In his second post about his recent trip to Universal Orlando, our colleague Ryan Jacobson shares with us five tips for visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In my prior blog post, Five Tips for a Successful Family Vacation at Universal Orlando, I wrote about my family’s recent stay at the Universal Orlando Resort. I shared five helpful tips about the resort, including why it’s important to stay at a Universal Premier hotel. Today, I share five tips for a successful visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which includes Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida (US) and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure (IA).
Of course, if you’ve done any research on the Wizarding World, you already know that you must try the Butterbeer and that you need a park-to-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express. You can also guess that the headline attractions are state of the art and not to be missed. So I’m going a bit deeper with these tips, with a few tidbits that are helpful to know.
1. Utilize Early Park Admission.
I have touched upon a couple of very big reasons why I endorse staying at an Universal Orlando Resort. A third perk for doing so is that guests get into the parks an hour early to explore the Wizarding World. For us, this meant the gates opened at 8 a.m. (Actually, they usually opened a few minutes before 8.) We made sure to arrive at the parks by 7:15 a.m., which always put us near the front of the line. This turned out to be pretty essential.
2. Ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
My family’s unanimous choice for Universal’s best ride was Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. It also happens to be one of the hardest rides to get on, with wait times in the ballpark of 90 minutes. Universal offers a Virtual Line to help curb the wait, but that line fills up fast! So how does a person get onto this amazing ride? Early Park Admission! The biggest benefit we found for Early Park Admission (and being near the front when the gates opened) was that we could ride Hagrid’s Adventure with a wait time of less than 15 minutes. But be warned: By the time we got off the ride at around 8:30, the wait time was already pushing an hour—before IA was even open to the general public!
3. If You Must Eat in the Wizarding World, Go for Breakfast.
Nothing feels like wasted time at Universal so much as waiting in a long line for food. A family could grab a hot dog or a slice of pizza in a matter of minutes, or a family could hop in line and wait an hour just to order at one of the two Wizarding World restaurants: the Leaky Cauldron or the Three Broomsticks. After a very time-consuming lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, my family discovered the solution: breakfast. This worked well with Early Park Admission, but the restaurants were often busy by the time we finished eating—and we saw guests get turned away after 9 a.m. one morning if they didn’t have special vacation-package tickets.
4. Buy Your Wand Anywhere but Ollivanders.
If you do attend the show, the store’s shopping area that follows is nothing short of chaos. Imagine far too many people in an extremely confined space, without room to maneuver, pulling unlabeled wand boxes off the wall and opening them to see what’s inside. It’s a guessing game for which you don’t know your choices—unless you are lucky enough to make your way to the crammed corner where the different wand varieties are displayed. This experience ate up at least an hour of time, and I later discovered that the wands were available—and much more clearly displayed—at other shops throughout the parks. Instead of Ollivanders, swing into one of the big stores at the park entrance, or even stop at one of the outdoor wand carts and choose your family’s wands there.
Ollivanders offers a brief wand ceremony/show, which plays out just like the movie scene in which Harry Potter receives his wand. It’s a pretty special moment for the lucky guest who gets picked from the crowd to participate. And it’s kind of neat for everyone else, too, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the potentially very long wait in line.
Another note worth mentioning: We bought wands for both of our boys, but the appeal of using them at the magical locations around the Wizarding World quickly wore off. There were almost always lines at these spots, and our boys didn’t think it was much fun to do the same magical trick that they had just seen six other people perform.
5. Dedicate Two Mornings to the Wizarding World.
Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade get crowded fast and remain so for the rest of the day. Our formula for success with Early Park Admission was to ride one ride, eat breakfast, and then explore/shop. End with a journey on the Hogwarts Express by midmorning. I recommend starting at US’s Diagon Alley on the first morning (so your train ride is to Hogwarts) and starting at IA’s Hogsmeade on the second.
Check out Ryan’s tips for a successful family vacation at Universal Orlando here. Ryan Jacobson is the author of more than 50 children’s books, including the Constellations Activity Book, Lost in the Wild, and Super Animal Powers. Visit his website at AuthorRyanJacobson.com.
For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed Ryan’s tips about visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.