Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

It's no secret among people who know me that I am kind of a big nerd. I've gone Lord of the Rings tours of New Zealand, have written about Harry Potter locations in the UK, and have told you about how a book (“The Historian“) influenced my decision to visit Eastern Europe for the first time. I also may or may not have a ginger cat named Weasley…

So when Universal Orlando offered me tickets to visit their two theme parks during a special “Celebration of Harry Potter” event, I kind of couldn't say no.

Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

After going to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station (the real one) not once but twice, checking out the “Making of Harry Potter” studio tour in London, and attending more book release parties than I care to admit, one of the last things on my Harry Potter fan to-do list was visiting both “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” parks (Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) at Universal Orlando.

It was therefore an absolute no-brainer for me to book a flight and hotel room, find an accomplice for the weekend, and head to Orlando.

My friend Stephen and I spent 3 days at Universal Orlando and, whether consciously or not, spent the majority of our time in the Harry Potter parks. (What can I say? Once a nerd, always a nerd.) Even though I've seen pictures of both the Harry Potter sections of the Universal parks, I wasn't fully prepared to see them in real life — let me tell you: they are AWESOME!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

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After three days of park-hopping, butterbeer-drinking, and imaginary spell-casting, I've come up with this list of 10 things you MUST do if you visit Universal Orlando's Harry Potter parks:

10 Things to Do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

You can technically fit all of this into just one day if you have a Park-to-Park ticket, or you can spread it out over two days since Hogsmeade is at Island of Adventure and Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios. (I will say, though, that a Park-to-Park ticket for at least one day is worth it, because it's the only way you'll be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks!)

But now onto the 10 things to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

1. Exchange money at Gringotts

Gringotts Money Exchange

You'll find Gringotts in Diagon Alley (complete with fire-breathing dragon on top), but the Gringotts building itself is home to a (really cool) ride. But not far away you'll find the Gringotts Money Exchange, where you can exchange your Muggle money for Gringotts bank notes. I was slightly disappointed that you don't get handed a bag full of galleons, but it was fun nonetheless, especially since there's a goblin inside to interact with (ask him about his favorite color). And don't worry — you can use the Gringotts money just about everywhere within the Universal parks.

2. Ride the indoor rides

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando

There aren't a *ton* of rides in the Harry Potter parks – in fact, there's only ONE in Diagon Alley and 3 in Hogsmeade. Meaning it's pretty easy to ride them all if you want to. I enjoyed the Dragon Challenge in Hogsmeade (a set of “racing” roller coasters – make sure to ride them both!), but it was the innovative indoor rides that really blew me away.

The “Forbidden Journey,” located inside Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure), is a grown-up motion simulation ride in which you feel like you're following Harry around on a broomstick, dodging dragons and dementors. And the “Escape From Gringotts” ride in Diagon Alley (in Universal Studios) is a mixture of an indoor roller coaster and a 3-D ride where you get chased by Voldemort and Bellatrix through the vaults. Both were unlike any ride I've ever been on before!

Hogwarts castle at night

And, pro tip: don't be scared by wait times. Wait times of up to 30 minutes will seem like nothing once you get inside, because the lines have you winding your way through Hogwarts and Gringotts respectively, complete with talking photos, animatronic goblins, and some appearances by Harry Potter characters. The first time we went on the Forbidden Journey the line was only 10 minutes long – and I felt like we actually missed out on part of the experience because we went through the line so fast!

3. Go inside all the shops

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

Especially in Diagon Alley, make sure to allow enough time to explore all the shops. Just like in J.K. Rowling's version of the magical shopping street, you'll find everything from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop to Madame Malkin's robe shop to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour to Quality Quidditch Supplies to Ollivander's wand shop here. You can even shop for “dark” objects in Borgin and Burkes down Knockturn Alley.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

Yes, most of the shops sell souvenirs and t-shirts, but it's still really fun to wander through them all anyway.

And keep an eye on the “fake” shop windows, too (i.e. the ones that don't lead into actual shops) – these are often animated in fun  and magical ways.

4. Buy an interactive wand

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Okay, it sounds dorky… but if you're going to go to Ollivander's to get a wand, be sure to get the interactive version! Throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, there are interactive shop windows, fountains, and statues where you wave your wand and bring something to life.

