I just visited (as in July 2016) the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida and would like to share some tips to ensure others have as great of a time as I did! There are plenty of websites that share information/ tips but I just thought I would share some more, having just been there.
Note: All photos and opinions are my own. Prices/times may change. I am not affiliated with Universal Studios.
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Step 1: Pre-trip
Let me tell you this right now if you don't already know: everything at Universal is expensive/ priced higher than it should be. That being said, investing in homemade robes and accessories can save money for other souvenirs.
Necessities to bring:
- a camera/ phone
- a small bag, purse, backpack and money
- a water bottle
- sunscreen or a hat (the sun is brutal!)
- comfortable shoes (sneakers would probably be the best; anything with comfy soles! You will be walking/ standing a lot. I was out and about from 8 am- 6 pm and my heels hurt so bad at the end of the day!)
- comfortable clothes (check the weather forecast ahead of time!)
- your House pride!
Step 2: Misconceptions
I'm going to start out with some misconceptions I had that I think are common.
1. There are two Universal parks. And there are two Harry Potter theme parks. Hogsmeade is in Universal's Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios right next door. You need Park-to-Park tickets to visit both.
2. As big as they are compared to some of the other individual theme parks, they are still fairly small. I was under the impression 3 days would be hardly enough time while in reality it was enough to visit the entirety of both Universal parks.
3. It is crowded. Oh yes.
Step 3: Hotels/ Tickets
So first off: hotels. Pick on-site hotels if you want Early Park Admission (one hour before park opens) but it is no means necessary. I didn't (and what's more I didn't even go there 30 minutes before park opening) and the lines for the rides were only 10- 15 minutes long in the morning. Just make sure there's a free shuttle service from your hotel to the parks. Another word of advice. Don't book rooms from sketchy websites. Learned that the hard way.
Moving on: tickets. Order them on the Universal website because they are actually a deal. We had the "Buy 2 Days, get 3rd Day Free" tickets so we had 3 days at the parks (which, in my opinion, is enough). You need Park-to-Park tickets if you want to visit both theme parks (and ride on the awesome Hogwarts Express!)
Step 4: Roller Coasters and When to Ride Them: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
There are 4 roller coaster rides in the two Harry Potter worlds combined.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is located in the back of Hogsmeade, at the Hogwarts castle. This is an indoor ride. Hop in the line as soon as you're off Dragon Challenge (that's next!). Yes there is a single rider line, but only go on it if you're re-riding. The single rider line totally misses out on the magical interior of the castle (the regular line is basically a tour of the school; you see some pretty awesome stuff!) I guess it's normal to go with family first, but in my case, I'm the only one in my family that doesn't get nauseous after roller coasters so needless to say, I ride solo a lot. Oh, and bring your camera along! You'll want it!
I don't want to give spoilers but here's a head's up. It is a bit scary. It swoops into the dark and dementors and other creepy stuff show up. Maybe not the best ride for little kids, unless you tell them to close their eyes at the scary parts. Otherwise the ride itself is really cool. It's like a 3-D ride without 3-D glasses.
If you're coming back in the middle of the day and want to ride again, go on the single rider line. There was pretty much no wait whatsoever.
Step 5: Roller Coasters and When to Ride Them: Dragon Challenge
This one is my favorite. Dragon Challenge is kinda right in the middle of Hogsmeade but honestly, you can't miss it. It's the outdoor, blue and red one, and often the one where constant screaming can be heard issuing out from it. It is not for the faint of heart. It's fast, it drops, tilts and goes upside down. It leaves you feeling like you're floating/ light-headed. For an extra thrill stand in line for the front seat. There are two different rides: the red is the Chinese Fireball and the blue is the Hungarian Horntail. It's hard to say which is more thrilling, but I'm leaning towards the Chinese Fireball. I don't know, but both mornings I went on the ride the Chinese Fireball wasn't open and only the Hungarian Horntail was available but on the third day I went back on the ride in the middle of the day and both rides were available.
I'm saying to go on this ride first rather than the Forbidden Journey because at least you have something to look at while waiting in the castle whereas in Dragon Challenge, you are left staring at the cave-like walls.
Please keep in mind there is no single rider line and you can not bring anything with you. Nothing in your pockets or anything. There are lockers outside the Dragon Challenge archway or have a non-rider hold any bags for you as you will be turned away if you have a phone or similar on you.
Step 6: Roller Coasters and Where to Find Them: Flight of the Hippogriff
This one is also in the back of Hogsmeade, between Dragon Challenge and Hogwarts. It is an extremely short outdoor ride. It is perfect for younger kids but if the wait time says more than 5 minutes, it's not worth it. Come back later.
