Harry Potter World In a Day- Tips and Tricks

Psst. This is a “tips and tricks” post… to see all of the photos and videos from OUR day in Harry Potter World, you’ll want to read this morning’s post… you can see that here

Psst #2. If you are not a Harry Potter fan and never ever plan on going to see Harry Potter World in Universal, Orlando… this is not the post for you. We won’t be offended if you skip over this one. :)

If you’ve been with us the last couple of days, you know that we just came back from our family vacation to Florida and are now mid-recap. You can read about Day 1 here and Day 2 here. On Day 2, we went to Harry Potter world. And it was awesome. I think my jaw was on the ground the entire time we were there. We had an incredible day and got to see the entirety of the HP stuff in both parks, plus a few extras!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

But let me tell you- we were nervous. We only had one day and we had shelled out a lot of moolah to make it happen. Would we be able to fit everything in? Were we going to get our money’s worth? How do we do everything, see everything, and not miss anything?

So we researched. And I mean seriously researched. We read blogs and articles from people who have “been there, done that”. I must have Googled “tips for seeing Harry Potter World” at least a dozen times and read everything I could find. Everyone was very informative, but the one thing I was having trouble tracking down was an example of a game plan for someone who wanted to see both attractions in one day and still possibly have a bit of time left over to see a few other non-HP things in the other parts of the park.

We wanted tips on which rides to do when, what attractions got the most crowded and when, etc. and I was having trouble finding that information. So for anyone thinking of taking a trip to the magical world of Hogwarts, here’s how we did it.

How to

First of all, you should know that Harry Potter World (HPW) spans both Universal parks. Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade/Hogwarts is in Islands of Adventure. If you want to see both parks in one day, you will need to buy the Park to Park pass that allows you access to BOTH of the parks!

Second, timing can make all of the difference here. If you go during peak season, you will probably not get as much in as is listed below. The lines are just longer, it’s as simple as that. We went on Monday, May 18th and felt like it was busy, but definitely not unbearable. Our longest wait time was around 45 minutes.

Third, make sure you look at each park’s hours ahead of time– they do not always have the same hours! In our case, IOA closed at 7pm, while US was open until 9pm. Knowing this helped us plan our day better.

Fourth, read about what there is to do in each park and print out park maps ahead of time. Then you will have a better idea of what you absolutely want to hit throughout the day and which park to find it in. Here’s a quick run-down of what we learned:

Universal Studios- Diagon Alley

  • One major ride (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts)
  • Mostly made of shops and streets to explore
  • Home to the Leaky Cauldron (restaurant) and Florean Fortescue’s (ice cream shop)

Islands of Adventure- Hogsmeade/ Hogwarts

  • 2 major rides (The Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge), 1 smaller roller coaster (Flight of the Hippogriff)
  • Places to explore like the town of Hogsmeade (shops to look in and buy things from) and the Hogwarts castle
  • Home to the Three Broomsticks (restaurant)

The other big feature is the Hogwarts Express, a train that takes you back and forth between the two parks, and is a fun ride in and of itself. In order to ride, though, you will need to have a Park to Park pass because it is bringing you from one park to another- they won’t let you on without it!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

Ok, now for how we scheduled our day. Let me preface this by saying that we did A LOT of back and forth between the two in order to accommodate getting to see and do everything. Again, while I was on the hunt for information, I desperately wanted to read how other people planned their time and what they would do differently, so here you go!

OUR DAY IN HARRY POTTER WORLD

8:20am- Arrive and Park (it couldn’t hurt to get there even a bit earlier)

9:00- Park Opens (although we felt like we got in even before 9 for some reason), Universal Studios

  • Start in Universal Studios and head straight for HPW (this will be the Diagon Alley side)
  • Before entering, take a picture outside with Stan Shunpike and the Knight Bus! We were able to walk right up and talk to them, but every other time we passed by the rest of the day, there was a long line. You can also grab a picture with the red phone booth while you’re there!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

  • Enter Diagon Alley and go straight to Escape from Gringotts. This is the biggest (and only) ride on this side of the park and the line gets loooooong as it gets later in the day. Hitting it first, we only waited about 15 minutes or so.
  • Skip all of the shops in Diagon Alley for now (you can and will come back later in the day!) and head for the Hogwarts Express to ride to the other side of the park, in Islands of Adventure. Again, riding early in the day meant no wait for us- on our return trip, we definitely waited in a longer line because of the afternoon crowds.