Casting spells at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It was so fun to watch faces — of both kids AND adults — light up when they made something “move” or made a fountain spring to life with the correct flick of a wand. I didn't know about this feature of the parks before arriving (and had no plans to buy a wand), but thought it was genius and a fantastic way to make people feel like they were really “part” of the magical world.

5. Eat at either the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks

The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley

The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley

There's one restaurant in each Harry Potter park (along with various stands selling drinks). You'll find the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and the Three Broomsticks (and attached Hog's Head Pub) in Hogsmeade. Both serve “traditional British pub food” – I had a plate of mini meat and fish pies – and a range of Harry Potter-inspired drinks and beers. The prices actually aren't terrible, and it's a fun atmospheric thing to do.

6. Drink butterbeer

Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Speaking of those HP-inspired drinks, you HAVE to try butterbeer. There are three different ways to try it – hot (offered seasonally), cold, and frozen – so pick one and have at it. (For the record, the warm butterbeer was my favorite.) The drink is incredibly sweet, though, so be warned that you may not be able to finish it.

If you want to try something that's not quite so sweet, order a Green Fishy Ale from The Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley. It's a take on bubble tea – it's a green, cinnamon-y drink with blueberry bobas that pop in your mouth. It doesn't LOOK particularly appetizing, but I loved it!

Fishy Green Ale in Diagon Alley

Green Fishy Ale!

The drink stands and restaurants also sell things like Pumpkin Juice, Otter's Fizzy Orange Juice, Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (lemonade), Peachtree Fizzing Tea, and Gilly Water (just good ol' bottled water), along with assorted alcoholic beverages.

7. Get candy at Honeydukes, or ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s

Honeydukes in Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

You of course can't go to Hogsmeade without visiting Honeydukes, the famous wizarding candy shop. Pick up a Chocolate Frog, some Fizzing Whizzbees (chocolate-covered pop rocks – my favorite), and of course some Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. Play a fun game with these: don't look at the flavor guide, and simply hand them out to your friends and have them guess the flavor! (Warning: There are more gross ones than good-flavored ones.)

Honeydukes

Inside Honeydukes

If ice cream is more your speed, be sure to stop into Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley – they even sell butterbeer-flavored ice cream, which is very popular.

8. Take the Hogwarts Express between parks

Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

If you're going to Universal Orlando mostly for the Harry Potter parks, you want to make sure to get a park-hopper (park-to-park) ticket so you can visit both parks in one day. Then you can take the Hogwarts Express between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade! Get on at Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios, and get off at Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure.

Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

It's a fun way to “travel,” and actually can save you some time walking between parks (assuming the line for the train isn't too long).

The ride itself is fun, too, but I won't give away why – you'll have to ride it yourself to see!

9. Stay at Universal for early park access

One of my biggest tips for visiting Universal Orlando is to stay at one of the park-associated hotels. There are five of them — the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the Hard Rock HotelLoews Portofino Bay Hotel, and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Staying at any of these hotels will give you access to both Universal parks one hour before they officially open — meaning this is the best way to see Diagon Alley without any people, or to get in line for the Gringotts ride when there's no wait.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

Empty Diagon Alley is truly magical!

We stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is new, having just opened in 2015. It has two pool areas, a lazy river, a Starbucks right inside the hotel, and a free shuttle bus to take you to CityWalk and back that operates from 7 a.m. – 2 a.m. every day. And the prices are more than reasonable — we paid an average of $125 per night.

Check out Cabana Bay reviews on TripAdvisor | Book your own stay at Cabana Bay here!

Any of the on-site hotels are great choices, though. If you can't decide which one you want to stay at, compare prices of hotels near Universal here.

10. Visit during the “Celebration of Harry Potter”

Hogsmeade at night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Lastly, if you can plan your trip to Universal Orlando during the park's annual “Celebration of Harry Potter” event (held usually towards the end of January/early February), do it! The 2015 event included an expo hall filled with props and costumes from the movies, sessions with a handful of Harry Potter actors, and some fun stuff for kids, too (like a wand dueling class). Plus, it's just fun to see people in Hogwarts robes roaming all through the Universal parks.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

You can read Stephen's post about our weekend here.

READ NEXT: Holidays at Universal Orlando: 3 Things You Can't Miss

And check out these guides to help you make the most out of your time in Orlando:

Are you as nerdy as me? Is going to the Harry Potter parks in Orlando on your bucket list?

