We like to consider ourselves experts on Universal Orlando and, in particular, a certain magical world within. That’s why we’re spilling our insider Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips and secrets!
Living in Florida has many perks – year-round sunny weather, long stretches of gorgeous beaches and culinary influences from all corners of the globe. But my favorite perk might just be living so close to Universal Orlando! You can’t imagine how often I drop everything to drive down to the City Beautiful for a day or two at the theme parks.
Once the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opened in 2010, we became annual pass holders and have probably spent more time frolicking around Hogwarts than any one single destination aside from our own homes. Rachel started reading the books when she was a wee one and roped me in a few years later. The next thing you know, we are card-carrying Slytherins and own more Harry Potter gear than any adult probably should. We’ve both worked at Universal on and off in various capacities over the years and have an undying respect for J.K. Rowling and the world she’s created. It won’t surprise you that our first stop at Universal Orlando is always The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Would I love the parks as much without all the Harry Potter fun? Glad I never have to find out.
From the thrill rides and shows to the magical shops that are so much like the films that you feel like you’re right there with Harry, Ron and Hermione, there’s so much to do in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We have dozens, or maybe hundreds of visits under our robes by now, so here’s my Harry Potter World guide to help you have the very most magical day!
Things to Know Before You Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
1. It’s actually spread between two parks — Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the only themed land of its kind in the entire world. It’s special because it’s two separate lands, spread over two different theme parks and connected by yet another themed attraction. It is a marvel of planning, engineering and frankly, magic, that this worked out so perfectly!
*Note: it is officially The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, NOT Harry Potter World. But since so many folks shorten it, you’ll notice I have in spots as well.*
Diagon Alley inside Universal Studios is the perfect place to start a Wizarding World adventure. Just pass through the brick wall next to Kings Cross Station in London and ta-dah! You’re in the Wizarding World filled with shops, an ominous dragon, original shows and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction. Take note, there are no signs pointing to the entrance to this magical realm. Just like in the books and films, you either know where you’re going or you’re a Muggle.
Once you’ve explored Diagon Alley, you can pop over to Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express to visit Hogsmeade, with snow-covered cottages and a winding path to Hogwarts Castle, which houses Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. (Later in 2019, a new attraction will open in Hogsmeade and we can’t wait!)
To visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you’ll need a Park-to-Park ticket or an annual pass. Trust me on this, don’t try to pick one or the other to save money. Both are wonderful and worth seeing.
Once you have your ticket, you can visit both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one day pretty easily. If you’re hoping to see the rest of the parks, including Marvel Superhero Island and Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios‘ various neighborhood, that’s where it gets pretty tough. There are so many rides, attractions, shows and restaurants that you really miss a lot if you’re trying to cram it all into one day. But if Harry Potter World is your sole priority, you can do both lands in one day.
Get your tickets here
2. This is as close as we’re getting to the real life Wizarding World.
Legend has it that Disney wanted the rights to build a Harry Potter park, but they also wanted full creative control. J.K. Rowling politely refused and instead turned to Universal Orlando, who worked diligently to bring her exact vision to life. They say J.K. Rowling herself approved every swatch of paint, font and menu item, so every sip of pumpkin juice or nibble of sticky toffee pudding has her stamp of approval.
Once you pass from London through the moving bricks into Diagon Alley, you’ll notice any sign of Universal Orlando disappears, and it really feels like you’ve entered into a different universe. Whether you’re obsessed with Harry Potter and notice every detail (there are hundreds of thousands of references to the books and films) or if you’re just a casual movie watcher, you’ll be impressed. There’s no other themed land like this in all the world, and it’ll likely ruin you for every other theme park.
3. What to Wear to Harry Potter World
Muggles and wizards alike, this is your time to NERD OUT. One of my favorite things about visiting the Wizarding World over and over is just how excited everyone is to be there. From little kids to grandparents, you’ll see folks jumping up and down and sometimes crying in head-to-toe Hogwarts robes and house scarves, often in 100 degree heat.
Try one of these T-shirts to start!
4. Seriously, don’t underestimate the Florida sun
Muggles should take care to remember that the Wizarding World’s attention to detail makes Hogsmeade look like a snowy Scottish village, but the Florida sun can be extremely unforgiving. Make it a priority to drink tons of water, slather on the sunscreen and give yourself ample time to mosey. This is no place for rushing around trying to cram in every attraction. From J.K. Rowling’s brain to Orlando, a lot of work went into the creation of something so wonderful, so it’s worth slowing down to take in even the littlest details.
