Magical Times at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

November 11, 2010

Welcome to Hogwarts!

This morning I watched the live stream of the London premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One”. The cast all looked awesome and it put me back in the Harry Pottery mood I felt when I was in Orlando.

I had an incredible time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the rest of Universal Orlando, and picked up some good travel tips for you, so here you go!

When to Go
Not in the summer. I knew ahead of time I didn’t want to fight huge crowds and I’m really glad my friend and I waited until October to visit Hogsmeade. Er… Orlando.

The weather was still gorgeous and sunny but wait times for rides tended to be 15-30 minutes instead of 2-4 hours. In the early morning and late evening (when the little kids are still asleep or have pooped out for the day) we walked on to most rides, so we got a lot more enjoyment for our money with much less hassle.

So, as with most really popular destinations, the off season is the best season.

What Ticket to Buy
This is a trickier one because there are so many ticket variations available. The longer you stay the less you pay per day. For example, right now a 1-day ticket, which you can use for both Universal parks, is $112 for an adult. A 3-day ticket is just $144.99, so less than $49 a day.

Green eggs and ham, anyone?

Not all tickets allow you to go between parks whenever you want to though. The package I got came with a Base ticket, which meant that each day we had to decide which park we wanted to visit. We couldn’t do half a day in one park and half a day in the other. That worked out fine, but it would have been nice to have the ability to spend a few hours with Harry Potter each day, then maybe hop over to the other park and to do the Mummy or Simpsons ride.

Once you decide whether you want to be able to go between parks whenever you want (called Park to Park Access), then you can decide if you also want to upgrade to an Express Plus Pass. This is the pass that lets you skip the lines and go right to the front. Or at least close to it. The Express Pass is good on almost every ride except Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™, because if you skipped that line you’d also skip the whole walk through Hogwarts castle, which is part of the fun.

Since we didn’t hit any big lines I didn’t mind that we didn’t pay the extra $25 or so a day for Express perks. However, skipping the line means you don’t have to spend several minutes winding through all the aisles and walkways where the big lines normally go to get to the ride, which means less walking. On my last day, with my swollen, blistered feet, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure
So what’s the difference between these two parks anyway? Do you even need to see both?

Yeah, you do. Universal Studios is based on the park in L.A., where actual movies are made. The different areas of the park are made up like different movie lots – old New York, “Jaws”-era New England, the San Francisco wharf, Hollywood.

Buy your Flaming Moes here.

The rides are mostly movie-based, like “Twister”, which lets you feel what it’s like to be on a movie set with special effects going on all around you. “Revenge of the Mummy” is similar to Disneyland’s “Indiana Jones” ride, taking you through old tombs and pyramids, and the boat ride lets you see the great white shark of “JAWS” up close and personal.

It was “The Simpsons Ride” that I enjoyed most though, probably because I had no idea what to expect. I thought it was just a simple roller coaster, but it was way, way cooler that that. “State-of-the-art digital projectors cover an 80 ft. diameter dome surface with an image four times the standard High Definition found in most home theaters, and twice what you’d experience in a normal digital theater.” And it really makes you feel like you’re travelling through Springfield, along with all of your favorite characters.

Islands of Adventure is a mix of comic book heros, favorite kids characters, Jurassic Park dinosaurs and Harry Potter. Smaller kids can probably do more here, but there’s plenty for grownups, too, and my friend and I weren’t the only adults having a great time without kids.

What to Bring Into the Park

  • Comfy shoes. We spent 14-18 hours walking around, standing in lines and generally abusing our feet. Even with my best walking shoes, it made for some unhappy feet.
  • Bandaids. At least if you get a blister you can wrap it up and keep it from getting worse.
  • Snacks. I brought little packs of trail mix, some hard candies and a granola bar. It helped me spend a little less on food and waste less time waiting in food lines.
  • Cash. Most places take cards, but if you want to stop at a little stand for a bottle of water, or mug of Butterbeer, you should have your cash ready.
  • Fingerprints. Right, so you can’t pack these, but you’ll have a hell of a time doing anything without them. For the bigger rides, you aren’t allowed to bring any bags or loose items with you, so they have lockers you rent for free while you’re in line. It’s a great idea, except that to rent and open your locker, you have to use a touchpad and give a fingerprint. I apparently don’t have any. Every time I tried I wound up getting an attendant to open the locker for me. Very annoying, although I have lots of new ideas for a life of crime.

Look at all this information, and I haven’t even told you about Harry Potter land yet. I’ll just have to keep you waiting until next time 🙂


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