This place blew my mind. It is COMPLETELY immersive. For a Harry Potter fan like me, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the sort of place that you could wander around all day taking in every detail.
But remember these Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando tips to make sure you don’t miss anything!
You don’t even need to be going on the rides. It is just as much fun wandering through the streets casting spells with your interactive wand and poking around the shops. Because these are not standard souvenir shops. They are the shops from the books/movies perfectly recreated.
Browse for a wand at Ollivander’s, explore the murky corners of Borgin & Burke’s or buy some Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans at Honeyduke’s.
- 9 Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando tips
- 1. Stay on site at a Universal Orlando hotel if you can
- 2. Don’t miss the cool stuff OUTSIDE Diagon Alley
- 3. Take your time looking up, down and all around in Diagon Alley
- 4. Make magic with an interactive wand
- 5. Make sure you try Butterbeer
- 6. Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions
- 7. Visit Hogwarts at Hogsmeade
- 8. Don’t miss the rides (even the queues are themed!)
- 9. Top ticket and planning tips
9 Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando tips
While there are Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter in Japan and Los Angeles, these parks only have Hogsmeade. Universal Orlando is the only location with two theme parks next door to each other, with the Hogwarts Express train travelling between them.
Universal Studios Florida has Diagon Alley and Universal’s Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade. And, as pretty as Hogsmeade is, Diagon Alley is my favourite.
For more United States travel information, click here.
1. Stay on site at a Universal Orlando hotel if you can
If you stay at one of the 5 Universal hotels, you get a super convenient location with transport to the parks (some hotels are close enough to walk!) and early park admission an hour before everyone else. This extra hour without the crowds means getting in a few of the most popular rides, the opportunity to make magic with your interactive wand, or get some gorgeous photos without masses of people in them.
Some of the on-site hotels even include unlimited express passes to bypass ride queues all day long, which will save you SO much time. These in themselves are worth about US$100 per person per day on top of your park tickets, if you were to buy them.
The on-site hotels are more expensive than an off-site hotel, but they’re definitely worth it!
|Resort||Star rating||Early Morning park access||Unlimited Express Ride Pass||Click to check latest prices|
|Portofino Bay Hotel||5 star||Yes||Yes|
|Hard Rock Hotel||4 star||Yes||Yes|
|Royal Pacific Resort||4 star||Yes||Yes|
|Sapphire Falls Resort||4 star||Yes||No|
|Cabana Bay Beach Resort||3 star||Yes||No|
2. Don’t miss the cool stuff OUTSIDE Diagon Alley
Before you enter Diagon Alley there’s some cool London scenes to explore, including the Eros fountain from Piccadilly Circus, and the Knight Bus.
Insider tips –
- Make sure you stop to talk to the shrunken head on the Knight Bus. He’s hilarious!
- Can you see the red phone box in the photo below? Step inside and dial MAGIC (62442) to listen to a recorded message from the Ministry of Magic.
- Watch for Kreacher in the second floor window at Grimmauld Place.
- The jacket potato stall in this area comes highly recommended (baked potatoes with toppings).
3. Take your time looking up, down and all around in Diagon Alley
The amount of work that has gone into this place is astounding. Every detail is perfect and, if you’re a fan, there’s so much to take in.
The staff are very good too. Perhaps not quite Disney-level service, but these guys are definitely passionate about their Harry Potter.
Insider tips –
- Go into all the shops and have a good look around. There are cool things to see in every shop.
- Don’t forget to wander through Knockturn Alley. It’s dark and easy to miss, but totally awesome.
- Make sure you see the dragon on top of Gringotts breathe fire. To be honest he’s hard to miss, but it is exciting every time.
- Have a meal at the Leaky Cauldron. Great atmosphere and a large range of traditional British food, as well as butterbeer and pumpkin juice. The Cranachan (a dessert with raspberries and cream) comes highly recommended.
- See the puppet shows of The Tales of Beedle the Bard on the stage in Diagon Alley.
- If you buy a pygmy puff at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, ask for the naming ceremony.
4. Make magic with an interactive wand
The interactive wands are absolute genius for making you feel a part of the park. Just like a real wizard or witch. For only a few more dollars than a standard souvenir wand (although that does make them about US$50), you get one that makes magic!
Ideally, go to a wand ceremony at Ollivanders (there’s one in each park) to watch the wand choose the wizard, just like Harry. Then browse the extensive selection in the shop to choose yours.
There’s 20 or so marked spots in the parks (typically in shop windows), where, if you do the right movement with your wand (and say the magic words!), then something will happen. There is a map showing these locations that comes with your wand.
The technology is brilliant. There’s no tricky secret buttons to push or stand on. It seems to work a bit like a TV remote control. You point your wand towards a particular point in the shop window (where there’s a hidden detector) and it responds to the movement you make. You need to be quite accurate with your direction and movements, but there’s often staff around to show you how.
I could have done this all day. Seriously. Thank goodness I had the kids with me to give me the excuse to play!
Insider tips –
- Go to Ollivanders right before they close. You might have the place to yourself and be chosen to take part in the wand ceremony.
