It took me a year, but last week I FINALLY made it to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. We’re a Disney family, so I know all four parks better than I know my own pantry (true story). But even though I’ve lived in Orlando for 8 years, I’ve probably been to Universal less than 10 times.
For the past year, though, I’ve been DYING to go to Universal and WWoHP. I’m a huge Harry Potter
geek fan. Yup, I was always the creepy 20something lined up at midnight at Borders to get the new books. At least I drew the line somewhere — I never showed up in a Gryffindor robe.
My little brother is just as big (or bigger) of a Harry Potter fan than me. When my family booked their trip to Orlando from PA a few months ago, we made a date — we were hitting WWoHP!
Since I’ve heard scary stories about the lines, I knew I had to do a lot of research for our day at WWoHP. Surprisingly, I found very few good guides online (dear future readers, you’re welcome for what’s about to follow). I did find one amazing resource though — Orlando Informer. He (I think it’s a he!), has a pretty kick-ass guide available for purchase. I reluctantly shelled out the $5 for it, but as a first-time visitor to WWoHP, I think it was well worth it. I hate going into things cold, so it was great to figure out the lay of the land and he had some really good tips. Throughout this post, I’ll give you a couple of his (don’t worry, OI, I won’t share all your trade secrets!) just to let you know where I differed from his opinion or where he was spot-on.
His first piece of advice? Get there early. Really early. And he was right. We were up before the sun. On the day we were going, Universal opened at 8, so we were at the front ticket gates by 7:20 a.m. (gah!). But guess what? We were far from the first ones there.
We were feeling pretty good that we were the fourth party in our line (my brother is the tall red head on the right) but then we saw tons of people streaming in — resort guests got to get into the park an hour earlier than the rest of us. So by 7 a.m., they were Hogsmeade-bound. Note to self: stay at a Universal resort next time I want to go to WWoHP!
But luckily, the ticket gates opened at about 7:45 a.m. and off we ran! No, seriously, we ran. It was actually pretty fun.
The OI guide suggested two things first — grab a butterbeer and get in the Ollivander’s line. So that was our plan. I have to admit, it was hard to stay focused as we got our first glimpse of Hogsmeade. I was not prepared for how amazing the entire thing is. It’s seriously like stepping into the books. Magical seems an appropriate description.
By the time we got back there (remember, it was already crawling with resort guests), the butterbeer line was already long. But I got into it and told my brother to go start exploring. That’s just the kind of big sister I am!
That wasn’t the only long line. Check out the line for the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the only sit-down restaurant in WWoHP.
Did I mention that it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet? But apparently they have a full English breakfast available. Just be prepared to wait! As I waited, my brother C. came to tell me that the Ollivander’s line was already long, so he was going to hop in it while I waited for our butterbeers. Sounded like a plan.
Luckily, there were more fun things for me to see in my own line.
Honestly, friends, I tell you the truth. I couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear. There is just so many cool sights, sounds and smells to take in.
FINALLY, with frozen butterbeers in hand, I headed over to meet C. near the back of the shockingly long Ollivander’s line (it was probably only 8:15 by this point). But we were happy Muggles.
Everyone wants to know what they taste like. Best description we could come up with is a really (really!) sweet cream soda. What, you thought cream soda couldn’t get any sweeter? I promise you, it can. I’d say you’d be better off splitting one with someone. Drinking an entire one yourself, even as a meal, is a bit much. I had to down a water as soon as I could after it. (**Instance No. 1 when you’ll realize that I’m old).
The Olivander’s line takes you past a few shops, including one featuring all the Quidditch pieces! Do you spy the Golden Snitch up top?
After a nearly hour-long wait (no joke), we were FINALLY inside Ollivander’s for the wand selection ceremony. They usher in a group of about 15-20 people into a small room where the shopkeeper and his assistant are waiting. Then, they select one lucky person from the crowd. Sadly, he didn’t pick me or my brother.
