Two years after its debut at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still the star attraction at the Orlando theme park.
The crowds and lines can seem daunting, but there are a few tips and tricks to make your experience in "Hogwarts" and "Hogsmeade" as magical as possible.
Step one is getting to the park. Skip the lengthy lines at the park entrance by buying your tickets online beforehand. You can either print them before you get to Universal Studios or pick them up at a will call kiosk.
The Early Bird Gets No Lines
Get there as early as possible. The park generally opens around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. If you stay in one of the three hotels on premise – the Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel – you gain access to Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before the park opens, virtually eliminating long lines and wait times. If you opt to stay elsewhere, you can still plan to get to the park early and make a beeline for Hogwarts. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located towards the back of the park, and the fastest route is through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent.
Once you’ve made it to the Wizarding World, head to Ollivander’s first. The small attraction can only accommodate around 30 people at a time, so the line can be long and slow-moving. Best to check out this one early before the crowds come in.
The highlight of the Wizarding World is "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," a ride inside a replica of Hogwarts castle. The wait for this ride can be particularly long, but the wait itself is its own attraction. The line winds its way through the castle, past a potions classroom in the dungeons, through the greenhouse full of mandrakes, into Professor Dumbledore’s office and more. There are talking portraits to keep you entertained and holograms of your favorite Harry Potter characters giving you the back story for the ride – they’re busting you out of a boring History of Magic lesson by using enchanted benches to fly you out to watch an exciting quidditch match instead. This is a high-flying, action-packed ride so be sure to hold onto your shoes! You are required to stow your belongings in lockers at the front of the line.
If you don’t mind separating from your party, you can join the single riders line. It moves quickly and cuts the wait time almost in half. However, you may not see all of the castle and you will join a different party on the ride.
Take a Beer Break
Another highlight of the Wizarding World is not a ride, but a beverage. Fans of the series could hardly wait to try Universal’s take on Butterbeer, a sweet beverage from the Harry Potter series. Click here for the recipe. You can try butterbeer, in cold or frozen form, inside the Three Broomsticks or from vendors outside the restaurant. There are multiple street vendors so check around for whichever has the shortest line.
Be sure to catch the shows outside of Hogwarts castle – one, a group of students performing with their singing frogs and the other a "Triwizard Spirit Rally" featuring performances from students from magical schools Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.
Roll With It
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is home to two roller coasters. "Flight of the Hippogriff" is a family-friendly wooden coaster that swoops and swerves past Hagrid’s hut. The ‘Dragon Challenge’ coaster, once housed in the Lost Continent section of the park, has been repurposed to reflect dragons the competitors in the Harry Potter series faced in the Triwizard tournament. Riders can choose to ride the Hungarian Horntail, the blue coaster, or the Chinese Fireball, the red, as the two intertwined coasters race each other on unique courses.
Park visitors can also visit the stores in "Hogsmeade," where you can shop for all things Potter. Some of the storefronts are models, but others you can enter and shop. At Zonko’s Joke Shop, you can find many familiar items from the Harry Potter series like sneakoscopes, extendable ears and pygmy puffs. Next door at Honeyduke’s, you can stock up on sweets like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs. It may be worth stopping at Honeyduke’s on your way out of the park to ensure your Chocolate Frogs don’t melt in the Florida sun.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been such a hit that plans are in motion to significantly expand the Orlando attraction and to open a second Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.