The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is like going to heaven for most Harry Potter die-hards. After rereading the books until the pages fall out and watching the movies over and over again, it’s pretty surreal to sit in the Leaky Cauldron sipping butterbeer or visit Ollivanders Wand Shop IRL.
If you get the chance to go, consider yourself a lucky Muggle. Before you enter into Jo Rowling's world, here’s everything you need to know to make the very most of your time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Trust us, these tips will make your visit a whole lot more magical.
When to Visit
Before we get into the deets, let’s just get this out of the way first and say that this is Harry Potter World (!!!). Everyone loves Harry Potter — if you don’t, are you even human? The park is going to be crowded, and there are going to be lines.
Thanks to the Orlando Informer, there’s an interactive calendar that lets you know the crowd expectation during your visit. The “season” is always subject to change, but some months/weeks are known to be less crowded than others. The calendar also lets you know what the park hours are each day.
Whichever day you go, it's always best to get there as early as you can. When we say get there early, we literally mean get there a half-hour or more before the park opens to line up. If you're staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels or booked a Universal Orlando vacation package, you’ll get early park admission (subject to change depending on dates). Once the park opens, head straight to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade and get to the Harry Potter rides first. It'll be distracting as you pass all the other rides in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but trust us, keep moving.
The Must-See Attractions
Universal Orlando is broken into two different theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Each park requires a ticket or "Park-to-Park" pass to enter. The unfortunate thing about the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that it's in both parks and connected by the Hogwarts Express, so you'll need a "Park-to-Park" pass to experience the whole thing. For example, if you only bought a park ticket for Islands of Adventure, you won't be able to board the train and experience the part of the Wizarding World that's in Universal Studios Florida and vice versa. The Universal Studios’ section of Harry Potter World (Diagon Alley) is newer, having only been opened in 2014; Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure has been open since 2010. Whichever ticket you purchase, we'll break down the attractions by park.
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts
This fast-paced, motion-simulated thrill ride through Gringotts Bank’s underground passageways is insane. As you walk through the line, pay attention to all the detail that went into the lobby: the chandeliers, the life-like moving goblins, and all the paintings in the hallways. It's like you're in the movie! As the only "ride" in Diagon Alley, you'll want to put this at the top of your to-do list.
Islands of Adventure
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
The Forbidden Journey is like taking all the amazing things about Harry Potter and combining them into one. First, the ride takes place in the castle. While you wait in line, you’ll pass known areas in and around Hogwarts that any HP-obsessed Muggle would die to see in person. Standouts? Professor Sprout's Herbology class, Professor Dumbledore’s office, and even appearances from Harry, Ron, and Hermione. (Note: You’ll miss out on seeing some of these areas if you go in the single-rider line.) Once you’re on the ride, you’ll be swept away in a motion-simulator 3- and 4-D experience you’ll want to ride again and again.
The Hogwarts Express
If you have a Park-to-Park pass, make sure you take a trip on the Hogwarts Express. Reminder: You'll end up in the other theme park and need to get back in line in order to return to where you originally got on. As a first-timer's tip, it's best to enter the ride from the Diagon Alley section because you'll walk through King's Cross Station and experience running through the brick wall at Platform 9¾. Once you board the train, sit back and enjoy the visitors you might get outside your window. There's a different experience for each direction, but we suggest you start with riding from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade.
The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle
The perfect night cap on a magical day. The magical light display projects stunning images celebrating the four Hogwarts houses on the backdrop of the castle as you watch in Hogsmeade below.
Butterbeer and Other Magical Refreshments
Your trip to the wizarding world isn't complete until you've tried butterbeer. It’s available in both parks, and whether you get it in the collectible cup or not, you need to give it a sip. The drink tastes exactly as you would have thought every time you read about Harry and the gang taking weekend trips to Hogsmeade.
You'll also want to try the Pumpkin Juice. It's an acquired taste to say the least, but one that a Potterhead needs experience. Some other notable drinks to try are Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice, Fishy Green Ale (a sugar cinnamon-mint mix with blueberry boba tea “fish eggs” at the bottom), and the Dragon Scale brew for those over 21.
If you’re a Potterhead, all the shops are a must. There’s a whole lot of merchandise, and TBH, you’re going to want it all.
In Diagon Alley, be sure to spend time in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, which is an exact replica of the set from the Half-Blood Prince. There you'll find Puking Pastilles, Extendable Ears, and more. Ollivanders Wand Shop (there’s also one in Hogsmeade) has every wand you could imagine, including those of all your favorite HP characters. And for those of you who are part of the Slytherin house, don't miss the dark and dusty Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. In Hogsmeade, you can get all your candy needs at Honeydukes, which has every magical sweet you could imagine. Plus, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods has just about every item collected from students by the resident school caretaker himself.
Other Things You Should Know
Once you’ve experienced the park for the first time and taken in all the magic, it’s now time to go back and re-do your favorites. Here are some visitor tips everyone should know:
- The single-ride line is available for both Escape From Gringotts and the Forbidden Journey. If you’re OK with missing all the sights and scenes you see throughout the normal line, then go as a single rider to cut down on the wait time.
- You can send a postcard from the Owl Post. Write out a postcard and stamp it with Harry Potter-themed stamps (or bring your own).
- The “Gillywater” is literally just water, so save your money.
- The phone booth outside the King’s Cross Station works when you dial 64442 (MAGIC), and it’ll connect you to the Ministry of Magic. “Hello … Cornelius Fudge?”
- You can hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms. Depending on timing, you might hear a scream. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just an audio recording.
- If you don’t want to ride the Forbidden Journey ride (if you easily get motion sickness, you might want to skip it), you can still take a tour of the castle. Just let a worker at the entrance of the line know and they’ll direct you.
- You’ll see performances throughout the day in both parks. In Diagon Alley, you might come across the trunk show performance of the tales of Beedle the Bard, and in Hogsmeade you'll see the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally.
- You can visit the Knight Bus outside of King’s Cross and actually talk to Stan, the conductor.
- There’s a money exchange in Gringotts where you can turn Muggle money into paper wizard money and use it in Diagon Alley. Don’t worry — you'll be able to transfer any change you have back after you’re finished.
- If you're visiting Universal Studios Hollywood in California, you'll get to experience the same magic in Hogsmeade. That park doesn't have Diagon Alley, so you'll miss the Escape From Gringotts ride.
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