In the battle between my love for space tourism and my love for Harry Potter, it’s pretty much neck-and-neck.
Therefore, setting an itinerary for my first trip to Orlando in 2014 was challenging: I was in town to watch the Orion EFT-1 Launch at Kennedy Space Center, but I also felt the pull to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. After several early mornings trying to see the launch, could I pull it together and power through an afternoon of magical fun?
The answer is yes.
When you travel, the answer is always yes. You always find the energy somehow. That’s one of the magical parts of travel, actually.
After the third 4:00 am wake up, a morning watching the Orion launch, and the hour drive back to Orlando, I spent a day at Universal Studios indulging my second nerdy love. It was worth every second of exhaustion. Here’s how to spend a perfect, magical day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando.
How to Spend a Day at The Wizarding World in Universal Studios Hollywood
11:00 am – Arrive at Universal Studios Orlando
Though Universal Studios Orlando opens at 9 am, I don’t encourage you to be there right as it opens (or to take advantage of the early admission if you have it). Everyone shows up right at opening time, which guarantees crowds and lines just to get into the parks.
Instead, opt for a relaxing and restful morning, a good breakfast, and arriving at the park full of energy for the day ahead.
In case you’re not familiar, Universal Studios Orlando is comprised of two theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. There are parts of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both parks, so you should definitely buy a ‘Park-to-Park’ ticket to see it all. When you arrive, make your way to enter Islands of Adventure first. That is the side with the entrance to Diagon Alley, which is where you’ll start the magical day. ⚡Protip: Before entering Diagon Alley, be sure to keep an eye out for 12 Grimmauld Place!
11:30 am – Step Through the Gateway to Diagon Alley
I wish I could be there to capture the look of amazement on your face when you step through into Diagon Alley. Moments before, you leave a normal-looking ‘London’ street and make a winding walk into arguably the most magical place in one of the most magical places on earth.
Diagon Alley spreads out before you, so take some time to get your bearings. You’ll see the dragon over Gringotts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and the sign for the Leaky Cauldron. Feel free to wander for a few minutes – but don’t get sucked in too much! You’ll want to go queue up for the Harry Potter & the Escape from Gringotts ride right away since the lunch window is a perfect time to ride the rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
12:00 pm – Lunch at the Leaky Cauldron
After a thrilling ride through Gringotts, head to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. As one of the most popular and well-known restaurants in the entire Wizarding World, you may have to queue up to place your order and wait a few minutes for your food. It’s worth it for a freshly made plate of British food when it arrives.
(I love the Bangers & Mash – sausages and potatoes for you non-British muggles – but they have a variety of choices including some healthier ones!)
12:45 pm – Let Your Wand Choose You at Ollivander’s
You can’t properly start your magical experience without a wand, so right after lunch head over to Ollivander’s. Again, you may have to wait to get in to meet with Ollivander. Inside, you’ll watch a lucky young witch or wizard go through a wand-selection ceremony. You’ll also have a chance to browse for your own wand after the ceremony.
Listen closely if any wands call out to you; my wand was the best investment I made at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I highly recommend you invest in the ‘interactive’ wand, so you can do magic as you explore the rest of The Wizarding World. ⚡Protip: The interactive wand costs $49.95, but it’s well worth it!
1:30 pm – Refill Your Money Bag at Gringotts
If you want to snag another souvenir, be sure to head over to Gringotts to change your muggle money for knuts, sickles, and galleons. The exchange rate is steep but they’re the kind of souvenir you’ll never imagine spending.
Even if you don’t want to change your money, head over to Gringotts to meet a few goblins. They’ve got quite a prickly personality!
2:00 – 3:30 pm – Browse Items for Your Hogwarts Equipment List
Spend some time exploring Diagon Alley. If you have a Hogwarts student equipment list, this is the place where you can find everything you need, including robes, broomsticks and quidditch gear, and even Spectre-specs! Here are some of the shops you can check out in Diagon Alley:
- Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions – if you need to snag some Hogwarts robes or other attire.
- Quality Quidditch Supplies – all the broomstick and other quidditch gear you need for your collection.
- Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – magical trickery and plenty of muggle magic tricks too.
3:30 pm – Brave Knockturn Alley
If you’re feeling brave, make sure you don’t miss a walk down Knockturn Alley. As expected, the street is filled with shops and window displays showing the Dark Arts!
If you chose to purchase an interactive wand, you’ve probably been practicing magic using your map guide and the indicators outside many shop windows. Make sure you don’t miss the ones hidden in Knockturn Alley if you’re willing to try your hand at the Dark Arts…
4:00 pm – Ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade
It’s time to make the trip to Hogwarts, so make sure you’ve stocked up on all the wizard gear you need. (Don’t worry though, there are plenty of shops in Hogsmeade if you forgot something!).
