Universal Orlando is one of my family’s favorite places to vacation. We’re heading back there this summer, but, last week, I had the opportunity to spend a day in the parks by myself at the tail end of a work trip I was on. Universal provided me with free park passes for the day.
Since I only had about 5 hours in the parks and because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, I decided to split my time between the two Harry Potter areas, even though that’s where we spend a large portion of our time when we visit as a family. I thought I’d answer some of the most common questions I’m asked about planning a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
Can I see all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day?
You certainly can. Keep in mind that you’ll need a 2-park pass in order to do this since Hogsmeade (aka as the part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that was built first and has “the castle” Hogwarts) is located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure while Diagon Alley (the second part built, the one you might think of as the one that has the big fire-breathing dragon on top of the bank) is in Universal Studios Florida. Having the 2-park pass is required if you want to ride on the Hogwarts Express, which takes you from one side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the other. Since you’re changing parks by riding the train, you do need to have that 2-park pass and have to scan it before you can get into the line to go on the platform to ride the train.
For die-hard Harry Potter fans, there are so many details to look at that you can easily spend all day there, looking for the “Easter eggs,” going on the rides, and casting spells with your interactive wand.
If you want to visit other parts of the park, I highly recommend visiting for more than one day. Two would probably get you on almost everything, if you have Express Passes.
Do I need Express Passes for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
The Express Passes are such a help in getting to see more of the parks quickly. After going with them, I’d have a hard time going without. And if you are staying at Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay, or the Hard Rock Hotel, your Express Passes are included with your stay, at no additional cost (though you do have to have a theme park ticket- just staying at the hotel doesn’t give you those). I usually travel with my family of 5, so it makes a lot of sense for us to stay at one of these hotels rather than at a less expensive place and have to pay the fee for each of us to have them (which can be up to $90 each person/per day, based on the rates as of today’s posting). You also get early admission into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by staying at any of the resorts on Universal property, which includes more than just the three deluxe resorts mentioned.
UPDATED JULY 2017:
Previously, you could only use Express Passes on Flight of the Hippogriff and the Dragon Challenge in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But Universal changed this recently and added Express Pass access to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, as well as the Hogwarts Express. With these changes, I’m changing my previous answer from saying they aren’t necessary to saying YES, get them if your budget allows.
If you do not have the Express Passes, be sure to take advantage of early admission hours and to keep an eye on the Universal app where you can check wait times throughout the day.
I can only do one park and one day. Which one should I pick? What is there to do in each one?
I really want to tell you that you need to visit both. But that feels a bit like the time that a “helpful friend” was scornful of my family’s trip to a different theme park in the Orlando area when we were only going for two days, insisting that we needed to be there for 5-10 in order to fully experience it all- while that sounded lovely, we did not have time or the budget to do that. So, I understand if you can only do one, much as I’d like to advise you differently.
When most people think of getting to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they think of the “castle,” Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you will be disappointed not to see that, you need to go to Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This is the side with more rides(Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Dragon Challenge). You can eat in Three Broomsticks and of course get Butterbeer. Visit Hog’s Head at the back of Three Broomsticks for drinks (Butterbeer plus beer, wines, and spirits). You can watch the show at Ollivanders and buy an interactive wand that you can use to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade. There are a few shops, with a highlight being Honeydukes, the candy shop. Others are Dervish and Banges and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. You can mail letters complete with a special Hogsmeade postmark in the Owl Post. You can get your picture taken by the Hogwarts Express (this is not the ride, just a replica). You can watch the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally.
When you’re finished with Hogsmeade, you can visit Jurassic Park, Seuss Island, Marvel Superhero Island, Toon Lagoon, the Lost Continent, and Port of Entry parts of the park. There are plenty of rides and attractions to fill your day.
