In the Harry Potter series, a portkey is an ordinary object that has been charmed to transport those who touch it to another place. Once you reach the enchanted world, you’ll need these Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips to ensure a magical day.
Make sure you read all the way through. We’ve sprinkled in some Harry Potter secrets you won’t find elsewhere.
Your portkey (aka theme park tickets) brings you to either Universal Studios Diagon Alley, or Islands of Adventure Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley is the shopping mall of the wizarding world where young wizards go to get their schoolbooks and other supplies for the upcoming school year.
Hogsmeade is the wizarding village where upperclassman at Hogwarts go to enjoy some time away from their studies and do a little shopping for candy at Honeydukes or relax with friends over a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.
What Universal Park is Best for Harry Potter?
The first thing you need to know about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida is that it is at two different theme parks located right next to each other. Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios theme park and Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure. Visit both for a perfect Florida weekend getaway.
Both have incredible Harry Potter theming and offer slightly different experiences. I’m just a tiny bit partial to Hogsmeade, but we’ll talk about that later in the article.
Guests can ride the Hogwarts Express in between the two parks, which is more than just transportation; it’s a ride in itself with a different experience each way.
However, to do this, you must have a ticket that allows you to visit both lands within a single day. (Note, you can also walk between the two parks via Universal’s City Walk, but that’s quite a bit less magical)
What’s the Best Way to Do Harry Potter World?
To get the most out of your visit to Harry Potter World, stay onsite at one of the Florida hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort.
There are seven Universal Orlando Resort Hotels, The Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Lowe’s Royal Pacific Resort, Lowe’s Sapphire Falls, Aventura Hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and the new ‘budget’ option, Surfside Inn and Suites (and in Spring 2020 the sister to Surfside, the Dockside Inn and Suites). Here are a few reasons it pays to stay on property.
Early Admission. Of all the Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips, this is the most important. Universal Studios Parks and Resorts guests are eligible to enter Universal Studios (and Diagon Alley) or Islands of Adventure (and Hogsmeade) an hour earlier than anyone else on select days.
Note that early admission is only for one park each day, so check to see which park has early admission the day you are going. And by early, we don’t mean arrive when the park opens, we mean arrive 30 minutes to an hour earlier that the early entry time.
Why arrive so early? Guests are admitted to a holding area until the theme park gates open and then the attendants need to scan your tickets. Ticket scanning is quick, but if there are a lot of people, they can only scan tickets so fast and generally not all ticket booths are open. Plus, depending on who is working that day, they may allow guest in even earlier than the stated time
Tip: Universal hotel guests receive early admission on the day you check-in, as well as the day you check out.
What’s the Big Deal? So why is it so important to stay on property and then arrive early? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is small and the shops, which are part of the experience, are downright tiny.
While my boys were perusing wands at Dervish and Banges, the Ollivander show let out into the shop. We had to literally step out of the way so the crowd could walk through the narrow hallway. The door between two sections of this shop is literally as big as your front door.
Normally I would suggest shopping later in the day once you’ve done everything else, but in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter where the shops are a big part of the experience, you need to shop early or it will feel like a door buster special on Black Friday.
If you decide NOT to stay on site or you are traveling with extended friends/family, then try this Orlando vacation home.
What is a Universal Express Pass and How do I Score FREE Universal Express Passes?
Another bonus to staying at the higher end Universal Orlando Resorts such as The Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, or Lowe’s Royal Pacific Resort is Free Universal Express unlimited ride access (limit 5 per room). Similar (but not exactly) to a Disney Fast Pass, the Universal Express allows cardholders to skip the regular line and go in the shorter “express line” including some at Universal Studios Harry Potter land.
The Express Pass doesn’t work on new attractions – like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, but it does work on the popular Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade and Escape to Gringotts in Diagon Alley, as well as main attractions throughout both Universal Orlando Resort Theme Parks.
If purchased these park passes are $89 per person. Spend your money on one of the nice Universal Orlando hotels and get this perk free – you’ll come out better in the end AND have a nicer experience.
Express Pass vs. Disney Fast Pass. It’s important to note that Express passes aren’t EXACTLY like the Fast Pass at Disney. You will still wait in line, but the express line is generally half the time of the stated ‘normal’ line wait time.
Engage with staff who often work in character. Find someone from your house and ask them to teach you the secret handshake.
How to beat the lines. If you don’t want to spring for the nicer hotel, or the Express Pass, it’s a must that you 1. Arrive early and 2. research and come prepared with a theme park touring plan.
