I might be 34 years old but I still love the Harry Potter books and movies as much as the first time I read / saw them. I’m not even ashamed. I was in high school when the first book came out and have watched the movies countless times. If you’re like me and are still waiting for your Hogwarts letter, then a trip to the Universal Orlando Resort is definitely in order. While the studio, Universal Pictures, is known for making amazing films since the early years of cinema, going to Universal Studios in Hollywood was never an immersive experience for me. Maybe because of the amount of time I’ve spent at the Disney Parks, I always felt that there was something lacking. That all changed when I was invited to a spend a week at the Universal Orlando Resort and got to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Island of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Walking into Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley is as close to being a real life wizard as you can possible be.
What follows is what you can expect from a trip to these parks and what you can do to enhance your trip and really feel the magic.
What to Pack for Your Trip
The most important thing to remember about planning a trip to Florida is the weather. Depending on the time of year, it can be slightly cool or hot and humid – but in almost all cases it will probably rain at some point during the day. In the summer wearing athletic clothing or lighter fabrics like khaki or board shorts will help you stay cool (and dry quickly for the water rides). In the winter bring a light coat and scarf that can easily be tucked into a backpack or wrapped around your waist if you get too warm.
- A hat
- Backpack – most of the roller coaster type rides don’t allow you to take backpacks on the ride but almost all of them offer free lockers nearby (short term only)
- Reusable water bottle – refilling water not only helps your pockets but cuts down on single use bottle waste
- Cell phone charger or battery pack
- Represent your House colors! Check out Etsy for some really cute ideas of things to make or buy. Here are a few suggestions:
Throughout the Wizarding World in both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure there are opportunities to feel even more magical and cast actual magical spells. When you visit Ollivanders Wand Shop in either Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade you can purchase an interactive wand – either a replica of one of the characters from the movie or one of your own – and at designated spots in the two parks you can actually cast spells. You will find these spots by the brass marker in the ground which lets you know how to position your wand and what incantation to recite. There are also very helpful witches and wizards to guide you so you can do it properly.
I was unsure if I wanted to add this part to this post because, honestly, the wands are expensive. They are a really awesome addition to your magical trip and a wonderful keepsake for any Potterhead, but I probably wouldn’t have bought one if mine hadn’t been gifted to me by my very dear friend, Rob. They also sell wands that are not interactive, so if you look at it another way, if you were already planning on getting yourself a wand, it’s not much more to add a little more magic.
Universal Studios Florida
Begin your Wizarding adventure in Universal Studios Florida. There are areas of the Universal Studios park that look like New York, Hollywood and San Francisco – basically a set you might see in a movie or tv show with building facades representational of that city. Just past the San Francisco set (or Springfield if you’re coming around the other side of the lagoon) you’ll find the city of London. Here you’ll find Kings Cross Station, Grimmauld Place and the three-story purple Knight Bus complete with the one and only Stan Shunpike. Be sure to knock on the door at number 12 to see a character make a surprise appearance.
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter then you know to get to Diagon Alley but if you’re a Muggle I’ll let you in on the secret – you have to enter through the brick wall. Walking into Diagon Alley is like walking directly into the movie. As soon as you clear that brick wall you’re overwhelmed by the all the commotion and excitement that you can imagine yourself as a first time Hogwarts student going to buy all your supplies. It’s truly magical. You’ll find Florish & Blotts, where you can get all your paper and quill supplies, Madam Malkin’s, for your robe needs, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and of course, Ollivander’s Wand Shop. There’s a really fun wand choosing ceremony that you can watch, and maybe even be a part of, inside the shop. This is also where you’ll pick your wand, if you’re so inclined. They have real live wands so you do magic at specific spots in within Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. You can even find Borgin and Burkes down Knockturn Alley – and a few places to cast dark spells as well.
At the end of Diagon Alley is Gringotts Bank and sitting atop it a fire breathing dragon. Inside the bank is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts a super fun ride that is part rollercoaster and part 3D simulation. Inside the queue is some of the most realistic and involved theming I’ve seen anywhere – you really feel like you are walking through the bank! There are even Goblins!
Now that you’ve got all your school supplies it’s time to go to Hogwarts! Yay! No need for a letter this time, you’ve just got to board the Hogwarts Express at platform 9 ¾. When you exit Diagon Alley back through the brick wall, turn to the right to enter Kings Cross Station. The friendly porters will check your ticket (you need a multi park ticket to take the Hogwarts Express) at the front of the station. Be sure to ask one of them how to get to Platform 9 ¾ for a fun response.
I was so impressed with the details here – from the buskers playing in the station, to the porters in Kings Cross and on the Platform 9 ¾ wearing different costumes, nothing takes away from the magic. It really is incredible.
Once you board the Hogwarts Express and are seated in your compartment, you’ll chug along between London and Hogwarts. Only really, you’re on your way from Universal Studios to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The ride, however, is a fun interactive experience that any Harry Potter fan will love. You can also catch the Hogwarts Express back to London from Hogsmeade if you were to visit Universal’s Islands of Adventure first.
Universal’s Island of Adventure
The magic continues as you disembark the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade – the only all magic town in England. The roofs are covered in snow, even in the oppressive Florida heat, and you can see the majestic Hogwarts castle looming in the distance. Inside the castle is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, one of the most unique rides I’ve ever been on. Combining 3D video, animatronics, and a trackless ride system you’ll fly through Hogwarts with Harry, Hermione, and Ron on a harrowing adventure. The ride is really fun but is a little intense for me, you get flung all over the place while watching 3D video, so be cautious if you are prone to motion sickness. The queue for the ride, however, is literally jaw dropping and I 100% recommend seeing it, even if you don’t plan on riding. Magical talking portraits, tons of details from the movies, and you might even see snow 😉
Outside the castle is a more traditional roller coaster called the Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s more family friendly than the other rides, only having a 36’ height requirement. In Hogsmeade you’ll find Honeydukes sweet shop as well as the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head Pub. Again, the details here blew me away. It’s like being inside the Three Broomsticks! Grab some lunch here, all the menu options look really good but I can vouch for the fish and chips and rotisserie chicken salad. You can also grab the frothy sweet concoction that is Butter Beer here. It comes in both regular (like a super sweet cream soda) and frozen, which is the consistency of an icee. The Hog’s Head in the back of the Three Broomsticks is where you can find a selection of beers and hard ciders.
Lastly, be sure to stick around after dark because there’s a magical new light show that takes place at the Hogwarts castle. Or more accurately, on the castle. Aptly named, Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle this spectacular light show features video that is projected onto the castle itself, accompanied by fireworks. It’s a tribute to all four Hogwarts Houses (where my Ravenclaws at?) but my favorite part is the projection that covers the castle in sparkling gold glitter.
And there you have it! The perfect trip for the Harry Potter fangirl in you. I know I’ve said it a couple times already but it really does feel like you’re walking into the movie. It’s truly incredible. If you’re not able to make the trip to Florida, you can still explore this magical world at Universal Studios Hollywood. Their Wizarding World includes Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle.
What’s your favorite Harry Potter book / movie? Or what House are you in? Drop me a message in the comments!