Day 2 – Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I’m going to preface all this by saying – we came to Universal with one thing in mind — to see Harry Potter. The rest of the park was bonus and an after thought for me, though the boys were excited about a few of the rides. But for the most part, this was definitely a Wizarding World trip!
For being a scrapbooking mom, a memory keeper, and so incredibly excited by this trip, I didn’t document it well. I experienced it. I knew that I could be that mom who takes so many photos she misses the whole trip but documents everything, or she experiences it with the family and gets a few choice shots. I chose #2.
Early Park Admission
Early Park Admission lets you in an hour before the general public. The one park or the other (Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios) opens an hour early, but not both. Check the Universal Early Admission Calendar to know which park opens early which day. The week we were there was Islands of Adventure all week).
After a super early morning to get to the shuttle and arrive at the gates for our early entrance, we simply followed the leader to get to the Wizarding World. We looked around a bit at Suess Landing while we passed through, but no one had interest in it. We traveled through the Last Continent with little regard until my oldest saw the ginormous Trident (who is a big fan of Percy Jackson) and freaked a bit. But frankly, our eyes were on Hogsmeade.
Upon arriving at the entrance, those eyes were teary, I had to admit. We did our obligatory photo outside the gates of Hogsmeade, thanks to a willing passerby.
A note: We made our own family vacation shirts that we did wear all week, and got a ton of compliments on because they were different. Having one of your own can help you identify family members in a crowd because you know what you’re looking for, and it helps others see you as a group. Of course you look like tourists, too – but so does everyone else at Universal – some just nerdier than others 😉 Our shirt will be available for purchase soon!
A tip: I’ve been asked about the water bottles we have on our hips … we used carabiner clips (d-rings) to attach our Brita water bottles to our belt loops to make them easier to carry around. No one wanted to carry backpacks, and I had a bag that held our essentials, so having something in our hands constantly isn’t what we wanted to do.
An Alternative Route
At this point, we could have waited at the entrance of Hogsmeade Station to board the Hogwarts Express. The Hogwarts Express Train is it’s own ride, which starts with the general park hours, but is always rumored to get started just a little early each day. It takes you between London/Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. This would’ve given us the advantage of starting our trip with the story line of Harry Potter. Also, it would’ve had us already in Diagon Alley by the time the general ticket holders arrived since we didn’t have to cross the park to arrive, but we didn’t want to waste our morning standing in line when we already right in Hogsmead.
After meandering through Hogsmeade, sneaking peeks into shop windows, we made our way straight to Hogwarts for a walk through of the Castle and to ride the Forbidden Journey.
Hogwarts Castle and the Forbidden Journey
There was no line to get through Hogwarts Castle. It was a straight walk through (which you can see here if you want to walk through the castle) from the dungeon through Herbology and into the Castle. It is a completely immersive experience in that you are all in. You pass by Dumbledore’s office entrance, Snape’s office, and stop off in Dumbledore’s office for a chat, then into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to have Harry, Ron and Hermione take you out to the Quidditch Pitch. Along the way you also see the Fat Lady guarding the Griffyndor rooms, displays of memorabilia, and rooms full of talking portraits. The last part, just before the ride is the Sorting Hat giving you directions.
If it is not completely crowded, take your time walking through. People can easily pass by you if they are in a hurry to ride. Enjoy! As an aide, if you wish to just walk through the castle and enjoy it and not ride, you can go through the Express Rider entrance if it’s not busy, and take your time. During the early park admission time, the Express Ride line isn’t open, but they do allow just tourist of the ride to use the entrance to enjoy a leisurely walk through the castle. You’ll get a chance to exit into the waiting area.
Read: The Truth about Weight and the Wizarding World Rides.
At the line end, I excited immediate knowing I wouldn’t be able to ride the ride (see above link), and the waiting area for the ride is where the parent switch room is, just at the entrance/exit of the ride.
Upon exiting the Castle, you’re dropped back to the locker room and shop. It’s always crowded, but it’s one of the better souvenir shops in the Wizarding World. And remember, if you’re staying on property and not leaving the next day, have the check-out send your packages back to your hotel so that you don’t have to carry them all day long!