5. Budget Big for Souvenirs. Lots of ’em.
The most magical thing about Harry Potter World isn’t the fire-breathing dragon or talking bank teller goblins. Believe it or not, your money will disappear out of your bank account faster than you can say EVANESCO. There are dozens of shops and restaurants, so Harry Potter fans will have no problem dropping galleons on robes, wands, Butterbeer, Quidditch supplies, chocolate frogs and practical joke supplies from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
6. Download the Universal Orlando Resort App Before You Go.
The app is free and it makes planning your day in the parks so much easier. It has real-time updates on wait times for rides and attractions, show times, restaurant reservations, maps and more, from the Wizarding World and beyond. We always set up notifications for wait times, so it’s easier to decide where to go next and ultimately spend less time in line.
10 Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips for Beginners
1. How to Do Harry Potter World in One Day? Do it like Harry, Himself
For the most authentic experience (read: like Harry’s!), start in London and work your way through the plot of the Sorcerer’s Stone. You’ll certainly have to skip around in the story (there’s no fire-breathing dragon in the first book, of course), but it’s a great way to plan your first day.
- Pass through the brick wall from London into Diagon Alley
- Explore Diagon Alley, visit Gringotts bank, pick up a wand at Ollivanders, shop for school supplies, have breakfast/early lunch at the Leaky Cauldron
- Head to Kings Cross to pass through Platform 9 3/4 and catch the Hogwarts Express
- Arrive in Hogsmeade and eat at the Three Broomsticks
- Make your way through the village to Hogwarts Castle. Catch the nighttime lights show if it’s running.
2. Get a Wand
When Diagon Alley opened in 2014, Universal changed the game for interactive theme park experiences. Now you can get an interactive wand which allows you to cast spells throughout both Harry Potter lands. The best way to get a wand is to pop into Ollivanders and enjoy a demonstration of how the wand chooses the wizard. It’s a magical moment and one of my favorites to watch again and again. Afterward, you can pick up your very first interactive wand, either within Ollivanders main shop or at various satellite locations.
With your wand, you’ll get a map of hidden spots around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade where you can practice your spells. Just remember, it’s leviOsa, not leviosA.
As if The Wizarding World of Harry Potter wasn’t magical enough, the wand magic actually lasts forever, without batteries or recharging. How is that even possible?! (Oh wait, magic!) Bring them back every time you visit the parks to use again and again.
In addition to Ollivanders, you can also visit Wands by Gregorovitch tucked away in Diagon Alley. Carts positioned outside of Hogwarts castle in Hogsmeade also have wands available.
3. Experience the Heat of Dragon’s Breath
The Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon atop Gringotts bank is one of the coolest photo opps in all of Universal Orlando, but it takes some planning to be in the right place at the right time. Listen for the telltale growl of the dragon just before the fiery blast. Everyone in Diagon Alley will stop moving and look up just in time to see the flames.
Tip: The best photo of the dragon is not straight on, especially on very crowded days. Move either to the left or right down Horizont Alley for a great side view of the fire breathing monster.
4. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
The original! It wouldn’t be a visit to the Wizarding World without a visit to Hogwarts Castle, Dumbledore’s Office, a Quidditch match gone awry, and an encounter with the Womping Willow. I love this ride so much, but real talk: the 4D
5. Use the Single Rider Line for Escape from Gringotts
The craziest thing about Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions is that the queues are every bit as exciting as the rides themselves. (Albeit quite a bit less harrowing for folks with heart conditions.) Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is no exception. Whether you’re in line for five minutes or five hours, the spectacular marble lobby with its enormous crystal chandeliers, tunnels, elevators into the depths of the earth, etc. are fun to experience. After you’ve done the full queue at least once, the single rider line is a great way to save time and get on even faster. It generally cuts your wait time to about 25% of the posted time.
6. Eat at the Leaky Cauldron
Right inside Diagon Alley, you can eat at the Leaky Cauldron. It’s a casual restaurant with the same kind of food our favorite trio ate, like shepherd’s pie, bangers and Mash and Toad in the Hole.
Don’t miss the sign on the outside — it really does leak!
7. Visit Dark and Spooky Knockturn Alley
My favorite place to hang out in Diagon Alley is creepy, dark Knockturn Alley – and not just because I’m a Slytherin. It’s the stomping ground for the villains and their shady doings, so it’s extremely dark and blissfully cool all day long, all year round.
Inside Knockturn Alley, you can visit Borgin and Burkes for some goodies that any dark wizard would totally have, and use your interactive wand on some top-secret spots only visible in the dark. Nearby, check for a green glowing light coming from the basement outside. Be careful, though, you might stumble across He Who Shall Not Be Named using one of the unforgivable curses.
8. Cool off with some Butterbeer (or two or three)
Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic, sticky sweet butterscotchy cream soda and one of the musts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I’m happy to announce there are more ways than ever to consume Butterbeer! From soft serve to slushy to potted cream to fudge, you almost can’t go wrong. I prefer regular cold Butterbeer, but there’s also frozen and even hot for the rare chilly Central Florida day. Frozen in the signature mug is a great choice for sharing, which I highly recommend, because you get discounted refills throughout the day.