Have a Touring Plan. I did not test this theory, but after experiencing both Universal Orlando parks with an express pass but not a touring plan, and a touring plan without an express pass, I’d say if you only do one (and depending on time of year you’ll want both) the touring plan is the MOST important. To find the best touring plan, search Universal Studios touring plans for several options.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips for Diagon Alley (and a few secrets)
Diagon Alley is the newest of the Wizarding World parks. There is a large section of this area that has a glass roof, making it a perfect place to visit if it’s raining too. Wondering where to begin? Read on.
Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. This is the only ‘ride’ in Diagon Alley, and the line can be formidable, so get to the park early and ride this first.
Then go back through and enjoy the theming and details. The first thing that caught my eye were the enormous crystal chandeliers. It wasn’t until my gaze dropped that I saw the goblins counting their money. Along the way we took an ‘elevator’ down to the depths, eavesdropped on a conversation between Harry, Ron and Hermione, and passed the offices of Griphook and Ragnuk.
Harry Potter Secret Tip: Trade Chocolate Frog cards with staff at the retail locations.
Visit Ollivanders Wand Shops. You can go into the shop to pick a wand but we recommend taking in the wand ceremony too. During this short performance, Ollivander picks one person from the audience to choose a wand. It’s a fun five-minute show where the chosen wizard tries out a few wands before finding ‘the one’. Remember, the wand chooses the wizard. The line can get very long, so if this is something you want to do, go here early. You can experience the wand ceremony at either Ollivanders location, the one at Hogsmeade or the one in Diagon Alley.
Purchase an interactive wand. The interactive wand is a big part of the Harry Potter experience, so plan to purchase this $50+ add on. Interactive wands come with a map to spell locations. Perform the spell correctly and watch what happens…it’s magic!
Do get your interactive wand early so you can cast the spells around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade before lines begin to form at the wand locations. My favorite is the pixies playing in the pot outside McHavelocks at Hogsmeade.
Harry Potter World Secret Spell Locations: There are two secret spell locations in Diagon Alley that are not on the map, and don’t have a plaque by them. One is at the Apothecary window. Make the triangle wand movement near the green orb. The second secret spell location is next to the Wingardium Leviosa wand location. For this one, write your name in cursive to see a message on the parchment.
Don’t Miss KnockTurn Alley. Respectable wizards and witches don’t normally go down Knockturn Alley, but you’ll definitely want to venture into the darkness and explore. You’ll find the dark arts shop Borgin and Burkes, as well as my favorite Diagon Alley interactive wand station, Dystyl Phaelanges. Raise your wand to the skeleton and watch as he moves his arms the same way you do. (the shrunken heads are pretty cool too)
Get a Butterbeer….ice cream. Yes you MUST have butterbeer while at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but my favorite way to ingest this delicious treat is in a waffle cone full of soft-serve ice cream. Get yours at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. The line here can rival the rides, so if it’s not out the door, consider it time for ice cream.
Learn to speak in Parsletounge. Ok, so maybe you won’t learn the language, but you can hear it, straight from the snakes mouth if you walk around the corner at the Magical Menagerie. There is a window with a huge snake. Listen closely and you’ll hear it speaking parseltongue to you. Inside the shop you’ll find Luna Lovegood’s favorite creature, the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
Talk to a Goblin. Exchange your muggle money into wizard money at Gringotts Money Exchange (this is not the Gringott’s bank where the ride is located) the Goblin on duty will have a surly conversation with you. This is the perfect place to bring the three-year-old who has all those ‘why’ questions.
More Harry Potter Secrets outside Diagon Alley in London
Listen for the bricks moving. As you walk in or out of Diagon Alley, you can hear the bricks moving.
Call the Ministry of Magic. The number is on the phone in the red phone booth outside Kings Cross. Stay on the line for a message directly from the Ministry. The best part of this simple ‘attraction’ has nothing to do with Harry Potter though. The real fun is watching kids try to figure out how to use a telephone, like a real telephone, not a cell phone. It’s better than seeing them get an earwax Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean.
Disappear onto Platform 9 ¾. As you walk through the cue to get onto the Hogwarts Express at King Cross station, stop at the top of the stairs when you see the luggage and let another member of your party walk ahead. You can watch them ‘disappear’ onto platform 93/4.
Find Krecher at Grimauld Place. Knock on the door of 12 Grimmauld Place and then look up. You may just find the house elf Kreacher peering out to see who is there.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips for Hogsmeade
After visiting both parks, I have to say that I’m still a little partial to the first Wizarding World location Hogsmeade. Maybe this park has had time to mature, or maybe it’s something else, but here are my tips and secrets for Hogsmeade.
Ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. I do not give the following praise lightly. This is hands down, the BEST roller coaster I’ve ridden. EVER. Stay on property. Get up early. Be one of the first at the turnstiles. Then head with as much speed as safely possible to this ride as soon as the park opens, because you want to experience this and wait times can be two hours plus, pretty much all day long, and as of this writing, you can’t use an Express Pass for this ride.
