Are you ready to join thousands of other Muggles as you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando? Our Giordano’s family in Orlando and Kissimmee has some tips to make your one-day trip into Harry Potter’s life a success.
It’s every Potterhead’s dream: a Harry Potter amusement park — or at least an entire section devoted to the wizard. You probably already know this, but the franchise has more than a few diehard fans, which means the Harry Potter area at Universal is quite popular. How can you make the most of your short time at Universal’s Harry Potter World while also dealing with the crowds? Our guide to Harry Potter World helps you sort it all out, from which restaurants are worth your time to when you should visit certain attractions. Grab your robe, wand and sense of adventure, and let’s get started.
Why You Need a Plan
Vacation is supposed to be fun. Who wants to spend hours planning every step of the trip? Can’t you have fun if you just wing it? Sure, you’ll still get to see the Harry Potter area, but going in without a plan is a surefire way to miss out on the best parts, get overwhelmed by the crowds and leave feeling disappointed.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter fills up quickly every day, especially with the busy tourist seasons during summer, school breaks and holidays. Even during the off-season, you may have to fight through the Muggle crowds to get that first delicious sip of butterbeer or find the perfect wand at Ollivander’s. If you know how to use your time wisely, you can minimize your wait on rides and know how to handle the crowds you’re bound to face.
Even under ideal circumstances with low crowds, there’s a lot to see and do in the Harry Potter area. If you’re only spending one day there, you’ll likely need to hit the highlights without seeing it all. When you have your plan in mind, you can make sure you hit the stops you’ll enjoy most. If you decide to spend an extra day or two at Universal, you can always head back to the Wizarding World and see the things you missed on day one.
What to Do at Harry Potter World in Orlando
The Harry Potter World has three basic activities: rides, shopping and dining. All three get busy quickly most days, so you’ll want to narrow down the options in each category to ensure you hit your top picks. You can swing back and check out the other options if you have time at the end of the day.
Understand the Lay of the Land
The Universal Studios resort in Orlando consists of two separate parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Rather than being a separate park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is inside those theme parks, and has sections in both. The Diagon Alley portion sits in Universal Studios Florida, and Hogsmeade, including Hogwarts Castle, is in Islands of Adventure. That means you’ll need a Park-to-Park pass instead of the 1-Park pass if you plan to spend only one day in Harry Potter World. With the Park-to-Park pass, you can visit both parks on the same day, so you can explore both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
You can enter Hogsmeade through Lost Continent or Jurassic Park near Hogwarts Castle. The Lost Continent entrance puts you in Hogsmeade Village, where you’ll find most of the shops. Rides in this section include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff.
Diagon Alley has only one entrance near the London waterfront area. The entrance takes you right into the alley. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is the main attraction in this section. You can travel between the two areas on the Hogwarts Express in Orlando if you have the Park-to-Park pass. The train is a replica of the one in the movies.
Download the Universal Orlando App
Prep for your trip by downloading the official Universal Orlando app. This smartphone app offers lots of valuable information, including maps of the park. Perhaps the most helpful in planning your day at Harry Potter World is the option to check ride wait times. If one of the rides has a short wait time, head there. If you notice a ride has an unusually long wait time, you can avoid it or check back later to see if the wait gets shorter.
Buy the Express Pass
Express Pass is an add-on option for your Universal Orlando ticket. You pay extra for the add-on, which allows you to join the faster Express Pass line and experience shorter waits than those in the regular line.
When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first opened, the Express Pass was not an option on the popular Harry Potter rides. That has since changed, so those rides now have Express Pass entrances. If you’re only spending one day in the Harry Potter world, consider adding the Express Pass onto your ticket to cut your waiting time. You’ll be able to get through the rides faster, leaving you more time to explore the shops and other parts of the area. You also have a better chance of having time to ride your favorite Harry Potter attractions more than once.