Queue up for the ride on the Hogwarts Express. The ride itself passes so quickly it’s like magic, and you’ll get to share the train carriage with other witches and wizards, and maybe even a few muggle parents.
5:00 pm – Head to Hogwarts for Magical Thrills
Upon arrival in Hogsmeade, make a beeline for any rides you want to ride. Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey ride is by far the most popular and usually has a line. You can also choose to ride the Dragon Challenge or Flight of the Hippogriff if you want to spend the time. ⚡Protip: If you don’t love rides (or they make you motion sick like they do to me), you can opt for a ‘Castle Tour.’ This means you’ll be able to walk through the castle and see the amazing sights like the sorting hat and moving pictures without standing in line for the ride itself. When it comes time to board the ride, you’ll make a detour around the ride entrance and head out into Filch’s Emporium. The Castle Tour is free, though you need to talk to the Hogwarts staff to make sure you go to the right place.
6:00 pm – Dinner at The Three Broomsticks
After exploring Hogwarts and the grounds in full, head to The Three Broomsticks for dinner. Again, you’ll have your choice of the finest British fare and plenty of Butterbeer. For the adult wizards and witches, you can also head over to the Hog’s Head and order one of the two specialty beers on tap: Wizard’s Brew or Dragon Scale. These beers are brewed specifically for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and can only be found here!
7:30 pm – Explore Hogsmeade
Before you end your day of magic, spend more time exploring Hogsmeade, shopping, casting spells, and enjoying one last glass of Butterbeer. Which do you prefer: the cold or frozen version?
Some shops you must stop by and see in Hogsmeade:
- Honeydukes – a candy shop perfect for grabbing gifts for your muggle friends back home.
- Dervish & Banges –
- Zonko’s Joke Shop – full of muggle magic tricks!
8:30 pm – Hang Up Your Cloak and Call it a Day
Universal Studios is open until 7 pm, so around this ti, e it’s perfect to start making your way out of the park. As you make your way back to the muggle world, hold tight to your memories of the magic here. They’ll help you cast an awesome Patronus the next time you’re having a tough day.
What You Must Do at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando
If there were a bucket list of things to do at this already bucket list experience, here it is. Hopefully you do these things throughout the day, because they are what makes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter such a unique and memorable experience:
- Cast Spells – Yes, you should buy a wand. Then, you should patiently stand in line at each and every magical marker on the ground, to cast spells and watch magic happen.
- Drink All the Butterbeer – I’ve had the butterbeer at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, England, and this is different. It’s still delicious, and worth the cost for a glass or two or ten.
- Watch the Gringotts Dragon Roar with Fire – Before you leave Diagon Alley, be sure to watch the dragon express her discontent with the way she’s been treated. There are some sounds which indicate when it’s about to happen (if memory serves, roughly every 15 minutes).
- Ride the Hogwarts Express – I cannot stress this enough: the most unique experience at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is the ability to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks. You should definitely buy the Park Hopper pass and do this, or you’ll only get half the experience!
- Relish in this small corner of magic in the world – I’m not a big amusement park gal, but this is one where I can see why people love them so much. Here, there’s no Donald Trump, no ISIS, no Russian inquiry, no death, disease, or malice. Here, there’s magic, and that’s something that’s hard to find in the world today.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Time your arrival to try and miss the crowds. I recommend arriving an hour or two after opening and queuing up for any rides you want to ride during meal times. These will help reduce the time you spend standing in line instead of performing spells and having a great day.
- Plan to spend a whole day in The Wizarding World. If you’re a big movie buff and want to visit other parts of Universal Studios Orlando, you may want to buy a multi-day pass and come back tomorrow for those other attractions. It’s not hard to spend the whole day in The Wizarding World.
- Park-to-Park Ticket. Say it with me. This is my #1 for enjoying your day. It’s more expensive, but unlocks the other half of The Wizarding World experience!
If you love Harry Potter, be sure to check out my other Harry Potter travel articles:
- One Magical Day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Hollywood – How to spend a day at the West Coast’s best Harry Potter experience.
- One Magical Day at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, outside London – A guide to The Making of Harry Potter Exhibit at Warner Brothers Studios.
- The Best Harry Potter Itinerary EVER – UK Edition – The perfect 10-day guide to seeing famous Harry Potter sites all over England and Scotland.
- The World’s First Harry Potter Packing List – A very nerdy guide for how to dress during your Harry Potter travels.