7 Tips for a Day at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter
In March we spent just about a week in Florida on vacation! We spent time visiting family on the beach, and a few days in Orlando checking out the parks! We spent one day at Walt Disney World, and one day at Universal Parks. The main reason we (I) wanted to go to Universal was to FINALLY visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!! I am a total HP nerd (Joel is too!) and have been since the books first came out. As a kid I read A LOT and when the Harry Potter books came out I was obsessed! My mom can attest to this, as she was forced to take me to (and attend) multiple midnight-book-releases for this series (: I would devour every HP book as fast as I possibly could, usually after having re-read the previous books in preparation! I've also had "Hedwig's Song" as my ring tone for as long as I can remember... So naturally, I went totally bonkers when I found out that there would be a theme park (or at least a section of a theme park) dedicated to one of my favorite book series. Fast forward to my mid (...late?) twenties, and I finally got to visit!!!
Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter was seriously everything I had hoped it would be and more! It seemed like every inch was perfectly thought out, with the tiniest of details in every nook and cranny that would make any HP fan totally geek out (which I did, all day long) From the food, to the walls, hidden alleys, and everything in between, it seriously felt like we had walked right into the books. I already want to go back SO BAD and I don't think it would be too hard to talk Joel into it soon (:
Universal Orlando has two parks, Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventures. Both parks have a section dedicated to Harry Potter and his friends. At Universal Studios you will walk onto the London street that hides Diagon Alley, and also King's Cross Station where you can board the Hogwarts Express. Catch the Hogwarts Express over to Universal's Islands of Adventures where you will arrive in the town of Hogsmeade, which is overlooked by Hogwarts. The sections together have two main rollercoaster-type rides (which we did not ride) as well as many shops and restaurants from the books, and much much more! I could probably write about five posts just on all of the things I loved about HP World but I won't (for your sake)
I WILL however give you my tips for an amazing day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH!
This may seem silly, but is SO important!! Do your research about the parks on theirs sites, Pinterest, blogs, etc. You may not even want to go to both parks!! Both parks are SO different (and so fun!) but depending on your time (and budget) you may not want to go to both! We chose a park-hopper pass on our visit ONLY because that was the only way you could ride the Hogwarts Express (which broke down as we were the NEXT PEOPLE IN LINE, and was broken down the remainder of the day...the only bummer of the whole day) but if it weren't for that, we would've only gone to Universal Studios (where Diagon Alley is) and honestly, I enjoyed Diagon Alley the most out of both Harry Potter sections.
2. Plan on staying until the parks close.
Even if that means you need to arrive at the park a little later. This worked perfectly for our visit because we arrived right around lunch time and stayed in the parks basically until they kicked us out! When most people started leaving, we got to ride a few rides that had had long lines all day, and got some really good photo ops minus crowds of people. Once kicked out of the parks, we ate dinner at City Walk (check out all of the restaurants and shops HERE) and by the time we got to the car, there was NO traffic what so ever. PERFECT! (NOTE: Universal Studios close at 9PM while Universal's Islands of Adventure closes at 7PM !)
3. Don't do rollercoasters? Don't worry! You can still check out Gringotts and Hogwarts!
I don't think everyone knows this (because we were the only people we saw doing it!) But you can go on what's called a "tour" of Hogwarts and Gringotts! This way you can still see the amazing details put into both sites, without having to wait in line or having to ride a rollercoaster!! OMG! We were SO SO SO glad for this tip because we were seriously debating waiting in line just to see the inside of both buildings. WHAT TO DO: Go to the "fast pass" line entrance and tell the worker there that you want to just do the tour, not ride the ride. They will then let you walk right in! You get to walk in the fast pass line (which was pretty empty when we were there) and just continue to tell the workers monitoring the line that you are doing the tour. They will direct you the right way! Both Hogwarts and Gringotts were just as impressive as the rest of the parks!
4. Make a plan for your day.
This is key, especially if you are only there for a day! We had a list of "MUST DO"s and a list of "WOULD LIKE TO DO"s and also a rough "timeline" of how our day was going to go. We had already decided where we would eat and when we would do the BIG must dos on our list. My biggest advice for your schedule? RESEARCH and MAKE your own LISTS! For us, I knew the very first thing we were going to do was go through the wand ceremony at Ollivander's and pick out our wands (in Diagon Alley. There is also an Ollivander's in Hogsmeade, but let's be real here, the REAL Ollivander's is in Diagon Alley!) From there we went straight to the Leaky Cauldron for fish and chips, butter beer, and fire whiskey! (all of which was CRAZY GOOD!) But having a rough "plan" for our day really kept us on track and helped us not to be wondering around and wasting time trying to figure out where to go next.
5. Get a wand very first thing!
Speaking of Ollivander's, I would really recommend that if you plan on purchasing a wand, do it as soon as you arrive! That way you have the entire day to be a total nerd around the parks with your new wand! We waited in a decent line to go through the wand ceremony, but it was so worth it. After the ceremony you are taken to the shop (which can be accessed without going to the ceremony if you chose) where you can pick from character wands or non-character wands. (I got Luna's wand, Joel got Snape's) We decided to get the interactive wands, which were a little more expensive but we totally were casting spells around the parks (at locations found with a map that comes with your wand) along with all of the other kids (HAHA!) You can chose a non-interactive wand, which is basically the same thing but a little less expensive and you can't actually make things happen with those wands at the "spell casting locations".
6. Did I mention RESEARCH!?
There are so many hacks, tips, and tricks for Universal Studios out there! Scrounge the internet on Universal's site, Pinterest, blogs, etc! LIKE
- You can call the ministry of magic from the phone booth outside of King's Cross Station! Just pick up the phone and dial "62442"
- Exchange your muggle money at Gringotts (Through the side entrance) Your new wizard money can be used anywhere in the parks! You will also be greeted by one of the Goblins of Gringotts. Make sure to talk to him, and maybe ask him about dragons or tell him that he looks like a house elf... *NOTE: You can only exchange $10s or $20s! And the "wizard money is just a little paper certificate.. not as cool as I had hoped...
- You can mix your own "potions" at the "Eternelle's Elixir of Refreshment stand.
- Make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for pop up shows! We caught a show about the Triwizard Tournament (featuring students from both Durmstrang and Beauxbaton.) and the Tales of Beedle the Bard.
- EXPLORE EVERY CORNER, ALLEY, ETC! I'm not kidding when I say EVERY inch of this place is well thought out, and perfectly executed.
- It should also be noted that you can only get certain things in certain parks (for instance, hot butter beer can only be purchased at the Three Broomsticks!)
7. Pack a park-bag accordingly!
This really goes for any theme/amusement park, but is still noteworthy! In our bags I made sure we had:
-suncreen, SPF chapstick
-poncho (which totally came in handy for the Jurassic Park ride!)
-external phone chargers (we use "pocket juice" which I got at Walmart)
-First Aid stuff like: motion sickness meds, TUMS, floss picks, etc
-gallon ziplock baggies (to put phones/wallets in, in case it rained)
-jacket, hat, sunglasses, etc
-some kind of step-counter (I wore my Applewatch and it logged 8 miles of walking!)
-non-glass water bottle (we had Joel's big Swell bottle filled with water and it lasted us all day)