The kid (I’m guessing it’s always a kid), is given different wands to try out and all mayhem ensues — wand boxes fly off shelves, bells ring, a ladder moves back and forth. It’s actually pretty cute. And have you ever seen so many wands in one place?
The whole thing lasts about five minutes, and then you’re ushered into the main Ollivander’s gift shop, where they sell wands from all the major characters. By the way, you can skip the wand experience and just go in the gift shop. Sometimes there’s a line to get into it, but it will be nothing like the line for the wand selection show.
The OI guide recommended waiting until later in the day to make any purchases, but since we knew we’d need a locker for my purse anyway, we decided to shop right then rather than risk another line. If you would be able to avoid lockers otherwise, I’d also say wait until later in the day to buy your stuff.
My brother decided to get a Harry Potter wand, but I found the one I would have gotten if I was a wand-buying kind of girl.
OK, so here’s another point where I differ with the very wise Orlando Informer. The guide suggested doing Ollivander’s first, and while I think that might be a great idea during certain periods of the year (depending on crowds), for us, it wasn’t. Either word is out or it was bad luck, but EVERYONE hit the Ollivander’s line first. And since we didn’t know how long (or short) the line could get, so did we. That hour-long wait was the longest we waited all day, and when we walked by it several times later, it was always shorter. [EDITED: See comments below for more on this point, including a mea culpa on my part]
So, if you get there, and the line is starting to stretch beyond the shops to the ropes against the wall under the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, I’d say wait until it gets shorter. But that’s just my opinion.
Following OI’s advice, we next headed for the lockers by the Dragon Challenge to stash our stuff. While we were there, we saw that the Dragon Challenge ride was only 15 minutes long. Check!
This used to be called the Dueling Dragons ride in pre-Harry Potter days. Now, it’s been redesigned to pay tribute to the Triwizard Tournament from “Goblet of Fire.”
You know what that means?
Ohhhhh yeah. OK, fine, I know that there were other wizards in the tournament. Happy now?
I didn’t bother taking a picture of that grumpy Viktor’s flag, but there was one there. Along the way, we also saw some more cool stuff — Hagrid’s hut and the Weasleys’ flying car.
Once inside, we passed through the competitors’ tent and by the Goblet of Fire. Very cool. And then, we got tossed around upside down.
I was sick. Very sick. (Here’s your next example: yup, getting older by the second). I don’t know if it was the butterbeer breakfast or the fact that roller coasters are no longer my friend, but that bad boy did a number on me. I was actually shaking when I got off it. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the coaster but just not the way it made me feel. When did this happen to me? Sigh.
As we got off the ride, there’s a staircase you pass by that allows you to head back up and try the other track (two coasters are going at the same time). I sent C. on his way and I went to find a
barf bag bench to catch my breath.
After he was done battling dragons, we headed for the main attraction — Hogwarts.
Here was OI’s next golden tip. When you first enter Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (the main attraction of WWoHP and it’s located inside Hogwarts), it’s going to be confusing. There are lines for the lockers, a line for single riders, a line for the attraction and a tour only line. Head for the tour only line. This allows you to walk through the entire line and really appreciate all the amazing things the ride’s designers came up with. Then, you exit right before the ride itself and head back to the beginning and get in either the main attraction line or the single rider line (which is usually far shorter, but a word of warning — it does bypass most of the cool stuff in the line. So, if you choose single rider, make sure to do the tour only either before or after riding).
We hit the tour only line first. To quote Harry and every other Brit — it’s brilliant.
First, you enter a hall with Talking Portraits and climb the stairs to the top, getting a really close view of some of the moving artwork. Honestly, people, these look like they’re straight out of the movie.
Sorry about the quality, but dark lighting conditions + me not knowing all my camera’s manual commands = crappy low-light photos. But you get the point. Then, you’re taken through Dumbledore’s office. Look above his massive gold desk, and you’ll see a video screen with Dumbledore setting up the ride’s storyline (I’m not going to give away ALL the secrets!).
