For Harry Potter fans The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort is a must see. Walking through Diagon Alley, Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry surpasses the imagination and brings the wizard world to life in a magical (and state-of-the-art technology) way.
Before you arrive give yourself a refresher course. If you don’t have time to read each book, pick up the first one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to remind yourself of the details in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, which are the two wizarding-world locations you’ll be exploring.
Below are 13 secrets and tips to help you explore:
Tip #1: Take the Hogwarts Express. Like Harry you too can disappear onto platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross. As you enter the queue on the Diagon Alley side you’ll notice the line slows about 1/4 of the way, because guests are capturing each other disappearing onto platform 9 3/4. It's worth the wait to “disappear” into the barrier, remember to take a video to capture it. Take the train back from Hogsmeade to experience both parts of the attraction. FYI: You’ll need tickets to both parks.
Tip #2: Buy a Magic Wand. Purchase your wand from Ollivander's in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but ask if it’s a regular or interactive wand. For less than $10 more your wand can do magic throughout both parks. You can buy a wand that’s a replica of one of the witches and wizards in the books, including Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Draco, Bellatrix and Voldermort. If you purchase an interactive wand, follow the map it comes with to locate the places you can use it. But not all magical spots are on the map. Test your magic at the storefront of Slug and Jiggers Apothecary in Diagon Alley and in the right window of Scribbulus Writing Implements on Horizont Alley. If your wand malfunctions, and repeating “Reparo!” won’t do the trick, take it to the Owl Post in Hogsmeade or Ollivander’s in Daigon Alley. They have a quick spell that’ll fix it.
Tip #3: Cool Off With a Butterbeer. The beverage of choice for Hogwarts students, Butterbeer is available in many restaurants and carts. Purchase one to share before splurging on multiple cups. The butterscotch and shortbread flavored drink – think Werther's candy – comes in regular and frozen varieties.
Tip #4: Save Time Waiting with Child Swap. Some rides allow families to wait on line once and have one parent sit with small children while the other rides and then takes his or her turn, without having to wait on line again.
Tip #5: Store Stuff in a Stroller Instead of a Locker. Before going on adventurous rides you have to lock your belongings in a locker. They're spacious, but very crowded. Try to score a locker near a doorway so you don’t get caught in the congestion, or better yet, leave as much as you can in a stroller if you’re pushing one around.
Tip #6: Take a Trip Down Knockturn Alley. The dark magic thoroughfare is accessible from two spots on Diagon Alley. Don’t miss Borgin and Burkes where you can hear a bird chirping in the Vanishing Cabinet and shop for Deathly Hallows gear. There are magic wand opportunities too, but hold onto the kids because the Alley isn’t well lit and spooky.
Tip #7: Must-Take Photo-Op. The best spot to capture Hogwarts is on the bridge to the Jurassic Park area. Day or night you'll get picture-perfect views of the castle.
Tip #8: Take a Leisurely Tour of Hogwarts. Take your time while on line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ to see the details including Dumbledore's office – you'll spy his pensive – and listen to the talking pictures because they have important things to say. If people behind you are in a hurry, let them pass, you'll enjoy the adventure more if you take it all in.
Tip #9: Exchange Your Dollars for Wizarding Money. Not far from Gringotts is a money exchange where you can change your muggle money for wizarding funds $1 for $1. Pay attention to the Goblin at the counter, he'll engage you in conversation. Your wizarding money is good throughout the parks. If the line is too long you can find an ATM that dispenses wizarding money too.
Tip #10: It Can Get Really Hot in Florida. Running around in capes and other attire for the house you’d want to be sorted into can be fun, but in the heat you won’t enjoy yourself. If the forecast calls for high temps, skip the Hogwarts uniform and go for a tee-shirt instead. Also, if you purchase a bottle of Gillywater, their version of Poland Spring, you can refill it at beverage concessions to keep hydrated.
Tip #11: Have Universal’s Magical Messengers Hold Your Purchases. With their parcel pick-up service you can shop all day and have everything delivered to a gift shop at the park entrance. When you’re paying, let the salesperson know you want to pick them up later and they’ll be waiting for you so you don’t have to lug them around.
Tip #12: The Dragon Challenge is Worth Doing Twice. Take flight on one of two dragons you read about in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail are two twisting and looping roller coasters that are two different experiences you won’t want to miss. Plus, if you can bear to keep your eyes open you’ll get a great view of Hogwarts.
Tip #13: Skip Shutterbutton’s. You’ll get a kick out of making “moving pictures” at this Diagon Alley shop, but not the fee to purchase it. There’s a short preview to see what you made, but if the line is super long, don’t wait on it, you’re better off taking videos disappearing onto platform 9 3/4 or on Hagrid’s (a/k/a Sirius Black’s) motorbike.