission to go on a really, really awesome field trip. Particularly when everyone (and of course I did this too) is pointing their phone up at the dragon, waiting for it to breathe fire. I’m most interested in details when I’ve got a camera in hand myself! Taking photos is a great way to isolate the most enchanting parts of your visit, and give you something truly magical to look back on.
Pssst... follow me on Instagram for more magical photos!
Practical Tips for a Magical Experience
11. Apps to Download Before You Go
Make the most of your time at the Universal Orlando Resort with 3 apps that will help you navigate the park.
- Wait Times: The wait times app will show you the approximate wait times for all of the rides in the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks.
- Magic Guide: Pull up a map whenever you need it, a full list of restaurants, and information about the park operating hours.
- Universal Florida: Find out about shows and keep your park tickets handy in the wallet section.
Wondering how to use the apps if you’re travelling without a phone plan? Well…
12. Sign on to the Free Park Wifi
Just sign on the park wifi! The free network is called UNIVERSAL and can be accessed from anywhere in the park. Refresh ride wait times and pull up your tickets when you board the Hogwarts Express.
13. Watch The Light Show from the Bridge
Here’s hoping this stays a secret until your visit! The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts premiered the weekend that I was visiting the park. We made our way from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade an hour prior to the light show, only to discover that the park was so full that we couldn’t get anywhere near Hogsmeade.
We decided to back track, and made our way towards Jurassic Park. If you can’t have a Hogwarts light show, go see some dinosaurs, right? Halfway across the bridge between The Lost Continent and Jurassic Park, we had a wonderful view of fireworks over Hogwarts! You cannot see the entire light show from the bridge, but it was an improvement over seeing nothing.
14. Wait for the train, do not walk.
I learned this one the hard way. You’re going to walk a lot anyways, so spare yourself the trek from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. When the wait for the Hogwart’s express was 40 minutes, we decided to walk. It turns out that this takes about an hour. Enjoy the stroll if you like, but know that walking is not faster than the taking the train if the wait is 60 minutes or less.
15. Shop and Ship to Your Resort
Planning to shop ’til you drop in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade? Another perk of staying in one of the resort hotels during your visit is the option to have your purchases shipped back to your hotel. Just shop, let the cashier know, and pick up your purchase when you return to your hotel. Galleons are, sadly, not a recognized form of currency at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Stick to muggle money in the form of U.S.A. currency or a credit card.
16. What to do at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – besides Harry Potter
I know, I know. I was throughly convinced that I was going to spend every moment in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I’m sure that you are too. But just in case you want to venture outside of the wizarding world, here are some other incredible rides to check out. My personal favourites:
- Transformers 3D/4D in Universal Studios
- Revenge of the Mummy in Universal Studios
- The Amazing of Adventures of Spider-Man in Islands of Adventure
- Jurassic Park River Adventure in Islands of Adventure. Save this one for last, you will get wet!
Planning Your Visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
17. The Best Time to Visit Universal Studios
Universal Orlando is always pretty busy, but it’s especially full during holidays and summer vacation. I visited during the Celebration of Harry Potter, and this is a busy time for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in particular. With the exception of the Celebration of Harry Potter, January is considered the low-season for Orlando tourism. It’s apparently “not that warm,” but if you’re a fellow Canadian this essentially means sunshine paradise. April-May and September-November are quiet too.
How busy the park is definitely fluctuates through out the day. Take early access, and make the most of the morning. The park starts to fill up in the afternoon, and by evening it’s very crowded. I thought it was just busy in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade because of the Celebration of Harry Potter, but it turned out the entire park was packed. Many locals own annual passes and come for a night out.
18. Wizarding World of Harry Potter Opening Hours
I’ve already mentioned that early access lets you start your day at 8AM in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The rest of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure open at 9AM. The park closing hours vary by day. The parks are usually open until 8PM on the weekends, but close as early as 7PM on some weekdays. Operating hours change through out the year, so make sure you’ve downloaded the Magic Guide app for the most up to date information.
19. Where to Stay
I stayed at the Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort! It’s one of the most affordable hotels in the resort, and has a very vibrant, retro feel. There are restaurants, shops, and multiple swimming pools right inside the hotel. A shuttle right outside the front door will take you too and from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure all day long.
BONUS: Visiting during the Celebration of Harry Potter
Harry Potter fans come from all over for the Celebration of Harry Potter! Enjoy special panels, trivia, and cast member Q&As. The best part, though, is definitely the costumes. People are exceptionally created and they go all out with their costumes. I saw Professor Snape the boggart, many Bellatrix Lestranges, variations of Mr and Mrs Weasely, Newt Scamander and Tine Goldstein, Fawkes, Dumbledore, and many small Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, and Slytherins. The panels are difficult to get close to, if I’m being honest, but seeing everyone dressed up was incredible!