Monday, January 6, 2020

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando: A One-Day Itinerary

So you want to see and do everything Harry Potter at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando. That's ambitious, especially for a muggle, but it can be accomplished if you know what you're getting into! I'm sharing my one-day itinerary below, but you don't have to do everything in one day. In fact, it's much more relaxing to give yourself at least two days at the two parks, and you'll have time to check out some of the wonderful non-Harry Potter rides as well.

Anyway, ready? Here we go!

Begin at Universal Studios and go straight to Diagon Alley, where you can watch a huge, very realistic dragon breathe fire every 10 minutes or so.

Ride Escape from Gringotts. Do this early in the day, before the line to get on the ride becomes too long.

Go to Gringott's Money Exchange to exchange your U.S. dollars for wizard money, which you can spend at any of the shops. You can actually converse with the animatronic goblin teller while you wait on line.

Attend the wand-choosing ceremony at Ollivanders, then buy a wand from the shop if you want. My daughter was actually selected from the audience to have a wand chosen for her, which was very exciting!

If you purchase an interactive wand, test it out at some of the magical spell locations. Your wand will come with a map that shows you the areas where you can cast a spell, but it's very difficult to read. It's much easier to print out the list of spell locations from this guide and bring it with you.

Watch the two shows, The Tales of Beetle Bard and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. They alternate on the same outdoor stage every half an hour.

Eat lunch and drink some butter beer at The Leaky Cauldron. That's right, there's no need to wait on line at those long stands to get a taste of the popular drink! Just order your butter beer at The Leaky Cauldron while you're ordering your meal. It's the same exact butter beer at the same exact price, no extra waiting.

Do some shopping at the Diagon Alley stores, including Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes and Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.

Head out to the London waterfront to check out the Knight Bus and Grimmauld Place.

Go to King's Cross Station and hop on the Hogwarts Express. There's a point on the line where you can watch the people ahead of you through a transparent screen as they pass through the wall at platform 9 3/4. But note that when it's your turn to pass through, it won't look like anything; you have to see the magic happen through the screen while on line.

Head over to Islands of Adventure to visit Hogsmeade, where there's always snow on the rooftops, even when it's more than 90 degrees and crazy humid!

Ride Flight of the Hippogriff, The Forbidden Journey, and Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in whatever order makes sense according to the wait times. Hagrid's Motorbike is easily the most popular Harry Potter ride, with an infamously long line. We waited a little more than two hours for it ourselves (at least it wasn't eight hours!) and we all thought it was completely worth it.

Watch the two shows, Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally.

Send a friend (or yourself) a postcard with a special Hogsmeade stamp through the Owl Post.

Buy some Harry Potter-themed candy from Honeydukes, including chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's every-flavor beans.

Eat dinner (and drink more butter beer) at The Three Broomsticks.

Catch the Nighttime Light Show at Hogwarts Castle. The show starts at sunset and plays every 15 minutes or so. We watched it from the bridge that connects Hogsmeade with Jurassic World, which was a great location.

And now that you have an idea of everything there is to see and do, here are some tips and tricks for making your magical day even more magical.

1. Buy the hopper ticket. Harry Potter attractions are located in both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, with each park requiring its own entrance fee. So a hopper is necessary for you to see everything in one day. The Hogswart Express connects the two parks, but you can also just leave one park and walk over to the other. If you plan on spending one day at one park and another day at the other park, you'll still need a hopper ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.

2. Get the lay of the land. It's helpful to know that there are four Harry Potter rides across the two parks. Escape from Gringotts is situated in Universal Studios. Flight of the Hippogriff, The Forbidden Journey, and Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are located in Islands of Adventure. As for the Harry Potter restaurants, The Leaky Cauldron is in Universal Studios, while the Three Broomsticks is in Islands of Adventure. Both parks feature wand shops, candy stores, pet shops, and clothing stores.

3. Consider buying the express pass. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure offer two express pass options for an additional fee. The first and cheaper option lets you skip the line at most of the major rides one time. The second and more expensive option lets you skip the line at these rides an unlimited number of times. The biggest drawback to buying express passes (and the reason why we didn't get them) is because they can be very pricey. For example, on the day we went (considered a very busy day, crowd-wise), one express pass for one day was $118. Just one! We decided to pass on the express pass.

By the way, the price of the express pass fluctuates depending on the crowd level that day. You also don't need to buy it in advance, since they sell them throughout the parks at kiosks and in the stores. But if you're trying to squeeze all your Harry Potter adventures into one day and you know you're definitely going to be purchasing the express pass, then go ahead and buy it in advance online to save yourself some time while you're in the parks. Note that the express pass doesn't cover Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

4. Be at the park before it opens. I'd read online that sometimes the parks sometimes open before their scheduled times, and for us, this turned out to be true. Our opening time was supposed to be 9:00 a.m., but we were let in at 8:50. Those 10 minutes make a huge difference when everyone's making a beeline for the more popular Harry Potter rides! You'll want to reach the parking lot half an hour before opening to allow yourself enough time to walk the long distance from the parking lot to the park, go through bag check, and, in our case, exchange our AAA vouchers for tickets. (Yes, AAA offers discount prices to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure!)

5. Eat lunch and dinner early. If you arrive at The Leaky Cauldron at noon for lunch (along with every other visitor that day), you will have to wait at least half an hour just to get in and place your order. If you show up at 11:30 a.m. like we did, there's no wait. Being just half an hour ahead of the mealtime crowds can save you a ton of time. This is true for dinner as well. The Three Broomsticks, where we had dinner, was virtually crowd-free at 5:00, but completely packed by 5:30.

6. Experience the magic. Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are extremely detailed, with hundreds of little touches that bring the Harry Potter world to life. Along with all the details that you can see are tons of things that you wouldn't notice unless you're looking for them. Here's a great list of some of the secrets hidden throughout the parks.

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