- Wearing house colours and looking happy and excited can increase your chance of being chosen for the wand ceremony. It does tend to be kids only though.
- There are secret locations for some spells. If you go into Knockturn Alley, the black lights will show these secret spots on the map that comes with your wand.
5. Make sure you try Butterbeer
Whether it’s hot Butterbeer (only available in winter), cold Butterbeer, frozen Butterbeer (like a slushie) or Butterbeer ice cream (from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley), don’t leave without trying this very sweet but yummy concoction.
6. Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions
You’ll need a 2 park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express at all, but, if you can, ride it in both directions. It’s different each way.
This is so well done. You board a proper English-style steam train and it takes you between Diagon Alley (Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station) and Hogsmeade. Your compartment window is a screen, which will come to life along the way, making you feel that you’re on your way to Hogwarts.
Insider tips –
- You can buy chocolate at the station shop just in case of Dementor attack on your journey.
- When you’re heading through the station to the train on the Diagon Alley side, look out ahead for where you “walk through the wall” to the platform. Wait back where you can see the effect and let the kids walk around the corner so that you can take a photo of them.
7. Visit Hogwarts at Hogsmeade
Hogsmeade is so pretty. It’s permanently winter here with snow on the roofs, which is slightly odd in the hot Orlando weather, but still awesome.
Hogwarts is magnificent and the site of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, one of the most popular rides in the park. To tour inside the castle you need to follow the regular ride queue rather than the Express Pass queue. Or, if you don’t want to ride, then you can ask for a castle tour to take photos.
The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle is an impressive light show that is definitely worth staying up late for. Unfortunately it is only on during summer and the Christmas season. To minimise crowds, hold back and don’t watch the first or second show. If you wait for the third show you will have a much better view. Each show lasts about 5 minutes and it runs every 15-20 min.
Insider tips –
- Go into the girls’ toilets next to the Three Broomsticks and listen for Moaning Myrtle.
- Get your muggle mail & postcards stamped at Owl Post.
- Have a meal at the Three Broomsticks. The theming and decor inside is fantastic. I was disappointed that the Cornish pasties were almost bite-size though. I’d try something different from the British-themed menu next time.
- Allow plenty of time to browse all the lollies at Honeyduke’s. The chocolate frogs are particularly yummy.
8. Don’t miss the rides (even the queues are themed!)
I recommend starting your day at Diagon Alley to beat the crowds. It is the theming that I love the most here and this gives you the best opportunity to wander around, buy your wand and do lots of magic, and take it all in.
However, to have the best chance to ride the most popular rides with minimum queues, then arrive at the parks to get in line at least 20 minutes before opening, head to Hogsmeade and ride The Forbidden Journey at Hogwarts. Then take the Hogwarts Express to Kings Cross station and ride Escape From Gringotts in Diagon Alley.
There’s only one ride here – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – but it’s a really good one. Just walking through the bank, past the goblins, catching the lift, is all fun. The ride itself is part rollercoaster, part 3D experience. Very cool. And fortunately we were all tall enough to go on it (min 107cm).
There’s two rides here –
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – a fabulous 3D experience in Hogwarts Castle that makes you feel like you’re flying a broomstick alongside Harry. Sadly Master 6 was too short for this one – minimum height 122cm. But we got super lucky and the guy at the entrance sent us in the secret shortcut way, so we skipped the 45min queue. Master 6 waited in the Parent Swap room (watching Harry Potter movies), while David and I took turns riding it with Miss 8.
- Flight of the Hippogriff is the family-friendly one – minimum height 91cm – and the kids couldn’t get enough. A fun yet breathtaking rollercoaster. Make sure you have a good look around while you’re riding to see Buckbeak, Hagrid’s hut and lovely views of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.
- Dragon Challenge has closed since our visit with a replacement attraction opening in 2019.
9. Top ticket and planning tips
Universal Orlando’s two theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, are both full size, needing at least a day each.
If you only visit the Harry Potter areas (you’ll need to walk through the rest of the parks to get there), then you could do them both in one day. It would be a rushed visit and you would need to stick it out all day with the huge afternoon crowds, but you could do it.
Personally, I would spend a day in each of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Especially if you’re keen to follow all the Insider tips in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando tips above to do all the “secret” things. Unfortunately the kids also love other areas of Universal, like the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride, so when we visited we spent about half our time in the Harry Potter areas and half in the rest of the parks.
We had a 2 day pass, which we definitely needed. You could easily fill 3 or 4 days. Especially if you stay on-site and enjoy the City Walk restaurant and entertainment area outside the parks as well.
And don’t forget you need to buy a ticket for both parks (“Park to Park Admission”) to be able to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Try to have all your belongings contained in a small backpack, because you can’t take anything on the rides, not even in your pocket. There are free, secure lockers at every ride.
Download the Universal Orlando app before you go, so you’ve got maps and ride wait times at your fingertips.
Read about our 3 week Disney/theme park extravaganza here. There’s Disney World, a Disney cruise, LEGOLAND, how we survived our 16 hour flight and more.
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