While planning a recent weekend in Orlando to experience Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it felt at times we had to be actual wizards to sort the ins and outs of this magical land – and this muggle was admittedly confused. Is the Wizarding World its own park? (No!) Where exactly is it? (It is two distinct sections of two separate parks!) What rides and experiences are best for kids aged 7 and 4-years-old? We were surprised by how challenging it was to find the types of information, travel tips and recommendations we were looking for to help our planning. This blog, my friends, is our way of paying it forward. Within it, you’ll find top recommendations for experiencing and enjoying Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando — especially if you have young kids in tow.
First, to be clear, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is not its own park — nor is it a section of just one park, but rather two sections of two parks. Universal Studios Florida is home to Kings Cross Station, Diagon Alley, including Gringotts Bank and Knockturn Alley, and the Knight Bus. The other park, Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando, is where you’ll experience Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade.
To fully experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you will need to purchase tickets to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando. We strongly recommend getting the 2-Park 1-Day ticket that allows you to move between the two parks during a single day — even if you have plans for multiple days (as we did) — it’s the only way to ride the Hogwarts Express (more info on that below, keep reading).
This wonderful re-creation of the movie set is filled with painstaking magical details. Peak into the window of the Daily Prophet where charmed quills magically write on their own. Find your perfect wand at Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Purchase chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and other goodies at Sugar Plum’s Sweets Shop, or get a gag gift for someone at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Intrigued by the dark arts? Take a turn down Knockturn Alley and check out Borgin and Bourkes.
You can’t miss Gringotts Bank. The first thing to catch your eye in Diagon Alley is the huge dragon, perched onto of the goblin bank. It periodically breathes real fire! Within the Gringotts Wizarding Bank was our favorite ride within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — details on that below.
Get an Interactive Wand
A fun and interactive element of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are the magical wands for purchase. There are many style options so kids (or adults) can purchase the wand of their favorite character. All the wands work the same way — they come in a wand box that looks just like the one in the movie, and enclosed is a map of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with highlighted points showing where you can cast a spell to make objects do magical things. These wands can be used at the Harry Potter sections of both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure Universal Orlando parks.
You can purchase a wand in Ollivander’s Wand Shop (a replica of the one in the movie) or at various wand sellers throughout the Wizarding World. They are a pricey purchase at $50 a piece, but the kids loved them and it made them feel like they were actually casting spells. The wands must be waved a very specific way at each spell casting spot to make the magic happen. This was too difficult for our 4-year-old, and a little frustrating at times for our 7-year-old. But when he mastered it, it was magic in so many thrilling ways.
Be warned — these wands are incredibly sensitive! Getting knocked or dropped can make them unmagical quickly (which can definitely be expected of my littles who dropped them and bumped them frequently).
The goods news – you can find FREE wand repair at any wand shop. We had our wand fixed quickly without issue. Also, you don’t need to show proof of purchase to get this service, so if you borrow a friend’s wand or buy a used one online, you can bring it in for wand repair at no cost, no questions asked (as long as it is, actually, an authentic Wizarding World of Harry Potter interactive wand).
Stop at the Knight Bus
You can’t miss the giant purple, triple decker Night Bus near Kings Cross Stations at Universal Studios Florida. You can’t go inside of the bus, but it is a fun and interactive experience where the shrunken head has a real conversation with you. No surprise, he insisted our son was from the Weasley family. We had this personalized experience all to ourselves because we stopped by the bus during the Early Admission before the park opened to the general public (notice the blissful lack of crowds? Now THAT is magic!)
Take the Hogwarts Express
If you have the 2-Park 1-Day Ticket you can take the Hogwarts Express — a real, full-size working train that looks exactly like the one in the movie, inside and out, to move between the two parks. To be clear, if you purchase tickets to both parks — but the type of ticket you purchase only allows you to visit one park in a single day, you won’t be able to experience the Hogwarts Express so be sure the ticket provides same day access to both parks.
Like everything else that Universal Studios creates — the details of Kings Cross station and the Hogwarts Express are meticulous. Not only does it look just like the real thing, there are fun, interactive and magical illusions that make guests vanish through platform 9 3/4 to reach the platform with Hogwarts Express.
The train compartments are an exact replica from the film, and you’ll even experience hair-raising encounters with dementors along the way. The experience is different each direction (from Kings Cross Station to Hogsmeade and from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross Station) so be sure to take the train both ways.
It is a four-minute ride on the Hogwarts Express between parks.
Get Universal Express
An additional add-on to your admission tickets is Universal Express. The Universal Express pass is strongly recommended. If you are staying at a Universal Studios Resort (there are several resorts to choose from) you automatically get Universal Express just for staying there — your room key IS your Express pass — you do NOT have to pay extra for Express (doing so is throwing money away). We emphasize this, because this is another one of those important pieces of information we found very challenging to find through official information via the Universal Studios website for the parks and their resorts. We have little doubt people probably pay extra for this perk and don’t have too.
Just as the name implies – Universal Express- helps you express through the lines for a much shorter wait time at most rides and attractions through the parks. We literally saved ourselves hours we would have otherwise been waiting in long lines. Which, let’s admit it — with two young kids is not fun! Universal Express is recommended!
