Have you been to Universal Studios Orlando? I recently went for the first time this past December! It was right before Christmas, which meant it was beautifully decorated, but also, unfortunately, very crowded. The crowds were a bit overwhelming, which is why I recommend visiting at a less popular time. Regardless of what time you choose to visit Universal, if you love Harry Potter, you will have a wonderful time! Therefore, I present to you a Universal Studios Orlando cheat sheet for Harry Potter lovers!
A Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet: How Many Days for Harry Potter Lovers?
For Harry Potter lovers, you will absolutely need at least two days. Even if you spend an entire day only exploring the Harry Potter attractions, you will definitely want to come back. If you have interest in the other attractions, such as Jurassic Park or Despicable Me, three days will be the perfect visit to capture the magic of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the City Walk. Lastly, be sure to add a final day to visit Volcano Bay water park if that interests you as well!
A Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet: Tickets & the Express Pass
Tickets for Universal Studios Orlando start at $109 USD per person, per day ($80 USD for the Volcano Bay Waterpark). For the full Harry Potter Experience, purchase a “Park-to-Park” ticket, which allows a same day visit to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It also gives you access to board the Hogwarts Express. You can’t ride without this ticket, so purchase the “Park-to-Park” ticket at least one day you are there. Prices for this ticket start at $165 USD per person, per day. Keep an eye out for deals, as there are frequently promotions, such as “buy two days, get two days free!”
The ultimate tip for a Universal Studios cheat sheet is this: buy yourself an express pass! Trust me, it is worth the extra money. Though prepare to shell out between $90 and $130 USD per day in addition to the regular ticket cost. Otherwise, you will wait in line for at least 90 minutes no matter where you go in the Wizarding World. If you are tight on money, purchase an express pass for your first day only to hit all the rides. Then come back to enjoy all the many details the park has to offer outside of it’s attractions.
A Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet: Park Hours
You can arrive for your Universal adventure as early as 8AM. CityWalk begins opening at eight and there are some great places to grab breakfast and coffee before starting your adventure. Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure open at 9AM. However, anyone staying at a Universal Studios Hotel can obtain early entrance an hour before. Most people try to rush immediately to the ride they want from the start. This isn’t worth the effort, in my experience. Especially if you are making the mad dash to the Harry Potter attractions. It may be futile, as the attractions in both parks are at the very back. Just take your time and enjoy yourself instead.
Depending on the time of the year or day of the week, the parks stays open between 6PM and 10PM. Pay attention to the time and be sure to leave enough time to depart the park before close. This isn’t Harry Potter related, but the Simpson’s Arcade, across the street from Diagon Alley, as well as the replica cities scattered throughout Universal Studios, are fabulously light up and a lot of fun to explore in the dark. The CityWalk stays open until midnight to grab dinner, dessert, last minute souvenirs, or a drink at a bar.
A Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet: The Mobile App
The Mobile App is essential for any Universal Studios adventure and it’s top of the list for a Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet. At this point, most of the restaurants throughout the parks and CityWalk require the use of the Mobile App to order food. The app will tell you which locations require this. You can place your order in advance, then let the restaurant when you are there through the app. You can even seat yourself and tell the restaurant, through the app, which table to bring the food to you.
The app also features an interactive map, a notification system in the event of closures or special events, and the ability to see wait times for all your favorite attractions. Additionally, you can link your credit card to the app and use it at the vendors throughout the park.
A Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet For Harry Potter Lovers
Universal Studios Orlando main park holds the key to the start of your Harry Potter adventure! At the very back of the park you will find the hidden Wizarding World among the replicate of London’s waterfront. There are no obvious signs or directions pointing which way to go. However, any Harry Potter fan will immediately notice the uneven cracks along a wall. They are, in fact an optical illusion to the naked eye, as these cracks are a large open doorway into the magical Diagon Alley!
Upon entering Diagon Alley, you will be greeted by crowds of people staring up at the very large, lifelike dragon which helped Harry and his friends escape, perched atop Gringotts Bank. If you are lucky, you won’t have to wait too long for it to breath hot fire over your head! Feel free to start your day here at Gringotts, or first have a look around at all the shops! The possibilities here are truly endless.
There are two main attractions in Diagon Alley that typically draw the most attention from it’s visitors. First, is the fire-breathing dragon and the ride below it called “Escape from Gringotts.” This is a 3D, motion simulated, indoor rollercoaster, that allows you to join Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they escape from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault with one of Voldemort’s Horcrux’s. The line can become quite long, so you’ll definitely want to use the express pass here if you have it!