Your day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is no time to sleep in. Set your alarm early, and head to the park well before opening time. If you stay onsite at a Universal hotel, you get early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the park opens. An hour may not seem like much, but it can give you a huge jumpstart on your day, and it means you can check out the area before the general masses swarm into Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.
If you’re entering at regular park opening time, you should always arrive early. Allow time to get to the gate and make it through security. Try to get to the park an hour before it opens, so you’re near the front of the line. Buy your ticket in advance online, so you don’t have to wait for any reason. As soon as you get through the gate, head directly to the Harry Potter area and get in line for the most popular attractions or the things you absolutely must do while you’re there.
As the morning goes on, you’ll notice the crowds increasing steadily. By mid- to late morning, it often gets difficult to walk through this area. If you’re planning to check out other parts of Universal during your day there, eat an early lunch in Wizarding World, then head to other areas of the park. Go back to the Harry Potter area in the late afternoon or early evening hours to squeeze in a little more fun before the park closes.
Hit Popular Rides First
Even if you arrive early, the rides in the Harry Potter area will likely already have a wait by the time you get there. Don’t let those wait times scare you away. The wait times will only increase, so it’s best to get in line early on the popular rides. Rides in the Harry Potter area frequently have wait times of two hours or more during peak times. Coming back later to see if the ride times are shorter is a mistake because they will likely only increase until the later evening hours, when crowds start to thin.
Gringotts Bank in Orlando is home to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. This ride is a great place to start because its popularity often leads to long wait times. The queue area for this ride keeps you interested, though, because it’s designed to look like the bank in the movie.
The other major ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts Castle, which is in the Islands of Adventure Park. Hop on the Hogwarts Express to get there. You can cross that ride off your list while getting to Forbidden Journey. Watch the windows on Hogwarts Express to see various scenes and characters. The Forbidden Journey wait is also interesting because you see moving portraits, classrooms, the Sorting Hat and other familiar details inside the castle.
Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff aren’t quite as popular, so hold off on riding them. The wait times don’t tend to be as long, even as the area gets busier. Flight of the Hippogriff is a small, short rollercoaster that’s better for younger kids. Adult Harry Potter fans can enjoy the experience, but it’s an easy ride to skip without missing out if you’re short on time and don’t have young kids with you.
Use Single Rider Lines
If you don’t mind riding next to strangers, use the single-rider lines on the Harry Potter rides, which tend to move much faster. The riders in those lines take up the random empty seats that inevitably pop up on the rides. This option is ideal when visiting with other adults or older kids who are comfortable riding without you next to them. Some rides also have a separate, faster-moving line for people without bags who don’t need to put items in a locker.
If you’re visiting with kids, a stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop is a must. Kids or even adult Harry Potter fans can find their wands just like Potter himself. You can go straight into the shop and buy a wand, but if you don’t mind the wait, hop in line, so you can see a wand selection ceremony. A small group of people enters the special area of the shop, where one person in the group gets a wand that “chooses” her. There’s an Ollivander’s in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, so you can have the experience either place. The lines sometimes get quite long for the show, so skip it or come back later to avoid wasting time in line.
No matter where you buy it, get your wand early in the day. Some wands are simple replicas without the sensor, so make sure to get an interactive wand. Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley have special spots where you can use your wand to cast a spell and cause a special reaction, such as causing a fountain to spray water or making armor move. Each spot requires you to move your wand in a specific pattern, which is displayed on the map. Look for special medallions on the ground to find the spots.
Enjoy Themed Dining
A huge part of the experience is the themed dining. Universal put a lot of effort into recreating food and drink from the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling even taste-tested the recipes, so you know you’re in for a treat.
Sipping butterbeer is a must on any trip to Wizarding World. You can get a regular or frozen butterbeer. In the winter months, try it hot. Butterbeer ice cream is also a delicious option. These treats are available in several spots throughout the Harry Potter area.
If you’re hungry for a full meal, head to the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. In addition to classic British pub fare, the restaurant has a kids’ menu with traditional options like chicken fingers.
