June 14, 2019
Universal Studios Tour: Everything You Need to Know About the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I recently had the opportunity to take the Universal Studios tour in Orlando and I had the time of my wizarding life! I have to admit that I spent all of my time in the Harry Potter sections at both of the parks, and didn’t take the time to explore the other attractions because I was a witch on a mission, and I only really cared about Harry Potter sections.

I lived, breathed, and sweat (a lot) Harry Potter for a day, and here is where you can discover my Universal Studios tour tips and tricks, favorite experiences, must have merchandise, and everything in between!

Universal Studios Tour Early Entry & Logistics

My Universal Studios tour experience was nothing short of amazing. I’ve experienced so much in the day I spent at Universal that it almost felt like it wasn’t real.

Since I stayed at a Universal Studios hotel (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), we were given early access to the parks at 8 AM instead of the normal opening time of 9. Taking advantage of this perk definitely gave us the chance to take our time in the morning without the park being flooded with people. Getting in early was especially helpful for taking lots of photos without worrying about people photobombing. Plus, you got more time at the park when it wasn’t at its full capacity.

The early entry was especially helpful because I was able to meet the Knight Bus conductor (with no line) and talk to the shrunken head, ride Escape from Gringotts (my mom doesn’t do rides), watch the Ollivander’s interactive wand ceremony (I wasn’t chosen and I’m still bitter), buy my wand, and get to breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron in under 40 minutes.

I feel like this is basically unheard of in theme parks, especially on a holiday (Memorial Day in the US) at popular ones like Universal. My mom and I bought park-hopper tickets since I couldn’t decide which side I wanted to visit more and we only had one day to spend at Universal.

One of the great perks (besides visiting both parks in one day) was that you could actually leave the park and return later in the day. I’m pretty sure you can do this with single park tickets as well.

Around noon, after taking the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade, my feet were avada-kedavra(ing) me, it was very hot (like 90 degrees), and both my mom and I agreed that we needed a break. It was great to be able to head back to the hotel close by and spend a couple of hours at the pool before getting freshened up and heading back to Hogsmeade until closing! I’m not sure I could have made it through the entire day without that much-needed break.

Universal Studios Tour Tip 1&2

Wear comfortable shoes and stay at a Universal hotel!

This may seem like a no brainer but wear comfortable shoes! I wore a pair of converse and my feet were in some serious pain by midday. I also recommend staying at a Universal Hotel (if you are able) because you don’t have to pay for parking at the parks, there’s a free shuttle, early access to the park, and the option to send anything you purchase back to your hotel.

Universal Studios Tour Harry Potter Rides

The rides at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are a lot of fun, but I will say they are limited. There’s only one roller coaster in Diagon Alley (Escape from Gringotts) and two (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Ride of the Hippogriff) currently in Hogsmeade.

There is also the Hogwarts Express, which you ride between the two parks (Disclaimer: You can only ride the Hogwarts Express with the park hopper pass).

The new roller coaster, Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, opens mid-June, and I was so bummed that I missed it by just a few weeks. I didn’t ride Flight of the Hippogriff and I kind of regret it, but I was happy to spend my time doing other things.

Escape from Gringotts Ride

Out of the two “big” rides, I think that Escape from Gringotts was my favorite. I normally take advantage of the single rider options, but during the early admission period, I was able to walk through Gringotts properly and see all of the amazing details you miss out on in the single rider line.

From the grand chandelier featured in Deathly Hallows (right before the Ukrainian Ironbelly crashes through it) to actual moving goblins, I couldn’t believe how gorgeous this ride was. It looks exactly like the movie. As you make your way down to the carts, you can peek into various vaults, and there is a green screen photo opportunity (I took a photo but never actually found out what it looks like).

Escape from Gringotts is a traditional roller coaster with some 3D components. I’m normally not a big fan of 3D but thought it fit pretty well with this ride and really added to the excitement of riding through Gringotts as the golden trio search for Horcruxes!

