by Karen Quinn, Feb 20 2019
Being a child of the eighties I still remember that excitement of the latest Harry Potter book being released, of buying it on launch days and gobbling it up in one sitting. Piper is more interested in the films than the books right now although we have started the first couple together and I think she’s an even bigger fan than I am! I knew that our visit to Florida just had to include a visit to Universal and these are all my favourite Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips I wish I’d known before we went.
You will need to buy tickets for two parks
This really confused me when I was planning our visit to Harry Potter world at Universal, we only had a day so I presumed we would just need to visit the main park. However, it has been built in a way that Diagon Alley is in the main Universal park and Hogsmeade is a short (and very exciting) train ride to Universals Islands of adventure.
Yes, its more money but I promise for any Harry Potter fans its worth it. If you only have a one park ticket you wont be able to ride the Hogwarts Express, one of the highlights of our day! You’ll probably want to ride it each way at least once – it’s a different experience each way. The optical illusion making you feel like you’re walking through a wall at platform 9 ¾ was just another magical touch.
Attractiontix have a two park ticket for Universal Studios which will cover the whole Harry Potter experience for £265 for a child and £275 for an adult. You’ll receive an actual ticket which means you can save a bit of time going straight through the gates on arrival.
Buy your Harry Potter merchandise before you visit
Of course the park is crammed with opportunities to buy official souvenirs but they are predictably expensive and shopping is probably not the best use of your time in the park.
Many kids are in costumes so another reason to buy before you go is that you can arrive dressed as your favourite character. The Florida heat can be pretty intense so I’m not suggesting a full on Hogwarts uniform, my little Hermione wannabe had a Gryffindor tie and we attempted a hairstyle. You could also accessorise with some round glasses and a tie and draw a scar – simplicity and comfort here is best.
For plenty of other Harry Potter inspired merchandise check out Amazon
Check your height first to avoid disappointment
We arrived at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey only to discover that Piper was just a couple of cm short. She was gutted as had seen lots of pictures beforehand and I ended up going alone while her Dad took her on the Flight of the Hippogriff several times.
The attendant did make up for it however by being so very very kind. He gave Piper a little quiz on Harry Potter facts and then gave her a certificate to skip the queue the next time we return, a lovely touch which cheered her up no end.
Current height restrictions are:
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – Must be at least 42” (107cm)
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Must be 48” (122cm)
- Flight of the Hippogriff – Must be at least 36” (91cm). Children between 36”-48” (91cm-122cm) must be accompanied by a supervising companion
This is definitely a child friendly attraction but some of the rides are a little scary. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was a little frightening even for me!
Plan your time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Like all of the Orlando theme parks, the Wizarding world of Harry Potter is busy, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you just need to plan your time well.
I recommend arriving early, heading straight to Diagon Alley and spending some time soaking in the atmosphere and exploring the shops and playing with your wands (if you’ve chosen to buy them) before the huge queues arrive at lunchtime. There’s so much attention to detail here, its my favourite place to explore when it’s quiet.
This is where you’ll find the famous fire breathing dragon perched on top of Gringots bank, you’ll even feel the heat if you’re standing close enough.
After you’ve had your fill of Diagon Alley then head off to try some of the rides.
If you are after an extra hour at the park then you could stay at one of Universals resort hotels.
Based on the classic Floridian beach resorts of the 50s and 60s this hotel is super family friendly with two huge pools, a winding river, bowling alley, family sized suites and a huge food court. They also offer a complimentary shuttle bus to the resort so you can enjoy your extra hour at the wizarding world with ease and have character meet and greets on Friday night.
You can check the latest prices for the Cabana Bay beach Resort and read reviews here.
This is a relatively new and modern hotel within walking distance to Volcano Bay so you can easily access that extra hour when the park is quiet. They offer family sized “Kids Suites”, a great pool, children’s splash zone and virtual reality games room.
Have a look at recent reviews and the best prices for the Aventura hotel here.
And if you’re really planning on cramming a lot of rides into a short time then you can purchase the Universal Express pass. Once every member of your family has this, you just show them to the ride attendant and they will direct you to a shorter queue, these wait times will be around 5-10 minutes, much less than the regular queues.
You can buy the Universal Express pass from the UK Universal website in advance for £77 per person, per day for both parks. Remember, you’ll need to buy your park tickets as well! You can also buy them when you’re at the park in one of the clearly marked booths. If this is a once in a lifetime adventure then yes, it’s probably worth the extra.
The Universal Express Unlimited is free for each day of your visit if you’re staying at one of Universals Premier Resort Hotels, another great perk for staying onsite. Hotels offering this service include:
This Polynesian style resort is just a free 5 min water taxi into the park. Your room key acts like a credit card that can be paid at the end of your staying meaning you don’t have to carry loads of extra cards/cash around Universal. You’ll even get priority seating at some of Universals restaurants and any purchases you make around the parks can be delivered directly to your room meaning you don’t have to lug those souvenirs around all day.
