Going to Universal Studio’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a life changing experience for all Harry Potter nerds.
When I originally wrote this post, I just got back from the Florida one and was sharing tips to help others make the most of their trip. Now that I’m updating it, I’ve also been to the California one, so I’m adding in some unique details about that park as well!
Both are amazing, and you need to check out whichever one you’re able to! I was not prepared for the Orlando one at all (my friend was, she had been a few times so did all the serious planning. I just followed her to the airport), but because I learned so much from that trip, I hit the Hollywood one like a pro! Here’s what to know about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both Orlando and Hollywood so that you are prepared too!
Note: From here on out, I will be referring to this as Harry Potter world, because it’s less words. Hopefully you still understand my sentences.
Intro on the parks
Harry Potter World in Florida is really made up of two areas:
- Diagon Alley
They’re both part of Universal Studios Orlando, which is really made up of multiple theme parks:
- Islands of Adventure (has Hogsmeade)
- Universal Studios Florida (has Diagon Alley)
- Other theme parks that have nothing Harry Potter related
Note: You can only switch between the parks if you have a special pass (see “Where to stay” section).
Harry Potter World in California is just Hogsmeade, and there’s only one Universal Studios Hollywood park. Hogsmeade is still totally 100% worth the visit though.
If you have the means and can only choose one, I would recommend going to the Florida one because it’s bigger! Since there are two Harry Potter areas, there’s much more to see.
What to bring
In addition to the generics like your own food if you want to save money, and sunscreen because skin cancer is real, and a bathing suit if you want to go on water rides in the non-Harry Potter sections, you should bring all your Harry Potter gear!!!!!
T-shirts, robes, wands, deathly hallows tattoos. Everyone dresses up (especially in Florida), and it is beautiful to see all of our people come together as one community. You’ll see entire families in full robes, scarves, and wands mode (i.e. the parents went to college at a time where you could pay for college working two jobs), and once in Florida I saw a biker gang with custom Harry Potter leather jackets.
Note: If you’re on a budget, you probably don’t want to buy clothes at the park because it’s really expensive. Consider looking online/at Hot Topic for clothes (plus, those places have sales). I bought this robe, scarf, and tie combo off of E-Bay, and while you could tell that I had only spent $20 when just the robe itself costs $115 at Universal Studios, it still did the job.
Where to stay
Universal Studios Florida‘s on-site resorts are totally expensive but have two things going for them that I think make up for the price: early admission, which is useful if you have limited time or dislike large groups of people, and offers on the “park to park” pass, which allows you to switch between the theme parks that have Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (which also means that you can ride the Hogwarts Express).
Early admission means you get in to the parks with Harry Potter things an hour before they open to the public. And the park to park offer when we went was buy two days, get two days free (maybe this is always the offer IDK). Really, in one way we could have done all the Harry Potter things in one or two days anyway, but in another way, I could live my life in this land of magic.
We stayed at Cabana Bay, a cute, colorful, maybe retro themed resort, which had a shuttle to “City Walk”, an area similar to the downtown of a city, with establishments such as Hard Rock Cafe and Billabong. From City Walk, you can walk to the parks with Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Also, from Cabana Bay, you can walk to Volcano Bay- a water theme park with no Harry Potter things.
Similarly, Universal Studios Hollywood has a Preferred Hotel Program where if you’re staying at one of those hotels, you get early admission to the park. Since I had already done early admission in the Florida park, we chose to stay in a cheaper hotel in Thai Town. Also, because there’s only one Universal Studios Hollywood park, there’s no extra “park to park” benefit.
So if you want to see the park with less people for a bit, stay in an on-site resort/preferred hotel for early admission.
If you’re in Florida and want to ride the Hogwarts Express (which you do), you need a park to park pass, which you can also get at an on-site resort.