I also rode a second time and was super excited that I was able to ride in the front row of the Gringotts cart! Normally, I don’t get my hopes up about having a good seat as a single rider, so this was a pleasant surprise. I also waited less than 10 minutes in line this time, so it was definitely worth going again!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride

One of my favorite parts of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in the Hogwarts side of the park (Islands of Adventure) is the walk through Hogwarts. In the past, I’ve been able to walk through the Herbology greenhouses, see the portraits talking to each other, and pass by Snape’s office, but because the lines were pretty short (I rode as a single rider both times and my wait was never longer than 15 minutes), the extended line areas weren’t open.

I know it sounds pretty weird to complain about a fast line but I really wanted to see the rest of Hogwarts. By the time I made it to the front of the line, the only cool effect I saw was the Sorting Hat, who chats with people in line right before they’re directed to their seats.

Unlike a traditional roller coaster, where you sit down for a few minutes before setting off, the ride is on a moving sidewalk. This component of the ride is the biggest reason why my Mom refused to ride. It can be a bit discombobulating trying to get on and off it. Also, because it is simulating a broom ride, it can be a bit nauseating.

I rode this for the second time after coming back to the park in the evening, and because I had a bit of headache (likely from dehydration), I felt a bit sick after riding (they do have a disclaimer that if you’re prone to motion sickness you shouldn’t ride), but I haven’t had this problem before.

Besides the dizziness, I love that you get to see a Quidditch match, many familiar characters, the Forbidden Forest, Dementors (cue Expecto Patronum) and much more. This ride made me feel very nostalgic and I was glad that I rode again, regardless of the motion sickness.

Hogwarts Express Ride

I also loved the Hogwarts Express ride. It is very mellow and a different experience depending on which way the train is going! I took it from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade and we were able to see views of London, Malfoy Manor, the golden trio passing by our compartment (in shadow), along with the trolley witch, Hagrid, and the view of pulling into Hogsmeade Station!

I even got to snap some photos of the front of the train when I got off this ride. I only rode the train one way, so I’m not sure what the journey looks like going from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley.

Universal Studios Tour Tip 3

Single rider options!

If you don’t mind being separated from your group, I definitely recommend taking advantage of the single rider option.

The lines are usually much shorter and you might be able to go more than once. This works for every ride at Universal, not only the Harry Potter ones.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Interactive Experiences

There are a number of interactive experiences at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had some great conversations with cast members, and it was so fun to ask about Hogwarts, but I wouldn’t mention You-Know-Who if I were you!

I did have one negative interaction with a cast member who had no problem telling me how much she disliked the kids and especially the parents she encountered, which took away from the fun environment. It’s never great to hear that someone hates his or her job. I didn’t let this take away from the amazing experience though!

One of my favorite interactions was definitely with the Knight Bus conductor and the Shrunken Head! The head actually talks to you like in Prisoner of Azkaban. He even complimented my Hufflepuff lanyard and told me to have a good day.

Plus, this Knight Bus is actually one of two replicas from the movies (the other is at the Studio Tour in London)! You can’t go in it, but you can take a look inside. The environment at the Knight Bus (and the London themed area around it) was very laid back, which made it a fun stop before heading to the Hogwarts Express!

In the same area as the Knight Bus is Grimmauld Place, and if you wait a few moments, you might even see Kreacher peeking from behind a curtain.

You might have thought that the dragon perched on top of Gringotts Bank was just for show, but every 10 minutes, the dragon actually breathes fire! It is a great photo opportunity and you can actually feel the heat on your face, which I think is a nice touch!

Ollivanders Wand Choosing Ceremony

Another great interactive experience is the Ollivanders Wand Choosing Ceremony! I went through the ceremony 4 times and wasn’t chosen, but it was so fun to see the different styles of the wandmakers. They are just as unique as the wands on the shelves.

The ceremony is pretty much the same as what Harry went through when he was looking for his wand. The wandmaker chooses someone in the group to find their wand (normally a kid) and they go through a series of wands before being chosen by the “one”. The wand is handed off to the wand maker’s assistant (50ish dollars), and the chosen person has the option to purchase it if they want.