The line at the Butterbeer cart is often long and not protected from the sweltering sun, so keep an eye out for these other locations to get a cold BB to go.
- Leaky Cauldron
- The Fountain of Fair Fortune
- The Hopping Pot
- Three Broomsticks
- Butterbeer street carts
- Hog’s Head pub
The foam mustache you get with cold or frozen Butterbeer is uber photogenic, so don’t forget to take a picture in front of Hogwarts or Gringotts.
9. Grown Up Drinks in Harry Potter World
Universal parks allow alcohol responsible consumption onsite, and within the Wizarding World, there are a couple of options for those who’d like to drink.Hog’s Head Pub is a dingy, dark pub – great for running into shady characters or just grabbing a cold beer. The pub offers its own version of Fireball known as Fire Whiskey, a cider/vodka mix called a Pear Dazzle and the Hog’s Tea, like a Long Island but more magical.Wizard’s Brew is a dark porter and Dragon Scale is a lighter lager. You can only get these beers here, so bottoms up.
10. Take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade
Once you’ve had the chance to experience one of the magical lands, hop on the Hogwarts Express (park-to-park admission required) and make your way to the other park.
But wait, there’s more! Did you know the Hogwarts Express has a different experience depending on which direction you’re going? It’s like two rides in one! Whether you’re headed to a new school year, or on the way to Diagon Alley, you’ll see a different story each way.
Shhh… Now Our 7 Wizarding World of Harry Potter Secrets
1. Meet Characters from the Wizarding World
Did you know there are multiple opportunities to meet characters from Harry Potter world? Unlike other areas of Universal Orlando where you can interact with main characters, you’ll never see Harry, Hagrid or Professor Dumbledore wandering around. But, there are a few personal interactions you can have to jazz up your visit!
- The Hogwarts Express train conductor is a friendly face that welcomes you to Hogsmeade.
- The Knight Bus conductor and the shrunken head inside are hilarious.
- Interact with a grumpy goblin at the Gringotts Money Exchange inside Diagon Alley. You can trade your US Dollars for Galleons usable throughout the Wizarding World.
2. Dial 62442 (MAGIC) for the Ministry of Magic
Before you enter Diagon Alley, check out the red London phone booth near Kings Cross Station, If you dial 62442, it’ll connect you to the Ministry of Magic.
3. Spot Kreacher
Also before you enter, take a look at the Grimmauld Place homes, and you’ll see a certain, grumpy house elf peek out from behind the curtains to stare disdainfully down at the muggle world. Watch carefully though, if you blink, you might just miss him.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Hidden Magic
While your map will show you plenty of spots, there are top secret magic locations you can only find if you have the map. (Don’t worry – it comes with every interactive wand.) The best way to see secret magic locations is under black light, which you’ll find inside Knockturn Alley.
5. Send a Postcard from Hogsmeade at the Owl Post
Next to Ollivanders in Hogsmeade, you can actually purchase and send a postcard with the official Hogsmeade stamp. It’s a great place to pick up stationery, journals and pens featuring Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff house crests. Muggles back home will be so excited to receive mail from Hogsmeade!
6. Listen Carefully for Details
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is visually stunning, without a doubt. But the creators wanted to captivate all your senses. Fans of the films and books will hear familiar voices and sounds if only they’ll listen.
- When you visit the creepy Borgin and Burkes, make sure you listen for a faint chirp inside the infamous vanishing cabinet from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
- In the restrooms, you might hear Moaning Myrtle fussing about hand-washing.
- At Madam Malkins Robes for All Occasions, you’ll find all sorts of costumes and Hogwarts gear. If you happen to try on robes, don’t miss the mirror in the center of the store. It’s pretty chatty.
- Within the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, look up and you might just see the horrible professor in her signature pink riding back and forth on a unicycle. Listen carefully, and you might hear here shouting, “I will have order!”
7. Magically Transport Your Souvenirs Back to the Hotel
You can buy chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Puking Pastilles and Pygmy Puffs, but who wants to carry them around all day? If you stay at one of the Universal Orlando onsite hotels, you can have your souvenirs delivered to your hotel, saving you the trouble of carting around bags upon bags of wizard goods.
Even if you don’t stay at one of the hotels, store clerks can arrange it so your items are sent to the front of the park so you can retrieve them when you leave.
8. Potter Merch is Universal
Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels have plenty of Harry Potter merchandise in their gift shops, so if you happen to forget those Hogwarts socks or golden snitch for the friends back home, you can pick some up before checking out.
Any tips or secrets you have to add to your Harry Potter World guide? Let us know!
Don’t miss the rest of Universal Orlando, too!
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