If you’ve ever stayed on-site at the Universal Orlando Resort, you already know that the early entry privileges granted to hotel guests are an amazing perk, especially for fans of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Recently, Universal revamped their operating hours and moved Early Park Admission (EPA) to Islands of Adventure on most days, after years of largely being confined to Universal Studios Florida. Best of all, for the first time ever, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is now included in EPA, so last week we went out to test our new touring plan for Early Park Admission, and we proved it’s now possible to ride this popular attraction multiple times in a day with minimal wait!
In case you weren’t aware, Early Park Admission—sometimes referred to as “early entry”—allows Universal Orlando Resort on-site hotel guests (along with annual passholders at certain times) to enjoy select theme park attractions 1 hour before the general public. Generally, EPA is available in one of the two theme parks, although on peak days it is available at both. From now through at least the end of October 2020, EPA will be held daily at Islands of Adventure and include the following attractions:
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
In addition, the Three Broomsticks, Ollivanders, and other shops in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be open during Early Park Admission at Islands of Adventure.
Currently, Islands of Adventure opens to the general public on weekdays at 10 a.m., 1 hour after Universal Studios Florida, which means its Early Park Admission begins at 9 a.m. The first step of our Islands of Adventure Early Park Admission touring plan is to be at the park entrance at least 30-60 minutes prior to opening, leaving extra time if you have to park or purchase admission.
The Coke Kiosk in the center of CityWalk serves breakfast, but you’re better off fueling up beforehand.
By 8:30 a.m. there will already be quite a queue forming to enter Islands of Adventure, but don’t panic: It will move quickly once the gates open.
Keep an eye on this obscure gate to the far left of the park entrance. Normally used for group events, it may be opened in the morning to accommodate crowds. If you see team members organizing a queue there, jump in it as quickly as you can!
The turnstiles will all open at the same time, around 15 minutes before Early Park Admission officially starts. Guests may be held briefly in the entrance plaza before being permitted to walk towards the attractions.
Once permitted, walk (don’t run!) briskly towards your first destination, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. During early entry, guests must show a hotel key card or annual pass in order to cross the bridges into Marvel Super Hero Island and Lost Continent.
Day guests may enter the park during EPA, but they are confined to Port of Entry and Seuss Landing, where rides will not begin operating until the official park opening.
If you are among the first wave of guests into Islands of Adventure, you can arrive at the entrance to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure about 10 minutes before the EPA officially begins. Note that even on days when Universal Studios Florida is also open during EPA at IOA, riding the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade will NOT help you beat the crowd heading to Hagrid’s from the front gate.
If you are lucky (as we were) and the ride begins running on time, you’ll be off the attraction and back in Hogsmeade a few minutes after the hour!
The back half of Hogsmeade will still be quiet at this hour, so it’s easy to take a solo flight aboard the Hippogriff without any wait.
Next up is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This attraction is notorious for only operating about 25% of its “flying bench” ride vehicles during early park admission, which can artificially inflate the wait times.
This used to be a serious issue, but since everyone now rushes directly to Hagrid’s, Hogwarts hallways are practically empty. You can even stop and watch the holographic preshows without other guests pushing past.
By now, Early Park Admission isn’t even half over, and the posted wait time for Hagrid’s has jumped up to 60 minutes.
At this point, in the past we would advise waiting on the Jurassic Park bridge until park opening and proceeding to Skull Island. But Islands of Adventure now also includes The Incredible Hulk Coaster in Early Park Admission, and if you were among the first in line at Hagrid’s you should have a half-hour of EPA left.
That’s plenty of time to retrace your steps to Marvel Super Hero Island and hop aboard the Hulk, even if you need to place loose items in the mandatory lockers. In fact, the loading station was so empty I was allowed to stay in my seat and ride twice in a row.
As you exit Hulk, you should have just enough time to head towards Cafe 4 and wait for the barrier to be dropped at around 5 minutes before official park opening.
You’ll have a small head-start on day guests heading to the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and you should be in one of the first SCOOPs of the day.
After saving NYC with Spidey, speed-walk through Toon Lagoon (we’ll be back soon) and ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Between the early hour, and the recent addition of protective barriers to increase capacity, you should practically walk onto an expedition truck.
Now it’s time to get wet! We like to experience our water attractions in order of dampness (from spritzed to soaked), so start at Jurassic Park River Adventure. If you have valuables you need to keep dry, you can check them into a paid locker here, and then retrieve them after you finish all of the water rides.
Next, return to Toon Lagoon and ride Ripsaw Falls, where you should emerge at least halfway drowned. (Note that mask removal is allowed while riding.)
Finally, finish the job by scrubbing down aboard Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. This attraction doesn’t open until an hour after the rest of the park, so you should be among the first riders of the day.
Congratulations! You’ve been inside the park for about 2 1/2 hours, and you’ve experienced every E-Ticket attraction IOA has to offer! I suggest celebrating with a relaxing, socially distanced early lunch on Mythos’s outdoor patio.
Order the new lamb meatball appetizer, and be sure to ask for the fresh bread and butter.
Try to finish up eating by noon because between 12 and 1 p.m. is the sweet spot for Hagrid’s standby queue. On days when Virtual Line reserved times are not available (which is currently most weekdays), the lowest actual standby wait times are seen at midday, after the morning crowd has been processed but before other guests have made it around to Hogsmeade.
Even though the posted wait for Hagrid’s was 60 minutes, I only waited a little over half an hour, and the socially distanced line flowed continuously.
Now that all of the headliners are out of the way, you have the whole afternoon to enjoy the shows and minor attractions. I spent my time visiting with some friends:
In the course of testing our new Islands of Adventure Early Park Admission touring plan, I managed to experience every operating attraction at Islands of Adventure—including a couple of re-rides—and still had plenty of time to spare. This is due in part to the temporary closing of a few attractions (including Poseidon’s Fury), but Early Park Admission is obviously a big boon to guests wishing to experience Hagrid’s popular coaster, providing they’re able to be among the first at the turnstiles. And it’s good to know that, even with reduced operating hours, it’s still possible to enjoy everything Islands of Adventure offers in one day, as long as you have a good plan.
For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.