Thinking of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in these pandemic times? I have been dying to go, so after I got vaccinated, I left my (unvaccinated) kids home and headed for Florida.
I had a great time, even though I forgot my full Gryffindor outfit, regret not buying that very realistic Bludger, and really should have spent more time in Knockturn Alley. Also, why do they still refuse to make Butterbeer with actual beer in it? They could make a fortune.
Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida: The Basics
Universal Orlando is made up of three amusement parks: Universal Studios (home of Diagon Alley), Islands of Adventure (home to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade), and Volcano Bay (the waterpark and of limited interest to us Harry Potter fanatics).
You’ll definitely want to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and you’ll need a park-to-park pass ticket in order to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two.
The wonders of the wizarding world extend far beyond the flagship rides, but you’ll want to ride those, too. In Universal Studios, start in Diagon Alley at Escape from Gringotts. The animatronic goblins here are creepily life-like.
The train ride on the Hogwarts Express between the parks has you sitting in a realistic cabin, with movie characters walking past outside the doors and a story taking place around you as you ride. The Hogwarts Express is different depending on which direction you’re going, so you may want to ride it twice.
In Hogsmeade, the Flight of the Hippogriff is a mild coaster aimed at the younger set. My favorite ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, if only for the fun of meandering around outside and inside Hogwarts as you progress through the line.
The newest ride is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and the line was so long the day we visited that we were never able to ride it.
Buy A Park-to-Park Ticket and Ride the Hogwarts Express
Universal Studios’ equivalent to Disney’s “park hopper” is their “park-to-park” combo ticket. You’re going to need one because one of the most exciting parts of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is riding the Hogwarts Express, which is both a ride and transportation between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can only board if you have a park-to-park ticket.
You may think you will have time to do both parks, but be aware that your entire day can easily be eaten up just in the magic of Harry Potter. Save your plans for Jurassic Park and Dr. Seuss and all those other areas for another day.
I recommend planning your whole day around Harry Potter Land, if you are so inclined. It’s fun to start in Diagon Alley for consistency’s sake, but to minimize long lines, you may want to buck the trend and start in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.
What are the Best Things to Do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
Gone are the days when I thought amusement parks were all about roller coasters. The rides are fun, but the the genius of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in the details. Things you must do in Harry Potter world:
- Drink Butterbeer. Do I think it’s good? No. Did I wait in a line for 30 minutes to buy it anyway? Well, I made my friend wait in the line, but…yes.
- Sneak into the Knight Bus. The Knight Bus sits in purple glory in the middle of London at Universal Studios, and the conductor is out front with his shrunken head, ready to take photos and make conversation. But if you go to the back of the bus, you can step up and peer inside at the beds and luggage onboard.
- Find Diagon Alley. You’re going to do this anyway, but honestly I would have missed it if I hadn’t had people to follow! It’s behind a plain brick wall past the train station. Follow the crowds.
- Disappear onto Platform 9 3/4. When you board the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios heading toward Islands of Adventure, there is a spot in the line where it looks like you are actually disappearing into a brick wall. To get a photo, you have to be standing quite a ways back. Don’t move too quickly in the line at the end, near the train, or you’ll miss it.
- Use a real magic wand. Or, if you don’t want to shell out the dough, just watch other people use them. By waving wands and chanting incantations, your fellow Potter-heads will be making fountains spurt and lanterns light up and magic happen. You can buy your interactive wand online before your trip if you don’t want to wait in line at Ollivander’s.
- Mail a postcard or package from the Owl Post. You can do this in either Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. They both sell postcards and stamps and have a postmark that features Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. If you are a big spender, send something big like a wand or a giant owl here: they wrap the packages up beautifully with paper, string, feathers, and whatnot.
- Shop til you drop. Hogsmeade has plenty of charming stores, but Diagon Alley is where you can really go crazy. You’ll want a wand from Ollivander’s, robes from Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, tricks and jokes from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, stuffed animals from Magical Menagerie, a Bludger or a golden snitch from Quality Quidditch Supplies, or supplies for the dark arts from Borgin and Burke’s.
- Get creeped out in Knockturn Alley. The entrance is hard to find (look close by the Leaky Cauldron), it’s darker than a Forbidden Forest, and the chill in here is a welcome respite from the Florida heat. There are plenty of creepy surprises here. Follow them to Borgin and Burke’s, where you can buy shirts that say “I served time in Azkaban” as well as more serious homages to the Dark Arts.
- Spend forever hunting Easter eggs. Take some time to look around you, or else do an internet search for all the fun details. The Leaky Cauldron leaks. The ceiling of Knockturn Alley is the night sky. Moaning Myrtle moans in the restrooms in Hogsmeade. You could spend all day here, if you haven’t spent it waiting in line at Gringotts.
How to Avoid Lines at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Here’s how to avoid lines in Harry Potter world…just kidding! Lines are unavoidable in any amusement park.
Universal Orlando does have a way to pay to avoid ride lines: buy an Express Pass, which allows you to skip the line for participating rides. The express pass works on Escape from Gringotts, Harry Pottery and the Forbidden Journey, and Flight of the Hippogriff.
It’s also important to understand Universal’s “virtual line” system, as their newest and most popular rides involve this, including Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. You must register for the virtual line on Universal’s app, and spots in the line go fast. Also, even if you get a timed slot from the virtual line, when you show up to the ride you still must wait in an actual line.
You should also know that if you want to eat sitting down, you should make a reservation well ahead of time. Many restaurants have outdoor seating, but they all have limited capacity due to social distancing and reservations fill up fast. You may not be seated at all without a reservation on busy days.
So: make reservations and buy an Express Pass. These are things I will do the next time I visit Universal Studios.
Make Sure to Reserve Your Ticket Ahead of Time
Any travel during this pandemic means preparing for both safety and limited capacity. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure reached capacity the Wednesday we visited in April. I strongly recommend you buy your tickets ahead of time.
Universal is pretty evasive about exactly how limited their capacity is. Be aware that when the park is full, popular areas (e.g. Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade) can be very crowded with nowhere near six feet of distance between visitors.
Social Distancing and Pandemic Safety in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The park in general was pretty crowded, and Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade were very crowded, on the day we visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
This meant social distancing wasn’t always easy. Props to Universal Orlando for trying to enforce safety: they had employees stationed all around enforcing the mask policy, including asking people to put their masks over their noses (which I appreciated) and trying to keep people distanced, but it was tough.
In the shops, there wasn’t even a pretense of social distancing. They are tight spaces and were busy on the day we visited.
In ride lines, once you were in the actual line, there were markers on the floor and a good effort was made to enforce social distancing, but there were frequently people congregating outside the entrance to the ride line.
On rides, each row of seats (or cabin on the train) was limited to one party — which I appreciated. This probably contributed to the lengthy lines.
In the restaurants we saw/visited, there was good ventilation (thanks, Florida, to your inside/outside living) and every other table was empty. Which was encouraging, especially if you are starting to feel old (like me) and definitely need to stop for a drink in the middle of the day.