As excited – and sad – as I am about the last movie in the Harry Potter series, as a fan I’m comforted by the fact that I can live the magical experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
Two fabulous travelling mom friends, Sharon B. & Tracy L., have recently visited WWHP. Despite my mad jealousy that they’ve been there and I haven’t, we just had to get their Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips for super fans, and their picks about what is great about this theme park, and why you would want to take your family there too.
Why did you want to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? How long did you visit the Theme Park?
Sharon – We are big Harry Potter fans! We were at Universal Studios (The Wizarding World is part of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure) in March 2011. We were there for 5 days and visited the Wizarding World on 3 of the 5 days.
Tracy – We wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter because our son had read the books and watched the movies. Having been to Universal before, we knew that the latest rides would be state of the art and heard through word of mouth that it was definitely worth visiting.
We purchased a 3 day pass to Universal/Islands of Adventure Theme Parks (and got one day free!) Tip: Buy discounted tickets from Kissimee Guest Services.
You definitely need more than a day, four was ideal, due to the line ups for the rides. At one point, park staff were issuing fast passes just to enter the Harry Potter Section. Once in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you needed to line up again for each of the rides or attractions. The line ups for the rides on sunny crowded days were upwards of an hour or more.
What are your Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips for super fans?
Sharon– 1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (ride) – Truly an experience not to be missed.
2. Three Broomsticks (restaurant) – Well done, true to the movies and, surprise, surprise, REALLY good food at a good value.
3. Dragon Challenge (ride) – 2 roller coasters. Scary.
4. FROZEN butter beer…. Mmmmmmmmmm.
5. Filch’s Emporium (store) – This store has merchandise that the other stores do not (no wands here though). The displays are interesting enough to warrant a visit even if you don’t intend to buy.
6. Wands – Great wands – well made, some associated with Characters, some not. Character wands can be purchased at kiosks and the general Universal store. Olivander wands are only available at Olivanders.
Tracy – 1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – We rode this one at least 10 times and never tired of it). Hint: use the single rider lane to cut down on wait time. This ride is located in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You actually walk through Hogwarts to reach the simulated magical ride on magic pews. On your way, you see Dumbledore’s office, the Defence against the Dark Arts Classroom and special effects… 3D holographic shorts of Harry, Hermione and Ron talking to you, and greetings from Dumbledore. The pictures on the wall also talk to each other as they did in the movie. Once on the simulator you fly with Harry and encounter all sorts of adventure, being chased by the dragon, soaring around Hogwarts School, a game of Quidditch and even encounters with Dementors and giant spiders.
2. Ride the Dragon Challenge Roller Coaster – complete with 360 degree loops and corkscrew turns at high speeds. Comprised of two simultaneously travelling roller coasters which race against each other, it simulates one of the challenges of the tri-wizard tournament as seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Truly an Uber Class Roller Coaster. There are two dragons (red or blue roller coasters) to choose from and each of them ride differently. At one point in the ride, it seems that you will collide directly with the second oncoming dragon What a thrill!
3. Visit Olivanders Wand Store in Hogsmead. There is actually a small group show/presentation when you enter the store where a wizard assists a young audience member to find a wand. With the assistance of experienced staff, buy your own wand. Let the wand choose you!
4. Have lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Try the “Great Feast Platter” to share. Plus there’s beer and wine for the parents.
5. Visit Honeydukes candy store in Hogsmead. Buy Dark Chocolate Mint Frogs, every-flavoured jelly beans, and even chocolate wands.
6. Try Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice (tastes like pumpkin pie in liquid form).
What is the Number 1 thing you would recommend as a Do Not Miss when visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
Sharon – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride – Truly and experience not to be missed. My son would make the same recommendation.
Tracy – Mom & Dad: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Son: Dragon Challenge.
Describe Butterbeer. Is it actually beer?
Sharon – Ummm creamy, foamy, supersweet elixer of heaven. Well, really, sort of rootbeer meets cream soda, meets caramel, meets marshmallow – tastes even better frozen.
Tracy – We didn’t actually try it (there were long lineups always), but being curious I asked a number of people what it tasted like. The best description was “sort of tastes like coke with butterscotch foam on top – “very sweet”. We did try the pumpkin juice though. Our son didn’t like it, but I did!
Where did you stay, and would you recommend it to other travellers? What was one great thing about your accommodation?