Flight of the Hippogriff
Upon our exit, my youngest and I headed to the Hippogriff ride while the big boys went to Dragon Challenge. This ride is a modest coaster ride, just thrilling enough for the youngsters or those of us trying to get our coaster legs under us again if it’s been awhile. It offers a couple of great photo opportunities against the backdrop of the castle, too!
As you ride, you’ll get a quick image of Buckbeak almost immediately, so keep an eye out! If you want to see a POV ride, click here.
Sadly, I didn’t get any photos here because my son and husband didn’t take any 🙁 But you can see the POV ride here. My son was thoroughly wowed and happy/scared after the ride. While the my youngest and husband went back to do the Flight of the Hippogriff, my oldest and I wandered around Hogsmeade to pass the time.
I love how realistic this is! And the detail that is put into things way above our heads make it a great experience.
The Required Photo-op
When you are entering Hogsmeade after leaving the castle, take a right onto the bridge (the one that takes you to the Jurassic World), and you’ll run into a perfect spot for a family photo. Many families are already there taking shots, and you can switch out picture taking duties with them.
Moving back into Hogsmeade, it was time for a snack! But we kept getting sidetracked by scenes like this:
The Three Broomsticks
Finally! We arrived out our mid-morning destination! We were due to meet up with one of my husband’s best friends who is a Universal guru for the afternoon, so this was the perfect time to visit the Three Broomsticks.
TIP! Please don’t just look around and at the ground when you’re in the Wizarding World — on of the most spectacular features about this portion of the park is the theming that happens above your head, as well! Everywhere you go, there are surprises ALL around! Don’t just use your eyes, use your ears, too! Lots of interesting things can be heard in quiet corners all over the Wizarding World!
Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice
This was a most awesome experience. We’d been reading the Harry Potter books and watching the movies and drooling at the drinks. We couldn’t wait to taste what the J.K. Rowling approved tastes of Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice would be like. We’d tried making our own, finding replacements at stores, but we just knew this would be perfect.
It was … and it wasn’t.
Butterbeer – BIG thumbs up from all the menfolk. Me…not so much. It was too cloyingly sweet and butterscotchy (is that even a word?) for me, but the boys absolutely loved it.
Pear Cider – while we were waiting for our order, I looked at the fountain and saw that there was Pear Cider, and mentioned to my son that I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen that, because I would’ve gotten it, too. When we got our tray, there was our butterbeer and our pumpkin juice …. and a small cup of Pear Cider. I looked up at our server and she gave me a wink. A big hearty thank you to her!! This stuff was wonderful! I wasn’t sure I was going to like it since I’m not a fan of pears, but this … YUM!
Pumpkin Juice – Now this is the one I’d been waiting for, and it was DELISH! Yes, it’s super sweet, but obviously calories mean nothing in the Wizarding World. It’s bubbly, a hint of cinnamon and clove and nutmeg with lots of ice, and just perfect for sipping. The boys all prefer the butterbeer, but liked this one, too.
Just as you enter Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts Express is there for a great photo-op. If the conductor is around, which they are most of the day, chat him up! He is awesome and loves taking his photo with your family.
Hogsmeade Station and the Hogwarts Express
A tip: Universal Orlando is divided into 3 portions – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and City Walk. City Walk is the restaurant & movie area outside of Universal that does not require a ticket (but you do have the pay the parking fees). Islands of Adventure contains Hogsmeade while Universal Studios contains London/Diagon Alley. The Hogwarts Express is your travel between the two sides of the park for Potter Fans and requires a Park to Park ticket which you use here (or in King’s Cross if you’re coming the other direction). So make sure your ticket purchase can get you in both parks.
The Hogwarts Express was the ride I was looking forward to the most. And it did not disappoint. I literally got weepy when it pulled into the station for our pickup.
The ride experience is amazing. The carriage cars are spot-on for the movie set, and you feel like you’re going to be sitting with Ron and Harry! Look at the windows on both walls during your trip (and be sure to pay attention when you come back because it’s different both ways). They don’t allow flash photography or videoing (though I’m sure if you watch this video you’ll experience the ride for yourself if you can’t make it). But this is one NOT to spoil because of how wonderful it is.