10:00- Islands of Adventure

  • After getting off the Hogwarts Express, walk into Hogsmeade (the first time walking in is breathtaking, so enjoy it and walk slowly but keep in mind, there will be time for pictures and taking in all the details later) and go immediately up to the castle to get in line for The Forbidden Journey. Again, our wait for this was probably about 15 minutes and later in the day, we waited 45 to ride it again.
  • At this point, you’ve hit the two biggest rides, so take a breath and take some time to look around you. Take a bathroom break, try some Butterbeer, and get your bearings!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

  • After your quick break, get in line for the Olivander’s Wand Show. It’s fun and the line gets long in the afternoon.

11:30- Eat lunch

  • Eating on the early side will save you from a big lunch crowd. Plus, you’ll be finishing up when everyone else is starting to think about food, so lines for other things might be shorter. We enjoyed eating in the Three Broomsticks.

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

12:00- Explore Hogsmeade

  • After lunch, walk through all of the shops in town. There are so many things to see and you’ll want to give yourself enough time to see them all!
  • Catch the both of the street shows– the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Champions. Ask any park employee the schedule- they’ll be able to tell you what is happening when.

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

  • Get in line for the Dragon Challenge. There are two coasters going at once and they are both different, so this could be a ride you try twice! The red goes higher and a tiny bit faster and the blue has more twists and turns- that’s what an employee told us. We tried to get on this ride then, but got messed up by the locker situation (more on that later) and weren’t able to ride, but I would still suggest riding it now.
  • Head over to The Flight of the Hippogriff. This is a low-key ride, but still a lot of fun!
  • Ride The Forbidden Journey again. At this point in time, the line will definitely be longer (ours was 45 minutes), but this time around, you’ll have more time to enjoy looking at all of the details- the line weaves through the Hogwarts castle!

2:30- Ride back to Diagon Alley

  • Get in line to ride the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley and definitely be prepared for a longer wait time this go around. :(
  • Take your time walking through all of the shops and taking in the details.
  • See if you can catch the street shows on this side of the park (a puppet show and a concert)!
  • Ride Escape from Gringotts again. The line will be longer, but it moves fairly quickly and we got to see more of Gringotts because the queue worked its way through more of the building.

(This is where you can “choose your own adventure”. We chose to head back to IOA for dinner, but you could definitely stay, eat, and end your night in the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. That was our original plan before we got a recommendation for the chicken and rib meal that was only being served at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. We also felt that because IOA closed at 7pm, we wanted to go back and re-ride our favorites until closing. As US was open until 9pm, we were able to come back anyway and spend an additional two hours at the end of the night. Check the park hours before you go- it will help with your planning!!!)

5:00- Ride to Hogsmeade

  • You can either walk or ride the Hogwarts Express. At this point, our feet and legs needed as many breaks as we could give them, so we took the train back to Hogsmeade. For some reason, the wait going this direction seemed way shorter than its counterpart.
  • Stop for dinner in the Three Broomsticks. I think we ate around 5:30pm- still on the early side, which helped to avoid the crowds.
  • See, do, and re-ride any last attractions! We took this time to ride the Dragon Challenge because we didn’t get to ride it before. Even if you rode it earlier, it may be worth riding again on the opposite coaster!

7:00- IOA closes, walk back to US

  • We opted to walk, rather than ride the Hogwarts Express. This was nice because we got to walk through the other parts of Islands of Adventure in order to get out. I loved seeing Seussville!!!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

  • Explore other things in Universal Studios. We now had two hours left to do whatever we wanted in US and we decided to try a few things outside of HPW. We really wanted to go on the Minnion Mayhem (it came highly recommended by a few people), but the line was 45 minutes long, so we opted out. We did Shrek 4D, which was cute and the Revenge of the Mummy, which was awesome. Mitch even said it was his favorite ride of the day.
  • After that, we headed back to Diagon Alley and rode Escape from Gringotts one last time (the line was short because it was close to closing time).
  • Make sure to get some ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor! They have wonderful flavors, but be warned- the portions are HUGE. Two scoops are two very large scoops.

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

9:00 ish- Stay for the US night water show and fireworks.

  • We found a spot to sit, eat our ice cream, and watch the show (ask an employee- they’ll tell you the best place to sit!). It was a great way to end the night and gave us a chance to relax and enjoy our ice cream without having to worry about racing back to the car.

WHEW. Are you tired? I feel exhausted, just from “re-living” that! We were just about dead on our feet after all was said and done, but felt more than satisfied with our trip. Our goal had always been to thoroughly see and enjoy Harry Potter World and if we got a chance to do anything else, that would be a bonus. And that definitely happened.