On my most recent trip, I actually spend more time in Diagon Alley in Universal Florida. Though it only has the one ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, there are lots of attractions on this side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The other side has the wow of the castle while this side has a fire-breathing dragon. Here, you can eat in the Leaky Caldron or Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour (the Butterbeer ice cream is delicious- but not the only flavor available). You can get a bottle of water with a potion to mix in at Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment, or Butterbeer and other drinks (including some alcoholic beverages) at the Fountain of Fair Fortune. The Hopping Pot has more wizard drinks, including Butterbeer, though I find Peachtree Fizzing Tea to be really refreshing. Go into the Gringotts Money Exchange to swap your dollars for wizarding money or just for the entertainment of talking to the goblin. There is an Ollivanders on this side as well so you can buy your interactive wand (though you can get a wand from Gregorovitch on this side) and cast spells. Madam Malkin will fit you with robes in her shop (you can also buy Hermione’s Yule Ball dress, though I only saw child sizes when I was there). You can buy a magical (stuffed) creature from the Magical Menagerie. My boys’ favorite is Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes where you can buy the jokes and tricks you’ve read about in the books. Other shops include Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Scribbulus, and Sugarplum’s Sweetshop(not quite as many sweets as in Honeyduke’s, but still a good selection). Don’t miss going down Knockturn Alley- it’s actually easy to miss, as it is a dark alley where the dark wizards hang out. It’s cool back there (literally cool: it’s airconditioned, though it seems like you’re outside) and Borgin and Burkes shop is back there. You can meet Stan and Dre Head at the Knight Bus and look for Kreacher at 12 Grimmauld Place. You can watch The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.
There’s plenty of other things to do on this side of the parks as well. Minion Mayhem was one my boys went on 5 times in one trip when they were younger, though now they like the thrill of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and Transformers. Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black, many more rides and a whole lot of shows will fill your day.
I really can’t make the decision for you, but hopefully, the descriptions of the two has helped you make your decision (or caused you to rethink your plans and do either a 2-park pass or do each park on a different day).
You’ve mentioned these interactive wands. What are they and how can I get one?
These wands are an attraction all on their own. Wands are available in both parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can walk into a wand shop and buy one, though the fun is in seeing if you will be selected in Ollivanders. No, I don’t know how to get chosen. We’ve been in there probably 10 times. My oldest was actually selected twice and I was selected on this last trip. I’ve seen kids chosen (though not super young- they have to be able to follow the wizard’s direction and not be easily startled), parents chosen, grandparents chosen, once a couple was chosen together. People picked from the front, the back, the middle, the left, the right. People chosen who looked happy and eager, people chosen who looked cranky. They probably have some secret method to it, but I’ve yet to be able to discern it. But don’t worry- you can still buy one regardless(around $50 depending on the wand you choose, as of today’s posting).
In your wand box, you’ll find a map to all the places within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter where you can cast spells, though they are also marked on the ground and the witches and wizards who work there will point them out if you can’t find more. They do things like cause water to squirt, something in a window to open, that sort of thing. You do have to get the wand movement correct in order for the spell to work, so it can take some practice. You can spend quite a lot of time casting spells in the parks, so this is something else to factor into the time you’ll spend in the parks.
Hang on. I don’t know much about Harry Potter. Should I still go?
If you’re looking into spending time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it may be because you’re bringing a Harry Potter fan along with you or because you’re already planning on visiting Universal Orlando and you’re curious.
You could definitely still enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter if you’ve never read the books or seen the movies. It’s a pretty cool place to check out and eat. But you will be a bit lost and much of the careful detail of building this world will go over your head (like, WHY is there a car in the bushes in the line for Flight of the Hippogriff) and you probably will head off to another part of the park rather quickly, rather than exploring everything in these parts.
At the very least, I’d suggest watching the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, before visiting Hogsmeade. That won’t fill in all the gaps for you, but you can at least more fully appreciate the Hogwarts castle and the wand choosing ceremony in Ollivanders as well as some of the other things you’ll come across. The ride in Diagon Alley won’t make sense unless you’ve watched all 8 movies and you’re definitely missing out on just how much detail was put into making this seem like you stepped right into the books/movies. I want to tell you to read all of the books and/or watch all of the movies before you go, but if you can’t- like I said, at least watch the first one to have some sort of frame of reference.
If you have any other questions about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Universal Orlando, I have a few more posts for you to check out or you can leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to help with your trip!
More Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Orlando Tips
A Deeper Look into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter more of the details about the rides and shops
The Harry Potter Fan’s Guide to Universal Studios Orlando even more details about the Harry Potter attractions
Universal Studios Orlando with Kids includes a free printable of rides listed by height restriction
Universal Studios with a Kindergartener what there is to do when you’re traveling with a child under 44″
12 Universal Orlando Insider Facts some park trivia for you
More Universal Fun more of what you’ll find in the parks