The resort also has a gorgeous pool, plenty of dining options and loads of additional activities for kids – if they’re not exhausted after the park! You can check the latest prices and reviews here.
All the fun of a Hard Rock hotel plus being onsite at Universal makes this a great choice for older kids (and adults). They have a lovely palm tree lined pool and regular live music, a great way to relax after exploring Harry Potter World. Again transportation to the park is by complimentary water taxi and you can enjoy all the same perks as the Loews Royal Pacific.
Find the best prices and latest reviews for the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Studios here.
Some rides also offer single rider lines, meaning you wont be able to sit together but you will get on the ride sooner. Although it is frustrating to have to wait for ages to get on your ride, Universal have done a fantastic job at making the wait an interesting experience so it all adds to the magic of your visit.
Undercover Tourist has a fantastic crowd calendar which will further help you work out the best time to visit.
Try to at least peek into all of the shops at Harry Potter World
The shops are amazing, just how we imagined from the books and movies, you’ll feel just like you’re on a free period from Hogwarts or stocking up for the new term. Some of our favourites include:
Honey Dukes Sweet Shops
This is Pipers top tip, and will delight any little wizard in the making. You’ll want to purchase at least something here, give the kids a few dollars and let them choose between the gorgeously packaged toads and jelly beans
Ollivanders Wand shop
It’s here you’ll find the interactive wands you need for spell casting around the park and you could spend hours looking at all the differnet ones available. It’s just how I imagined from the books although none of the wands selected me!
There are several Ollivanders branches around the park but the one in Hogsmeade only lets in 20 customers at a time.
Owl Post Office
Surprise your family and friends at home with a letter sent from Hogsmeade itself or just send one to yourself for a great souvenir when you get home. Any post sent from here will have the special Hogsmeade post mark.
Try your hand at spell casting
This is one I’m in two minds about. There are several locations around the park where, if you have purchased a special wand, you can perform spells such as switching on water fountains or fixing a broken suit of armour by pointing and waving your wand with your best “reparo”.
Of course kids love this, it really does make you feel like you’ve stepped straight into the books. However, the wands are expensive and you’re at risk of spending your visit trying to find the locations and standing in the queue to use them. Plus, the wands are just wands when you get home.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to spend the extra cash and time on this but if you do decide to you can find a list of the locations inside your wand box around the park where they can be used, if you look at it in the dark of Knockturn Alley, some secret locations will show up!
I also recommend buying your interactive wand before you enter the park so you don’t have to add more waiting in line to your day. You can pick one up at Orlando airport if you’re visiting from the UK or from the Universal online store if you’re in the USA.
Chat to the characters and attendants.
These guys know their Harry Potter stuff and are absolutely wonderful to talk to. As previously mentioned, the attendant at the Forbidden Jourrney ride was super helpful and friendly and we loved having a chat with the night bus conductor and his shrunken head.
It’s not Disney, all the characters are a bit cheekier but they stay in character just as well as any princesses we’ve met at Magic Kingdom.
Bring your own snacks and water but make time to at least try the Butterbeer
Universal will let you bring in snacks and drinks (although I do recommend you keep bags as small as possible, yes the lockers are free but they’re pretty small), if you need to cool down out of the hot Floridian sun then try to grab a table at one of the English style pubs in the park. The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron both serve traditional English food and beer but also the famous (non-alcoholic) butterbeer, enjoyed so often by Harry and his friends. I’ll admit I’m not a fan but I really think it’s worth a try if you’re here. It tastes a bit like a cream soda so if you’re not a fan of that, try it in its frozen format.
Download the official Universal Resorts App before your visit.
This is a great resource to plan your visit beforehand. Each member of your party can pick where they want to go and which rides they want to try. When you’re in the park you can check it regularly to work out where you are, check up to date queue times and also when the next show is. Don’t worry about using your data, Universal offers free Wifi all around the parks. Find the links for the Universal resorts app here.
We only had one day to visit Universal which is why we pretty much restricted ourselves to exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but to get the best value out of your tickets and ensure you don’t miss anything, I would recommend scheduling at least two days at the park.
We were actually staying in Tampa for our visit, you can read my review of our lovely AirBNB rental at the Sailport Suites here.
If you’re looking for somewhere closer to the Action in Orlando itself:
I hope you’ve found these Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips helpful, it really is a magical place and well worth a visit with or without kids. Even if you’re not particularly into the books and films you’ll be blown away by the attention to detail and special features Universal have added.
Make sure you pin for later to make your next visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as fun as possible.
If you’re planning the full Orlando Theme park experience you might also like our top tips for surviving a visit to Disney.
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