The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando is part of both parks, so you will need a park-to-park pass for the duration of your stay, if you want to travel between both.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure – Hogwarts & Hogsmeade (good for roller coaster enthusiasts, not so good for Harry Potter fans).
Universal Studios Florida – Diagon Alley & London (best of the two parks – if you can only afford one park, get this one – I spent 90% of my time here).
The Hogwarts Express runs between the parks through King’s Cross Station. I would highly recommend it, I rode the train back and forth multiple times simply to ride the train. If you are unsure whether to purchase park-to-park, remember that you will not be able to use the Hogwarts express without that pass.
If you are planning on visiting the Hollywood version instead, note that currently only Hogwarts & Hogsmeade are available there. For the full version, you still need to go to Orlando.
Where to Stay
Universal resorts will offer shuttle service to the park, and often early admission to Harry Potter. I stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is a fun vintage hotel, and got into Diagon Alley early, which meant I could see almost deserted Muggle-free streets, a clear view of Gringotts’ goblins, and there was no line for the ride. It also has great pools, which after a long hot day at the park is a welcome way to spend the evening. There is plenty to do after hours, from visiting the bowling alley to having a refreshing pool-side drink. I wore my wizard robes the entire time, as did several others, and we would do quick roleplaying as we passed. It is hilarious to interact as Houses—I was walking from the pool to my room when a group of Gryffindors was going the opposite direction. They all hissed and shouted “Slytherin!” to which I snarled back “Gryffindors!” then we all laughed.
Single riders, do not do the single rider line first. Go early in the day on the main line, so you can experience the full ride. If you go in the single rider line, you miss almost half the ride and experience. Also, the line isn’t always faster, so if you are thinking of splitting your party and going in the single rider line, it isn’t worth it.
If you do not like roller coasters, don’t worry! You can go through the entire line, see Hogwarts, go through Gringotts, then toward the end before the riders are getting their 3D glasses, you can tell the cast member that you are a non-rider, and they will take you out without having to do the roller coaster. I would especially suggest this for Hogwarts—it is a great tour through the castle with portraits talking to you, and the D.A.D.A. classroom, but the roller coaster is a bit intense.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This is a flipping roller coaster that happens to have a Harry Potter theme. The story is contrived, and there is no reason this ride couldn’t have been a quidditch game instead. It was rushed, they were trying to do too much at once, and unless you are fond of roller coasters, I would not recommend it.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
In comparison, this ride is an incredible mind-blowing Harry Potter experience, that happens to involve a mild roller coaster ride. My first time, I was so amazed that I went back in line and re-rode it more than six times in a row, and Bill Weasley is now one of my favorite characters. I don’t want to say much about it, to avoid spoilers, but this is a must ride.
Dragon Challenge & Flight of the Hippogriff are just regular roller coasters.
The Hogwarts Express
For book and movie fans, this is so much fun. It really feels like you are walking onto Platform 9 ¾, the train is amazing, and there is a different semi-interactive experience going both ways. Since I was on my own, each trip I was in a compartment with new people, which was a great way to get to know other people going to the park. There was a wide variety, from hard-core fans roleplaying the entire time (the most fun!) to casual Universal Studios fans who somehow ended up on the Hogwarts Express and were full of questions for me. “What’s that?” “Buckbeak, he is a Hippogriff.” “WOW!”
What to Eat
Diagon Alley – The Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour
This was my favorite place for food, because it offers traditional English “pub grub” such as shepherd’s pie, plowman’s lunch, etc. Florean’s ice cream is incredible, I kept going back and still didn’t get to try all the flavors. They have a solid mix of exotic, like the Earl Grey, to traditional strawberry. The Butterbeer ice cream is amazing, I would highly recommend it if you have to choose only one.
Hogsmeade – Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head Brew
I was underwhelmed by the Three Broomsticks. It is typical Renaissance fair food, and the only reason I could think to go there is if you have a large family. They have a banquet platter option that could be helpful for that – the rest of their offerings are a bit meh. For fans of the books, getting a firewhiskey at the Hog’s Head is a must.
Both parks have sweet shops that are fairly similar, but if you want to be extra authentic, go to Honeydukes in Hogsmeade. They have adorable cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties, and of course chocolate frogs with collectable cards (I got Rowena Ravenclaw).
Butterbeer is very sweet, too sweet for my tastes. Keep in mind you might be ordering it for the sake of doing so, taking a few sips, then chucking it in the bin. If you do not like sickly sweet drinks, you might want to ask for the commemorative mug instead and not actually get butterbeer in it. Alternatives might be firewhiskey for adults, or fizzy orange for children.
Throughout the day at both locations, there are regular performances. I’m not sure what the schedule is, I tended to wander in on them. Not to be biased, but again, I think the Diagon Alley shows were more interesting. The Wizarding Wireless Network brought out a variety of their famous stars, such as Celestina Warbeck.
There is a lot of detail put into the park for book fans. Pay attention all the time for small sounds and interactive elements. For example, put your hand on the wood of the vanishing cabinet in Borgin & Burkes to feel and hear Malfoy’s bird, or wander across the room to watch a boggart rumbling inside a chest.
If you are an introvert like myself and get overwhelmed by the crowds after a few hours, head for the far end of Knockturn Alley. It is dark, with fewer people, and the cast members are more fun (you can discuss torturing Muggles with them).
One of the fun things to do is buy an interactive wand and go around casting spells. Look for gold circles on the ground, usually next to windows. They will show the direction to move your wand.
- Move slowly, not in a quick movement
- Larger movements for far away (like Lumos) tight hand motions for close up (like windows)
- Look for the Muggle device (black circle with lights) hidden, and aim near that
- If you get stumped, look for the nearest witch or wizard cast member
I think the most interesting spells are toward the end near Borgin & Burkes both in Diagon Alley & Knockturn Alley. Please be considerate: if it isn’t working for you in a minute or two, let the next person in line try while you go find a cast member. Don’t make the whole line wait while you go at it for ten minutes. If you get frustrated with one of the more difficult ones, go try an easy one like lumos, then come back with your confidence restored.
Overall, this is a fun adventure, and I would definitely go again, especially to Diagon Alley. If you are planning your own trip and have any questions, please feel free to comment below.