By Laura Jemetta
Are you heading to Orlando? Excited to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Then you don’t want to miss this series – read about our Wizarding World itinerary, our planning strategy and tips and tricks for budgeting at the parks.
We spent three days at Universal Studios Orlando, which meant that we essentially spent three days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World is one of my favourite places in the world after those three days, and I learnt that like Disney World, a little bit of planning goes a long way on a trip to Universal.
For those who don’t know, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a land inside Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios is split into two parks, (not including the water park), and the Wizarding World itself is split into two as well, with one half in each of the parks: Hogsmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios proper.
Okay, there’s good news and bad news about this set-up. The bad news is that if you want to visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you will need to buy a separate tickets to each of the two parks. I know that sounds kind of sucky, right? If you don’t want to get just half an experience, you’re forced to pay twice, essentially. But the good new I have for you is this: the two separate parts of the Wizarding World are connected by the Hogwarts Express, so you can easily travel between them if you have your two tickets.
So, do you recommend getting a ticket to both parks? I guess there’s no simple answer to that question, but if you want to get the full Wizarding World experience, and you can afford it, yes. Seeing Diagon Alley without Hogsmeade will mean that you won’t get to ride the Forbidden Journey, or see the Hogwarts Castle. And only going to Hogsmeade means you won’t get to experience the unique magic of Diagon Alley, or go to the Leaky Cauldron. Also, you will not be able to ride the Hogwarts Express without a ticket to both parks, so if you don’t want to miss out on that experience, then buying a park-hopper ticket (allowing you entry into both parks), would be something to consider.
Getting Your Planning Started
You have a few decisions to make once you know you’re going to Universal Studios:
- How many days you want to spend at the Parks
- How many of the Parks you want to visit
- Whether you want to add Express Passes onto your tickets
We booked our tickets when we were still back home in Australia, and that worked out great for us. Like I said, we decided on three days at Universal because we wanted to have ample time to see both sides of the Wizarding World, as well as to explore the rest of the parks. That ended up being a perfect amount of time for us to ride every ride we wanted to, multiple times!
Should I buy Express Passes? In a word? No. I really believe that you don’t need to pay for Express Passes to skip the queues, because there is a way to do it for free! Check out my post about Universal’s Best Kept Secret to read all about the Single Rider Line – the free way to skip the queues at Universal Studios. In short, if you don’t mind not sitting directly next to your friend or family member on the rides themselves, then you can queue in the much shorter Single Rider line, for free. On our first day at Universal, we inquired about Express Passes, but just couldn’t justify the extra cost (approximately $100 USD). When we realised that most of the rides we were most excited about had a single rider line anyway. we were so glad we didn’t pay that extra money. It was like getting those Express Passes for free – and you can too by using the Single Rider line instead!
We started out at Universal Studios proper on Day one at the parks. We were so excited to be there, so our plan was pretty simple: make a beeline for the Wizarding World. We took one of the earliest shuttles available from our hotel, and were at the park early.
TIP: It’s a longer walk than you think from the buses, and through the City Walk to the park entry, so add on a bit of extra time (roughly 15-20 minutes) to your travel time if you’re trying to be at the parks at a certain time.
Once we’d queued up and had our tickets scanned, we headed straight for ‘London’, where the entry to Diagon Alley is. We took a wrong turn, and ended up walking the longest way there, but we finally made it across the bridge and into London.
A cool detail about the Wizarding World is that, like in the books, the entry to Diagon Alley is non-descript. It’s as if you could walk right past it if you didn’t know what you were looking for (which is kind of the point for us Muggles, right?)
Like in the Philosophers Stone, the entry to Diagon Alley is behind a brick wall, and once you make it through, you’re greeted with the Diagon Alley from both your imagination, and the films. Pair that with the stirring Harry Potter score wafting through the air, and you have a real tear-jerker moment. (For me anyway!)
As you enter, the first thing you notice will probably be the giant dragon on top of Gringotts – especially if you catch it breathing fire! You’ll recognise familiar sights everywhere – from the shops from the books to the cobblestones – everything feels like coming home. Once we had arrived and taken it all in, we headed straight for Escape from Gringotts – all the tips I’d read prior to arriving said to get straight in line for rides because wait times can get astronomical as the day goes on.
Escape to Gringotts takes place inside the aforementioned dragon-topped Gringotts Bank. To queue for the ride, you actually wind through Gringotts, including a walk through the hall with the goblin bank tellers. Even at that early time of the morning, the wait was pretty substantial, but I think Gringotts is my favourite Wizarding World ride, and the waiting is worth it (even if you’re not using the Single Rider Line!)
After the ride, we spent quite a bit of time wandering in and out of the shops in Diagon Alley – (just a warning, some of the ‘shops’ in Diagon Alley are just shop-fronts). But you can actually walk inside so many of the shops you’ve read about, like:
- Madam Malkan’s
- Magical Menagerie
- Florean Fortescues
- The Leaky Cauldron! – My favourite
To me, the shops in Diagon Alley are more than just shops – even if you’re not going to buy anything, (which you don’t need to in order to enjoy the Wizarding World), I highly recommend taking a leisurely walk through the shops – it’s magical. Try to pick up on all the little details from the books and films – and there are a lot of them – that show just how much thought went into the design of the park.