The second attraction that draws a lot of attention in Diagon Alley is Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Here, guests will meet with Ollivander as he explains the wand choosing process. One lucky guest per show will have the opportunity to try out different wands until they find the right fit. (Note that even if chosen you will still, unfortunately, need to pay for the wand). After the show, you will be able to purchase your own wand if you wish. The wand of almost every Harry Potter character has been duplicated and is available for sale. You will have a choice between a non-interactive wand ($55 USD) or an interactive wand ($63 USD). Interactive wands light up, make noise, and interact with certain things (i.e. make shop windows light up or make an object move) within the Harry Potter World at both Universal and Islands of Adventure.
One of the most unexpected attractions found in Diagon Alley is the replica of Knockturn Alley! Should you choose to venture this way, you will find yourself in complete darkness minus the poorly lit store windows displaying all kinds of evil potions and objects filled with dark magic. If this is your cup of tea, head on into Borgin and Burkes to buy yourself a souvenir to bring back home (but buyer beware of the Dark Arts!).
Two additional attractions in Diagon Alley are great if you enjoy singing and theater. Outside performances are put on regularly throughout the day for your enjoyment. Do you like the tale of the Deathly Hallows? Then you will love watching The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Meanwhile, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees is a musical performance put on by a group mentioned in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
If you want to create your own moving portrait from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Shutterbuttons can help! Finally, Gringotts Money Exchange (separate from the bank) will allow you to interact with a Goblin and exchange USD for Gringotts Bank Notes, which can be used in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
The main dining option in Diagon Alley is the Leaky Cauldron. The restaurant is decorated to look precisely like the one on the Harry Potter Movie set. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served here. The menu hosts a variety of traditional English specialties. Note that this is a quick service restaurant, which requires an order placed over the Mobile App prior to your visit.
For dessert, head on over to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour for a scoop of ice cream. There are many creative flavors, including Butterbeer, for you to choose from! Meanwhile, if you are thirsty, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Hopping Pot, or Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment can help. The Fountain and the Hopping Pot offer themed alcoholic (such as the Wizards Brew) and non-alcoholic beverages, including Butterbeer. The Hopping Pot also has a small menu of snacks. Meanwhile, Eternelle’s Elixir serves colorful, flavored “gillywater.” Unfortunately, Eternelle’s has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Double check the website before planning to add this attraction to your visit.
There are so many wonderful shops that line the streets of Diagon Alley. Should you want to buy yourself a souvenir, this is certainly the place to do it! Before you head anywhere else, venture inside Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes! As a Harry Potter fan, you’ll find it looks exactly like the movie sets! There are also many of the Weasley gadgets from both the books and movies to buy here.
For your wizarding wardrobe, visit Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions. Purchase your sporting equipment at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Find wizarding school supplies at Scribbulus. For toys, gifts, mugs, keychains, t-shirts, and other Harry Potter themed souvenirs visit Globus Mundi or Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. For sweet treats, such as Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans or Cauldron Cakes, check out Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop. Animal lovers check out Magical Menagerie for stuffed animal replicas of the magical creatures, like a hippogriff! Lastly, if you didn’t get a chance to purchase a wand at Ollivanders, you may also visit Wands by Gregorovitch.
Immediately outside of Diagon Alley is the city of London! Here you’ll find two attractions for Harry Potter lovers: The Knight Bus and Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.
Step on up to the Knight Bus! Used as an actual prop on the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the triple decker, purple overnight bus is a sight to see! An actor, performing as the conductor, puts on a brief show for visitors, then pose with guests for photos. There is also a animated shrunken head, shouting insults at whoever will listen!
Across from the Knight Bus is the entrance to Kings Cross Station, London’s busiest central train station. Walk through the station until you find Platform 9 and 3/4. Here you can wait in line to board the Hogwarts Express! You will most certainly want an Express Pass here, as the wait can be upwards of 2 hours!
Before leaving though, make a call from the bright red phone booth to the Ministry of Magic! Also check out Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher the Black family house elf peeking out at your from the window.
The Hogwarts Express
All aboard the Hogwarts Express! Meet the conductor on the platform and follow his or her lead into your cabin, perfectly designed to look like the movies! Enjoy the train ride between Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade Station in the Islands of Adventure. While you ride, enjoy a virtual experience out your train window. You can board the train at either Platform 9 and 3/4 in King’s Cross Station or at the platform at Hogsmeade Station. The line gets rather long, even with an Express Pass. The experience is the same both ways, therefore the suggestion is to only take it one way. Unfortunately, the motion picture that plays, while entertaining, shows its age. I personally, wouldn’t waste time doing it more than once.
Universal's Islands of Adventure Cheat Sheet For Harry Potter Lovers
Disembark from the Hogwarts Express at the Hogsmeade Station and find yourself at Universal’s second park: Island of Adventure. Here you will discover the rest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are both found here and there is a great deal more of fun to be had!