Sharon – Stayed at the Portofino Bay Resort. TOTALLY worth the cost. You get ferried to the park and your room key is a line bypass for most attractions. (There are no time restrictions that accompany the purchased Universal Fastpass. Do not confuse this with the Disney Fastpass. They are totally different animals).
Tracy – We always rent a car and stay in Kissimmee. We like the good value for money of staying offsite of the themed resorts and the freedom of having a car. This time we stayed at the Best Western Lakeside Motel, which was just 17 miles from Universal Studios and 2 miles from Walt Disney World Resort. There are a lot of amenities along the West Irlo Bronson Highway where it is located (There’s a Walgreens just in front of the motel, and a Red Lobster and Walmart Supercenter across the street, Olive Garden nearby). Coffee maker, and mini fridge in room, free Wifi, free parking and shuttle service to the parks as well as an attractions ticket office within the reception area. There’s also a Pizza Hut on premises and an outdoor pool.
Where were some great places to eat and/or shop near the WWHP? Any favorites or special mentions?
Sharon – Three Broomsticks is a must! Also in the Islands of Adventure is Mythos Restaurant. Make a reservation, it’s fabulous. I can’t believe that this restaurant is in a theme park.
Tracy – Best place to eat onsite Universal: In WWHP we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food at the Three Broomsticks.
Best place to eat offsite Universal: Red Lobster (we were there during the lobster fest!) Second runner up: Olive Garden. Best 24 hour eatery: Denny’s because it’s always open! Less expensive: PF Changs Chinese Food on Universal City Walk. Best somewhat healthy quick lunch at Universal: Smoked turkey legs! One leg is big enough for two persons. Best place to eat lunch onsite at Epcot: Sunshine Seasons (Counter Service), The Land in Future World. Try the Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad $7.89 or the Togaroshi Seared Tuna Noodle Salad $9.99.
Best place for shopping: Orlando Premium Outlets on International Drive (there’s a Victoria Secret outlet, Saks Fifth avenue off fifth outlet and a New Balance factory outlet where runners are half of the price you pay in Canada). This is the newest and biggest outlet mall in Orlando.
What other attractions in the area would you recommend, and for what age groups?
Sharon – Universal Studios Spiderman Ride. Surprisingly innovative. Clearly the forerunner of the Forbidden Journey ride. (ages 5 and up). The Hippogriff ride is worth a mention. Cute, fun, great views. The City Walk itself was interesting. Plan for a trip to Disney World and Kennedy Space Center. We stayed at a Universal resort for half the trip then a Disney World resort for the other half. We did a day trip to the Space Center. It worked well.
Tracy – The Magic Kingdom and Epcot (great evening show!). Also, if you can manage it, it’s only a short drive to Fort Lauderdale for a Carribean Cruise. One attraction we’ve seen in past is GatorLand, home to many display gators, including albino ones. You can watch the staff feed them. Age group: 6 and up. Universal Studios – We decided to buy Fast Passes to bypass the huge lineups during Spring Break. The fast pass allows you to bypass longer lineups which can be 1 hour or more for significantly shorter ones of about 5-10 minutes (or none at all if you are lucky, especially towards the end of day).
[TTM tip: Be careful about the type of Fast Pass you buy if you buy onsite at Universal. Fast Pass salespersons don’t usually tell you the difference unless you specifically ask. The popular less expensive express fast pass only allows you to ride each ride once… so you can’t ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey more than once! Believe me, you’ll want to go on at least twice!]
The Express Fast Pass Plus is more expensive. The advantages are: you can ride any ride you like as many times as you like. Also, this pass is transferable among your party members. This is a great option if you and your children are travelling in larger parties.
Any Do or Do Nots?
Sharon – DON’T bother with Emeril’s restaurant in the City Walk. Emeril would be so disappointed.
Tracy – DO allow yourself lots of time to see WWHP. The amount of attention to detail in this section of the park is remarkable, and with each visit there is always something new to notice.
DON’T sleep in and arrive late. The parking line ups can get long, although they move fairly efficiently. You’ll end up parking in the far outer reaches of the parking lot. Coupled with lines to get into the Park and lines to get on rides – your family’s day can become even more exhausting.
If you visit Epcot, DO make on-site dinner reservations in advance of travelling. Customer service at the park told us that reservations for popular restaurants at Epcot are made a year in advance!
DO be prepared for cooler weather in the evenings. Always pack a light jacket.
Photo Credits: Tracy L. and Sharon B.
Have you visited the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter? What did you enjoy the most? Share your tips and experience below!