The up side is that you do see Hagrid's hut and [a very passive] Buckbeak.
Step 7: Roller Coasters and Where to Find Them: Escape From Gringotts
This is the only one in Diagon Alley. It's indoor and while waiting, truly appreciate the amount of detail in Gringotts. This ride is in 3-D (spectacularly done) and I would rank it a bit higher than Forbidden Journey. It does seem to end a bit short though.
This ride also has a single rider line. You don't miss much, just the close-ups on the goblins and their office doors.
Before I move on, I'd also like to mention that there are height requirements on these rides. I believe it is 48" but it could be taller depending on the ride. There are also Child Swaps (where one parent watches kids that can't go on the ride while the other parent goes on the ride and then they swap positions). I think they are at Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts but I don't think I saw them at any of the outdoor rides.
I also think Express works with the outdoor roller coaster rides but not the two indoor ones.
Step 8: Attractions: Hogsmeade Edition
There are two shows in Hogsmeade. The Triwizard Spirit Rally and the Frog Choir. Both are must sees. The songs the Frog Choir sings vary but the Spirit Rally is the same each time. There is always something on the stage every half hour. The stage is located between Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge.
Ollivanders: the line for Ollivanders can get long so check back several times during the day. The experience is really cool, whether or not you are picked to have a wand choose you (hint: Mr. Ollivander usually picks an enthusiastic person from the front row). The boutique is really small so if you don't want to be jostled around searching for your wand, head for the outdoor kiosks or Gregorvitch's or another shop that sells wands.
Interactive wands: these cost around $47 (regular around $40 I think). Use them to cast spells in both Harry Potter parks. Make a fountain spew water, make a chocolate frog croak, etc. Each box comes with a map of locations but apparently there are some un-plotted locations too. Perhaps a nearby witch or wizard helper could be of assistance. :)
Step 9: Attractions: Diagon Alley Edition
There are also two shows at Diagon Alley. One is Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees (singing sensation of the wizarding world) and the other is the Tales of Beedle the Bard. There are various stories performed (with puppets) for the Tales of Beedle the Bard however the singing of Celestina Warbeck remains the same each performance. The stage is next to the Money Exchange and there's something every 15 minutes.
Ollivanders: there is an Ollivanders here too. Read what I wrote for the Hogsmeade Ollivanders.
The Money Exchange: this is next to the stage and you can exchange 10 and 20 dollar bills for Gringotts money. It is usable in the parks and a fun way to feel less Muggle-like in the shops. Plus, the goblin there will answer any question you ask it.
Step 10: Hogsmeade Itself
There are a lot of special places in Hogsmeade. One of the most popular is Honeydukes of course. But the candy is a bit expensive. A chocolate frog (it comes with a wizard or witch trading card just like in the books/movies) costs $10.95 and so does the standard box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. The assortment of sweets of amazing though.
At Dervish and Banges/ The Owl Post/ Owlery (they are all in the same location) you can buy wizarding stationary supplies such as quills, wax seal kits, journals, etc and other wizarding stuff like the Monster Book of Monsters. There are postcards for sale but from what I could see, they are only sold in packs of 10 for about $10. Look up in the Owlery!
Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods: this is the exit for the Forbidden Journey ride and they sell a bit of everything.
And yes, you can hear Moaning Myrtle in the girls bathroom.
Step 11: Diagon Alley Itself
I enjoyed Diagon Alley the most. For one thing, the atmosphere (even though it's crowded and loud) just fits. It actually feels like it's secluded from the Muggle world. The famous escaping Hungarian Horntail perched on Gringotts breathes fire about every 15 minutes. As which point everyone drops what they're doing to take photos. You'll know it's about to happen when you hear rumbling and growling.
Knockturn Alley: best place to escape the heat. It's dark, not as crowded as the shops, cold, and creepy. Perfection. Borgin and Burkes is located here (obviously) to purchase some rather more, dark souvenirs (Death Eater merchandise, skulls, etc).
Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes: this place is exactly like in the movie. If you adopt a pygmy puff (about $19 with sound) there is an adoption ceremony. They also sell tiny pygmy puff keychains for about $10.
Quality Quidditch Supplies: this place sells what it sounds like it sells: Quidditch equipment, t-shirts, etc.
Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment sells shirts, accessories, and supplies like hourglasses and the such.