There is so much to do here at Hogsmeade! This area of the park is where the rest of the Harry Potter themed rides are found. You will also find many shops to purchase a souvenir if you didn’t quite find what you were looking for in Diagon Alley. Lastly, you’ll be sure to find good food and unique drinks.
There a two great rides found in Hogsmeade for your enjoyment! Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the Flight of the Hippogriff are both traditional roller coasters with some unexpected features, such as Hagrid’s three-headed dog (!), popping up along the way. Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure is, unfortunately (or fortunately), quite popular, and will require a long wait without the Express Pass.
Like Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade has it’s own Ollivanders Wand Shop, which features a similar showing. There are plenty of places throughout Hogsmeade which also respond to interactive wands. Hogsmeade also offers an Owl Post, which offers the opportunity to send out a real letter with a Hogsmeade stamp! You may also purchase stationary gifts here.
Lastly, there are two shows featured in Hogsmeade. Catch a song by the Frog Choir, featuring lyrics sung by Hogwarts students and animatronic frogs. You can also witness the Triwizard Spirit Rally, which is a dance put on in preparation for the Triwizard Tournament, as featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The Three Broomsticks, in all it’s likeness to the set of Harry Potter is located in the center of Hogsmeade. It gets extremely crowded, especially during meal time. Use the mobile app to order food and take note of the wait time. Also note that you cannot sit at a table without a food order, even if you are getting a drink at the bar.
Attached to the Three Broomstick, is the Hog’s Head Pub. Stand in line to have a beer on tap or a mixed drink, only to be found at Hog’s Head! You can also get Butterbeer here! However, if you don’t want to stand in line, there are also several carts selling Butterbeer, water, and snacks.
Outside of Ollivanders Wand Shop and the Owl Post, there are two other shops that are quite popular among Harry Potter fans! Honeydukes has delicious sweets and treats, including the famous Chocolate Frogs and Exploding Bonbons. Meanwhile, Dervish and Banges has Quidditch gear, including replica uniforms, Golden Snitches, brooms, etc. Keep a close eye out and you may also catch a glimpse of “The Monster Book of Monsters.”
Universal Studios considers Hogwarts to be in Hogsmeade, and this is how it’s labeled on it’s maps. However, any true fan knows Hogsmeade was always references as a village “next to,” to “nearby” Hogwarts. Therefore, I am including Hogwarts as a separate section from Hogsmeade. Though in the park, the entrance to Hogwarts is across the road from Dervish and Banges. Also as a final note, keep an eye out for the castle a night. During special events, the castle will be lit up – according to theme if it’s a holiday!
There is one wonderful attraction featured at Hogwarts: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is a 3-D, motion simulated ride, where you join Harry, Ron, and Hermione in sneaking out of class to watch a Quidditch game. You will have to escape from professors, dementors, and the Whomping Willow while flying alongside the three friends.
It’s more than just the ride though. The journey taken to the ride, is a walk through the Hogwarts grounds and castle. It is stunning how closely Universal’s Hogwarts resembles the movie set. You will also, as a Harry Potter fanatic, be absolutely flabbergasted by how many details you observe from the books and movies! From Madam Pomfrey’s Greenhouse, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s office, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts Room – it’s all there! This attraction, more than anything will excite Harry Potter fans more than anything!
Upon your exit from Hogwarts Castle, you will immediately enter Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Here you can purchase souvenirs, which are items that were taken from Hogwarts caretaker. You can also have a look at the Marauder’s Map on display.
Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet: Other Important Information
Where to Stay
Universal has a host of it’s own hotels located on the property. They range from five-star resorts to mid-range hotels. Booking with these hotels come with benefits such as discounted tickets, early park access, and free transportation to the parks. There are also many hotels nearby outside the parks, which also offer a shared shuttle service. I personally preferred staying outside the park, as, even with the benefits, it was more budget friendly. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Orlando International Drive North and had a wonderful stay!
As previously mentioned, if you stay at a Universal Hotel or partner hotel, you can take the shuttle to and from the parks. Uber and Lyft are readily available and have designated pick up and drop off locations at Universal. The service is a bit pricey because of the area. Lastly, you can always rent a car (or bring your own if you live nearby). Parking is $27 USD per day, and there are prime spots available starting at $40 USD.
And in Conclusion...
Harry Potter is a magical fantasy land that primarily exists in the literary world, which is hard to replicate in reality. It was initially, replicated beautifully in the movies. Now, you can experience it all for yourself at Universal Studios! I hope you enjoyed my Universal Studios Orlando Cheat Sheet and if you have anything to add, please comment below! For more Florida blog posts check out this link here to start planning your trip!