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

If we had any regrets, it would be that we never got to do the Minnion Mayhem, but hey- you can’t win ’em all. We also would have liked to eat a meal in the Leaky Cauldron, so if we did it all over, maybe we’d try and do lunch there and dinner in the Three Broomsticks. However, we did peek inside just to see it and were told that the food at the Three Broomsticks was slightly better, so we don’t feel like we missed out too much.

And because this post is already working toward novel status, why not throw in a few more tips and tricks that we learned along the way? The way I see it, when we were planning our trip, we were thankful for any and all information we could get our hands on. So here you go- anything and everything extra we could think of…

LOGISTICS:

  1. Get to the park early– an hour before it opens is a good plan. This will allow you to park, get your tickets, enter the park, and get in line for the big rides early before the crowds show up.
  2. We opted out of the “Preferred Parking” offer and found it just as easy to get to the park without the premium parking- it didn’t feel like much of a longer walk. Not that we have anything else to compare it to. :) Going with the regular parking saved us $8 and we just got a few more steps of exercise!
  3. Lockers. While HPW is doing SO MUCH well (we had hardly any complaints. actually, this might be the only one.), the Locker system is a nightmare. And we weren’t even there during the busiest season. Before each ride, you will need to deposit your belongings in a locked locker (it’s free) that you will come and collect your things from afterward. Be prepared- the locker rooms are cramped and HOT. Also, you once you claim a locker, you can only open it again ONCE. So the next time you open it will be to take your things out. Most of the rides allow you to bring your cell phone, sunglasses, etc. on the ride, but there are a few (Dragon Challenge in Hogsmeade) that REQUIRE you to leave everything. There will be employees telling you this as you get in line- LISTEN TO THEM. You will not be able to bring or sneak anything up- at a certain point in time, you even have to walk through a metal detector and all cell phones, glasses, loose change will have to be put back in the locker. Because of the only being able to open the lockers once, you’ll have to take everything out and get back in line all over again to get another locker. This debacle is why we didn’t ride the Dragon Challenge on our first attempt. Mitch was furious and we learned the hard way… so I hope this helps you avoid making the same mistake!

Paperwork

SEE, DO, AND RIDE:

  1. Don’t stress about waiting in lines- the lines themselves snake through scenes from the books and movies, the insides of buildings, and past amazing things to look at! One of the lines even has you walking through the Hogwarts castle. Sometimes, the lines themselves are worth the wait.
  2. Look UP! Everywhere you go, there will be things to see and details to revel in. Our habit is to look around us and even at the ground, but there are so many things you will miss if you forget to look above you too! Check out the ceilings of buildings, the upper windows of shops, even the skyline/tops of buildings as you walk through the streets.
  3. Make sure you see the street shows. We got to see the Frog Choir perform and the Triwizard Tournament show in Hogsmeade. They were both awesome- one of my favorite parts of the day! There are two shows that happen in the other park (a puppet show and a mini-concert), but we didn’t get to see those.
  4. Ride the Hogwarts Express both directions– the ride is different each way!
  5. Even if you’re an adult, go on the Flight of the Hippogriff. We were told that it wasn’t worth it, that it was for kids. Yes, it is definitely a kid-friendly ride, but you’ll get to see Hagrid’s hut while you wait in line, Buckbeak in his nest, and once on the ride, amazing views of the castle! You’ll miss all of this if you skip over this ride.
  6. Make sure you stop in the bathroom in Hogsmeade– if you listen carefully, you can hear Moaning Myrtle!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

FOOD AND DRINK:

  1. If you’re visiting with a friend, split the Butterbeer– we felt like one cup was plenty for the two of us. That way, you can even try two types- they also sell a frozen one that we didn’t end up trying, but would have liked to. Also, if you drink it slowly, the marshmallow foam keeps coming back.
  2. Try the Pear Cider– I LOVED IT. Even more than the Butterbeer. Actually, way more than the Butterbeer. I’m not a huge soda fan, so I only had a few sips of Butterbeer, but the Pear Cider was awesome. Crisp and refreshing and oh, so tasty! I went back for another cup before we left.
  3. Try the fish and chips– we had ours at the Three Broomsticks and they were very good. The portions are enormous too, so if you’re having both meals in the park, you might consider splitting an entree of the fish and chips for lunch and having your bigger meal at dinner. We each got separate entrees at lunch and neither of us could finish our portion.
  4. Go for the Universal park Meal Plan!!! We met two ladies at lunch who told us about it and we were so thankful they did. Essentially, for $20 you get: A meal in either park (US or IOA), 2 drinks, and a snack. The snack can be anything, up to $6.99 I believe and anything over that, you’d just have to pay the difference. After all was said and done, we think the best meal scenario would be getting the Meal Plan, splitting fish and chips for lunch (pay for it like normal, don’t use this as your Meal Plan meal) and one of your 2 drinks for the day, redeeming your Meal Plan meal for dinner and your other drink, and using your snack to get a Butterbeer or Ice Cream at some point throughout the day.  You can purchase the Meal Plan in any of the restaurants in either park- they just give you a card to swipe.

