Outside of Mickey Mouse, one of the biggest draws to central Florida is boy wizard Harry Potter’s Wizarding World at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures. For those of you unfamiliar with the attraction: no, it’s not its own park. The magical world of Harry Potter sprawls within two other Orlando theme parks, a clever move by the greedy minds of Universal, which means that to get full enjoyment of the attraction, you have to buy entrance to both Universal Studios and its neighbor, Islands of Adventures. Both of these parks are aging and unlike Disney, which is maintained in pristine condition every day of the year, the paint is a little faded in Marvel Superhero Island and Universal’s own version of Hollywood. As a result, the brand new Harry Potter areas in the parks have siphoned most of the crowds from every other part.
So what’s the best way to get the most out of the Wizarding World? First, get a pass that includes both parks. As I mentioned above, the Harry Potter section of the parks is divided between Islands and Universal. The older part of the park is Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventures. Hogsmeade is the wizarding village full of snow-capped cottages in the shadow of Hogwarts. This side of the park has the Hogwarts castle ride and the Dragon Challenge coaster. The new addition inside Universal Studios is Diagon Alley. Here you will find exact replicas of all the shops described in the books and seen in the movies where young wizards can buy their school supplies and where you can ride the Gringotts bank rollercoaster and catch the dragon sitting atop the bank breathing fire every 10 minutes. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I guarantee you’re going to nerd out over every single thing at the Wizarding World, especially at Diagon Alley.
The reason why it’s worthwhile to visit both parks in one day is so you can take a ride on the Hogwarts Express, which serves as transportation from one park to the other, but also as a ride in and of itself. If you want to just see Diagon Alley and you get a ticket for only Universal Studios, you’re going to miss a big part of the new addition: the train ride to Islands of Adventures.
Once you’re in the park, beat the crowds by going against the flow. Since Diagon Alley is the new area that everyone wants to see, once those doors open, the mobs are going to go straight there. So skip it. One thing to note is that Hogwarts Express ride is different each way. So if you want to see them both, I recommend going into Universal Studios and immediately taking the train to Islands of Adventures. The train will be totally empty because most people are enjoying both parks. Once at Islands, check out Hogsmeade (and all the other islands, while you’re at it – Jurassic Park, Dr. Seuss, etc.), then take the train back to Universal Studios. Around midday, most people will be leaving Universal because they wanted to see Diagon Alley first. You’ll have a much shorter line on the Hogwarts Express going against the flow of traffic. Then you’ll also be able to enjoy Diagon Alley when people have started dispersing to other parts of the park.
Another useful trick has nothing to do with the park itself but where you sleep the night before. Orlando is known for its dirt cheap hotels but spending a little more on accommodations goes a long way. That’s because staying at one of Universal Studios’ on-site resorts comes with a few important perks. If you stay at any of the on-site hotels, like Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, or the Hard Rock Hotel, you get to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before the park opens. If that wasn’t enough of a perk, your room key for those three hotels also doubles as an Express Pass, which enables you to skip all the regular lines.
With that extra hour, you can do everything in the Wizarding World twice if you wanted before the park doors open and the crowd descends on the area. Even if lines start forming, you can bypass them by showing your hotel room key. By the time the parks are open to the public, you’ll be ready to venture to the other areas of the parks, like The Simpsons and Jurassic Park, because everyone will be descending on the Wizarding World.
Using these tips, you can spend your day actually enjoying the rides and attractions instead of waiting in long lines. You’ll even have time to sit down and enjoy a frothy Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks or a very British dinner at the Leaky Cauldroun.
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