The wands that choose people are always interactive, meaning they can be used to cast spells in various places around the Harry Potter areas of the parks. Although I was bummed not to be chosen, I did see the most adorable girl get chosen and she was jumping out of her skin with excitement. Her overjoyed reaction was so incredibly sweet and genuine that the rest of us watching couldn’t help but smile and laugh along with her during the ceremony!

Also, I should add that the last time I took the Universal Studios tour I was chosen! It was such an amazing experience (I’m pretty sure I cried) and it really felt like I was in the story.

I still have the wand and it is one of my favorite pieces in my collection. If the wand maker doesn’t select you, there are plenty of interactive and non-interactive wands to choose from! There are Ollivanders wands (meaning not character wands) made from various woods with different cores, or replicas of character wands.

I debated between Professor Lupin and Snape’s wands but ultimately decided to get the 2019 Collector’s Edition Wand, which I had seen a few times on Instagram and fell in love with. It did cost a bit more than a regular interactive wand but it was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist!

I also bought the non-interactive Professor Lupin wand because I couldn’t resist that either (I have a problem, and although I looked to my Mom to discourage this purchase, she didn’t, and here I am with another wand in my collection).

They have the replica wands for basically every character you can imagine, but the interactive options are a bit more limited. They have the main characters you’d expect (Harry, Luna, Dumbledore, etc.) but they also have interactive character wands for less expected characters like Narcissa Malfoy, Fleur Delacour, and Nymphadora Tonks.

The great thing about the interactive wands is that you can bring them back to the parks visit after visit, and they can be brought to Ollivanders if the wand needs a tune-up (aka if the interactive feature stops working).

The interactive wands really make it feel like you’re a witch or wizard casting spells just like in the story. There are gold plates on the ground throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade that let spellcasters know where their wands will work! If you run into any trouble, there are plenty of cast members stationed near these spots if you need assistance!

Universal Studios Tour Light Show

My absolute favorite moment at the wizarding world actually happened right before closing! Each night (I think) there is an amazing light show set against the Hogwarts castle! There have been a bunch of different themes, but the one I saw was the sorting hat! It was absolutely beautiful and it started once it got dark out, which means the time can vary based on when the sun actually sets.

The music and lights are absolutely beautiful, and the fact that it’s against the castle makes it feel so special. I loved the Hufflepuff portion (obviously), and it was fun to hear the different cheers for the various houses from the crowd.

I recommend getting there a bit early (my Mom and I lined up around 7:30) to guarantee that you have a good spot with limited obstructions. They do section off a part of Hogsmeade and the path leading up to the castle, and you have to stay within the blocked off areas during the show.

I think they replay the show a few times, but after a long day, seeing the 5ish- minute show once was plenty, and we headed for the exit before the crowd got too crazy! If you are able to stay until closing, I definitely think this is an amazing sight to see!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Merchandise

So it’s no surprise that I love Harry Potter merchandise, and there is no better place to get your hands on even more of it then at Universal Studios. I spent a lot, but I don’t regret spending a single sickle, knut, galleon, or charge on my muggle plastic (it’s what the wizards call credit cards in the parks). There really is something for everyone, at a wide range of prices.

Besides the wands I bought, the most expensive purchase of my day was my Hufflepuff house robes. Be sure to visit Madame Malkins for the latest in wizarding fashion, and step in front of the mirror for a compliment (or insult) about your fashion choices! I had wanted the robes for a long time and I know I will use them when I go to LeakyCon in the fall and for many Halloweens to come. They are beautifully made, have pockets (I’m basic, I know), and even come with a little wand pocket.

My mom picked up lanyards with ticket holders (Ravenclaw for her, Hufflepuff for me), which proved to be useful when we took the Hogwarts Express since you have to show your park tickets again. Plus, you can use them back in the Muggle world.

My favorite shop in Diagon Alley was Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. It was so bright and colorful compared to the rest of the shops, and it has the same products we see Fred and George conjure up in the movies! Extendable Ears, Decoy Detonators, love potions, and PYGMY PUFFS!

I knew I had to have a pygmy puff after not buying one during my last visit, and regretting it for nearly two years. I picked a purple one along with a decoy detonator and even got to participate in a naming ceremony for my new friend!

