Growing up I was a Harry Potter fanatic. I stayed up until midnight to buy each new volume at the local bookstore and subsequently read them in one sitting. So when my boyfriend proposed a spontaneous weekend getaway to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, I jumped at the chance.
Since we had a limited time in Florida, we were only able to spend one day at Universal Studios. That means we had to make a plan and be strategic to take in all the Harry Potter magic we could in about 12 hours.
If you’re planning a Harry Potter vacation of your own—especially on a tight timeline—here are 10 tips and tricks to make your visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a magical one.
1. Purchase the Park-to-Park Pass
Save some time (and money) by purchasing your Park-to-Park Pass before arriving at Universal Orlando. This is also an essential move for any Harry Potter devotee because the two-park pass is the only way to experience the Hogwarts Express. Make sure to ride the train in both directions since the magical journey is different each time.
We loved the authenticity and attention to detail of Kings Cross Station. Nods to both the Harry Potter books and movies are prominent as riders wind through the station. Then with a final curve you’re thrust onto Platform 9 3/4 where the Hogwarts Express waits, smoke billowing from its engine.
Once tucked inside your compartment on the Hogwarts Express, it’s hard to focus on everything that’s happening around you. While the journey is easily under five minutes, the short ride is packed with magical details. Keep an eye out the window for Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglica in the distance and listen closely to overhear Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s conversation outside of your compartment.
2. Arrive early
Depending on which hotel you’re staying at, you may be eligible for early entry to Universal Orlando parks. While that wasn’t the case for us, we still made it a priority to arrive early, grab breakfast along the Universal Citywalk and got to the park right when it opened.
3. Keep an eye out for wizarding clues in the muggle world
Outside of the entrance to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida, you’ll find a classic red telephone booth. Step inside and dial 62442 (or “M-A-G-I-C”) to hear a greeting direct from the Ministry of Magic. Thankfully, you won’t have to flush yourself down any public toilets to gain entry to the Ministry this time.
Exit the phone booth to discover you’re standing just outside No. 12 Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and home of Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. Look closely—can you spot Kreacher the house elf peeking through the curtains?
4. Start your day in Diagon Alley
As one of the newer addition to the Universal Orlando parks, Diagon Alley is still prone to fill with visitors quickly. Step off the “London” street and discover someone has already tapped the bricks to open the street’s magical entrance. To put it mildly, we were absolutely delighted by Diagon Alley. As you enter the winding street with its precariously towering buildings, it’s never been easier to forget you’re in central Florida.
At every turn shop windows are piled high with wizarding supplies, and around every corner there’s another magical surprise. Listen at the door of the Daily Prophet to hear quills scribbling to frantically meet deadlines. Take a turn down Knockturn Alley for a creepy collection of shops dark wizards are sure to love.
5. Get in line for rides first & enjoy the wait
Depending on the type of theme park visitor you are, this might seem like common sense. But if there’s something you’re dying to ride, consider making a beeline there early in the day.
Because we made it one of our first morning stops, we managed to get on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts in less than 10 minutes. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded if the wait was twice as long. For all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions, the line’s queue is magically transformed into part of the magical world. In the Escape from Gringotts, riders wind through the magical bank’s lobby and travel into the underground depths of its vault. You’ll even get your photo snapped for your “Ministry ID.”
In Hogsmeade, as visitors wait to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, they explore the enchanted hallways of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. While I apparently can’t handle roller coasters like I used to, I loved the attention to detail inside the castle leading up to this ride.
6. Head to Hogsmeade for the afternoon
While there are twice as many rides in Hogsmeade, there are less shops to explore in this half of the park. Head here in the afternoon after you’ve wandered through Diagon Alley for a bit. Don’t forget to pose for a photo op in front of the Hogwarts castle on your way into the rest of park.
7. Delight in the unexpected details
Throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the unexpected magical details are what sets these parks apart. From perfectly recreated shops and ride queue scenes to fun wizarding products and unique souvenirs, any Harry Potter fan is sure to delight in the park’s little surprises.
Look alive! In Diagon Alley, the Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon that’s escaped from the vaults of Gringotts randomly breathes real fire and will heat up the street below. Or head to Hogsmeade and listen for Moaning Myrtle whining through the pipes while you’re using the public bathrooms.
The park staff is also fully and delightfully committed to their craft. When I paid for a souvenir with my credit card I was handed a quill and my card with a polite, “Here’s your Muggle card. Please sign for the Ministry.”
8. Let a wand choose you at Olivanders & learn some new spells
All Harry Potter devotees know that it’s the wand that chooses the witch or wizard. So why should things at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter be any different? Participate in a magical wand choosing ceremony at Olivanders or head next door to the shop to choose one of your own.
As you can tell from the photo above, I remained completely calm about my newly purchased wand. Just kidding—I was an absolute nerd. After much deliberation, I ended up choosing an Ivy wood wand. According to its label is associated with tenacity, stamina, and endless patience.
In recent years, Universal Studios has upgraded its souvenir offerings to include interactive wands that allow visitors to make magic of their own. If you choose to purchase an interactive wand (about $50), keep an eye out for golden compass emblems embedded in the streets of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Follow the magical instructions with your wand and elements of the park will spring to life! Fountains suddenly sputter to life, lights flicker on, and more. In my opinion, this was well worth the cost for the delightful surprises.
9. Don’t forget about the food
Especially if you’re planning on spending a full day at Universal Studios, finding quality food is essential. When it comes to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we were pleasantly surprised with how good the food was. We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and enjoyed the shepherd’s pie along with the “Great Feast” platter. Later in the afternoon, we indulged in a frozen treat from Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley.
Don’t forget to try a butter beer! I opted for the iced version of butter beer—you can also order it hot or frozen. While I wasn’t a fan of its super sweet butterscotch foam “head,” there’s nothing that will make you feel more like a part of Harry Potter’s world than butter beer.
10. Stock up on souvenirs
If you have any Harry Potter lovers in your life, this is the perfect place to stock up on souvenirs. Pop into Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes for a gag gift or two. Or choose a famed chocolate frog with a holographic famous witch or wizard card. You can even send mail to your friends and family with a special Harry Potter postmark from the Owl Post.
Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? What tips or tricks would you suggest for a magical visit?