I won’t torture you with the rest of my crappy photos, but you’re then taken through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom (with a surprise visit from Harry, Ron and Hermione) and, after passing by the Fat Lady’s portrait, into the Gryffindor common room. I’m telling you, we were in geek overload.
There were also plenty of these along the way. Are they trying to tell me something?
And does the sign really need to show someone tossing chunks? Not what I need to see when I’m trying not to throw up.
But I pressed on. Just before the ride, there was one final surprise — the Sorting Hat!
I don’t know why, but this actually might have been my favorite thing. It was JUST LIKE THE MOVIE, talking away and everything. So stinkin cool.
I wish I could describe the ride better to you, but honestly, I was just focusing so hard on not throwing up the whole time (and there’s your Old Person Sign No. 3). I remember a roller coaster that involves a lot of flying with a mixture of movie screens (think “Soarin'”) and animatronics. There are spiders, dragons and Dementors (oh, my!) as you’re flying right alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. There are also plenty of guest appearances from other characters (sadly, no Cedric).
If I hadn’t done the Dragon Challenge first, I don’t think I would have been as sick on this. You’re on your back for parts of it, but never upside down. I’ve been able to do “Star Tours” lately so the simulated screens don’t always make me sick, but then again, I’m also the person who had a panic attack coming down a lighthouse, so who am I to talk?
After those two rides, I definitely needed a break and was desperate for a Diet Coke. Fun fact: there is NO SODA in WWoHP. None. Believe me, I searched high and low for one, only to find Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice and Pumpkin Fizz around every corner. Would it kill them to put some Cokes in those lines? Seriously.
So I pulled the Old Lady card and asked C. if he was ready for lunch yet. You saw how long that Three Broomsticks line was earlier, right? After Forbidden Journey, we walked by and there was no line. Granted it was just after 11, but since we’d been up since 6, lunch was sounding good! Bring on the Fish and Chips!
There may not have been a Diet Coke, but the battered and fried fish did wonders to help me start feeling human again. After lunch, we decided to take in all the sights of Hogsmeade.
No seriously, she’s tiny. Look how my head’s reflection in the window looks bigger than the dress! Maybe I’d be Hagrid’s size in the Wizarding World?
Zonkos and Honeydukes were so much fun. We spent a lot of time in there, shouting out things to each other like, “Look, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans!” and “Expendable Ears!” We both left with Chocolate Frogs, which included Wizard Trading Cards (we got a Rowena Ravenclaw and a Helga Hufflepuff).
We only missed one ride — Flight of the Hippogriff. We left WWoHP for awhile to explore other parts of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, and when we returned later, we couldn’t beat the thunderstorms and missed out on it. We still walked back to the ride’s entrance to say hello to Buckbeak.
Oh well, I think we got the full Harry Potter experience. I don’t know if our timing was good or what, but other than Olivander’s, we didn’t wait more than 20 minutes for a ride! Amazing. In fact, my brother went on the Dragon Challenge four times because there was no line (masochist). Here are some final thoughts:
— I recommend the Orlando Informer Touring Guide to Wizarding World. There were SO MANY helpful hints in it, plus a really cool Scavenger Hunt (which we did all day). It’s five well-spent bucks.
— Be prepared to shell out a lot of money on lockers. Universal (stupidly, in my opinion) does not allow you to carry purses on rides. They should have a place to stash them. They claim the lockers are timed so that they’re free while you ride, but we were pretty quick to get our stuff out of the lockers and I’d say we spent close to $15 throughout the day on lockers. Annoying.
— The Pumpkin Juice is pretty awful. Even though all the ingredients are things I love (apple juice, pumpkin and apricot purees, and spices like cinnamon), it was again, so grossly sweet. I brought a bottle home to my 3-year-old E. (before I tried it) and even she wouldn’t drink it. But, then again, my 16-year-old brother loved it, so what do I know? (I know, you get it — I’m old).