It was a bit embarrassing but definitely worth it. If you don’t like attention on you then I don’t recommend it, but it was a lot of fun and people watching seemed to enjoy it too.

A great option if you aren’t looking to spend a ton on souvenirs is the pin badges. Depending on the pins you pick, the prices can get pretty high, but they are very intricate and beautiful. My favorite was the pin depicting the statue outside of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes with the moving top hat.

There was also some great merchandise by the Knight Bus in the London area outside Diagon Alley. There’s some British flag t-shirts, Grimmauld Place attire, Knight Bus t-shirts (another thing I couldn’t resist), and Shrunken Heads for sale! I had to have a shrunken head (something else I regretted not buying on my last visit), which also talks when you press a button.

It’s easy to clear out your Gringotts’ vault in the wizarding world, and I am proof of that. There’s so much to choose from at the parks, whether it be Noble collection replicas, brooms, notebooks, Weasley sweaters, Quidditch gear, and much more! There is something for everyone!

Universal Studios Tour Tip 4&5

Do your homework and look for
a hotel gift shop!

Have an idea of what you want to buy beforehand and what you’re willing to spend. You can look at the Universal merchandise site to get an idea of the prices, and what’s available. However, there are some things available in the parks only that you won’t be able to find online. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to buy before I went, but I also tried to leave room for impulse buys (aka the Hogwarts pajama bottoms I bought 10 minutes before heading to the airport at the hotel gift shop).

If you do stay at a Universal Hotel, there might be a gift shop! At Cabana Bay, there was an amazing Harry Potter section of the gift shop with tons of amazing items like Hogwarts robes, Honeydukes candy, pin badges, a selection of wands, and much more!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Drinks

Butterbeer is probably what most people think of in terms of wizarding world beverages, and there was no shortage of it at Universal Studios. There are three types: cold, frozen and hot (available in the colder months).

I got the cold one but didn’t actually find it cold enough to be refreshing. It was very sweet, but it had a weird aftertaste. I didn’t get the frozen this time but it is definitely my favorite. I had it last time I visited and the sweet taste isn’t as overwhelming. Plus, it’s a great way to cool down.

There is also butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Shop! It tastes like normal vanilla soft serve with butterscotch mixed into the swirl. It was so good that I almost went back for round two! My mom got the salted caramel blondie ice cream and it was AMAZING! If I ever make it back to the park, I will definitely get another scoop of that.

If butterbeer isn’t quite your thing, you can pick up some gilly water, or something a bit stronger (I recommend the wizard’s brew) at the Hog’s Head Pub or the Hopping Pot.

That’s a Wrap

Although my time at Universal Studios Orlando was short, I absolutely loved my time at the parks! By having park hopper tickets, I was able to experience everything that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had to offer in a single day!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Tour feels like you stepped into the books and movies, and there is so much to experience and see. It’s hard not to leave without a smile on your face!

While it can be a bit pricey (especially if you have no self-control), visiting Universal Studios, seeing Hogwarts up close, riding on the iconic Hogwarts Express, and seeing a fire breathing dragon is such an unbelievable feeling. I know that I will remember the magical day I had for a very long time.

Have you been to Universal Studios in Orlando or California? Were you lucky enough to be chosen at Ollivanders? What merchandise would you absolutely have to spend your galleons on? I’d love to hear from you and find out what you’d most love to do or have done at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando!

Megan Subsick

Contributor

Hi all, I’m Meg and I first fell in love with the Harry Potter Universe when my third grade teacher began reading it aloud in class. That day after school I got home, snuck into my older brother Alex’s room, and stole his copy of Sorcerer’s Stone. It was the first chapter book that I ever read in a single day. The rest is history (of magic).

Each year I counted down the days for the next film or book to come out in an effort to rejoin the magic of the wizarding world. When the series ended, I thought that the magic was over. Fast forward to July 30th 2016. I had been studying Shakespeare abroad in London for a few weeks when I realized I would still be in the city for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I have since seen 4 times and counting). Despite being a huge fan of the series, I had never been to a midnight release and this was my chance!

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