I just returned from Orlando a couple of weeks ago—after seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, of course. The company was good, the weather was perfect, and Harry Potter was all around!
I first visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 with some girlfriends, two of which were fans of the movies, and two (including me) were complete Potterfiles who had read the books and seen the movies multiple times each. We were all completely wowed by the park! So, now that they’ve opened Diagon Alley, I had to see it! These are some of my favorite books and movies of all time, so to see them come to life in a theme park was simply . . . MAGICAL!
My two girlfriends that accompanied me this time weren’t huge Harry Potter fans, but they enjoyed the movies and were up for a road trip. And that’s all I needed!
Coincidently, I also had another friend who was going the week after me, so I made sure to take some mental notes for her. And I thought I’d share them with you too:
- If you haven’t been to this resort property before, there are two full theme parks, collectively called Universal Orlando Resort. The individual parks are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Islands of Adventure is where the original Harry Potter stuff is, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. The new section is in Universal Studios and focuses on Diagon Alley.
- If you have to choose, I’d say the original area in Islands of Adventure is still better. I mean, how can you top the castle? Simply put: You can’t. But please try to make it to both lands. They’re fantastic!
- To do both HP areas, you’ll need a park-hopper ticket. You can take the Hogwarts Express between the two. But, even if you decide you want to check out some other lands or rides, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure only take a few minutes to cross between them, very much unlike Disney World.
- Speaking of tickets: My two friends got theirs through AAA. It only saved them about $5, but hey, that’s a bottle of water. 😉 I paid for mine with Chase Ultimate Rewards points thanks to the reminder on this blog.
- Download the Universal Studios Orlando App. It’s really helpful, especially for wait times. I also favorited all the rides/shows/shops/restaurants I wanted to see and do for easy reference, and then un-favorited them as we went along like a to-do list. Tackle the longest lines first, if possible. They usually grow throughout the day.
- If you have a birthday in your group, go to guest services when you arrive to get birthday buttons. Sometimes the employees let you use it like a fast pass, but nonetheless, it’s really fun for the employees (and sometimes other guests) to wish you happy birthday all day long!
- The are more fun HP drinks at the Leaky Cauldron in Universal that aren’t available in Three Broomsticks in Islands. But you can get Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer (regular, hot, frozen) in both. And the Pumpkin Juice comes in bottles, so you can get it to go. Since we were driving, I picked several of those up as gifts for friends who couldn’t come. The Butterbeer has a butterscotch taste, and is very sweet to me, so like the Pumpkin Juice, I can’t finish it by myself. But the Butterbeer Ice Cream tastes kinda like a vanilla custard, and is only at Universal. You can also get Butterbeer fudge in Islands at Honeydukes, which is where I got the Pumpkin Juice to go. It tastes more like white chocolate with a hint of butterscotch. If you get Butterbeer, either get it with your meal, or at the Hopping Pot in Universal or Hog’s Head in Islands. Those lines are MUCH shorter than the main Butterbeer line in Islands that’s out in the middle of Hogsmeade. #amateurs Other than with your meal, Hog’s Head is at the back of the Three Broomsticks, and will have the shortest line.
- And I’d suggest one of you getting the Butterbeer in the collectible cup because you can use it for water fountains and tea/coke refills in restaurants, and share it, so you don’t have to buy bottles of water if you don’t want to. There’s a water fountain by Three Broomsticks and a few other places too. I think you can also take refillable water bottles into the park, but check the website.
- With all the fun foods and specialty drinks in both lands, I suggest splitting them when you can. A lot of the portions are pretty big, and that way you can try more without spending your retirement fund.
- The restroom by Three Broomsticks is also where you can hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. Totally worth it.
- I think the castle ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is my favorite theme park ride ever. I LOVE that one. If you do the single rider on that one, you miss part of the castle tour, FYI. When I went before, we did the regular ride all together to see the whole castle, and then went through as single riders to do it again faster. But if anyone has motion sickness issues, they need to stay off this ride and the 3-D ones! Please trust me on that.
- I always send my mom and a couple friends post cards when I travel. And because we were there, I also sent post cards to some friend’s kids. If you do this, get the post cards at Islands because I think they’re better. However, they don’t sell single post cards anymore, so you have to get a pack of 10. Bummer. But you can also get special Hogwarts stamps. And, they’ll put a Hogwarts post mark on them at the spot where you drop them in the mail! Get the post cards and stamps in Flourish and Blots, and you mail them right outside the Owl Post.
- One of my best pieces of advice is to take drawstring backpacks rather than big bags or purses. And, of course, they also work for both males and females. It was so nice to not have to carry anything like a purse, hold something with your hands, or situate anything as you walked over your shoulder. And since they are small, you can share the same lockers for any rides they don’t allow you to take your bags on. The weather was pretty cool for us, so I kept my cardigan on all day, but having the drawstring backpack gave me an option to stow it if I’d wanted to. And my friend who got the Butterbeer mug kept hers in there too. They’re also smaller and less bulky than regular backpacks. Definitely worth the small investment.
- Along those lines, if you plan on taking lots of photos or using the app a bunch, it’s wise to bring an external battery along. This one is compact, this one is a little more powerful, and this one charges multiple devices at once.
- I don’t know what your experience will be, but late afternoon when the sun started setting, the park got much lighter, so the rides and restaurants weren’t crowded at all. We were there the weekend before Thanksgiving, so the sun sets much earlier. I know that won’t be the case during the summer, but was awesome for us and we were able to ride several things very quickly at the end of our day.
- The nighttime show at Universal is back by the Harry Potter area as well. It’s not near as spectacular as Disney’s, but lots of fun movie montages and lights in the water. But, if you decide to miss it, not a really big deal. If you want to do it, however, I’d say to start in Islands so you can finish in Universal and see the show rather than having to go back and forth between the parks twice.
- I’ve been to Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure before Harry arrived, and then as I mentioned, with only the one HP park open. This time, I only wanted to do the two HP parks. And it did take us an entire day to do them both. So, if you want to fit in any other rides or shows not HP affiliated, you’ll have to cut down on the HP stuff or plan on going for more than one day.
So, those are my tips! I hope they help. Universal really did a tremendous job in designing these two lands, and both of my friends also had a great time. One just starting reading the books as a result!
And if you make it to either Orlando or LA for a Harry Potter visit, I hope you have a magical time too!
View all of the photos here.
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