I don’t know about you, but the thought of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? WAY more exciting than visiting Disneyland or any other theme park.
Because – it’s Harry Potter. Brought to life! With a giant castle and the Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley.
What’s not to love?
We’ve visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal twice now, both times as guests of Universal Studios. Today, I’m sharing my absolute favourite moments, top tips and hints for making the most of your visit.
(Oh, and if you’re in the UK, don’t miss our top tips for days out at the Warner Bros Studios Harry Potter Tour)
Can you Use Express Passes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
Before we start one tip – I have read lots of posts online saying you can’t use Express passes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but I’m happy to say that YES as of 2017, you can use them to board these rides, and you should absolutely spend the extra money to get Express or Express Unlimited Passes.
This may be quite a recent development but the key rides ARE available for Express pass users. So enjoy!
Get Your Bearings
If it’s been a while since you last visited Universal Studios in Florida, the Harry Potter experience has grown enormously.
There are now two separate mini Harry Potter theme parks, one in Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and the other at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade). To travel between the two areas you can ride the Hogwarts Express. To ride the train, you’ll need the Park to Park pass.
Here you can walk the cobbled streets under bridges and down alleys, packed with props and models.
There are little hidden surprises everywhere, from house elves in the windows to animatronic models that talk back to you.
One of my favourite things about this part of Universal Studios is the entrance. You walk down a scarily realistic looking London Street and dip through what looks like a tube lobby to get into Diagon Alley. How cool is that?
At the bottom of the street, you’ll find the Escape from Gringotts ride. To ride this attraction, you’ll walk through the bank lobby, complete with animatronic goblins.
Then down the stairs past all sorts of cool gadgets and illustrations, to board the ride. It’s a 3D rollercoaster style ride with fire, dragons and amazing special effects.
Beyond the ride, you’ll find a whole string of shops from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment and – of course – Ollivanders.
- The food at the Leaky Cauldron is amazing. We found the queues here move really quickly outside of peak times. Even if you just want some Butterbeer and water, don’t wait in the lines at the stalls outside – head into the restaurant (Leaky Cauldron) or pub (The Three Broomsticks). You can buy the same items, much more quickly.
- If you’re having Butterbeer, the frozen and ice cream versions are much nicer than the regular drink. But if you’re after amazing ice cream, head to the Florean Fortescue Ice-Cream parlour for salted caramel blondie ice cream. It’s to DIE for.
- You can buy an interactive wand that makes things in the shop windows move. This is SO cool. Especially if you’re wearing robes (which at least half the people in the park will be doing).
- Keep your head up. The Dragon on top of Gringotts blows fire every ten minutes and it’s spectacular!
- This is the most popular area of the park by a MILE. For this reason, I would whole-heartedly recommend getting Express Passes that let you join the shorter line. We waited just about 10 minutes to board, at a time when the regular line involved a wait of more than two hours.
- If you’re here on a quiet day or early, head to Ollivanders to take part in the wand choosing ceremony, it’s lots of fun and completely free (unless you wind up buying the wand that chooses you, of course).
This attraction is also new since we last visited Universal Studios and it’s properly, OMG so cool.
Walk into a scarily realistic Kings Cross tube station, through actual Kings X ticket gates and make your way to Platform 9 3/4. There’s a short interactive experience where you can walk through the wall, or you can go straight to the platform to board the train.
Boarding is fairly regimented and you’ll be guided to a specific carriage and seat by an attendant. The train is wheelchair and pushchair accessible and there are lifts at both ends of the journey.
During the ride, you’ll get to watch cool scenes from the movies through the window. There’s even a shadowy Dementor peeping through your carriage window. After a few minutes, as if by magic, you’re pulling into Hogsmeade Station.
- To ride the train, you’ll need either a Park to Park Ticket or an annual/season pass.
- You can ride the train in either or both directions, as many times as you like
- Outside the station, there’s a red telephone box – go inside and dial “MAGIC” on the phone to be connected with the Ministry of Magic!
The second part of your Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience is at the bustling (okay, impossibly crowded) village of Hogsmeade.
Within this part of Universal Studios, you’ll find a huge Honeydukes Sweet Shop, lots of souvenir shops and a restaurant, The Three Broomsticks.
The real attractions here aren’t just the rides. The shops are impeccably designed, with lots of interactive features, props and extras. We love the Post Office here where you can send a postcard home.
The key rides to see are the Dragon Challenge (great for smaller children) and the Forbidden Journey, inside Hogwarts Castle.
It has to be said that the castle is spectacular. For me it’s the high point of any trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Inside is the Forbidden Journey ride, where again you’ll be glad of your Express Pass. The queue here can be long, but the good news is that it’s also incredible fun, with moving paintings, a talking sorting hat, huge sets of rooms from the films and 3D movie special effects.
If you’re smart and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter after 3pm, try and hang around until it gets dark. The castle looks absolutely gorgeous lit up in the darkness.
The ride itself involves sitting on a school bench which is “enchanted” to fly – and fly you will!
This ride takes you on a super-fast ride around Hogwarts in 3D chasing dragons, following Harry, Ron and Hermione and feeling the wind in your hair.
- There are lockers to store your belongings in – make sure you stash EVERYTHING. You’ll be scanned to make sure you don’t have a phone, coins or anything that could fall out of your pockets during the rides, so don’t chance it.
- If you get motion sick, Forbidden Journey will make your legs wobble. Invest in some Dramamine and take it 30 minutes before you ride.
- Buy souvenirs with care. A lot of the items on sale are the same as you’ll see in the UK Warner Bros Studio Tour (which can also be bought online) so don’t waste your suitcase space with stuff you could buy at home! We did see lots of things that seemed exclusive to the US though, including some super cute cakes baked into cauldrons, and Universal t-shirts.
- Don’t do the wand demonstration at the Ollivanders here, where the shop is smaller – wait until you go to Diagon Alley where the line is much shorter.
- At the Gringotts money exchange, you can swap Muggle dollars for magical cash – which can be spent in all the shops within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Admission to Universal Studios, including entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter costs from $165. A park-to-park Express pass costs from $64.99 per day. Tickets are up to 20% cheaper when purchased online in advance. We were provided with complimentary tickets for the purposes of this review.