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The Ultimate Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

View of Hogwarts Castle in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida is a must! Universal did an incredible job at making it a fully immersive experience that brings the story to life. From seeing a fire-breathing dragon in Diagon Alley to casting spells in Hogsmeade and walking through Hogwarts Castle, my first trip was everything I hoped it would be. Now that I’ve been a few times, I’m sharing all my tips and itineraries to help you have a magical experience when you visit!

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Know Before You Go

When is The Best Time To Visit?

The two main things that impact when to visit Universal are crowd levels and the weather.

Crowds: I’ve had the best luck visiting the week AFTER major holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving. Since most families go during these times, the parks tend to be less crowded the following week or two. I always check sites like Undercover Tourist and Orlando Informer as well to get an idea of what crowds might be like. *Basically the entire state of Louisiana goes to Universal & Disney during the Mardi Gras holidays (sometime in February/early March) so that’s something to plan around also.

Weather: Florida’s weather tends to be hot & humid for most of the year, unfortunately. I’ve gone in April multiple times and once in December, all of which I got lucky with below average temps and no rain. As someone who lives in an area with similar weather to Florida, I would avoid going June-September at all costs. Here’s a look at the average weather to help you decide:

WHERE TO STAY:

If you don’t take any other advice from this post (terrible idea, but do you) learn from my mistakes and stay at a Universal Hotel. Not only will you get to enter the parks an hour early each morning, but they also have shuttles that take you between your hotel and the parks. This might not seem like a big deal, however after walking 18k steps and being on your feet for 10-12 hours, I promise the last thing you’ll want to do is walk even further to the rideshare area and wait with thousands of other people to catch a ride.

I stayed at Cabana Bay during my last visit which was affordable and cute. Find the full list of hotels that will get you early access here.

How many days do I need at the parks?

While it’s technically possible to do it all in one day, I highly recommend going for 2 days. There is so much to see and do in the Wizarding World that one day really isn’t enough. You’ll want to make time to simply walk around and take it all in, plus it’s cool to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in the morning when it’s less crowded, as well as at night when everything is lit up.

Tickets:

You’ll need to buy a park-to-park ticket to access both parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is located in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. One of the coolest parts about this is getting to ride the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. You can view different packages and buy tickets here.

Pricing:

Obviously prices will vary, but here are the basics-

  • Park to Park tickets: $164-$200 per person/per day (depending on the date)
  • Express Pass: $80-$100 per person/per day
  • Lodging: $100-$400 a night /Check out Orlando hotels here
  • Food & drink: $50-$100 per person/per day
  • Interactive wand: $60-$80 each
  • Souvenirs: varies, but let me tell ya nothing is cheap!

**You can buy Universal tickets using points. I used Chase Ultimate Rewards to get mine, but they don’t make it easy. If you simply type Universal into the search they won’t come up. To find them choose Orlando and your dates under activities, then search tickets and passes. If you have questions about this let me know and I’d be happy to help!

Universal Orlando Resort app:

Be sure to download this before you get to the park. It has everything from ride wait times to virtual line queues, maps, and schedules for live shows. You can even order food with it!

Time-saving tip:

If you want to get the most out of your time at the park you have a few options, the first being to buy an express pass to skip most lines. Another option is to stay at one of the Universal Resorts that includes an express pass: Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay, or Loews Royal Pacific. The third option, which has worked well for me on all my trips to Universal, was to use the single-rider line. This allows you to skip the long wait times and have more time to explore the Wizarding World. The wait for Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure is typically 2+ hours, but I’ve been on in 30 minutes by getting in the single-rider line. *Hagrid’s does NOT have an express pass line.

What to bring:

  • A small bag or purse that you can wear on the rides. I wore my belt bag (aka fanny pack) which was perfect. I also brought a larger backpack-style purse so I could hold things like my wand and souvenirs, but it was a pain to store in the lockers before every ride, so if you can get away with something smaller I’d recommend that instead.
  • SPF & sunglasses for that hot Florida sun.
  • A little cash that you can take to Gringotts Money Exchange where they’ll turn it into Gringotts gold. You can use this to buy things throughout the wizarding world, or just bring it home as a souvenir. *While you’re there ask the goblin questions and he’ll answer you!

What to wear:

  • Comfortable shoes are a must because you’ll be doing a TON of walking. I typically average around 18k steps per day in the wizarding world. Make sure it’s a pair you can wear for 10+ hours that have already been broken in.
  • Lightweight clothes to combat the Florida heat and humidity. I wore skirts on my last few visits which is the way to go in my opinion. They’re so much more comfortable for walking around and the rides. Whatever you choose make sure it’s something you’ll be comfortable and cool in ALL DAY. If you’re anything like me and want to take tons of photos, wear something comfy but cute in your house colors, make Harry Potter-themed shirts, or go all out and wear your best Hogwarts gear!