What to eat
Park food fucking sucks. Plus all the portions are unnecessarily large, and God forbid you’re a vegetarian. In the The Three Broomsticks, we ate freezer-burned Ore-Ida fries and Kraft mac and cheese with Velveeta sauce (so you’re thrown off a bit, but really you know what Velveeta tastes like), and in The Leaky Cauldron, we had a grocery store croissant and cheap pancake mix pancakes.
Okay, I’m venting. Rather than eat at the park, I would instead highly recommend eating at City Walk if you want higher quality food. Both the Universal Orlando and Hollywood city walks have better food choices (and Hollywood has a Voodoo Donuts! What!).
But at the end of the day, the restaurants and food stands in Harry Potter world were really well decorated and made me feel like I was in the books. The workers were awesome and so in character. And establishments that transport you to that magical place are, I think, the more important part.
Note: Other people have told me that the park food is actually really good, but they also ordered meat. So maybe it’s only bad if you’re going through your vegetarian phase.
What to drink
Butterbeer is pretty tasty and the foam is crack. There were non frozen and frozen (read: slushie) versions. I think the frozen butterbeer tastes better, and I would also recommend splitting one butterbeer because they’re huge and really sweet if your stomach/tastebuds are anything like mine. Like if they had butterbeer shots (that you would still sip because you’re classy), I would be so down.
For the alcoholics, they have a bunch of custom beers, and a cute pub in the park. The beer I tried was called wizard’s brew which I don’t remember from the books but it’s an extremely sweet stout. I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you’re a pretentious beer snob, but it was fun to try.
Note!! Since Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t have Diagon Alley, the only rides in Harry Potter World California are Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Flight of the Hippogriff. The notes about these rides are still true between Hollywood and Orlando (including the long waits).
Did anyone else picture themselves riding a roller coaster in the scene where Harry breaks into Bellatrix’s vault at Gringotts? Well I did, and Escape From Gringotts, an indoor rollercoaster, seriously brought this dream to life. This ride is probably the scariest ride in the Harry Potter parks, but it’s not scary at all in the grand scheme of rides.
The ride inside Hogwarts (official name: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is fun to wait in line in because the castle is beautifully decorated- there are Hogwarts house paintings arguing with each other, statues including Nearly Headless Nick, and even a greenhouse that makes you feel like you’re on the way to herbology class. Actually, really every ride at Universal Studios is beautiful (heck, Gringotts had fake goblins that moved!!) Note that this one usually has the longest waits, so go early, especially if you have early admission! Also note that you need to check in your stuff in the lockers if you’re carrying a big purse or backpack.
There’s also the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is an outdoor roller coaster. It doesn’t last very long, and it’s not scary at all, but it has amazing views of the castle and the park. This one is perfect if you’re traveling with younger kids who are usually scared of roller coasters.
And last, the Hogwarts Express, is SO CUTE. This is a train that takes you between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. They play different videos on Harry’s Hogwarts Express rides depending on which direction you’re going- for example, when the dementors attack the train or when the chocolate frogs on the food cart escape.
One more note about accessibility– the seats on these rides can be small. If you’re a bigger person, try sitting in the sample seats before getting in line so you don’t have to wait two hours to potentially get kicked off.
Even though I spent many paragraphs dragging on the food and alcohol, I absolutely loved this trip.
The way they decorated this place is absolutely gorgeous. There’s so much attention to detail; you really feel like the books came to life and you’re inside them. The fake owls even have fake owl poop! Also, you can go inside a lot of the stores- Honeydukes, the Weasley’s joke store, the Quidditch store. AND in Harry Potter World in Florida, they even have random things randomly about, like the Knight Bus, Sirius’ house, Knockturn Alley.
And all of the workers are absolutely amazing. They all really played their roles well- from all the cashiers who called my credit card “Muggle plastic”, to the appropriately creepy store owner at Borgin and Burkes who told me to scream if I needed anything, to the Ollivanders who didn’t even break character after the show was over and they were on their break.
The atmosphere and the rides made Harry Potter world amazing and somewhere I would visit over and over again. But maybe not for four days days in a row. That’s what I did in Orlando and since I didn’t really care about the other parks, it was a long time.