This was our first family trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando since May of 2021. To maximize our short time, we spent three nights total on Universal property, two at Universal’s Aventura Hotel and one at Lowes Royal Pacific. By changing to a Premier resort for one night, we were able to take advantage of the Unlimited Express Pass for two of our three days in the parks.
With the Harry Potter experiences divided between Universal Studios park (Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure Park (Hogsmeade), we spent our time jumping between them with our Park to Park ticket (required to ride the Hogwarts Express).
DAY 1 using early park admission
On our first day without Express Pass, we concentrated on experiences and less on rides. Park guests staying onsite are able to take advantage of an early opening, nearly always now at Islands of Adventure in Hogsmeade (the Jurassic World Velocicoaster was also sometimes open). They opened the main gate to all guests around 7:50am, and with a resort key card we could proceed to Hogsmeade at 8am while non-resort guests were corralled on the walkway until the official 9am opening.
While everyone else headed to Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure (generally a good thing to knock out during the extra hours if it is a must do), we took time to enjoy Hogsmeade without the massive crowds. We were able to ride Flight of the Hippogriff twice in 10 minutes before heading to Hogwarts Castle at the 8:30am opening for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. By 9am we were in line for one our favorite family Universal traditions, the butterbeer breakfast.
10am-11pm diagon alley
Of all of the immersive theming, this section is our favorite. Merchandise for Harry Potter is extensive and refreshed often, so we can browse our favorite shops year after year and still be surprised. We spend most of our time in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment.
We hopped in line for the Ollivanders Experience and waited 15 minutes. Alice was asked to star in the show (one of the 30 guests is selected each time) and allow a wand to choose her. Without giving too much away, she performed a series of tasks for the small group, and was told she matched with a unicorn hair and yew wand. As we left, we were told by an wizard attendant that we could purchase the interactive wand at the store counter (I can imagine this being a disappointment for children thinking they received it during the show). And, even though we already had 2 wands- replicas of Hermione’s and Luna Lovegood’s (it’s shaped like a pitcher plant!), I felt like it was hard to turn down the souvenir that matched such a memorable experience.
In the Ollivanders shop (connected to the show) wizards could purchase interactive wands that included a map with the locations to perform spells at storefronts and other locations. Wizards lined up at the spots marked by a plates on the ground to take turns trying to activate each experience. Some worked better than others, and working wizards were available around each section to assist as we got the hang of it. Planning wand work into earlier in the day allowed us try our spells with fewer other guests around.
TIP– Don’t miss Knockturn Alley! These spell spots were hidden in the dark corners behind Diagon Alley and offered a chance to escape the summer sun.
11am-12pm Lunch at the leaking cauldron
We chose to dine at both quick service restaurants during “off hours” to avoid the rushes. Guests are encouraged now to place mobile orders on the App before or after being seated by an attendant. We arrived at Leaky Cauldron at 11am, just after the exclusive breakfast reservations for the guests who opted for the Harry Potter Package had ended.
We were seated quickly and the mostly empty restaurant allowed us to take photos while we waited for our food to be delivered. The vegan Shepherd’s Pie was my favorite of all the quick- service vegetarian options in the park.
5pm-6pm dinner at the three broomsticks
After a break at Volcano Bay (which was excessively crowded due to a short break in the rain for the day) we returned to Islands of Adventure for an early dinner at The Three Broomsticks.
At 5pm there was no wait and an empty room. Much of the restaurant has tables with short seats, and we were glad to have the option to find a table near the front door that didn’t put our meals at shoulder height. Like Leaky Cauldron, the plant-based option was a savory British pie, this one with a mushroom and jackfruit filling.
I took some time to visit the adjacent Hogs Head bar, which was an option for guests to see the restaurant and get a drink without dining inside. By 6pm a storm was rolling in and there was a long wait outside the door to get a table inside.
Day 2– the Unlimited express pass
On our second day we arrived to Islands of Adventure at 8:40am and were on the first Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, allowing us to quickly ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (no wait with the Unlimited Express Pass) and still see the normally crowded section without as many guests.
August in Orlando is HOT and frequent lightning/thunder with and without strong thunderstorms make it difficult to really plan in advance. I always advise clients to make sure to take advantage of outdoor rides and attractions that are “must dos” when weather allows. We returned to Islands of Adventure to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (avoiding the 30-minute wait by using the UEP) just before storms rolled in. During lighting and thunder, the entire Islands of Adventure often only had three rides available (all indoor), and lines were incredibly long (over 2 hours for Kong: Skull Island) because there was little else to do.
The closures actually worked to our advantage when, after being closed for three hours, Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure reopened at 7pm just as we walked by the start of the queue. I was able to walk almost directly onto the ride that had been an 80-minute wait most of the day.
After heading out to the muggle world for dinner at Mythos we hopped on the Magical Express to return to Universal Studios Orlando to see Diagon Alley at night for ice cream at Madame Fortuna’s.
Our last day was all about knocking out what we hadn’t done before our late afternoon return flight. We arrived at the Universal Studios entrance 15 minutes before opening and were some of the first guests to enter the park at the 9am opening. We had a few muggle adventures (Mummies! Minions!), and then took the Hogwarts Express (the trip from Universal Studios starts at King’s Cross Station and goes through Platform 9 3/4 before boarding) back to Islands of Adventure.
I’ve always been confused about the direct sun location of the shows in Hogsmeade. During this visit we didn’t want to miss the Frog Choir, but it required sitting in full sunlight, and watching the young wizards sing impressive a cappella songs was thankfully less than 10 minutes.
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