At Madam Malkin's, one can buy school robes and other apparel seen in the movies (such as Hermione's Yule Ball dress). Robes come in lots of sizes and are about $110. Right there is the reason I made my own. Don't forget to stand in front of the talking mirror! Sometimes she's nice, sometimes she's not. I was told I was a "real trend-setter."
Magical Menagerie: this is basically a shop selling stuffed animals from the series, including Fluffy, Fawkes, Aragog, Crookshanks, Hedwig, etc. Most are over $20. That snake in the side window? It's speaking Parseltongue, if you can understand it!
Even if you don't plan on buying anything at a shop, still go in!
Don't forget to look up! There are some pretty cool displays along the ceiling. The Magical Menagerie sports some creatures soon to appear in the upcoming movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!"
Step 12: How to Get Around
I suggest going to Hogsmeade first in the morning so in the afternoon, when it gets hot, you can go to Diagon Alley, which is more sheltered and has Knockturn Alley.
Typically, if you come in through Citywalk, the first park you'll see is Universal Studios. Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure so follow the signs to the left. Once you enter, go to the right through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent and you will reach Hogsmeade. It's pretty self explanatory once you have a park map. After you're satisfied with Hogsmeade, head to the Hogsmeade Station, right outside the arch, and take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley.
If you want to go to Diagon Alley first, turn right in Universal Studios, through Hollywood and World Expo, across the bridge and you should be able to recognize the landmarks. And here I will pause.
Step 13: The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express is never really busy, but you might have to wait a couple of trains before you can get on. If your party is less than, say, 6 people, you're probably going to share a compartment with some strangers. The ride and the train in general is amazing. It was one of my favorite parts. You have things to look at, both at the window (it's a screen made to look like you're traveling through the countryside) and the compartment door, where various shadows of characters conversing can be seen. And yes, Hermione and Harry don't sound quite right because they are not actually the actors' (Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe respectively) voices.
The ride is different to and from Hogsmeade so be sure to ride both ways. When you're going from King's Cross (from Diagon Alley) there is an illusion mirror to make it look as if you're disappearing between Platforms 9 and 10 so have someone take a photo or video of you.
I have never felt such denial as when I was on the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross. Why oh why can't I truly be on my way to Hogwarts?
Step 14: At Kings Cross
Arriving at King's Cross: make your way out of the station. Walk around the street before entering Diagon Alley. Meet the Knight Bus conductor (and talking shrunken head), take photos of 12 Grimmauld Place (perhaps you'll even see Kreacher, peering out through the curtains ;), dial 62442 (MAGIC) in the telephone booth to get a message from the Ministry of Magic...
Then enter Diagon Alley. It's supposed to be "hidden" but it's obvious where to pass through to get there. It's magical, the first view of Diagon Alley. Breathtaking. Take some photos, then go to Gringotts for the ride (the wait wasn't that long when we entered early afternoon). Shop around, have fun.
If you find that the rides do have long waiting times, leave the park and come back in the last couple hours it's open. This is generally the time you should re-ride some too. Especially if you are staying more than one day, head to some of the other theme parks (next door Jurassic Park has a cool water ride) and return later.
Finally, at the end of the day, head to Universal Studios to watch the Cinematic Spectacular! Movie clips, water fountains, lights; the only thing is I will there were more fireworks. If you want a good place to watch, get there 30- 60 minutes early. The show starts promptly at 9:45 pm (this time may change, I don't know).
Step 15: Food!
Butterbeer! Several places sell it (the restaurants along with kiosks). A must, especially on a hot day.
The Three Broomsticks is in Hogsmeade and the Leaky Cauldron is in Diagon Alley. I think they both serve the same thing (British fare).
Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor is also located in Diagon Alley and they have some rather creative flavors.
Of course there's always Honeydukes for sweets!
Step 16: Souvenirs
Yes, the souvenirs! Resist the urge to buy everything on sight. Plan and try buying on the last day (unless it's a wand) so you can see everything offered. Grab some keychains or pins (sold in various locations and in kiosks) for gifts. They are about $7- $16, depending. I wouldn't go for clothing, since it's expensive and equally cool stuff can be found online for less. Give yourself a budget. Maybe a couple sweets at Honeydukes and a game or the like from Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.
Step 17: Final Tidbits
This instructable is as much me wanting to share my experience as it is wanting to share tips.
So, as such, I'm going to add some more photos for my (and hopefully your) amusement.
Finally, I hope you found this helpful. I know you can find a lot of similar stuff online but, as I wrote above, this is just me re-enjoying my trip and trying to help others at the same time.
If you have any other tips/ fun facts/ info, feel free to share it in the comments section!
And lastly, I would appreciate it if you voted for me!