Why is Hagrid’s so good? You are either on Hagrid’s motorcycle or in the sidecar on a three-minute ride through the Forbidden Forest. It’s a real roller coaster, not the simulator rollercoaster like the Forbidden Journey or Gringotts. It’s super smooth and has moments of instant acceleration similar to Rockin Roller Coaster or Slinky Dog at Disney. There are twists, but the thrill isn’t in going upside down and corkscrews. You go forwards. Backward. And one move that was totally unexpected!
Explore Hogwarts Castle and ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is one ride where you’ll wish you had more time waiting so you could take it all in. Don’t worry about rushing up to the ride. Enjoy touring the Herbology class, exploring Dumbledore’s Office and go ahead and listen to Ron, Harry and Hermoine’s plan for getting you to the Quidditch pitch. Stop to hear what the portraits are saying and the sorting hat’s rhyme.
We rushed through the first time, did the ride and then went around again much slower. The attraction itself is pretty intense and a combination of simulator and ride. If you have it, use your Express Pass once you’ve seen the queue.
Be prepared to meet dementors close up and endure a dragon attack. My 7-year-old, who has seen all the movies several times and read all the books, was a little scared and felt once was enough for him on this one.
If your child wants to see the castle but doesn’t want to go on the ride, there is a way to visit and bypass the ride. There is also a large child swap area, for parents to wait with younger children. If you need something tamer, the Flight of the Hippogriff is a good choice.
Purchasing Your Wand. Dervish and Banges is connected to Ollivanders and the main place at Hogsmeade to purchase a wand. Here you can get any of the character wands, as well as Ollivander Originials – unique wands that have no character affiliation.
TIP: If you are staying on Universal property have shop purchases sent to your hotel so you don’t have to hang onto them all day.
Get a Howler. This is one of my favorite Harry Potter World secrets. Outside of the Owlery, in the window near the post office, you can listen to a plethora of howlers yell at you for spending your sickles on pygmy puffs, or going to Hogsmeade without permission. If you’d like to send your own Howler, you can buy one in most shops.
Find the Biting Book. Details from the stories are everywhere at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Inside Dervish and Banges is a caged biting book. See if you can also find the mandrakes or the golden snitch (hint: look in the store windows)
Send mail from Hogwarts. You can mail your letters with a special postmark from the Owl Post in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Save money and bring a stamp from home so you only have to purchase a post card.
Get Sweets at Honeydukes. Honeydukes at Hogsmeade and SugarPlums at Diagon Alley have all the favorite wizard treats like chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. There are nine different chocolate frog cards. If you get duplicates, ask the Witches or Wizards in the shop to trade.
Tip: If you’re out of money, which you probably are since there are so many things you have to experience, head to Gringott’s Wizarding Bank. There are no goblins guarding the door at this location, but there is an ATM under the sign.
Where to Eat at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Three Broomsticks. Of course, The Three Broomsticks is where wizards get traditional English fare at Hogsmeade (and some chicken fingers for the little guys). Meals at the Three Broomsticks aren’t large so don’t expect to share. Tip: They have a back porch, which is kind of a secret and usually less crowded than inside.
Secret Tip: When it’s quiet at the Three Broomsticks, you might catch a house elf running around upstairs. You’ll know because of his shadow and the pitter patter of him running.
Hogs Head Tavern. Adjacent to the Three Broomsticks is the Hogs Head Tavern where you can get a traditional American beer, as well as the famed wizard drink Butterbeer – in regular or frozen. This can be a quicker option than the Three Broomsticks.
More Harry Potter Secrets: After all that butterbeer you’ll probably need to use the facilities. While there, listen for Moaning Myrtle, the ghost who haunts the girl’s bathroom at Hogwarts.
The Leaky Cauldron. This restaurant is located at Diagon Alley and the cool thing to note is the sign actually leaks. And once inside, look for keys hanging for ‘guests’.
Shows at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Whether at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, don’t discount the shows. During our visit there were two at each location. Diagon Alley had a concert by the well-known wizarding group Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, and a puppet show that told the Beetle the Bard story of the Fountain of Fair Fortune (my favorite). At Hogsmeade is the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally (my favorite).
Don’t miss the projection light show on the castle. There are different shows depending on the time of year. During our visit was arguably one of the best – the Darks Arts show. The bridge into Hogsmeade is a great place to watch.
Planning to visit other areas of Universal Orlando Resort? You’ll want to read this excellent article from our friends at Global Munchkins.
If you want to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, we recommend reading this article first.