There comes a time in a parent’s life when you find yourself embarking on a magical journey with your kids. I’m talking about when you first start to read the Harry Potter series with your children. Our kids are self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerds and have read the books multiple times. Which, of course, meant that on a recent trip to Orlando, Florida, we had to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Our family had visited Orlando several times before, but usually only to see the Mouse. Admittedly, I felt a bit out of my depth in planning our day because a) I didn’t know what to expect, and b) We only had ONE day to take in all that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had to offer. A lot of research and one incredible day later, I’m happy to share with you what you need to know to have the best day ever with your family (or not, you do you), at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split into two: Hogsmede and Diagon Alley. Each section of the world is located in a different park (Hogsmede is in Islands of Adventure, Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida). So, what that means is that if you want to visit both Hogsmede and Diagon Alley in the same day, you need to purchase a ‘park to park ticket.’ By getting a 2-park ticket you will also get to ride the Hogwarts Express (which you definitely want to do).
You also have the option of purchasing Express Passes for an additional $80-$100 per ticket. The benefit of the Express Pass is that you can use it to skip the lines. Universal Orlando Resort has two different types of Express Passes – a one-time use pass ($80 USD) which allows you to skip the line once for each eligible ride, or an Unlimited Express Pass ($100 USD) that allows you to skip the line unlimited times during the day you are at the park.
WHERE TO START
There is magic everywhere in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We decided that we wanted to follow in Harry’s footsteps and take the same journey as he did, so we started our day in Diagon Alley. To get to Diagon Alley you need to visit London where you will have the chance to see:
– The Knight Bus: Meet the conductor, Stan Shunpike and have a conversation with the shrunken head. They may even have opinions on which House you belong to.
– A red telephone booth outside of Diagon Alley: If you go inside and dial MAGIC you will be connected with the Ministry of Magic and hear a message.
– The window at 12 Grimmauld Place: Keep your eyes on it and you will get a look at the house elf, Kreacher, peeking out onto the street.
Once you are ready to enter Diagon Alley you pass through the brick walls and you are there. And your breath will be taken away by the sight in front of you. It is exactly as you may have imagined. The theming is so incredible it’s like taking a walk inside J.K. Rowling’s imagination.
WANDS AND MAGIC
The first thing our wizards needed to do upon entering Diagon Alley (after they picked their mouths up off the floor from how incredible it looks), was get their wands. And where did we need to go to do that? To Ollivander’s, of course.
1. There are two Ollivander’s locations, one in Diagon Alley and one in Hogsmede. On the far side of the shop door is a door to enter to view the Wand Ceremony. This is a must do—the wand keeper will choose someone from the crowd (usually a kid about 11) and proceed to conduct a wand ceremony to help them choose their wand…or rather, have their wand choose them.
2. After the ceremony you are guided into the shop where you can purchase a wand. There are different types of wands—ones that are replicas of character wands (you could get Harry’s wand or Dumbledore’s wand), and ones that are selected based on personality. Our kids chose to get wands that suited their personalities. To decide on which wand best suits you, take a look at one of the glass cases by the back wall with the wands on display and read the descriptions to determine which one would choose you.
3. There are different types of wands, interactive and non-interactive. The interactive ones allow you to do spells at various location around both Diagon Alley and Hogsmede (you can also do some dark magic in Knockturn Alley). The interactive spells are $50 USD, and were well worth the price for our kids to experience the magic. Our kids would have spent all day doing spells—everything from getting a toilet to flush outside of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, to making it rain, to making a suit of armor put itself back together.
Note: It can be tough to get the spells to work, but there are people around who will help you do the spells. At each spell location there is an electronic eye that you need to point the wand at to make it work…and a lot of the movement is in the wrist.
Definitely make sure you are hungry when visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There are a lot of different options of places where you can grab a snack or a full meal:
The Leaky Caudron in Diagon Alley
This is a great option for lunch. The food is really good (traditional English fare) and our favourite part is how organized the seating was. There’s no wandering around looking for a table or hovering over someone who is finishing their meal in hopes of grabbing their seat. Not here. At the Leaky Cauldron you queue to order your meal, and then another queue to be taken to a table. The food is brought out to you once you have been seated.