Kings Cross Station and London
Part of my enjoyment of this ride is also because it takes me to London — which has been my dream destination my entire life. I’ve tried, on three different occasions to get there, and it hasn’t worked out. This is as close as I’ve been able to get so far, and I loved even the peek of Kings Cross station and a London street that I got.
I couldn’t catch it in the photos, but be sure to keep an eye on that window!
The Knight Bus Photo-op – Look around the bus, but you can’t go in. The Conductor and the Shrunken head are a hoot to talk to!
This was an absolute hoot for my husband and I. Neither of our children know what it’s like to have to dial a phone on a rotary dial, and I had to teach my youngest how to dial 62442 (MAGIC) to get the Ministry of Magic secret message. Unfortunately, no amount of doing it correctly got it to work because it was down – which seems to be the case for most folks. But give it a try to see if it works for you! If nothing else, it’s a quaint history lesson on the olden days for your kids!
Once you’ve found the “secret” entrance to Diagon Alley (just follow the crowd. But it is clever not to have a big neon sign that says “enter here”), you’ll be entering Diagon Alley – full of great architectural features, the Leaky Cauldron, the Quidditch Shop, Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes, Gringotts Bank, Madam Malkins, Ollivander’s wand Shop (there is an Ollivander’s in Hogsmeade as well as Wands by Gregorovitch (in Diagon Alley) as well as main character wands in other shops, if the Ollivander’s line is too long here and you just have to have a wand right this minute) and more!
You can see the entrance of Diagon Alley here (and forgive me for not having practiced taking videos before we left 😉 )
Once inside, the attraction that rivals my love for Hogwarts Express was right there – the Dragon of Gringotts Bank. Be warned, especially if it is a busy day, people crowd the main avenue of Diagon Alley just waiting for her to breath fire.
There is no ‘official’ schedule at how often she does it, but we timed it between every 12-15 minutes on our visit. You’ll hear a few test growls, a pause, then the roar. You can feel the heat from the flame much further than you would imagine. It’s a glorious site:
The Leaky Cauldron
By this time, we were ready for lunch – it was around noon? The Leaky Cauldron (see the menu here) offers a counter order experience of great British inspired foods that are brought to your table by magic! We can recommend everything on the lunch/dinner menu except the Ploughman’s Platter (which serves 2) which we didn’t have because everyone wanted to try something different. It is like dining at Chili’s or Applebee’s – you’re going to be paying $10-15 per plate. We opted not to come here for breakfast, first thing, because it was just too expensive (breakfast plates are $16 each but does include a small beverage). You CAN eat here for breakfast without a reservation, but one is recommended.
Note: You can get your water bottles refilled at any restaurant if you want to save a little and only get water. We opted to drink water at meals and during our day, saving the more expensive butterbeers and other treat drinks for a special time, but we did budget to get at least one each day).
Ollivander’s Wand Shop
My husband and I disagree on this issue – if it is a super busy day at the parks and you are short on time, skip Ollivander’s show in lieu of shopping for your own wand and hitting up the other venues. The line is long, and while the show is fairly short, unless you have someone just DYING for the chance to be picked for a wand (which you still have to purchase at the end), I found the experience quaint but not necessary to the experience as a whole. My husband, on the other hand, who is a big Ollivander fan, loved it. You go in small groups to Ollivander’s small shop (like in the movie) and watch as a chosen person from the crowd has his wand chosen for him. (Be forewarned, parents, if your child is chosen, they don’t get the wand – the staff does take you aside as everyone filters out into the main shop to chat with you about purchasing said wand for your child).
His shop was wonderfully themed. When you leave you are escorted into the wand shop to pick between hundreds of wands lining the walls. You can get a character wand, an interactive wand (the kind that lets you do magic around the Wizarding World), or an ‘unclaimed’ wand (which simply means it is a wand that has no character attached to it – and you can choose one that fits you perfectly). They run $40-50 (original vs. interactive which comes with a map). If you are on a super-tight budget, there are wands which can be purchased elsewhere and brought to the parks with you. (Barnes & Noble carry a Noble Collection of non-interactive wands which aren’t in an Ollivander box) for around $30.
Day 1 – Travel | Day 2 Wizarding World Highlights | Day 3 Wizarding World in depth | Day 4 Rest of Universal/Islands of Adventure | Day 5 Wizarding World Goodbye