I am a late bloomer, not having read the Harry Potter series until I was in my 40s. Pandemic made me do it, and I am obsessed. As soon as my husband and I finished the series we were determined to make it to Universal Studios Orlando. Let me share all my Harry Potter World Tips.
What Makes Harry Potter World Worth Visiting?
If you are a fan of Harry Potter, I really think you should visit Harry Potter World and let me tell you why.
It is magical. Just walking in the first time almost took my breath away! They did such a good job recreating the scenes and feels of the Harry Potter series. The details on Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and the castle were all done so well!
Universal created a beautiful experience that immerses you in the world of Harry Potter world. Even now, 2 weeks after we have gotten home, I miss it!
I love the diversity of people who were visiting. This is a park that draws them all. You see young families, older couples, cosplay people, die-hards, and even people who know nothing about the books.
Tips For Harry Potter World
In each section following, let me outline some of the tips we used for visiting Universal Studios and Harry Potter World.
Just for reference, we were traveling with 3 teenage boys, ages 14-18, and my sister with her 5-year-old son.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between Universal Studios (Diagon Alley is here) and Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade). Hogwart's Express connects the 2.
Citywalk is at the head of both parks. You will walk into this, then choose which direction you want to go from there. Islands of adventure to the left, Universal Studios to the right.
Citywalk is open to everyone, so you will not need to scan your passes until you choose which side of the park you are going into.
Have A Plan of What To See, But Also Stay Flexible
What I mean by this is to know what is out there to see at Universal, but also give yourself time to ENJOY it.
Halfway through our second day there, my hubby and the boys headed out to explore the other roller coasters in the park. I decided to explore Hogsmeade and Diagon by myself.
I got to wander in and out of shops, take photos, and enjoy the area without feeling rushed.
This was the best way to experience Harry Potter World. The first day we saw it all, the second was for REALLY seeing it.
If At All Possible, Go During An Off-Season
Check out the Universal Crowd Calendar for the best times to visit. Our family went the first week in November. Not only was the weather perfect, but the crowds were minimal- for Universal.
Stay At One Of The Universal Hotels
Our family is not typically a resort hotel kind of family, we prefer to stay at AirBnbs, but on this trip, I made an exception, and let me tell you why.
We stayed at the Surfside Hotel. It is a great family-style hotel, that was very budget-friendly. There were 5 of us, so we got the 2-bedroom suite. In the room is a picnic table-so cute! There is also a mini-fridge and microwave.
Here is what I like about staying at the Universal hotels. First, you get early access. That means you are in at 8 a.m. when it opens at 9 a.m. for everyone else. Trust me, it's worth it.
There are also free shuttles to the parks. That saves you almost $30/day in parking at the parks. The shuttles run all the time from 7 a.m.-11 pm. All the drivers were very nice!
All the hotels have free Wi-Fi (the kids used to keep up with school assignments they missed while we were gone), pools, restaurants, shops, etc.
Tickets To Universal
If you are visiting for less than 3 days, do not buy your tickets with the hotel stay. They are less expensive to buy the 2 days' worth.
Now if you are visiting for 3 days or more, definitely book with your hotel stay, they have great discounts.
Do buy the park-to-park. I almost didn't, I am pretty cheap, but am so glad we did. It was worth it to be able to ride the Hogwarts Express both ways.
Download The Universal App
The Universal app is worth its weight in gold! Download it before you go and check it out before you head in.
Not only does this have a great interactive map of Univeral, but it also shows all the rides, restaurants, restrooms, etc. The thing we found most helpful was it shows the wait times for the rides. Trust me, this is crucial when you are making your way around the park.
No one wants to stand in line for 60 minutes for a ride. If there is a ride you want to go on, like Hagrid's for instance, keep an eye on the app, when the wait times go down, head over!
Ride Hogwarts Both Ways
I was so glad for this recommendation before the trip. Make sure and look out the windows as you ride along.
And watch the doors as well, you will catch some of your favorite characters passing by on the train ride.
Plus on the ride from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, you get to pass through a wall. That was pretty cool. I might have held up the line just a touch getting a video.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
We logged 20k plus steps each day in the parks. There is just so much to see. I know cute shoes are...well, cute. But, make sure you don't mind wearing them for long periods and for a long way.
Try Butterbeer In All Its Forms
This was a recommendation someone gave us before we left and I am glad we listened. Although we missed the warm butterbeer, it just didn't sound good to anyone, we tried frozen, cold, fudge, and ice cream.
My favorite by far was the ice cream. It was so good!!
Buy The Wands
I mentioned this below in the budget section, but let me tell you why.
Let me say before I get started here, that the wand ceremony is not necessary. You can do it if you want, but the wait times are usually pretty crazy, even first thing in the morning.