Get Early Park Admission
Another delightful perk of staying at a Universal Studios Resort is that guests not only get Universal Express passes all day, but you get entry to Universal Studios Florida one hour before it opens to the public. We found this to be a huge perk that we were eager to take advantage of (even though it meant waking up early morning). Plan this hour carefully — consider what the most popular rides are you absolutely want to experience that typically have very long wait times later in the day — and head directly to those rides during the first hour before the park opens to the public. For us, it was Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley. We were told this is a must-do experience, and we saw wait times that were more than 90 minutes at times. We hit the park early, before general admission, and went straight to this ride and zipped right to boarding area in about 10 minutes.
While we are on the subject of perks for staying on site at the Universal Resorts – don’t underestimate the perk of taking the free water taxi from your resort to the theme parks. It’s about a 7-minute boat ride. This completely eliminated our need to rent a car while in Orlando — everything we planned to see and do was within walking distance or along the boat taxi route. Staying at the resort cost a bit more than budget hotel options, but we experienced savings from not having to purchase Universal Express passes and not having to rent a car.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
The Gringotts goblin bank looks exactly like the movies- making things interesting even when waiting in line. We love how Universal Studios meticulously recreates their movie sets helping you feel like you are really there. Do note, you can’t take bags or purses or cameras on this ride — there are lockers located right at the entrance. Lock up your gear before you get in line.
Kids must be 42 inches to ride – our 4 year old was just tall enough for this one.
The ride is 3D and 4D including exciting, hair-raising encounters with Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and dragons. Our daughter was tall enough, but this was a little on the scary side for her. She still talks about — it was quite memorable, but probably for the wrong reasons. If we were to do this one over, we would not have had her join the ride, but rather would have used the Child Swap option.
Use the Child Swap Option
If you have a child not tall enough to ride or one who opts out from the rides at Universal Studios there is a Child Swap option where a member of the family can ride while another waits with the child in a waiting area right at the ride boarding entrance. By ride boarding entrance we don’t mean the entry point from the main park area into the line. This is also something we found was unclear. Whether you’re going into the Hogwarts Castle or Gringotts Bank or other rides and attractions at Universal Studios, part of the experience is the atmosphere around you while you wait in line. Everyone — even children who won’t board the physical ride — can enjoy the atmosphere. There is a Child Swap waiting area available right at the physical ride boarding area. This is where a parent or adult can wait with children who aren’t participating in the ride. When the other adult or older children finish the ride, the adults can swap places so the other can ride with no additional wait time. Sometimes this also means an older child gets to go on the ride a second time with the other adult! Child Swap allows the whole family to experience all of the cool interactive elements of the attraction — in this case, walking through Gringotts Bank and seeing the animatronic goblin bankers, moving portraits and other aesthetics, but the youngsters who can’t, or don’t want to, ride the ride don’t have too.
Head over to Islands of Adventure Universal Orlando to experience an authentic recreation of Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Castle, as well as a fun, kid-friendly junior rollercoaster Flight of the Hippogriff.
Have a meal fit for wizards at the Three Broomsticks. Even if you’re not in the market for souvenirs stop into some of the shops in Hogsmeade to see fun interactive entertainment, from animatronic monster books and owls to broomsticks and other magical objects.
You shouldn’t leave the Wizarding World without at least trying some Butterbeer which we found to be best in its frozen form. Though, be prepared – it is very, very sweet. One Butterbeer for our family was enough for us. It tastes like a very sweet milkshake.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
The Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure Park is absolutely stunning! It is an incredible resemblance of the castle in the movie inside and out with stunning, meticulous detail. Perhaps a double-edge sword to having the awesome Universal Express Passes is that we zipped through the cue so fast that we didn’t get to really appreciate all of the details and embellishments inside the castle which people enjoy while waiting in line.
You’ll see Dumbledore’s chambers, encounter numerous hologram characters from the films and books, see interactive talking portraits and so much more while in the cue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a thrilling motion ride that has you chasing Harry on a broomstick and flying from a dragon that is in hot pursuit. There are giant spiders, dementors and all things dark and dangerous magical arts along the way.
Kids must be at least 48 inches to ride this 3D / 4D experience. If you’re prone to motion sickness, be forewarned on this one. It made us a bit queasy.
Flight of the Hippogriff
Do you remember your first rollercoaster? This is a view from Flight of the Hippogriff at Islands of Adventure Universal Orlando located directly across from Hogwarts Castle. This is a perfect first coaster experience for young kids 36 inches and taller. Our four-year-old loved it, and begged us to go again and again — thankfully we were able to do so without a long wait in line thanks to Universal Express that zipped us to the front of the line each time.
Give yourself at least a couple days
Our family loved The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was a magical experience. There is also so much more at the Universal Studios parks in addition to the Harry Potter sections to experience including Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, and so much more. We packed it all into two full days which was plenty of theme park time for our family, but we didn’t see everything the parks have to offer — which is extensive and entertaining.
Be sure to download the Universal Studios Florida Application on your smart phone where you can store your tickets, plan your itinerary, access park maps, and get real time updates on wait times at various attractions throughout the parks.