21 Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We just got home from a first-time visit to Universal Orlando and had a great time. We’ve been wanting to go on this #FamilyForward adventure organized by Mom It Forward for several years and we finally made it happen! Every year Mom It Forward offers a vacation package for purchase to social media savvy families. In addition to a great stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort and a visit to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, we were able to meet other families from across the country to learn more about how we can become superhero families by spending quality time together learning and playing and giving back to others in need.

I’ll be posting more about this unique #FamilyForward trip later, but first – I couldn’t wait to share with you some tips to how you can take advantage of the time you spend at both parks in Orlando as well as some insider information about cool things about the parks!

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1. Avoid the extreme heat and huge lines by skipping the summer months and planning your vacation in the fall. I know school’s back in session, but we took the kids out over Labor Day weekend for an additional couple of days off and found the parks to be a lot less crowded so lines weren’t bad. On Labor Day itself, most rides were only 20-30 minutes long in the main lines. But because we stayed on property…we were able to ride in the Express Pass lines which cut our wait time down to almost nothing! This benefit, in my mind, makes staying at one of the Universal Orlando resorts a no-brainer.

2. They touch up the paint in Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island every night in Universal’s Islands of Adventure! There’s a lot of cool super hero art on the walls lining the street of Marvel Super Hero Island. Word on the “street” is the artist wasn’t allowed to claim his work, so he hid his signature in each painting. Look for the “Adam” signature hidden somewhere on each one…a fun game to play while you walk to the next ride or show!

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2. Get the big as yo’ face donut in Lard Lad in Springfield for $5.99. You can cut it up and share it for a sweet snack for the entire family. Come on, they are “World Famous” how can you pass them up?!

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3.Check out the phone booth at Universal Studios by King’s Crossing Station in London…right outside of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Dial MAGIC (it’s an old fashioned dial phone without letters on the numbers so that’s 62442 – we had to look on our cell phones to figure that out!) You’ll reach the Ministry of Magic. So cool!

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4. If you buy a Pygmy Puff like Ginny’s at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shop in Diagon Alley, they’ll ring a big bell and announce to the whole store that you are adopting one and you get to tell everyone his/her name. Very cute! (Annie got a pink one!)

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5. Buy a postcard. We got ours at Scribbles in Diagon Alley along with a sheet of Harry Potter postage stamps. (They told us  they only sell the Harry Potter stamps at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!) Address it to yourself and list all your favorite trip memories then take it to the Owl Post in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. They’ll give it an owl post postmark and an owl will “fly” it into the mailbox. Very cool – especially for the younger kids. Then we you get home, you’ll have something fun in the mail to remember your trip.

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6. Visit Gringott’s bank in Diagon Alley. You can exchange your muggle money for a bank note in $10 and $20 amounts while you talk to the animatronics goblin who will actually answer your questions! You can spend the bank note anywhere at the park (or return it for cash later). The bank note is so cute, we almost didn’t want to spend it!

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7. You’ve got to try the Butterbeer (available cold, frozen or warm) and the Pumpkin Juice while at one of the Harry Potter areas. Just do it. Also pictured: chocolate milk, Dragon’s Skin beer and cider beer from The Leaky Cauldron.

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8. And while you’re at it…enjoy the same sweets that Harry did in the movie. We stopped to get chocolate frogs at Honeydukes in Hogsmeade to take on the train just like Harry and Ron did during their first Hogswart Express train ride! You can also get Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, exploding bonbons and treacle fudge. Good times.

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9. The mirror at Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley will give you fashion advice if you stand in front of it. Sometimes it’s nice, “you look brilliant”! other times, not so much “that color doesn’t look good on you.” Ouch.

10. The vanishing cabinet is at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. You can hear a bird chirping inside!

