Hello Harry Potter fans!
Do you remember when you discovered Harry Potter?
I was boarding a plane the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. My friends and I spotted a little girl reading that big book. A week later, we had a long layover on the way home. I bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and binge-read it on the plane.
The next day, I bought the 2nd, 3rd and 4th books. A few months later, I met my husband and we eventually read all seven books aloud together. I have re-read all the books, seen all the movies and have introduced Harry Potter to my two kids. We are fans.
When my family visited Orlando last fall, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort was our top priority. Here's what you need to know about this fun family destination.
Hogsmeade is the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. J. K. Rowling was involved in its development and the attention to detail is impressive.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the major attraction in Hogsmeade. The line for this ride winds through Hogwarts Castle, and it's an experience on its own. You'll board a 4-person carrier and fly with Harry Potter on an adventurous and enchanted journey through Hogwarts Castle and the Forbidden Forest. Watch out for dementors and giant spiders!
The minimum height requirement is 48 inches/122 cm. Guests with waistlines over 40 inches may not fit in the seats. There is a test seat at the front of the line.
Use the single rider line or consider purchasing Express Pass to avoid long waits for this ride. Wait times shouldn't be too bad right after the park opens, and you will want to take your time in the queue the first time. It's full of movie memorabilia, magical surprises and the video that sets up the ride's story.
If you are carrying a day pack or purse, you'll be required to use a free locker near the entrance to the ride. Forbidden Journey turns you upside down and every other direction. I nearly lost my phone on this ride when it slid from my hip pocket. The lockers are a hassle, so I recommend leaving bags at your hotel room and using lanyards or clothing with zipper pockets to secure personal items.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a family coaster. It's a fun coaster for kids, but you won't miss an essential Harry Potter experience if you skip it.
The Three Broomsticks is the place to be at mealtime. It features traditional English cuisine with speedy counter service. Lines can be long, so eat early or late for shorter wait times.
You can't go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without trying Butterbeer or pumpkin juice. Buy them from carts along the cobblestone streets or inside the Hogs Head tavern. There are several varieties, and frozen Butterbeer is my favorite. My family gets one of everything to share.
Wands are a favorite souvenir at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Ollivander's offers has a short demonstration where the wand chooses the wizard – someone from your family could be chosen.
Consider purchasing an interactive wand that will do spells in the shop windows of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The interactive Snape wand my son bought in California worked in Florida.
Other shops include Honeyduke's, Dervish and Banges, Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods and Owl Post. If you want cool souvenirs from any of the Hogwarts houses, Hogsmeade is the place to get them. My daughter wears her Hufflepuff sweatshirt all the time.
Moaning Myrtle haunts the bathrooms in Hogsmeade (not Diagon Alley,) so be sure to stop in during your visit.
Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando is practically identical to the new Hogsmeade at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. We have visited both and the experience is nearly the same.
Diagon Alley is the newest addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. It has a hidden entrance inside Universal Studios Florida. We walked past it once or twice before we figured it out. Our jaws dropped and our eyes were wide when we stepped into Diagon Alley the first time.
The only ride at Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. This is a fast-moving ride with 3D and 4D effects through the vaults at Gringotts Bank.
Like Forbidden Journey, there is a lot to see in line, and it's an experience on its own. Single rider, Express Pass and riding right after the park opens are good ways to cut your wait time for this ride. Lockers are required for all bags.
Unlike Forbidden Journey, you'll stay right side up on this coaster-like ride. Escape from Gringotts may be better for younger children and people with motion sickness. The minimum height is 42 inches/107 cm.
The Leaky Cauldron is the place to find a hearty English meal in Diagon Alley. The setup is similar to The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. You'll find Butterbeer and pumpkin juice in Diagon Alley too.
Our favorite place to eat that you can only find in Diagon Alley is Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. You'll get big scoops of unique flavors like Butterbeer, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Earl Grey with Lavender. My husband and I ordered Clotted Cream and Chocolate Chili. They were so rich and so good!
Diagon Alley has more shops than Hogsmeade, and they are all so fun. Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes is the first one you'll see. There are two wand shops, including Ollivander's. My son loved Magical Menagerie. Don't miss Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley, especially if you fancy the Dark Arts.
The Hogwarts Express connects Diagon Alley with Hogsmeade and you must have a Park-to-Park Pass if you want to ride it. The line from Diagon Alley winds through a replica of Kings Cross Station. I loved the optical illusion where people ahead of us disappeared into the wall at Platform 9 3/4. There are lots of great photo ops.
Once on the train, you'll be seated in a compartment that looks just like the Hogwarts Express in the movies. The outside window screen shows scenery students would see from the Hogwarts Express. You'll see shadows and hear voices of Harry, Ron and Hermione outside your compartment window.
Lines for the Hogwarts Express can be long and our Express Pass cut our wait time in the afternoon. I understand that lines from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley are generally shorter, but you won't get the full Kings Cross experience.
The Hogwarts Express was one of my favorite experiences at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don't generally recommend spending extra on park hopper tickets, but I recommend that you buy a Park-to-Park ticket at Universal Orlando for the Hogwarts Express. Harry Potter fans won't want to miss it.
Save on tickets
Universal Orlando Resort has three major theme parks, plus CityWalk. There is enough on-site entertainment to fill 3-5 days, and multi-day tickets get less expensive per day with every day you add. There is only about $10 difference between a 4-Day ticket and a 5-Day ticket.
For my family, Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World are separate vacations because there is just too much to do at both. Our money goes farther when we stick to just one per trip.
Another way to save money on Universal Orlando tickets is to buy from my partner, Get Away Today Vacations. Get Away Today sells discounted tickets for Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. They are a full-service agency with Orlando experts that can also help you book the perfect vacation for your family.
There are lots of ticket options, read the fine print to make sure you get the ticket you want. Remember to purchase a Park-to-Park ticket if you want to ride the Hogwarts Express. Buy a 3-Park ticket if you want to visit Universal's new water park, Volcano Bay.
Click the button below to check ticket prices and options at Get Away Today.
My family loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. We hope you will too!
Disclosure: Universal Orlando Resort provided my family with complimentary park admission and Express Pass Unlimited for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.