Dressing up in my Hufflepuff uniform and robes was SO much fun and made the experience even better! I could tell the Wizarding World staff appreciated it too, because my friends and I were greeted with things like “Welcome back students!” throughout the day and received lots of compliments on our outfits. If you’re worried you’ll look silly or are “too old” to dress up, I promise you’re not!

Here’s the exact robe I purchased – for a fraction of the cost as the ones at Universal. The quality is great and it comes with a built-in pocket for your wand too!

*I wouldn’t recommend wearing a robe if you visit during the warmer months, but it was great to have for Christmas/wintertime!

Guide to Diagon Alley

I recommend starting your first day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Diagon Alley which is located in Universal Studios. Check the Universal app ahead of time to find out what time the park opens (it varies by day) and get there ASAP so you can see & do as much as possible before it gets crowded.

Follow the signs through the park until you reach London, where you’ll see the Knight Bus. You won’t find any signs for Diagon Alley and it’s easy to miss since the entrance is hidden. Look for a brick wall beneath red arches where you’ll walk into what looks like a bathroom entrance, with openings on either side of the brick wall. King’s Cross Station will be to the left, in case you’re having a hard time finding it. Now get ready to be wowed!

Once you enter Diagon Alley, give yourself some time to walk around and take photos while it’s mostly empty. Before long the walkways will be jam-packed which makes it much harder to take photos without tons of people in them.

Next on the list – go to Ollivander’s to get your wand! The lines for this experience can get pretty long so you’ll want to go here first, especially if you’re hoping to get chosen by Ollivander for the wand selection ceremony. They take each group (around 10 people) into the shop, but only one lucky witch or wizard gets picked. *It does help your chances to dress in your best wizarding gear!*

When I got my wand, Ollivander chose the cutest kid who looked just like Harry Potter-glasses and all-which I honestly enjoyed more than had I been picked myself. After this, you’ll be taken into the wand shop where there is a large variety of wands to “choose” from (after all, the wand chooses the wizard.) Each wand comes with a map that shows all of the locations to cast spells and directions on how to use it.

If the line is too long at Ollivander’s you can get a wand at Wands by Gregorovitch, which is located across from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes near the entrance to Diagon Alley. They’re also available in Hogsmeade.

I know the wands aren’t cheap, and I actually didn’t get one on my first visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I regretted. I really enjoyed having it to cast spells (and of course for photos) and it’s a great souvenir to bring home. Plus you can use it again if and when you go back-which I promise you’ll want to do!

After getting your wand head over to Gringotts Bank to ride Escape from Gringotts, which is the only ride in Diagon Alley. My favorite part of this is walking through the bank, which looks exactly like the movie, goblins and all. The ride itself is just okay in my opinion. Considering they ride through Gringotts on a track in the movie, I really expected it to be similar, but it’s more of a 3D experience.

You’ll exit Gringotts through Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment where you can buy souvenirs. Even if you don’t want to get anything, take a look around because the decorations are beautiful! Fun fact: The barometer in the photo below (between the two telescopes) was used in two of the Harry Potter movies. It appears in Dumbledore’s office (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and The Room of Requirement (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Next, head over to Knockturn Alley to visit Borgin and Burkes. Here you’ll find the Vanishing Cabinet and plenty of Dark Arts souvenirs, as well as a great place to cool off. Fun fact: about 90% of the props on the upper level of Borgin and Burkes are from the movies! Be sure to check out my list of hidden gems below to look for while you’re in Knockturn Alley.

After visiting Knockturn Alley, take some more time to walk around Diagon Alley casting spells, going into shops like Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Madam Malkins, or watching a show at Carkitt Market. And of course, keep your eye out for the dragon breathing fire, which happens every 10 minutes.

Where to Eat & Drink in Diagon Alley

The Leaky Cauldron

Now that you’ve seen & done the main things in Diagon Alley, it’s time for lunch! I won’t lie and tell you that the food throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is mind-blowing because it’s not. However, I do really enjoy the fish & chips they serve at The Leaky Cauldron. You can also try one of the many forms of butterbeer here, the butterbeer potted cream. *It gets crowded here at lunchtime, so try to go around 11:00 or wait until 1:00 to avoid the rush.

Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor

Head here after lunch to try one or more of the many flavors they offer. I got soft-serve on my first visit and didn’t love it, so I’d recommend getting a traditional hard-packed flavor instead. If you want to try butterbeer in all its different forms you can get the ice cream version here, which I thought was good. FYI the line can get very long, so you may want to go early/late in the day instead.

The Hopping Pot & The Fountain of Fair Fortune

If you’re just looking to grab an adult beverage while in Diagon Alley, these two are your best bet. If it’s an especially hot day, opt for The Fountain of Fair Fortune so you can get some AC while you wait in line, plus I find it tends to be less crowded. My favorite drinks were the Strongbow Cider and the Wizard’s Brew, a dark beer made especially for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and only available in Diagon Alley. They also serve butterbeer of course! *I recommend grabbing a drink here before leaving Diagon Alley to enjoy while you wait in line for the Hogwarts Express.

Riding the Hogwarts Express

It’s officially time to head over to Hogsmeade for the rest of your day! But before you hop on the train be sure to check out The Knight Bus and 12 Grimmauld Place in London, right outside Diagon Alley. Head to the back of The Knight Bus for a cute photo and look for Kreacher poking his head out from behind the curtains of the second-floor window at Grimmauld Place.

Now head into King’s Cross Station which will take you to Platform 9 3/4 to catch the Hogwarts Express! You’ll need to have your universal app or a physical ticket out so they can scan your park-to-park pass here. As you walk through the station you can see actual advertisements that were in the movies, which is such a nice detail.

Since there’s no single-rider line available you’ll probably have to wait a bit, but a fun way to pass the time is to play the game HeadsUp with your group. Hopefully you took my advice and grabbed a drink before leaving Diagon Alley too.

Be on the lookout for the trolley loaded with trunks and signs behind it showing Platforms 9 and 10 (this is towards the end of the line after you’ve gone upstairs.) It’s a great spot to grab a video running through to Platform 9 3/4. Once you make it onto the platform you’ll see Hedwig waiting on top of Harry’s trunk.

Once you’ve boarded the Hogwarts Express, watch the window to see the scene change as you go from London into Hogsmeade. You’ll see a different scene when you ride the opposite way back to Diagon Alley, so be sure to do both!

Guide to Hogsmeade

You’ve finally made it to Hogsmeade! Now the first order of business-frozen butterbeer! Skip the long lines at the butterbeer carts and head over to Hog’s Head Pub instead. Pro tip: get a shot of Fire Whisky on the side (made exclusively for the Wizarding World and WAY better than Fireball) and add it to your butterbeer. *Don’t mix them at the bar*

If you get lucky enough to be here on a cold day, grab a hot butterbeer! This is my favorite of all the various forms of butterbeer in the Wizarding World.

While you sip on your butterbeer, explore the shops in Hogsmeade. Visit Honeydukes, a pink and green candy lover’s dream. Grab some postcards to send home at The Owl Post. If you haven’t picked up your wand yet, swing by Ollivander’s to get one. Stop by Dervish and Banges for more wizarding supplies and to see the Monster Book of Monsters chomping around in its cage. In the window of Dogweed and Deathcap, you can spot a baby Mandrake in its pot.

Next, it’s time to make your way towards Hogwarts. But before you get there, take a left onto the bridge that leads out into the other parts of the park. This is where you’ll get the best view of the castle and a great photo op with Hogwarts behind you. This area gets crowded so it might take a little patience to find an opening, but I’ve found people to be courteous and wait until you’re done to take their photos.

Rides In Hogsmeade

And now, for the main event at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the rides! Obviously, you can do them in any order you choose, but this is my preference.

Flight of the Hippogriff

Ride this ONLY if the wait time is low. It doesn’t have a single-rider line, the ride itself is very short, and it’s more of what I would consider a “kiddie” coaster. I skipped this one altogether on my first visit and I promise you’re not missing out if you don’t get a chance to ride it. If you do ride, there’s a great view of Hogwarts from the top of the roller coaster, plus you get to see Hagrid’s hut and Buckbeak (who bows as you ascend the roller coaster) while you wait in line.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

This simulation ride takes you through Hogwarts which is really fun. You’ll walk through the castle where you get to see Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the Portrait Hall-complete with talking portraits. If you take the single rider line you’ll miss all of this, but you can ask to tour the castle and they’ll let you go through and get out just before the ride. Another pro of this ride is that it’s dark inside and the AC is pumping, so it’s a great time to cool off while you wait.

Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure

Easily the best ride in all of the Wizarding World (and Universal in my opinion) and it’s actually the longest roller coaster in Florida. This ride has several surprises which I won’t spoil, but it is exhilarating! My top tips for Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure are:

1. use the single rider line-this is the most popular coaster in the park and wait times are usually 2+ hours

2. ride it for the first time at NIGHT-it’s such a unique experience that makes you feel like you’re in the movies

3. make sure you ride on the bike seat of the coaster versus the sidecar because it’s the most fun!

Of course, go back and ride it once during the daytime too (or if you’re anything like me, as many times as possible) on your second day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. *If you’re wearing wizard robes be sure to take them off & put them in a locker before getting in line, otherwise you can only ride in the sidecar.

Where to Eat & Drink in Hogsmeade

The Three Broomsticks

Since you’ll spend the second half of the day in Hogsmeade, grab dinner at the Three Broomsticks. Ask to be seated in the middle if possible for a nice view of the entire place. Afterward, grab a drink at Hog’s Head Pub which is attached to the Three Broomsticks, then go out back where you can watch people riding-aka screaming for dear life on the Velocicoaster or get a glimpse of Hogwarts in the distance. *If the line at The Three Broomsticks is long, you can go around to the back (take the alleyway to the right of the Hog’s Head pub) where they have tables outside with QR codes to order and have it brought to your table.

Hog’s Head Pub

This is the best spot to grab drinks in general, especially if you want to avoid those long butterbeer lines. There are quite a few drinks that are only available here, including the Hog’s Head Brew, Hog’s Tea, Pear Dazzle, and the Deathly Hallows (a secret drink that you have to ask for specifically since it’s not on the menu.)

Honeydukes

If you’re looking for a sweet treat in Hogsmeade, Honeydukes has you covered! From Chocolate Frogs to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, they’ve got everything you could want. If you’re on a mission to try all 7 versions of butterbeer, you can get butterbeer fudge here, although I didn’t love it personally.

One of my favorite things is seeing Hogwarts and Hogsmeade lit up at night. Be sure to catch the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle show while you’re there. Showtimes are listed on the app, but typically they begin at dusk and run every 20 minutes. They also have special shows during the holidays: The Dark Arts (October) and The Magic of Christmas (mid-November to January).

That’s a wrap on day one at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Now on day two you can do anything you missed, explore more of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, and ride your favorite rides again. I would start day two in Hogsmeade and end the day in Diagon Alley-it’s even cooler to see the dragon breathing fire at night!

You’ll also have time to visit other parts of the park to ride some fun coasters. The Mummy & Rip Ride Rocket are my favorites at Universal Studios. And If you’re brave enough hop on The Hulk or The Velocicoaster in Islands of Adventure. Not gonna lie, my soul left my body on those two.

Hidden Gems Around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The details they put into the wizarding world are truly amazing. I’m not sure you could ever see them all, but there are definitely some you can’t miss! Here’s a list of all the things to look out for while you explore:

  • Just outside Diagon Alley in London is 12 Grimmauld Place. Be sure to look at the windows above to see Kreacher poke his head out.
  • Head to Madame Malkins to try on some wizarding robes in front of the mirror where you’ll get her opinion -good or bad- on how you look!
  • Inside Borgin & Burkes, you’ll find the vanishing cabinet Malfoy uses to smuggle Death Eaters into Hogwarts. If you put your hand against it you can feel the bird Draco put inside fluttering its wings and hear chirping. You can also see the trunk Mad-Eye Moody is being held in shaking occasionally as he tries to escape.
  • While you’re in Knockturn Alley, look for the Death Eater mark in the clouds above, as well as the green light (Avada Kedavra) coming from underneath the storefront at Borgin & Burkes.
  • When you leave Diagon Alley and head back out into London, stop at the red telephone booth. Once you step inside dial M A G I C for a special message.
  • On your way to board the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station going to Hogsmeade, make sure to get a video running through Platform 9 3/4. Look for the trolley loaded with suitcases and the signs behind showing Platforms 9 and 10 (this is towards the end of the line once you go upstairs)
  • Listen for Moaning Myrtle in the women’s bathroom next to The Three Broomsticks.
  • Stop by the Owl Post in Hogsmeade or Scribbulus in Diagon Alley and buy some Harry Potter postcards to send to family and friends.
  • For a good photo op without the crowds, head to the alley behind Honeydukes. You’ll find it tucked away between Honeydukes and the Three Broomsticks.
  • And of course, be on the lookout for all the locations where you can cast spells! Even if you decide against buying an interactive wand, it’s fun to watch people as they do it.

That’s everything you need to know when visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I hope this guide helps you to plan a magical trip!

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