The Hog’s Head Pub in Hogsmede
This is where you want to go to get your adult beverages when your feet (and kids) need to take a break. Try their exclusive Hog’s Head Brew, or have a glass of wine. You can also find Butterbeer here.
Butterbeer is a must-try for Harry Potter fans
It’s available in multiple places including The Leaky Cauldron, The Three Broomsticks and The Fountain of Fair Fortune. Butterbeer is served three different ways- hot, cold and frozen. You can also get it in dessert form at the Leaky Cauldron and as ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour in Diagon Alley. We ordered 2 frozen Butterbeers to share between four people. It’s very sweet and very tasty!
Note: If you want the true Harry Potter experience order your Butterbeer hot as that is how it is served in the books.
Inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter there are only 4 rides, but they are all worth your time. Make sure you catch:
Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley)
This is by far the best ride our family has ever been on. It is incredible. It is a combo 3D/4D ride where you won’t believe the effects. There are lots of warning about motion sickness on this ride, and they should be taken seriously. One of the members in our family experiences motion sickness and wasn’t going to ride, however decided after the rest of us raved about it that they would give it a try. They found the motion pretty intense, but manageable. However, they only went on once and the rest of us rode it three times. It’s amazing and not to be missed. The theming even just heading into the ride and in the queue is incredible.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Hogsmede)
This is the other marquee ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and is also a must-ride. The line takes you through Hogwarts and different scenes and things from the movies. You get to see Dumbledore’s office, the Griffyndor Common Room, the Sorting Hat, and the hallway with the talking portraits.
This is another motion-sickness inducing ride, and after riding it we can see why. Even those in our family who don’t really feel motion felt a little woozy after this ride. The good news is that even if people DON’T want to go on the ride because they are afraid of feeling ill, they can still go through the castle. There is an exit that they can take before you ride so they can still see the inside of the castle, Dumbledore’s office, and the rest of the magic. It is highly recommended that everyone in your party at least takes the walk through the castle – you won’t regret it.
The Hogwart’s Express (2 different ways – ride from Diagon Alley to Hogsmede and from Hogsmede back to Diagon Alley)
This is a really cool way to travel between the two areas of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When you travel from Diagon Alley to Hogsmede you will visit Platform 9 3/4 and see some magic as people travel through the wall onto the platform where the Hogwart’s Express is. Travel it both ways because the experience on board is different both ways. Note: In order to ride the Hogwart’s Express you need to have a 2-park ticket.
Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmede)
This is a small roller coaster that is very kid-friendly. It only takes a minute for the ride, and the line can be long. It is fun though and cool to see Hagrid’s hut and to ride Buckbeak the Hippogriff.
NOTE ABOUT RIDES AND LOCKERS: The two marquee rides (Forbidden Journey and Gringotts) don’t allow you to bring bags or anything on them. If everyone in your party is planning to ride then you will need to check your belongings in lockers outside the attraction. The lockers are free for a certain period of time but the locker room is a ZOO.
So my suggestion is:
- If not everyone is planning on going on the rides, they can hold your stuff.
- If everyone is going on the rides then try to limit the number of people who go into the locker rooms (like leave the kids and grandparents outside).
- Brace yourself.
Go first thing in the morning—it gets busy throughout the day and even though you can’t really beat the crowds, it is still better (in my opinion) to get there and get started. We were at the gates 45 minutes before the park opened and I think they started letting us in about 20 minutes before it officially opened.
A lot of time is spent exploring the different shops and just looking at everything. The stores are really small so they can feel claustrophobic at times. The world itself is not all that big and can get really busy really fast.
Make sure you stay into the evening so you can watch the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle fireworks show. This is an incredible show where images are projected onto Hogwarts Castle accompanied by narration, music and fireworks. Check the times when you arrive at the parks to see when it starts running on the night that you are there.
Even if you are a family of Muggles a day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will make you feel…magical.
We received tickets to Universal Orlando Resort in exchange for writing this post, but we would have written it anyways! As always, the images and opinions are our own.