Butterbeer! Magic wands! Thrill rides! Here’s how to squeeze the most fun out of your day with Harry and his friends.
Like all great theme parks, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, makes a lot more sense after you have visited. Needless to say, that can post a challenge for first-timers. But have no fear: We’ve brought back five magical must-dos (video above, story below) that will help you and your family experience the essentials, stay well-fed, and, most importantly, be filled with a sense of wonder and adventure. It's the next best thing to actually flying to Hogwarts.
Butterbeer, the deliciously sweet and irresistible drink of all witches and wizards, is available frozen or regular, and is a favorite of visitors to Harry Potter in sunny Orlando and Universal's Los Angeles theme park as well. We had ours with bangers and mash (traditional British sausages and mashed potatoes) at the Leaky Cauldron. But if you just want to sip the sweet elixir without sitting down for a meal, it is also available at the Hopping Pot, where you can grab a seat outside and people-watch. You can spend a little more money on a souvenir cup, but Butterbeer tastes the same no matter how you quaff it.
2. The Shops
One of the many storefronts and signs in Diagon Alley. Stop at The Hopping Pot for Butterbeer or mail a postcard from the Owl Post. (Amy Lundeen)
There are no traditional gift shops at Harry Potter, and that’s a very good thing. Instead, you can find an array of books and cool wizard-related items like the perfect crystal ball, the inkwell refill you need, or that new Hufflepuff scarf for the school year. The shops of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are just as fun as the rides. Stock up on April Fools' jokes at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and get ready for Halloween at Borgin and Burkes, located in the dark depths of Knockturn Alley. If you find you can’t stop shopping and get overloaded, ask for package pick-up. They will hold your items for you and have them available within three hours for pickup at the park’s exit. If you want to mail a souvenir back home, the Owl Post will stamp your postcard with a special stamp.
Test out a magic wand at the wishing well in Diagon Alley. (Amy Lundeen)
At Ollivanders Wand Shop, the walls are lined with towers of long, narrow boxes to choose from. Before purchasing a wand, go next door to the wand show, where one lucky person has a wand choose them. (Note: That lucky person still has to purchase the wand, but it’s a fun show for the kids whether you’re shopping for a wand or not.) For a small amount more, you can purchase an interactive wand that will work “magic” in various areas of the park. If you know you will be buying a wand, it makes sense to pay a little extra for this feature; then, as you explore the park, keep an eye out for markers on the ground to show you the wrist movement to activate the magic. (Park staff is often on hand to help visitors get the hang of using their interactive wands, and to help manage lines.)
4. The Rides
A golden goblin statue in Diagon Alley will bring you to Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts. If the warnings as you approach the ride scare you off, you will have a chance to leave the line before being buckled in. In fact, take the walk even if you plan to leave the line—it's worth it for the chance to see the detailed interior of Gringotts, goblins and all! Once you are buckled in for the ride, get ready for a fully immersive and stomach-dropping adventure. The mixture of classic roller-coaster and movie magic is well worth the wait.
If you are looking for a slightly mellower, less scary ride, head to Hogsmeade (in Universal’s Islands of Adventure park) for the Flight of the Hippogriff. Fresh air and views of Hogwarts zip by on this quick and thrilling roller-coaster.
5. The Hogwarts Express
A stack of magical books on display. (Amy Lundeen)
The decision must be made for everyone entering Harry Potter: Will you get a two-park pass? Universal has set it up so Diagon Alley (located in London in the books and movies) and Hogsmeade (location of the famed Hogwarts school) are in separate Universal parks: Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, respectively. Hogwarts Express connects the two parks. The downside is that you have to purchase a two-park pass to take the Hogwarts Express. This is a splurge, but a worthy one—if you want the full experience, go into this trip knowing you will be going to two parks. From the Knight Bus, look for the entrance to King’s Cross Station for access to the Hogwarts Express. For the full experience, plan to take the return trip later in the day.