By the time we’d been in and out of the shops, we decided it was time to do something at the top of the list for the Wizarding World – (for me at least!) – try Butterbeer. This was honestly one of my favourite things about the Wizarding World – it’s one of the tastiest and most tangible things that was brought to life from the books, and I loved it. We decided to get our first Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, which I thought was a pretty damn cool place.
TIP: There is almost always going to be a queue for the Leaky Cauldron, even really early in the day, because they serve breakfast! But it’s worth the wait at least once for the decor and atmosphere alone. It’s one of the coolest places in the Wizarding World, serving traditional English fare, or you can just order a Butterbeer like we did on our first day.
Next, we decided to move on to Hogsmeade, so we went to board the Hogwarts Express. The whole queue for the train is so well done – it’s designed to be like a real London train station, (Kings Cross, to be exact). ‘Station Attendants’ scan your park ticket again (to make sure you have a park-hopper ticket), so you will need to have that at the ready. Then you wind your way through the station, through an English convenience stand, (where you can purchase real British lollies and snacks), and then through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4.
TIP: There is a really cool detail as you go through to Platform 9 and 3/4, and it’s a great photo opportunity. If you’re travelling with someone, get them to stand back back around the corner as you walk through the arch, because mirrors create an illusion that makes it appear that you are actually disappear through a brick wall. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean!
Next, it was time to board the Hogwarts Express. Now, we found that there was always quite a hefty wait for the train, but it’s worth it! Not only is the Hogwarts Express a convenient way to get between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, (and a great chance to sit down for a while!), it’s also an immersive Harry Potter experience in itself.
Once you get to the front of the queue, you board the train, you get to sit in a real train compartment and enjoy the ride from Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure. It’s a short ride, but there are special effects that make it feel like a real train journey, (I’ll leave those as a surprise for you to experience yourself!)
TIP: Make sure you ride the Hogwarts Express at least twice – once from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, and once back the other way. You get a different train experience in each direction!
Hogsmeade is pretty magical – the first thing I noticed was the ‘snow’ topped buildings, which is quite the juxtaposition when you’re sweltering in the Floridian heat! Again, the sweeping music as you enter really pulls at your heartstrings, and Hogsmeade feel a bit like home.
So, Diagon Alley is probably my favourite part of the Wizarding World, but Hogsmeade has Honeydukes, which is my favourite shop to visit. Candy-coloured and candy-filled, it is the lolly shop of dreams. I got a little carried away with the chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts, but it was just so cool to be able to purchase those sweets from the books!
Undoubtedly the best part of Hogsmeade though, is the Forbidden Journey, which was Kate’s favourite ride. It always has an astronomical queue, but it’s one of the best rides in the whole park.
TIP: Of course, I’m going to remind you to take the Single Rider Line whenever you can for the Forbidden Journey, but make sure that you use the regular line at least once, because you will get to wind your way through Hogwarts if you do. See the Herbology Greenhouses, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledores office, and more while you wait in line. It’s something you have to experience at least once!
After the Forbidden Journey, we explored Hogsmeade which, along with Honeydukes, features The Three Broomsticks, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and plenty of Butterbeer stands. To be honest, there is more to see and do in Diagon Alley, but Hogsmeade can sometimes be a nice break from the business of Diagon Alley. We found it was generally a little quieter in Hogsmeade, (except for around Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey!)
We spent the next two days at Universal Studios doing two things:
- Going back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade: We explored everything – and I mean everything – that the Wizarding World has to offer. We had a lovely meal at the Leaky Cauldron. We had a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks. We wandered in and out of every shop, perusing everything and carefully deciding on the souvenirs we wanted to buy. We watched the shows in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We got an ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s (butterbeer for me!) We hung out in London too – we got pictures in front of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and got connected to the Ministry of Magic in the London phone booth! And we rode the rides. Over and over again. The Wizarding World rides are some of the best I’ve ever been on, and I didn’t get sick of them, even when we were going on them repeatedly. We did everything there is to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I still want to go back someday soon. If that doesn’t indicate how great a place it is for a Harry Potter lover like me, I don’t know what will.
- We explored the rest of Universal Studios: This is important – we’d paid for tickets to Universal Studios as a whole, so of course we were going to get the most for our money and explore the rest of the parks. Three days there allowed us to see all of the Wizarding World, and see the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal has a lot of offer – from themed worlds from some of your favourite films, to some of the best and most thrilling rides you’ll find. I highly recommend the Hulk roller coaster, the Rip Ride and Rock It roller coaster, and the Mummy Ride to name a few.
There you have it – the third, (and most comprehensive!), part of my Universal Series.
Please let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are about my Universal Studios Series – did you get any good tips or inspiration? I certainly hope so!
Thanks for reading, whether you’re an old or new reader! We appreciate your support so much!