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

SOUVENIRS AND SHOPS:

  1. The shops are wonderful to look through, even if you don’t buy anything. Make a point to stop in- they are crafted to look just like the ones from the books and movies!
  2. They sell just about anything Harry Potter you could ever ask for… we didn’t buy much of anything because it was all pretty pricey. HOWEVER, if you’re looking for something to take home to remember the trip by that won’t cost an arm and a leg, try a postcard! They sell postcards for $1 each at the Owlery (Hogsmeade side) AND they’ll even stamp the back with the official Owl Post “crest” for no extra charge! We bought two and they were just enough of a souvenir to make us feel like we got to bring a little something home without having to shell out the $40-50 for a wand. :)
  3. There’s a Quidditch supply shop in Hogsmeade (it’s closed to the public) and the store front window features Bludgers that wiggle around against their harnesses! So fun!

2015 Thomas Family Vacation

The short and sweet summary is this: Do your research ahead of time and just have fun while you’re there! It’s great to have a plan, but it’s also okay to deviate every once in awhile. :)

Hope this helps your next visit to be… well, magical!

Have any tips and tricks of your own? Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran… share them in the comments below!!!

6 Comments

  1. charlotte arboleda

    We followed your plan for our visit to the wizarding world for my son’s 13th birthday. It was perfect. Thank you for your insights and tips. It was perfect. We saw all of Harry Potter and more!

    • Hey Charlotte! I am so happy to hear that you had such a great visit!! Glad that we were able to be of help as you planned out your day… Tell your son Happy Birthday from us! Thanks for reading and taking the time to come back and comment. :)

  2. Hi Leslie! This looks SO helpful! I am planning a trip in January and was hoping our kids could get Hogwarts letters for Christmas. We really only have (and want) to spend one day out of our Disney trip at Universal and right now we are trying to decide if it is really necessary to stay onsite at Universal, or if buying front-of-line passes is necessary. I would LOVE to stick to one day, but it seems daunting. Our kids aren’t really big thrill ride kids (15, 12, and 7.) My two boys LOVE Jurassic Park and the youngest loves SpongeBob, so he’ll want to do SpongeBob Storepants and the 5pm parade. Eldest will only care about HP. Are we pushing it to try to get all of that done in just one day? Trip will be some time between Jan 4 and Jan 14. Thanks!

    • Hey Lisa! Wow, that sounds so exciting and how fun it will be for your kids to get letters from Hogwarts for Christmas (what a great idea)! Let me preface all of my next comments by saying that we’ve never been to DW/Universal in the time frame that you’ll be visiting. Your best bet is to hunt around for websites/blog posts that will give you a better idea of what the crowds are going to be like in January, as that makes ALL the difference if the plan will work or not. We went in May (but not over spring break) and felt that we lucked out with crowds… we didn’t have too long of a wait on any one ride (except the time we re-rode Gringotts in the afternoon… that was a longer wait… maybe an hour or so). If it looks like the January crowds will be similar to the May ones, I would say it is definitely possible to do everything in one day if you really plan it out and have a game plan going in. My advice would be to get to the park early and head STRAIGHT for the HP stuff (maybe use the schedule in the blog post as a guide) to get all of that out of the way. Because we were visiting Universal specifically to see HP attractions, we went back and forth and re-rode certain rides. However, you could absolutely hit everything just once in the morning/early afternoon and then move onto the rest of Universal to see Jurassic Park, SpongeBob, etc. We found that once we felt we had enough of the HP stuff, we definitely had time for a few other rides and I bet you could get even more in if you start the “other” stuff earlier than we did. Also, once you hit everything on your list, you can always opt to loop back around and ride your favorites again (you’ll probably have longer lines to wait in as it gets later in the day). In terms of front-of-lines passes, we did not have any and were fine without (again, this will depend on the crowd situation), but you’ll DEFINITELY want (and need) to get a Park Hopper pass if you want to do everything in one day. Hope this helps and thanks so much for reading!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! I have been looking like a crazy person for information about how to do both Harry Potter sections in one day! Your post is so honest and simple(even though you said it was long, theme park visitors like to know it all)! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this! THANK YOU!!

    • Hey Cassie! I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Good luck planning your visit… it’s such a fun park to visit and you’ll have a BLAST! Let me know if you have any specific questions… I’d be happy to answer anything I can. :)

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