Excited for your first visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando? Check out these great tips for what to see and do before you go!
In 2001, Tim and I were still newly married and took a trip to New York City to see the Christmas decorations. Rather than head to Rockefeller Center to see the tree, my sweet husband stood with me in the pouring rain in a line outside of a Barnes & Noble as I waited to get my hands on a copy of the latest Harry Potter book.
The plan was to get my copy and head back out for sightseeing but Tim took one look at my expression as I held it in my hands and he knew our evening would be spent holed up in our hotel as I plowed through the first few chapters.
I adore Harry Potter. I've lovingly held on to my first edition hardcover copies of each book and I cannot wait to share them with our girls. But that's not happening any time soon. The stories are far too intense and scary for our sensitive 7 & 4 year olds.
Knowing that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was just right there in Orlando during our recent adults-only trip was just too much of a temptation. Our girls won't be ready to visit this park for several years so we pounced on the opportunity to visit it on our own without them.
How was it going to a Harry Potter theme park without the kids?
Today I want to share with you why this is one of the most perfect experiences for an adults-only trip to Orlando. Our kids may never know what it was like to have to wait for each Harry Potter book to be released, but they will at least get to experience the anticipation of visiting this park. I can't wait to head back with them in tow!
P.S. You do not want to miss the AMAZING tips on how to save money during your trip with these great tips for visiting Universal Studios on a budget.
How to See the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in One Day, Adult Edition:
We spent one day with our friends Paul & Erica at Universal with a 2-park pass so that we could see all of the Harry Potter offerings at once.
We parked and entered at the Universal Studios Florida side so we could start our day on the Diagon Alley side of town. Since this area is relatively new, it still gets crowded pretty quickly so I recommend doing it first and then heading over to see the Hogwarts castle second.
Our speedy itinerary for one day's tour makes the most of the biggest highlights the parks offer:
- Enter Diagon Alley and head straight to Gringotts
- Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Grab a butter beer and stroll around until the dragon welcomes visitors with her fancy "hello"
- Head to Kings Cross Station and Platform 9 ¾
- Take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade
- Walk directly to Hogwarts castle
- Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Visit Honeydukes while you wait for your stomach to settle from the ride!
- Stroll Hogsmeade and then head back to the train station
- Take Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley
- Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron
- Visit Ollivander's wand shop
- More strolling and shopping, so many amazing details to see!!
I can't imagine a better first impression of the theme park than stepping foot into Diagon Alley for the first time. I was immediately struck by the significant amount of attention to detail they obviously put into creating this world. No sign, window, or brick was too small to have a magical touch. I was thankful for our plan because we could easily have gotten swept away in wandering the street and alleys. We headed straight towards the Gringotts Bank for our first ride:
The ride at Gringotts is deserving of a post all to itself. Let me say that it is worth however long of a wait you encounter. The special effects are jaw dropping and the queue has plenty to entertain you as you wander through the line.
Funny discovery: When I'm scared, I giggle. As Tim put it--sometimes you just have to vent off the fear or risk exploding. Let it be known I giggled my way through the majority of the ride.
After we stumbled our way out of the bank and onto the street, we needed a moment to collect ourselves. Our visit happened to be a 40 degree chilly day. Their famous Butterbeer was being sold in a seasonal hot version. It might possibly be the single most delicious thing I have ever tasted. Our entire crew agreed.
We strolled with our Butterbeers taking in the sights and then made our way back to Kings Cross Station and Platform 9 ¾. The Hogwarts Express is SO much more than a simple tram that transports you from one park to the other, it is a ride and experience all in itself.
The special effects on the train were remarkable, I felt like I was sitting right inside one of the movies.
We arrived in Hogsmeade to discover another breathtakingly real replication of the Harry Potter world. We knew the line at Hogwarts was going to be filling up quickly, so we hustled straight towards the castle. Our wait was 30 minutes but it didn't feel that long at all.
Every twist of the queue takes you to a new corner of the castle filled with incredible details and special effects from the story. My favorites were the moving & talking paintings and the animated sorting hat. I was having so much fun in the queue I kept waiting for the "real line" to begin. It never happened! You finish your "tour" and hop on the ride, so fun!
Similar to the Gringotts ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is worthy of an entire blog post on it's own. I think it is the best ride I have EVER been on. You are completely immersed in the story.
It might have been a bit too much immersion for Tim though. . . the poor guy suffered from major motion sickness. He kept things in check, but was pretty miserable until after we had a moment to sit down and get some food on his tummy. This is NOT a ride for the faint of heart.
To be brutally honest: both this and the Gringotts ride would have scared the CRAP out of our kids. If your children haven't read the majority of the series of books without nightmares, I wouldn't even dream of putting them on these rides.
And that is precisely why this park is so perfect for an adults' vacation! They didn't try to make a "one size fits all" park, they owned all the dark and scary parts of Harry and didn't shy away from the thrilling adventure bits of his story.
Because we were moving so quickly through our tour due to time constraints, we missed most of the live action performances available in the parks. Thanks to Universal for filling in the blanks for us. Though we were only there for one action-packed day, you could easily slow down your visit and really take in the incredible details over time:
While Tim was resting on a bench trying to get over his motion sickness, Erica and I hit up Honeydukes for some chocolate frogs. This little candy shop is an absolute treat! Every confection from the story is found here: Exploding Bon Bons, Chocolate Frogs, Every Flavour Beans, and so much more. The chocolate frogs even come with a wizard trading card with motion effects. Too cool!
Another quick ride on the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley and we found ourselves having lunch at The Leaky Cauldron. This quick service restaurant is the perfect spot for a break. You stand in line to place your order, are given a number and LEAD to your seat by the staff where you can relax while the food is prepared and brought to you.
I LOVED not having to fight to find a spot for our party of 4, I loved that they had wine and beer on the menu, and I loved that menu had a realistic variety of English inspired foods. 3 of us chose the fish & chips (Delicious!!) and Tim had the Guiness Stew which put his stomach back in order. We've heard that the sticky pudding is one of the best desserts in the park, but we were too full to test that theory ourselves.
After lunch we had time to just goof off and enjoy the shops a bit. We headed into Borgin and Burkes to check out the selection of dark magical items, it's tucked into a back alleyway that is just full of creepy.
And finished our tour with a visit to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and Ollivander's. There is an adorable show where Ollivander himself helps one audience member (usually a child) to select their wand like Harry does in the first movie. After the show you can purchase your own wand based on the characters' name. We had fun just peeking to see which style matched which character. I loved Fleur Delacour's wand!
As we headed out of Diagon Alley we stopped to appreciate the Knight Bus, Kreacher peeking out of Grimmauld Place, and other fun details that make you feel like you're right in London.
I can't imagine not getting the 2-park pass for a trip to Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Both sides offer so much to experience and it was so easy to hop back and forth between the two.
As much fun as we had, it was very clear to me that the park is definitely not intended for the younger crew. I think we'll easily be looking at waiting another 3-4 years before we'd consider taking our girls there but I would JUMP at the chance to go back myself before then.
Don't Just Fly was given passes to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in order to do this review. We bought our own Butterbeers. All opinions are our own.