Universal Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter
There’s Something about Harry
When I planned our trip to Universal Studios with the kids there was one area of the park that reigned supreme in my mind – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spread across the two theme parks (Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure) the Harry Potter themed attractions bring the world of Harry Potter to life through animatronics, film footage and thrilling rides.
And while I fully expected my family to love everything about the Florida theme park I was a little verklempt when I realized that they actually BELIEVED in Diagon Alley. Sure, at 10 and 12, they know that the characters are fictional but stepping into the books in this very realistic way meant they were able to suspend their disbelief. For a few hours they were Hogwarts students and they loved it.
I’m sure this won’t be the only post we share from our visit but I wanted to give you some quick tips if you’re considering a visit.
1. Go this weekend. I’m not kidding.
Already planning on being in Orlando or Kissimmee this weekend? Not sure what day you’ll be visiting Universal? Go this weekend. The annual Celebration of Harry Potter is happening this weekend and this year includes a chance to try on the sorting hat, a shot at learning how to properly wield your wand from the movie’s wand choreographer and a Q& A with some of the stars of the movies including Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) , James Phelps and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley)and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).
All general admission park guests who visit during the Celebration of Potter will have the opportunity to:
Attend Q&A sessions with Harry Potter film talent and other special guests
Experience and participate in the interactive and unique exhibits of the “A Celebration of Harry Potter” Expo
Enjoy special discussions regarding various aspects of the Harry Potter franchise
Visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Plus, ride the Hogwarts Express between the two lands with a park-to-park ticket.
2. Pick another week (carefully)
The only downfall to catching the Celebration weekend would be the crowds. If you’d rather skip long lines and busy streets, opt for a weekday during an off-peak time of year. We went on a Tuesday after an American holiday long weekend in January. We waited less than 5 minutes for rides that I’m told are usually a minimum of an hour and a half. It pays to go when no one else is going to be there.
3. Get a park-to-park pass and ride the train
My favourite ride in the park? The train that you board at either King’s Cross station in Universal Studios or outside Hogwarts in Islands of Adventure and ride to the other park. Universal Orlando is huge! We clocked in over six miles of walking in one day and didn’t cover every part of the park. The train made it easy to fill our day with Potter (especially with no line!) while also giving our feet a much needed break. You have to have a park to park pass to ride the train (i.e. access to both parks) but it’s an adventure in and of itself! I don’t want to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that I felt most like a part of the film on the train.
4. Plan for more than one day.
You could easily spend a full day just on Harry Potter. There are dozens of spots throughout both parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where kids (and more than a few adults) wielding wands are making magic happen. We bought our wands at Ollivanders where the head wizard in charge took the time to make sure the boys got the wand that “chose them.” The elaborate ceremony was fun and the kids fully bought in. The result? Ish and I ended up forking out the whopping $44.95 (!) so they could use their wands throughout the Wizarding World in special “magic” spots. We only got through a half dozen of the spots because we were anxious to try and see other parts of the park. My suggestion would be to either skip the wand purchase or opt instead for a full day (or two) just exploring the Wizarding World so that you get the full value.
5. Pack light but smart
We asked for advice online before we went and my Facebook and Twitter friends and readers offered some invaluable advice. Among them:
* Bring refillable bottles for water and small snacks – This likely saved us millions
* One butterbeer may be all you need – we remembered this from our last visit. We made the mistake of buying three of the super sweet beverage. None of us finished an entire one. (The slushy one was the easiest to get down)
* Try sending a postcard from the Hogsmeade post office (We didn’t get to this one but it’s on our list for next time.)
( Big thanks to Claudia Laroye (<– Read her tips) and Jennifer McGibbon for the advice!)
6. Read/Listen to/ Watch the books and movies
I’ve been force feeding my kids Harry Potter for years. We’ve all read the earliest books, then we did audio books for the ones in the middle and as the date for our visit began to approach, we binge-watched the last two movies to make sure we knew everything we needed to. And I’m so glad we did. We arrived on the Streets of Diagon Alley as fully fledged Potter-ites. We knew who everyone was, what shops we wanted to see and which spots we wanted to visit. It helped to make the trip that much better.
My boys may not be kids who typically get attached to make-believe but they both loved Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Forget Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, we believe in Harry.