 

 

*Note: I did receive complimentary park-to-park tickets for the weekend from Universal Orlando. However I paid for everything else myself and all nerdy opinions and tips are completely my own! There are also some affiliate links in this post, meaning that I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!) on anything you book/buy.

69 Comments

  • All of the fan girling

    All of it!
    Sammi Wanderlustin’ recently posted..A Fairytale Start to the Year in Tallinn

  • I will be there in just over a week, SO EXCITED. Disney World is the focal point of the trip so we only have one day set aside for the Harry Potter parks in Universal – crazy I know, but I plan to make the most of it!

    Would you say that you can get a jist of everything mentioned above in one day? With a really fast paced attitude of course.

    Love this post! 🙂
    Veronica Greenly recently posted..Princess in Training: Here We Go!

    • Amanda says:

      As long as you get a park-to-park pass, yes, you can definitely see it all in one day – it just might be a long day! Haha. I would suggest downloading Universal’s app so you can keep an eye on wait times for the rides, because they are SO worth it!

  • Alouise says:

    I’m quite behind on Harry Potter. I just watched the movies for the first time last year, and I still haven’t read the book, but even I think the Wizarding World of Harry Potter looks pretty cool. I definitely know a few people who would love to go here.
    Alouise recently posted..New York City Broadway Walking Tour

  • Love this post! Everything looks so magical. I can’t wait to visit someday 🙂 PS the part about interactive wands just blew my mind.
    Christina Guan recently posted..6 Awesome Photo Walks in Vancouver

    • Amanda says:

      I KNOW, right?? I hadn’t heard about the interactive wands beforehand, but I thought it was SO COOL. And it really was fun watching people “make magic” throughout both parks.

  • It is literally like my life dream to go to Harry Potter World in Orlando, it sounds so amazing! I joke with my partner that its where we will go on our honeymoon one day haha
    Christie @ The Butterfly Editions recently posted..How I Lost and Found My Travel Mojo in Chiang Mai

    • Amanda says:

      Haha that would be such a fun honeymoon! I actually went with a fellow blogger who is male (but who I am NOT dating), and people at the parks kept asking if we were newlyweds! Lol! So going there on a honeymoon must be pretty common!

  • Elisa says:

    Seems like going there off-peak season when there aren’t as many tourists around helps!

    • Amanda says:

      For sure! I mean, there were still plenty of people there, especially since it was a special event weekend. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it would be during the summer! (We saw how long some of the lines COULD be – *shudder.*)

  • Oh absolutely! Both my son and I are Harry Potter nerds and I would love to go to Harry Potter at Orlando. We’re not due to go to America until 2017 though! Hopefully, there will be something special going on! You lucky, lucky girl!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted..We might not be London. We might not be Paris. But by god, we’re gonna have a jolly good time in Berlin, at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week!

  • This is so on my bucket list! 😀 Before reading this post, I honestly had no idea just how many cool things there are to do there and now I’m ever more convinced that I need to make it to Orlando one day, just to visit the Universal Park! Probably silly to say considering that I live in Europe, but no journey is too far if you love Harry Potter! 😉
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  • Ryan says:

    We just got back from Orlando as well–although I’m not necessarily a big fan of Harry Potter (and thus am not especially familiar with it), I did have a great time exploring the world of Harry Potter and enjoying the rides. The fire breathing dragon was pretty awesome, and I particularly enjoyed the 4D simulator ride where you fly along with them in the castle. Fun stuff! Universal rocks.
    Ryan recently posted..Back in Seattle and Other Quick Updates

  • OMG. Interactive wand?!?! I love it. Definitely adding this to our to-do list for the next time we are back in the States!
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  • It looks pretty cool, and that is coming from someone that doesn’t like Harry Potter (despite my name being the same as one of the minor characters: Katie Bell)
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..An unplanned hike in Cape Town’s mountains

    • Amanda says:

      Haha, oh that’s unfortunate! At least your name isn’t Hermione. 😉

      It WAS really fun, though. I’m a huge fan, but I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be as cool as it is!

  • I.NEED.TO.GET.MY.BUTT.TO.FLORIDA. Be still, my heart. Everything looks incredible!!! Omg.
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..24 Hours in Antwerp!

