Ten Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and some extras for the rest of Islands of Adventure)

Update: This post only covers the area of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, NOT the new Diagon Alley or Hogwarts Express. Obviously some tips in this post are now outdated. However, many still apply. If you have purchased the 2-park ticket so you can access the entire Harry Potter experience, then I would suggest the following:
1. Enter Universal Studios first. With Diagon Alley being new, it will fill up very quickly.
2. Hit Ollivander’s (now located in Diagon Alley, it appears) and the new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, first. Again, it’s new, so it will attract riders quickly. Don’t forget that Ollivander’s also quickly gets a long line.
3. When you are finished in Diagon Alley, take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade and enjoy your time there. I’m guessing that the new area will be more crowded than the old, but remember – if it gets more crowded than you like, return late in the day.

I’ll be honest: I don’t for a second think that I have the most wisdom to offer when it comes to visiting theme parks. I have only been to Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one time. However, here’s the caveat: I did my research. I read numerous blogs featuring dozens of tips, and I still had issues and obstacles when I got there. So, I am posting purely for the benefit of those people who plan vacations like I do, who will read every blog post on Pinterest hoping to find the best way to seamlessly enjoy their vacation.

First, I’ll address the WWoHP (as we all know that’s the best section of the park!). And yes, I’m going to repeat some tips you’ll see on other blogs, because they’re important.
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1. Arrive early. If you’re staying in a Universal hotel, you get the added perk of being admitted into the WWoHP one hour before the rest of the park opens (and the rest of the public arrives). Take advantage. We were actually running a little late thanks to breakfast and didn’t make it to the park until about 8:30 (it opens to the public at 9:00), and we could tell the difference in the size of the crowds by 10:00.

2. Ride The Forbidden Journey ride (the one that has you walk through Hogwarts) first. Even if you don’t want to ride the actual coaster (which, by the way, might be one of the coolest roller coasters I’ve ever ridden in my life!), the queue alone is worth it. The queue takes you through Hogwarts, where you’ll see some familiar movie scenes (like the enchanted ceiling), props (like the Sorting Hat), and characters (like the moving pictures and videos of the main cast). This ride’s wait will get very long very quickly, so be sure you do this first. I’ll be honest – it was hard to walk past Hogsmeade to get in line for this (and unfortunately, we waited an hour while the ride was fixed), but the queue and the ride really are worth it! If you want an even shorter wait and don’t mind being split up from your party for the ride, there is a single rider line available. However, neither my husband nor I noticed an Express Pass line for this ride, and the website doesn’t advertise it as an Express Pass ride, so be prepared to wait. The Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff do accept Express Passes. Also, this ride is not suitable for young children. I saw several posts referencing that this ride can be scary, and they were NOT joking. I didn’t even like a couple of the elements, so be sure that you take advantage of the Child Swap program if you need to. (Workers allow one parent to ride while the other parent stays behind with the kids. When the first parent is done, the parents swap places so the second parent can ride with no additional waiting.) While the kids might enjoy walking through Hogwarts, I would strongly suggest not letting them ride. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a much more friendly coaster for kids.
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3. Visit Ollivander’s next. We actually didn’t get to (that wait at Hogwarts completely killed our timetable). The line got super long super quick, and since they only take about 15 people at a time for each presentation, the line moves very slowly. I would suggest going to Ollivander’s (if you plan to) before riding any more rides.

4. Try the Butterbeer! Seriously, you have to! It is AMAZING. Now, every person I’ve talked to or read posts by said they preferred the frozen Butterbeer to the on tap Butterbeer. I suggest you grab a partner and get one of each so you can try each other’s. Honestly, I preferred the on tap Butterbeer (but my husband preferred the frozen). The regular drink is pretty sweet, but I loved it. Now I shall take on the challenge of trying all the Internet recipes to find the most accurate one… Oh, and go ahead and get your Butterbeer in the souvenir mug. We didn’t, and I wish we had! (And if for some reason you’re reading this when you aren’t a Harry Potter fan, butterbeer isn’t beer. It’s a non-alcoholic drink – think like root beer, but it’s got a butterscotch base.)

5. If you’re in a Universal resort hotel and you’re not checking out the next day, take advantage of the souvenir delivery service. It was wonderful not having to lug around our souvenir purchases all day (especially since most of them were from the WWoHP!). All you do is tell the cashier you want it delivered to your room. They should double-check that you’re not checking out the next day (they promise delivery between 9-noon the following day). Then they ask for your ID, address, a cell phone number, your resort, and your room number. We received ours, all in perfect condition even though we got some fragile items, the next morning! And, if you’re not in your room at the time of the delivery, they’ll leave you a message on your phone to call the operator and arrange a delivery time.

6. Check the stage periodically for Hogwarts Choir performances or Triwizard rallies. We never saw any posted times for either, but we did manage to stumble upon a choir performance. It was amazing! They even have animatronic frogs. 🙂
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7. Wait until after regular opening time for picture opportunities. As we were rushing past the Hogwarts Express, I verbalized to my husband that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to take a picture then or wait until after we’d ridden The Forbidden Journey. We chose to wait, and I’m glad we did – because when we came back, a conductor was there for patrons to pose with!
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Now, on to the tips no one told me! These are things we learned the hard way on our trip, and I don’t want you to get sidelined by the same obstacles!

8. Beware the Dining Plan’s fine print. If you choose to eat at the Three Broomsticks (and who wouldn’t?!), they will try to sell you a Dining Plan. Beware – they’re sneaky. While we were in line and looking at our options, a staff member told us that for $5 more than our meal, we could purchase a Dining Plan card, good anywhere in the park, that would include our meal at the Three Broomsticks plus two snacks and a drink. First off, that’s not entirely true – the $5 more depends on what you’re getting for your meal. I chose the roasted chicken, and purchasing a Dining Plan on my meal would have actually come out to $8 more – not really any savings for things I probably wasn’t going to purchase anyway. However, my husband was getting the chicken and ribs, so it was only $5 more – and we decided that between the two of us, surely we’d use up two snacks (even though we’d brought some) and a drink.