There is Ollivander's in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, the larger in Diagon Alley. They also carry them in the Universal shops and carts throughout the park as well. They also have a Wands By Gregorovitch as well in Hogsmeade.
Both shops have doors on the other side where you can walk right in and choose your wand.
They have so many fun options!! My youngest bought the Newt wand, his friend bought Sirius, and my nephew purchased Hermione's (much to my sister's delight).
The shops are fun to look in if you have read the books, you will love looking at all the wand options. I wanted Neville's wand (my favorite character) but didn't get it. Maybe next time.
The wands come with a beautiful box and a dual-sided map of interactive locations throughout the park.
Wands work by casting a reflection on an infrared camera on each site.
Visit All The Shops
It might seem a little much, but they are all so unique and so fun to visit. I have quite a bit to share on this topic, so I wrote a post all about it.
If you are interested in my recommendations, read the post for suggestions.
Ride The Rides
There are 4 Roller Coasters in Harry Potter World. I felt like these and the others in the park deserved a post of their own, so read all about it here.
There is the Flight of the Hippogriff, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, and Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
The Gringott's Ride is in Diagon Alley, but the other 3 are in Hogsmeade.
Get Your Photo Next To The Knight Bus
Stop and have your photo taken in front of the Knight Bus. We first see this bus in Prisoner of Azkaban. It is a stretchy, shifty, fast-moving bus.
At Harry Potter World Orlando, the best part of the bus is not just the outer appearances, but also the running dialog from the shrunken head when you step up to get your photo taken.
Try it and see what he says to you and your group.
Head To 12 Grimmauld Place
You might have to wait a minute or 2, but be patient and you will see Kreacher peeking out from behind the curtains.
The Black's house on Grimmauld is such a big part of book number 5, it is here we get to know Sirius and his family and of course, the always loving and kind Kreacher.
Animatronic Kreacher looks just as he should, irritated.
You really should stop by and grab a photo.
So, I am a little picky about my food. I can admit this. Let me give my food recommendations for both the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks.
I thought I would save money at Three Broomsticks and order the Beef Pasties, they are the cheapest thing on the menu. The cheapest is not always the best :). These are NOT on my list of recommendations.
Here is what I can recommend- The fish and chips (don't forget the malt vinegar), rotisserie chicken plate, and shepherd's pie.
I wish we would have just gotten the great feast plate. This serves 4 and had tons of food for about $70.
At the Leaky Cauldron, fish and chips were good again, as were the bangers and mash (remember, English sausage is a little flavorless), Guinness Stew in a bread bowl was also good, and the cottage pie.
I loved the dining experience at the Leaky Cauldron too. You are sitting at long tables and the ambiance is so cool!
Another place that was on my list for foods to eat while we were there was Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. It is out on the Citywalk, so not in the thick of everything. They are famous for their freak shakes and let me say they are worth it.
It is a cool steampunk-themed restaurant that is just a fun place to visit. Definitely add it to your list.
You might have unlimited funds, but we didn't. Let me share a few money-saving tips that I felt were worth splurging on.
I almost didn't buy the park-to-park passes but decided at the last minute to do it. It was a good choice. Without the park-to-park, you can't ride Hogwarts (smart, Universal). We did the park-to-park passes on both days. It was about $279/person for the 2 days.
Universal does allow snacks and refillable water bottles. We brought both and used them both to save during our visit.
We bought our Harry Potter shirts on Etsy before the trip. Most shirts in Universal are about $40+, Etsy almost half that. Hot Topic, not a store I generally shop at, has tons of fun shirts and merchandise too.
The interactive wands are worth it. They are about $55+ for the interactive wands. I already mentioned this above.
I decided ahead of time where we would eat and had a general idea of what we wanted to spend money on. This takes a little leg work but is worth it.
For the 2 days, we ate lunch at The Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron. It was between $12-$20/per person per meal. More on food above.
I also set aside money for other souvenirs and food, budgeting about $150 for odds and ends. I went over but stayed pretty close.
Another thing we did to save money as we did some grocery shopping for breakfast items and dinner.
There is a Walgreens across the street from the hotel where my sister grabbed cereal, milk, and bananas for breakfast.
There is also a Whole Foods about 1.5 miles away. Large pizzas there are about $13-$18, and they are big. Also, they have all kinds of sandwiches for about $5-$8/each.
I just took an Uber over and grabbed dinners. Even with the expense of Uber, I still saved a lot of money getting the pizzas and sandwiches.
This blog post could have been about 100 times longer than this. There is so much to say about Harry Potter World.
It is amazing and is so worth it. It should be well planned for the best experience.