5 Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I’m an avid Harry Potter fan and have visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade twice before. Our most recent trip to Orlando, however, was the first chance I had to visit the new Diagon Alley. Even though we had been to Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) before we still decided to get a park hopper in order to ride the Hogwarts Express. Unfortunately we were limited in time and only got a one-day ticket but I was determined to make the most of it.
Despite my over-the-top itinerary planning there were plenty of things I learned during that day at Universal Studios, things that would have made our experience so much better. I’ve compiled a list of the five most important tips for planning a Harry Potter themed vacation in Orlando.
1. Visit Hogsmeade First
To be honest this could be my ONLY tip for this entire post. Everything that went wrong with our day was somehow tied to this one mistake we made.
We arrived at the park entrances when they first opened and chose to visit Diagon Alley in Universal Studios first. By the time I made it to the back of the park it was only 9:15 and there was already a 75 minute wait for the popular Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. The same ride later that evening was only about 15 minutes. Furthermore Universal Studios is usually open later than Islands of Adventure (unless it’s during peak season) so it makes sense to spend your mornings at Hogsmeade and your evenings at Diagon Alley.
Another issue we encountered is shade which is scarce in many parts of Islands of Adventure including Hogsmeade. By lunchtime the sun is beating down so fiercely I’m surprised it doesn’t melt the fake snow on the buildings. Everyone crowds around the few shady spots or seeks refuge in air-conditioned The Three Broomsticks.
Diagon Alley, on the other hand, has tall “buildings” which is meant to hide it from the rest of the theme park and make you feel as though you’ve truly stepped into a magical world. The bonus is the ample shade that’s created. Knockturn Alley is especially dark and cool but can it amplify sound so I wouldn’t recommend trying to hide back here with a napping baby. Had we spent the morning in Hogsmeade and the afternoon at Diagon Alley we would have been much more comfortable and Stink may have napped a little better.
2. Beware the Scary Stuff for Toddlers
The dragon that guards Gringotts Bank in Diagon Alley doesn’t move but he breathes fire about every 15 minutes and scared the daylights out of Stink. Unfortunately Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour is right across from Gringott’s so I sent Brandon over to the other side of Diagon Alley with her while I ordered us some yummy ice cream. By the way, who puts an ice cream parlour so close to a fire-breathing dragon??
Even the Hogwarts Express, the ONE thing I thought Stink would enjoy, had some scary parts to it. The excitement of boarding a train quickly wore off as the ride started and halfway through it Stink was insisting that she was ALL DONE.
**SMALL SPOILER ALERTS**
When traveling from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade dementors scratch at your compartment door, thunderstorms crash and eerie music plays outside your “window”. It didn’t last too long but it was long enough to make Stink cry. If you think your toddler will be too scared then you may want to consider skipping the Hogwarts Express.
The conductor insisted that the return journey wasn’t nearly as scary but we didn’t take any chances. I rode alone to Hogsmeade while Brandon and Stink went back to the hotel to rest. The conductor was right, the ride wasn’t as bad but there’s a few moments of spooky music as you ride by Malfoy’s Manor and get a glimpse of You-Know-Who. I’m glad we didn’t take her on it.
**END SPOILER ALERTS**
3. Make Time for the Performances
Both Harry Potter theme parks have wonderful live performances that shouldn’t be missed and Diagon Alley’s shows are especially good. Grab a butter beer from The Hopping Pot or an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue’s and enjoy the charming voice of Celestina Warbeck. Stick around for a story from Tales of Beedle the Bard afterward.
The performance stage at Diagon Alley is located under a covered glass canopy. It’s quite shady so it can be enjoyed even on a hot, sunny afternoon. The Frog Choir in Hogsmeade is another favorite of mine but their performance stage isn’t sheltered. Regardless of which park you’re at be sure to check the performance times on the program when you get to the parks. I scheduled our itinerary based on the show times I found online and they were off by half an hour. Oops!
4. Watch Out for the Interactive Wand Crowds
I could have been one of them, a Harry Potter geek with an interactive wand trying to make a fountain spring to life, especially after reading this thorough review about them. Since I had already purchased a regular wand a few years before I chose not to get a new one. Still, the crowds around the interactive wand locations can get quite large. Sometimes there are cast members to help out but often times you’re on your own. If there’s a small crowd at an interactive wand location then expect to spend at least 10 minutes waiting for your turn. For those without the interactive wands it can get tricky trying to navigate around these packs. Some of the locations are inconveniently placed right in the middle of a major walkway.
There are so many interactive areas that if you want to complete all of them AND ride all the rides AND see all the performances then you’re better off spending 2 or even 3 days at the Universal parks.
5. Use the Regular Line for Your First Rides
There are single rider lines that can be significantly shorter than the regular lines. However if you’re riding The Forbidden Journey or Escape from Gringotts for the first time then you definitely need to go through the regular line first. There are incredible features in the regular line that you bypass when going through the single rider lines. Watch Ron make it snow in one of the classrooms on Forbidden Journey and take a spooky elevator ride on Escape from Gringotts. These are definitely things that shouldn’t be missed on your first (or even fourth!) time on these rides.
Furthermore, the single rider line for Escape from Gringotts can be just as long or even longer than the regular ride. Seats are 4 across so the only time the cast members choose someone from the single rider line are when there’s a group of three. That doesn’t happen too often. Plus the single rider line moves so much more slowly than the regular line. I’ve found that standing still on tired feet is worse than walking around on tired feet.
Despite making a few mistakes with our planning we had a great day. Next time, though, we’ll spend 2 full days at Universal so we can visit the rest of the parks too.