And on that same note…
9. Butterbeer is considered a “snack,” not a drink. As in, while your meal includes a drink, you cannot choose Butterbeer. Of course, we were told this by our cashier after we’d agreed to the Dining Plan and ordered our meals… but oh well. We just decided we’d get Butterbeer later. And in all honesty, the Dining Plan did still save us money since we’d already planned on purchasing a Butterbeer for each of us. I believe they were approximately $3.50 apiece, so that extra $5 was still a savings. So I guess my forewarning on the Dining Plan is just make sure that you’re already planning on purchasing a more expensive meal, because otherwise you don’t save by purchasing the plan.

10. The Owl Post’s mailing service isn’t very streamlined. So, I’d seen that you can mail items from Hogsmeade and get an actual Hogsmeade postmark. I’d also seen that you can purchase Harry Potter-themed stamps (albeit for more than the actual monetary value of the stamp). HOWEVER, there were some things about the whole system I was not impressed by. First, you cannot buy individual stamps. If you want to purchase stamps from the Owl Post, you can only buy a set of 10 first-class (46 cent) stamps. That’s right – more stamps than you likely need, and a higher monetary value than you need to mail a postcard. The girl working the Owl Post did tell us that you can purchase individual stamps at the front of the park, but to be honest, I have no idea if that means you can buy individual Harry Potter stamps or not. We didn’t want to walk all the way back there to figure it out. So, we sucked it up and paid the cost… Secondly, they have no signs or instructions telling you how to mail from the Owl Post. We probably looked like idiots asking the cashier what we were supposed to do. So, here’s what you do:
a. Purchase any stamps, stationary, or postcards you want from inside the Owl Post building.
b. Go out the Owl Post’s side door and you’ll see a podium that says “Post.” A woman there will give you a Hogsmeade postmark on your items. (Yes, get the postmark first, especially if you’re using postcards – it severely cuts down on your available writing space.)
c. Write out your mail and stick on the stamps.
d. Drop the mail in the slots in the Post podium.
If I ever come across a suggestion box/email for the WWoHP, I’m going to suggest they improve their Owl Post mailing system – if nothing else, post instructions for those who wish to mail items.

And a couple more minor tips for the WWoHP:

11. Be prepared to leave around late morning and come back in the evening. Since the park is set up to look like Hogsmeade, it gets very crowded with the small streets and shops. We decided by about 10:30 that we were done with the crowds, so we finished up our shopping, ate an early lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and left to check out the rest of the park. We ended up not going back in the evening, but I’ve read that going back after 7:30 (of course, that doesn’t work in the off-season – when we had our trip – because they close the parks at 7:00) results in smaller crowds and shorter lines.

12. Look around for shorter Butterbeer lines. I’d read that you can purchase Butterbeer on the patio (accessible by walking down the alley by the restrooms) and find a short line for Butterbeer there. Well, apparently not during the off-season. However, we went into the Hog’s Head and didn’t have to wait too long. (By the way, the Hog’s Head only allows one alcoholic drink per ID, which I think is fantastic! I don’t think people need to be getting drunk in a family theme park.) There’s really no sense in waiting in line at the Three Broomsticks just for Butterbeer, and the Butterbeer cart outside always has a very long line.

And some tips… well, ok, maybe more of a “heads-up”… for the rest of the Islands of Adventure park.

If you’re part of the Jurassic Park generation, be prepared for a letdown. There’s only one ride in the Jurassic park section, and it’s a water ride. We didn’t want to get wet, and the Discovery Center (supposedly based on Hammond’s Visitor’s Center) is pretty blah if you don’t have kids. Jurassic Park was all very kids-oriented, which is great if you have kids who love dinosaurs, but it’s kind of odd since any kids now are well past the Jurassic Park generation. So, if you want to enjoy Jurassic Park, be prepared for a water ride.

FYI, Marvel’s Superhero Island is not what you have imagined. Based on its construction, it looks like the section was built based on the comic book settings for the Marvel Superheroes. Then, as the recent movies become incredibly popular, it looks like certain elements were simply slapped onto existing architecture. And also, don’t expect to see characters walking around like you would at Disney. While we did see a Green Goblin (who was actually pretty funny) and a Spiderman, we didn’t see any other characters in our entire time at the park. I was disappointed – I wanted to see Captain America… Also, be aware that since the main ride in Superhero Island is The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, that’s what most of the merchandise revolves around. That said, the ride is an AMAZING 4-D ride that you should experience!

And in case you haven’t heard… THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER IS EXPANDING!!! Yes, I’m that excited, and even though I know you’re not supposed to use all caps because it’s like yelling, I would be yelling if you could hear me! As I was riding on one of the resort boat taxis, a captain told me that by summer 2014, the WWoHP is supposed to gain the London train station, a Gringotts ride (oh, I hope it’s 4-D, because that would be amazing!), and an undisclosed secret addition. I can’t wait to come back!!

Stepping into the WWoHP is truly like stepping into a different world, the world of Harry Potter, the movie sets themselves. It’s absolutely magical, and I can’t wait to come back. Yes, I’m a HP geek, but even if you’re not (like my husband), you’ll still enjoy the park, because let me tell you, these people really know how to design a theme park!
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I love the irony of this picture: even though there’s people in shorts and t-shirts, you’ll still feel like you’ve stepped into the snowy world of Hogsmeade!

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