If you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t miss Universal Orlando. It’s the place to go to experience the magic of J.K. Rowling’s stories. On our recent Florida family holiday, it was the highlight of our trip.
Before we visited Universal Orlando, we needed to get a few things prepared:
- Choose a day to visit (check calendar to see what days are busy for theme parks).
- Choose which rides we wanted to go on and set up a loose itinerary. You’ll need to decide what park you want to go first. We chose to go to Universal Studios Florida first as it opened earlier on the day we were visiting.
- Decide if you want to upgrade your ticket with Universal Express. If you’re serious about saving time and getting on as many rides you can, pay extra for the Universal Express, an upgrade which enables guests to skip the line via a special queue. It can mean considerable savings in time and in my opinion worth every penny.
With all of our preparation done, we’ve arrive at Universal Studios 45 minutes before gates open. Come early especially on busy days, as you need to park your vehicle and walk to the front gates.
The gates open and people start running to queue for their favourite rides.
We make our way to Diagon Alley to ride on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. As Harry Potter fans, we’re impressed by the level of detail that has gone into recreating Diagon Alley.
All of the shops are here including Honeydukes, Florian Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour and Ollivanders.
Experience Ollivanders by participating in the wand selection show and choosing your own wand afterwards in the shop. My daughter chose the interactive Ginny Weasley wand.
This enabled her to cast spells at different locations marked with medallions on the ground throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando. The wand comes with a map showing locations where you can put your wand to use.
It was then time to get on the Gringotts ride. Gringotts has been faithfully recreated with banking goblins inside and a fire breathing dragon outside. Even if you don’t want to go on the ride, you can wander through the bank.
The ride itself is fantastic and involves 3D effects with scenes from the movie Deathly Hallows: Part 2 action scene. You’ll be provided with a pair of 3D glasses for your this 4 ½ minute motion-simulated ride. Keep in mind that it has a minimum height of 42” that’s strictly enforced so younger kids won’t be able to ride it.
There’s plenty of other things they can enjoy though like seeing the Night Bus up close and wandering through Knockturn Alley.
There’s also Hogwarts Express departing from Platform 9¾ which connects Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade at Universal’s Island of Adventure.
Boarding the train, we’re assigned to cabin 2 which is identical to the train in the movies. As the train starts to move, the frosted screen on the window displays images.
Along the way, we see London, the British countryside, the Forbidden Forest and finally a view of Hogwarts castle. We then leave the train station and get up close to Hogwarts.
We arrive at Hogsmeade and feeling hungry, decide to stop for a meal at the faithfully recreated Three Broomsticks.
Our meals are delicious especially with an accompanying drink of butterbeer . What does butterbeer taste like? It actually reminded me of cream soda with a bit of butterscotch. It’s delicious and very refreshing on a hot day.
Once fed, it was time to line up for the popular ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The experience starts with lining up. Once our daughter passes the height requirements, we enter the castle gates into Hogwarts school.
The route takes us through passageways and corridors such as Albus Dumbledore’s office, the classroom for Defence of the Dark Arts classroom and we even see the Sorting Hat up close.
Even if there’s a long line, the time passes quickly as you’re entertained by different characters from the films including talking portraits.
Soon enough, we get to the head of the line and the journey begins. It’s a state of the art motion simulation ride with Harry Potter and his friends. It’s a rollicking ride and not suited to those who suffer from motion sickness. One of my favourite parts of the ride is flying on a broomstick playing Quidditch. I could feel my stomach turning over.
The ride is over too soon and we line up again to experience The Forbidden Journey again. In fact, by the time the day is over, we’ve ridden it four times and declare that it’s our favourite ride.
After more than six hours around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley soaking in the atmosphere of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World, we venture to other parts of Universal Florida.
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Seuss Landing is a fun place for those with small kids. There’s lots of fun family rides including One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
If you and your kids love the Despicable Me movies, don’t miss the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. It’s a super cute 3D ride where you become a Minion. Banana!
If you love your thrill rides, there’s also some incredible roller coasters and freefall drops. Being a scaredy cat, I stayed away from these rides but enjoyed hearing people scream in fear.
We finally walk out of Universal Orlando after 12 hours at the theme park. We’re tired but all agree we’ve had an amazing day.
We do agree that we need to come back and check out the new Universal Volcano Bay water theme park on a future visit. When we visited, it wasn’t yet operational. At that time, Universal Orlando consisted of Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Island of Adventure.
- For information about ticket sales, visit the Universal Orlando Florida website. Tickets are available in duration from 1 day to 10 days. It’s better value to purchase multi-day tickets with the price per day dropping. There’s different prices throughout the year.
- Take a photo of where you park your car. Makes it much easier to locate after a long day at the park.
- Install the Universal Orlando Florida App on your phone. With a map, list of attractions and events and most importantly, wait times for rides, it’s invaluable. (There’s free Wi-Fi at Universal Orlando so you don’t have to worry about using your data).
- Universal operates a mandatory locker system on thrill rides. Choose a bag or backpack that can be easily placed in a locker.
- If you want to skip lines or if you’re going on a ride by yourself, line up in the Single Rider line. I saw couples go in this line and split up to ride with different groups.
- You can also do the Family Switch-Off. If your kids are too small or don’t want to go on a specific ride, do the Switch-Off. Each ride and attraction has a family room where one member of your party can wait with the kids while the rest of your party rides. Once they are finished, switch places so whoever rode can stay with the kids, and the adult(s) who sat out can enjoy the ride.
- For an invaluable guide for planning your visit to Universal Orlando Florida, consult the Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. It’s a lifesaver and will save you time and money during your visit.
Disclosure: Family Forays received two complimentary admission for review purposes. All opinions are my own.