— If you get remotely motion sick on rides, definitely do the Forbidden Journey first. That’s THE main attraction, and sick or not sick, you don’t want to miss it. Let the dragon taming to those with tougher stomachs.
— Slow down and enjoy the view! We sure did.
P.S. The closest Diet Coke is just over the bridge and at the start of Jurassic Park. Ah, now that’s the sweet drink momma was craving.
Have you been to Wizarding World yet? What did I do wrong? What tips have you learned? And am I the only wuss who can’t handle the Dragon Challenge? Cedric would be so disappointed in me. I guess it’s a good thing Voldemort offed him.
Dan Hatfield says
What a fantastic write-up of your experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This has to be one of the most thorough walk-throughs I’ve seen online. However, I’m sad that you got sick on the two rides you experienced. And then you missed Flight of the Hippogriff, which is surprisingly fun for a kiddie coaster (and gives you a great view of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts!).
Thanks so much for your endorsement of my Wizarding World of Harry Potter Touring Plan. I spent a lot of time creating it, and so it feels very rewarding when I know its helped so much.
Regarding Ollivander’s, it doesn’t surprise me that the line might have been a little shorter during the day than when you first walked in. I’ve seen it myself. Nevertheless, I still recommend to do it first because of one overriding factor: Perhaps you’ll wait just a bit longer if you do it at 8:00 in the morning, but you’ll be doing it with 8:00am sun, heat, and humidity. I have heard countless stories of guests getting sick and/or passing out in that line because, as you know now, it is completely outdoors and offer little shade other than tucking yourself against one of the buildings (and there are no fans or misters). So, yeah, the actual wait time might be less at 11:00am, but you are going to cook for 60 minutes in the hot Orlando sun. Considering that point, I put it at the very beginning.
Well, thanks again for your praise of the OI Wizarding World of Harry Potter Touring Plan. Glad to hear you guys had a great time overall. And again, I admire the work you put into your post covering WWoHP! You did Harry proud.
PS. I’m a guy 🙂
Dan, I stand corrected. See, I should have written this right away. You’re EXACTLY right (again!). I commented to my brother the entire time in the line that even though it was long, it was the coolest part of the day to stand in it (unless the rain wouldn’t have chased us away later, which was when we were planning on doing it a second time). See, that’s why you have your OWL in WWoHP and I’m still a First Year!
And yeah, I was bummed we missed Flight of the Hippogriff. Hindsight is 20/20, but we should have just waited in the line in the morning (which was around 45 minutes, when there was hardly a line for everything else) but we had plans on spending a lot of time there in the late afternoon so we thought we’d hit it then. Darn Florida summer weather!
Thanks again for the great guide! I’m sure next time we’ll use it to try and catch the scavenger hunt items we missed!
And thanks for the comment and compliment! It’s certainly a lot longer than my usual posts but it was such a fun day and I wanted to memorialize it all!
Paula @ Eat: Watch: Run says
Ok, I’m trying really hard NOT to read this because I haven’t been there yet and we have passes, and I want it to be new and a surprise to me. BUT, I couldn’t help but notice the Cedric pic. LOL to the caption. I hear that! Now I”m going to try to avoid your post for the rest of the day but I might not make it very long.
I hear you Paula! I tried to be as spoiler-free as possible about the rides in particular. But for me, I’m a research person and like to know how to get things done, so I thought I’d throw a bone to any other crazies out there like me!
Can’t wait until you go! I’m telling you, I’m getting pretty tempted to get Universal passes, too!
Caroline Calcote says
Thanks for this great review! We are all huge Harry Potter fans (Mack, entering 2nd grade, is reading the second book right now. Cal read them all in 2nd grade and give those books alot of credit for Cal’s great love of reading. Chad and I read them all as soon as they were released 🙂 ). We have wanted to go there since it opened also, but have been letting the “newness” wear off first. Cal’s birthday is in August and we may go for his birthday. I’ll definitely be checking back on this post for tips as well as checking out Orlando Informer. This is a MAMMOTH post and you did an excellent job on it!