  • Laura says:

    Sadly the queues to go inside the shops were enormous when I went there so I didn’t get to do that! Still loved it the park though. Need to go on the Harry Potter studios tour in London next!

    • Amanda says:

      Aww bummer! The trick, we found, was to go early, or to go late if you wanted to spend time in the shops.

      And YES, that studio tour is amazing! Definitely go if you get the chance!

  • Uptourist says:

    So beautiful. I was surprised that they have managed to bring this to life. It is a great place to stop by. I know they also have this in Japan.

  • suree says:

    That is some serious fire breathing dragon! Going to include this on my next trip. Thanks for sharing Amanda.

  • Nothing wrong with being a nerd, hehe!

    Love the photo’s, brings back lots of memories of my trip when I was there last October. I’m a Disney fangirl but even I can’t resist the lure of the HP franchise after the Universal section opened this year.

    Have to say, I was really pleasantly surprised how good it all was, loved the fire breathing dragon, and the interactive wands looked great fun, lots of people were doing it when we were there.

    Universal have really upped their game the last couple of years and provide something of a challenge to the Disney monopoly of the region.

    Which is good for people like us as we reap the rewards of the competition and investment it create.
    Penny @OnePennyTourist recently posted..Epcot Flower and Garden Festival 2015: Did you say food?

  • Ingrid says:

    Great post, gave me a lot of help! But I’m still wondering about one thing… Is it possible to visit both parks at the same day without having to stress and hurry? I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan (I’ve been it for maaaany years now), and I’m planning on seeing everything, take every ride, visit every shop (and spend some time in it) and eat at a restaurant with my family. So basically; I’m planning on doing everything without having to hurry and stress. Should I spend one full day at Diagon Alley, and then one full day at Hogsmeade? Or is it enough to buy a park-to-park ticket and do both the same day? Also, how much does an interactive wand cost? Thank you! 🙂

    • Amanda says:

      You CAN definitely do both parks in one day (and I would highly suggest a park-to-park ticket so you can take the Hogwarts Express!), but I would only suggest trying that if you don’t want to visit any other parts of Universal Studios and/or Islands of Adventure. I would probably recommend getting a 2-day park hopper, just in case!

      And I’m not entirely sure how much the interactive wands were since I didn’t buy one, but I’m almost positive they were around $40-$50.

  • Anne says:

    Also, the flavor-changing potions for water bottles at the stand by Gringotts are cool too! And even if you don’t stay in a Universal hotel it’s worth trying to go early because both of the last times I went we got in early (when only universal hotel guests were supposed to be allowed in) anyway! Saves a lot of waiting time.

  • Krystle says:

    Thank you so much for this! I am actually going to be there this weekend and was looking for some tips on what to see and do! I also saw someone’s comment about possibly getting in early even though we’re not a universal hotel guest. I’m staying at the Doubletree outside the gate, so I’ll be right there! Thank you again!

  • Jackie says:

    I am taking my 8 year old, 3 year old, and my parents who are in their 70s around Christmas time there. Should we plan on a 1 day or 2 days if the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the only part that we want to visit? I will be purchasing the Park to Park, plus hoping there is still the express pass I can buy. Thanks!!!!

    • Amanda says:

      Hmmm you can definitely do both Harry Potter parks in just one day. But if there’s *any* chance you want to see other parts of the park(s) (and there are other very cool sections, especially for kids), then I would go with 2 days!

    • Anne says:

      Just one thing to keep in mind, the express passes don’t include most of the big Harry Potter rides, and when I went a few years ago right after Christmas we had over a 2 hour wait for the Hogwarts ride. So if you’re only interested in Harry Potter world, you might want to look into whether the express passes would actually save you time on any of the rides you’re interested in.

  • Lori says:

    We are planning a trip to the US in August 2016, and plan to visit the new Harry Potter world that’s opening at Universal in Anaheim (along with a trip to Disneyland). We are sooooo excited to be going there, but I’m interested to know if you know if it will be of the same scale as the Orlando HP world? I’m currently trying to plan how many days we’ll need at each place, and I’m starting to think 2 days at Universal and 3 at Disney… the trip is expanding in length (and cost) the more I think about it!! lol

    • Amanda says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about the plans for the park in California! I *think* that they’re starting out by adding Hogsmeade, which was the first Harry Potter-themed section they added in Orlando. I’m not sure that they’re building Diagon Alley in California yet, though, so it sounds like there may be half as many HP attractions there in 2016.

