Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

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There are a few things that are on every Harry Potter fan's bucket list: to visit Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station (the real one), to check out the “Making of Harry Potter” studio tour in London, and to geek out at both “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” parks (Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) at Universal Orlando.

It's so secret among people who know me that I am kind of a big nerd. I had already ticked off the Harry Potter sites in London and the rest of the UK, but I had yet to enter the ultimate fan realm in Florida.

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
Snowy Hogsmeade
Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Dragon atop Gringotts

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 – and let me tell you: they are AWESOME!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
The dragon breathes real fire!
 

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 Islands 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!)

Buy your Universal Orlando tickets here.

10 things to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Here are the top 10 things I feel like you NEED to do when you're a Harry Potter fan at Universal Orlando.

1. Exchange money at Gringotts

Gringotts Money Exchange
Goblin inside 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. Not far away, though, 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, this isn't something you spend any money on. You actually exchange money for Gringotts “money,” and you can use the Gringotts money just about everywhere within the Universal parks.

2. Ride the indoor rides

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando
Hogwarts Castle

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. My personal favorites? 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!

*Be warned: The Forbidden Journey ride made me feel a bit sick, so if you're prone to motion sickness, I'd definitely take some Dramamine for this one!*

Hogwarts castle at night
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!

There's also a kid-friendly coaster in Hogsmeade (Flight of the Hippogriff), and the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (a more adult roller coaster) in the same area of the park.

RELATED: Universal Orlando: Which of Its Three Parks Should You Visit?

3. Go inside all the shops

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Weasleys Wizard Wheezes
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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 (if you have kids, definitely wait in line for the whole experience at Ollivander's!).

You can even shop for “dark” objects in Borgin and Burkes down Knockturn Alley.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Inside Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes

Yes, most of the shops sell souvenirs and t-shirts instead of actual wizarding goods, 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

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida

Don't think this one is just for kids! If you're going to go to Ollivander's to get a wand of your own, be sure to get the interactive version!

Throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, there are interactive shop windows, fountains, and statues where you can 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 the first time (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.

Diagon Alley at night
My wand at Diagon Alley at night

Once I got a wand of my own, it only made the Harry Potter parks feel more magical. I had so much fun following my map to all the spots where I could cast a spell and cause it to rain or make a feather float. So. Much. FUN.

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.

My tip? Go for lunch instead of dinner and the lines won't be as long.

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: 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 your Every Flavor Beans: 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. (And be sure to take the train the other way, too, as the experience is slightly different depending on which way you're going!)

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 seven of them – the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay HotelLoews Sapphire Falls Resort, the Aventura Hotel, and the new Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites.

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!

I love staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is a funky, family-friendly hotel that 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.

Booking.com

10. Visit the parks at night

Diagon Alley at night
Diagon Alley at night

Lastly, early park entry is great, but there's also something magical about visiting Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley after dark.

This won't be possible every night (especially during the summer months when the sun doesn't set until much later), but be sure to check the opening hours of each park for every day of your trip to see if you can catch either of these parks after dark.

I promise it's worth it! (Plus, if you stay right up until closing time, you'll have the areas almost all to yourself!)

Hogsmeade at night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Hogsmeade at night

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


Looking for more Universal Orlando content?

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Check for Universal Orlando ticket deals here.

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?

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*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! 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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86 Comments on “Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

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  1. 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.

    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!

      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!

    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)

      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!

    OMG. Interactive wand?!?! I love it. Definitely adding this to our to-do list for the next time we are back in the States!

      Yes, interactive wands! Pretty cool, right? They looked really fun.

        I also wanted to add that reading “The Historian” directly led to me accepting a month-long housesit in Bulgaria in the middle of winter and then to Tom and I taking the Orient Express overnight to Istanbul. Though a memorable experience it turns out that sometimes things are better in books than in real life. Though I firmly believe that we should also someday go to Svalbard on the off-chance that we run into Iorek Byrnison…

          I LOVE that book! My first trip to Europe was to Eastern Europe because of the Historian – but I mostly stuck to larger cities, so I’m sure my experience was much different than your housesitting one.

    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.

      I loved that the dragon breathes fire! And yeah, I thought the rides were great – glad you enjoyed them!

    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! 😉

      Never say never! 😉

      And yeah, the Harry Potter sections of the parks are bigger and WAY more detailed than I was expecting!

    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!

      The parks will definitely still be there in 2017! They’ve been such a huge hit!

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

      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.*)

    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

      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!

    Love this post! Everything looks so magical. I can’t wait to visit someday 🙂 PS the part about interactive wands just blew my mind.

      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.

    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.

      As a huge fan, I was expecting it to be pretty cool – but I had no idea it would be THAT cool. I loved it!

    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! 🙂

      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!

        Awesome, we are for sure getting the park to park pass, the deal breaker was getting to ride Hogwarts ha ha. Thanks for the tip on the app!

          Yeah no problem! I would allow more time for Diagon Alley since there are more shops to go in and more to see (and the Gringotts line seemed to almost always be longer than the line for Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade).

    All of the fan girling

    All of it!

      Yup, that was more or less the whole weekend for me! Haha.

      I dont know whats better, these cool explanation or the name of the site. Loving it!

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