What day of the week did you go? I’m surprised the lines for most things were only 20ish minutes. I plan on going two Mondays from now and hope I have the same luck as you. Were you able to fit everything into one day? I mean I’m clearly going there for Harry Potter but would like to explore the rest of the park too, especially the water rides, since it’s so hot! Were you able to see everything?
We went on a Friday. We were really surprised by the lines too! The standby for Forbidden Journey said 90 minutes most of the day, but we did Single Rider. We would have gotten through it pretty quickly but the line temporarily shut down f0r about 20 minutes, so it ended up taking us 40 minutes.
But everything else was quick at Islands of Adventure — we waited maybe 15 minutes for The Hulk, less than 30 for Spiderman (again Single Rider), and walked right on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. We wanted to do Jurassic Park but that did have a long line — about 75 minutes. So we skipped it in order to do more rides. We didn’t do anything in Seuss Landing or Toon Lagoon but if we probably could have in the same day.
We also went to Universal Studios Florida (on the same day) and again, walked on Mummy and only waited about 20-25 minutes for The Simpsons.
I don’t know if it’s because it was the weekend before July 4th, but for whatever reason, nothing was too crowded. Definitely go early and beat those afternoon thunderstorms!
Good luck and have fun!
Loved your review. We went last August (2010) and needed to stand in line in the morning to just GET INTO that part of the park. It was about an hour wait with a windy line that wrapped around Jurassic Park. We got there at about 10:30 am. Was tough. So my question Momjovi is this: is that line still there to get into that part of the park? We are headed back next month!
Thanks Brendan! I was nervous about the line to get into WWoHP but there wasn’t one on the day we were there. And from what I’ve heard, there hasn’t been one lately. But that can always change.
I’d keep checking the site I mentioned above (http://www.orlandoinformer.com/). He does a really good job of updating the latest information about WWoHP and the other parks. And just keep Googling in the days leading up to your trip. If you’re on Twitter, considering searching to see what people are tweeting those days about the lines — I did that and it was really helpful.
And I know they also do a Fast Pass type distribution system now on the days they have lines to get into WWoHP. They’re called Return Tickets and they’re distributed through electronic machines (like Disney’s Fast Passes). Google that and check the OI site above for the details on those too.
Good luck and have fun! Can’t wait to get back there again myself!
Thank, Jackie! Great link. And thanks for taking the time to make the page and respond back. You helped out a stranger in Massachusetts… And I am sure you’ll find your way back to the park soon enough!;)
Thank you for writing your experience! We are planning on being there the second week in November (first-time visitors), which is serendipitous because the Celebration of Harry Potter by WB for the release of the last HP film will be occurring that same weekend! We are beyond excited!! We are a family of four, with 12yo and 9yo both LOVE Harry Potter and are reading the books. I have been a HP geek from the beginning. We are flying from Utah so are going to do a HP movie marathon on the way. We purchased the Celebration package and will be meeting with the cast members and receiving the blue-ray box set AND we get early park entrance THREE hours before regular opening. Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to best beat the crowds, because they will be huge that weekend of the celebration. We will be hitting the park on Monday and Tuesday, as I hear they are the best days to go due to fewer crowds. We also are having breakfast at the 3 Broomsticks on Tuesday. That might be why there was a line at 9 am. Breakfast is only for people that have pre-purchased the HP packages and are just waiting for their registered time to eat. Anyway, will be following your same touring guidelines. Hogwarts here we come!
Oh, also! I know it will take extreme willpower, but I intend to take the tour line first for the Forbidden Journey ride. It seems counter-intuitive to slow down and do the walkthru first, but I believe it will really add to the experience of the ride if we can experience the entire and complete build-up to the ride. Difficult part may be talking the rest of my family into doing the walkthru before the ride. Anyway, Thanks!
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