  • Lily says:

    I am a little apprehensive about the rollercoaster type ride. I really do not like those kind of rides. Any options?
    Lily recently posted..The backyard into the woods… Are you afraid?

    • Amanda says:

      Unfortunately those are the main types of rides at Harry Potter world! The ones indoors aren’t *really* roller coasters, though – they’re 3-D experiences!

      • Lily says:

        Thank you Amanda for your quick reply. Love this site! One more question, if its ok. The 3D experiences; do the sits remain still or do they go up and down also?
        (My problem is motion sickness).
        Lily recently posted..The backyard into the woods… Are you afraid?

        • Amanda says:

          Ahhh yes the seats move, too. I wouldn’t recommend the Hogwarts ride at all if you suffer from motion sickness – I took Dramamine and it still made me feel a bit funny! (The Gringott’s one, on the other hand, was fine for me since it was closer to a roller coaster.)

  • I’ve now been to WWHoP four times (twice to Diagon Alley), and this makes me excited for a fifth (hopefully later this year)!
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  • Hey, I wish there were more female nerds! Your blog’s name drew me in immediately.
    My husband and I are older travelers and always end up at WDW. I was a bit worried about the ride at Universal, but you have made it too inviting for us to miss next time.
    Apps, however is something that we really try to avoid like the plague. Its very sad to see the kids at WDW immersed in their 4 by 4 inch universe and missing the moment.
    Love your blog!

    • Amanda says:

      I would definitely say give it a go! The Gringotts one is more like a roller coaster, and the Hogwarts one more like a 3-D motion ride (so if you’re prone to motion sickness, I would recommend the Gringotts ride more).

  • Sunny London says:

    Wow! As an Florida expat (who worked at Universal Studios Orlando) living in London, I really enjoyed reading this. On my blog, I’ve written a comparison post between the London studio and Islands of Adventure’s attraction. One thing to add for anyone visiting London over the Christmas holiday is seeing Hogwarts in the Snow. It’s beautiful and includes the Warner Bros studio sets and castle being decorated for Christmas.
    Sunny London recently posted..13 Things British People Visiting Florida Don’t Know

    • Amanda says:

      I’ve been to the studio tour in London, too, and LOVED it! I think the parks at Universal are very different, though. The London tour is so unique because it’s the actual sets and costumes!

    • Ali says:

      I’m really excited to be going to London this summer and plan to go see the WB Harry Potter studio tour, and do the muggles tour in London. Is there any reason I should bring my interactive wand from Orlando with me? Will it work anywhere in the WB studio tour or anywhere in London?

  • Erica says:

    I love this post Amanda! I am going to the HP World for the 2nd time on THURSDAY! I couldn’t be more excited… the last time I went Diagon Alley had not been built yet. So this is really exciting.. so much new stuff to do 🙂

    And your post made me even more excited 🙂

  • d says:

    Loved your article! I am planning to visit both WDW and WWoHP in November but, I am stressing out about how much time to spend at HP especially since the hours are reduced in November. Can I do both HP parks in one day or should I plan for two?

    • Amanda says:

      You definitely can do both parks in one day, but that’s only if you aren’t planning to visit any other parts of Universal. If you want to see more, then I would suggest two days!

  • Yaskara says:

    Hi! I’m heading to the parks early februrary (Just a day after HP Celebration 2017 – bummer!) and I was wondering how crowded is the park during the celebration. As I’m not actually getting to enjoy itself, I’m hoping for a emptier park! I got the entire Harry Potter experience, with a photoshoot and breakfast at both restaurants… but I really wanna shorter lines! Can I hope for that a week after the celebration? Thank you!

    • Amanda says:

      It was fairly crowded during the celebration, but I’m honestly not sure what it’s like outside of that time period since it’s the only time I’ve been there! I would guess it would be less crowded, though. And a tip is to get to the park(s) as early as possible. When my friend and I went early in the morning, there were hardly any lines!

  • Maria says:

    I’ll be going in May! Can’t wait, it looks absolutely fantastic (and great tips too, thank you!).

  • Lydia says:

    I really enjoyed your insight into the park I’ve been dreaming of visiting since it’s opening! Really great photos!

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