The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade is another popular choice with other dishes that fit with the Harry Potter theme. You’ll notice lots of little details as you sit to enjoy your meal. Stop by Hogs Head inside the restaurant for an adult beverage.
No matter where you choose to eat, you’ll save time by eating at a less popular time. Instead of heading to the restaurants in the middle of the lunch or dinner rush, go earlier or later. You won’t have a long wait, and you can get back to exploring the shops and rides.
Visit Popular Shops
Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley both have several shops with Harry Potter-themed gear. Most of the shops are small and feel a little cramped, especially when the crowds pick up. Wait until the evening hours when crowds are lower, so you can enjoy a bit more breathing room while you browse through the shops. If you have time, wander through as many of the shops as possible. However, when time is limited, target your stops to the best picks.
Popular options include:
- Honeydukes: If you want to enjoy Harry Potter sweets, Honeydukes is a must. Pick up Chocolate Frogs, Acid Pops and other treats.
- Ollivander’s: We already discussed the interactive wands, which you can buy in many spots throughout the park. Even if you buy your wand somewhere else or decide to skip it completely, stop into Ollivander’s to see the floor-to-ceiling stacks of wands.
- Dervish and Banges: Check out the Monster Book of Monsters on display in this store.
- Owl Post: Don’t miss the chance to send a piece of mail at the Owl Post. You can mail something with a special Hogsmeade postmark.
Stick Around Until Evening
Early morning is a great time to minimize your wait time, but evening also tends to mean lighter crowds. As people head back to their hotels or other areas of the park, the Harry Potter area is a little easier to navigate. This gives you a chance to look through the shops, notice the amazing detail designers put into the buildings and hit the rides with much shorter wait times. Plan to stay until the park closes to get the most out of your day without as many people and with cooler temperatures. You’ll also get to see all the buildings lit up at night, which gives it a whole new magical look.
Additional Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
You’re well on your way to a magical day immersed in the world of Harry Potter. Make your trip even more enjoyable with these tips.
- Spend the afternoon in Diagon Alley: The Diagon Alley portion of the park has a lot more shade than Hogsmeade. It tends to feel cooler on hot days, so it’s a good place to spend your afternoon when Orlando is often so hot and humid.
- Check height requirements: If you’re traveling with kids, check the ride height requirements before going. You’ll avoid disappointment during the trip if you know ahead of time your child isn’t tall enough for certain rides.
- Check park hours: The hours of the parks vary at different times of the year, so you’ll want to look up the hours on the day of your visit. Keep in mind, the hours of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios aren’t always the same. Plan your visit accordingly. For example, if Islands of Adventure stays open later during your visit, take the Hogwarts Express there when Universal Studios is near closing time. You can continue exploring in Hogsmeade after Diagon Alley closes.
- Use the restrooms in Hogsmeade: You’ll need the restroom after slurping down all your butterbeer. Make it a point to take care of business in Hogsmeade, where you can hear Moaning Myrtle in the restrooms.
- Ride Hogwarts Express both ways: The train runs both ways between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. If you have time, ride the train in both directions, because the experience is different.
- Visit the telephone booth: Step inside the red telephone booth, and dial 62442 to reach the Ministry of Magic.
- Talk to the characters: You’ll see lots of characters in the area, from the driver of the Knight Bus to the conductor of Hogwarts Express. They always stay in character, so it’s fun to chat with them while you get your picture taken together.
- Take time to look around: When your time is limited, it’s tempting to rush to get through as many rides and activities as possible, but you’ll be glad if you slow down and look around you. The area is full of intricate detailing and special effects from the movies, such as Kreacher opening the curtains at 12 Grimmauld Place and an owl popping out on top of the Owlery.
Fuel up After Harry Potter Fun
After a long day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll be ready to put up your aching feet and relax. Order a pizza from our Orlando or Kissimmee Giordano’s locations for delivery, dine-in or pickup.