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11. If you are staying at a Universal Orlando Resort property (we stayed at Loews Royal Pacific – Aloha!) you also get in to Islands of Adventure one hour earlier then everyone else to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. Bonus! Go straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride as this is one of the only rides that doesn’t have an Express Pass. If you have time, you can enjoy some of the other rides at Hogsmeade, but 15 minutes before the park officially opens…take Hogswart Express to Universal Studio’s Diagon Alley. Then you’ll be first in line for the other cool Harry Potter ride that doesn’t have a Express Pass either – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. These two rides have the longest queues all day, so you’ll be happy to get them both in first thing in the morning!

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12. If you want to get a wand, go to Ollivanders (they have one in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) and attend the short show first – it’s cool. They pick someone from the group to find the perfect wand (much like when Harry got his). Even if you’re not picked, it’s fun to watch. Then you can get your own. Remember, the wand chooses you – so try different ones in your hand to see which “speaks” to you! If you get it at the beginning of your stay, you’ll have more time to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!

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13. The Leaky Cauldron. Period. We loved eating lunch one day and breakfast another at this Diagon Alley restaurant. Lines can be long, but the move quickly…or wait for a time later in the day to go. We had the best Fish and Chips and Fisherman’s Pie in addition to a sticky toffee pudding that was magical! When you leave the restaurant, look up to your right. You’ll see balconies to the rooms for “rent” at The Leaky Cauldron. Word on the street is one of them is room 11 where Harry stayed while he was there.

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14. When you take the train FROM Diagon Alley TO Hogsmeade, you can jump through the wall at platform 9 3/4. Awesome! Be sure to get your video camera ready!

15. We were one of the last people to get to see the Disaster show. They officially shut it down after Labor Day as well as The BeetleJuice Show. Plans are to put the highly anticipated new Fast and Furious ride there.  A good reason for us to come back in the near future!

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16. The Hulk is taking a smash break. We were also one of the last ones to ride The Incredible Hulk roller coaster. They closed this ride for renovations on Labor Day as well, but will reopen it next spring. (photo courtesy of Jeff Bogle)

17. ET Adventure is one of the last remaining original park rides, but it never gets old. It has the same “It’s a Small World” ride feeling and my kid’s were amazed to see photos of Drew Berrymoore as a kid at the ride’s entrance. I must remember rent ET to watch with the kids! A fun fact about another long-time ride that is no longer there: Remember the Jaws attraction that was once were Diagon Alley is? They have many nods to this ride in the area including shark teeth in some of the Diagon Alley shop windows!

18. You’ll need at least one person to wear a lanyard to keep your Express Passes handy. They scan them at each ride so keeping them in your purse or backpack is a pain-plus they could get wet. You can get cool lanyards in the Universal gift store at CityWalk outside of the park entrance for only $8.95.

19. Outside of most of the rides with Express Pass they have lockers for your backpacks/purses. They are free to rent for the duration of the ride use a thumb print scan system to check them out and to check back in. This means 1. the same person who checks the locker out has to go to claim your stuff. 2. you are assigned a locker number that you have to enter to get back in – so if you think you might forget it….write it down!

20. A lot of the rides are multi-dimensional, like Transformers and Spider-Man, so it’s worth it to wait for a spot in the first row. You’ll be able to see without anyone’s head in the way and feel more a part of the experience. Plus – they use heat and water in many of them….so you’ll get to experience that better in the front row!

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21. Florida weather can change on a dime and it rained every day we were there. But don’t worry….it doesn’t typically last long. Most of the time we would enjoy an inside ride like The Mummy roller coaster and when we got out, the rain had stopped. Bring rain ponchos (we’re wearing our Universal ponchos – we liked to call them our “Invisibility Cloaks!”). If it does rain, take time to refuel at CityWalk’s Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. This place is great…try the Filet and Lobster rolls or the High Class Hillbilly. You won’t regret it.

Do you have any Universal Orlando Tips?

I attended the FamilyForward Universal Orlando trip with my family. While we had some fantastic trip perks as part of this group, the trip was paid for by my family and all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

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  1. 1

    What a fun post!! It was so fun meeting you guys and spending time with you at Universal. We wouldn’t have wanted to share our first Hogwarts Express experience with anybody else! 🙂

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