The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – A Guide For the Non-Potter Fan
If you’re planning a visit to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter and you’ve never read the books, you’ve struggled to stay awake during the movies or you simply just don’t get it, this post is for you. Now, before you go casting spells on me, let me come clean. I really really want to like Harry Potter. But I don’t.
I’ve tried repeatedly to ‘get into’ the remarkably popular books by J.K. Rowling, but somehow the magic alludes me and I’ve never been swept away into that spellbinding world. Maybe it’s just not my genre, but I’ve always been nonplussed by the whole thing. Nonetheless, I’m a good sport and since my son loves the young wizard, I planned a family adventure to immerse ourselves in all things Harry Potter. Here’s my guide to help the non-Potter fan make the most of a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Get Into The Spirit
I’ve always felt like the entire Harry Potter thing is some wonderful secret I’m not in on. Thus, I had to approach my visit from a different angle. Although I don’t know the stories by heart, I knew just enough to have a vague understanding of what I was about to experience. Researching some of the key terms is important. Wizards, Muggles, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Voldemort (don’t say that one out loud), Diagon Alley, and Knockturn Alley are a few good ones to look up before your trip. You may also want to familiarize yourself with the core characters and practice affecting a British accent to truly impress your travel mates.
Next, study the Universal website to learn about the rides and the absolute musts. Once you’ve established the major attractions, you’re ready to order matching Hogwarts shirts for the family.
Ta-da! Nothing says, I’m up for a good time, like family t-shirts for wearing in an amusement park.
Selecting The Best Tickets
It’s not a coincidence the Harry Potter attractions are located in two different parks at Universal so it’s best to go ahead and get multi-park tickets in order to fully experience the Wizarding World. If you’re staying at one of the hotels on-site, there are ticket discounts and packages you’ll want to investigate in order to get the best deal. Even if you’re not staying on-site, a visit to the Universal website will provide a rundown of the ticket packages available. Tickets are cheaper in advance online than they are at the gate. We were fortunate to purchase a two-day multi-park ticket which featured two extra days. Four full days of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Huzzah!
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
We opted to begin our day at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Upon arrival, we walked directly to Hogsmeade which is towards the back of the park. We chose this strategy of starting at the back in hopes of arriving at Hogsmeade ahead of the crowds. This seemed to work since we didn’t have too long to wait in line to ride Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey.
The Forbidden Journey is the feature ride and provides loads of atmosphere as the line winds its way through the hallways of Hogwarts leading to a 3D/4D thrill ride which includes some scary creatures and flying broomsticks. I got an extra treat when half way through our journey, the ride abruptly stopped. There was a momentary thought of news stories one hears about people stranded on rides for hours until they’re rescued by the fire department, but I controlled my panic and we were back on our way again in a few moments. Phewwww! My son assured me this was an unusual glitch so I rode again and all was fine!
As for Hogsmeade, it’s right out of the movies. The magical scenery, quirky shops, and tasty treats makes spending time here perfect for getting into the spirit. It was especially enchanting decked out for Christmas! It’s also conveniently located beside Hogsmeade Train Station leading to Kings Cross Station and points beyond.
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Universal Studios Florida
Prior to our visit, I had no idea what Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley or the Knight Bus were. If you find yourself in the same circumstances, fear not. It’s easy to make your way from the Kings Cross Station and blend in nicely in the Harry Potter city scenes of Universal Studios Florida.
There’s plenty to enjoy and see exploring Diagon Alley including spell-casting and a giant fire-breathing dragon overhead. However, the highlight attraction for us was hands-down Harry Potter and The Escape From Gringotts. Visitors walk through the grandiose lobby, past life-like goblins hard at work, and journey through vast passageways leading to an awesome underground thrill ride.
Wands And Other Wizardry
Prepare yourself to see men, women, and children dressed in character, waving wands, and casting spells. It’s to be expected in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If traveling with a serious fan, you may want to make the purchase of a wand your big splurge. There are multiple places to acquire the all-important wand, but it’s at Ollivander’s, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 B.C., where the wand chooses the wizard.
Gather round to see the wand ceremony where one special guest experiences the thrill of the wand choosing him or her. Even if you’re not the chosen one, it’s a magical memorable ceremony to watch and afterward guests are guided through the shop where they may search for the perfect wand.
Grown adults wearing Harry Potter robes can be seen ALL OVER Universal theme parks.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Beverages
If you’re not familiar with this particular refreshment, you will be!
No trip is complete without sampling the libations in Harry Potter World. Butterbeer is by far the most popular family-friendly beverage in the park. Frozen or not, a souvenir mug or plain cup – butterbeer is a must. If you’ve got a thirst for something a little stronger, might I suggest a Dragon Scale amber lager? It’s a winner after a long day of wizardry.
Muggles, Wizards, Uber, Express Passes, and Other Things
Yes, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is tons of fun, but don’t limit yourself to just wizardry. There’s so much else to do in addition to the Potter attractions, be a well-rounded wizard and spend time in other areas of the parks.
One of my favorites was the Jimmy Fallon Race Through New York. My husband loved The Hulk roller coaster and The Simpsons area is an absolute hoot. You’ll think you’ve stepped into the cartoon. There are park maps available at the park and online to asssit in planning your days so you’ll make the most of your time at Universal.
Avoid the lines and skip the wait with an Express Pass. Express Passes are a terrific time-saver, but are an added expense. You’ll want to guage the time of year and estimated crowds before purchasing express passes. Additionally, if you’re staying at one of the select on-site hotels, Express Passes are free with your hotel stay.
What to bring? I like traveling light, so a small backpack was perfect for Universal. I brought some snacks and sunblock and had a place to put my souvenirs. There are free lockers located next to most of the rides for storing your goods while you’re on your adventure which is really convenient.
Another great tip for visitors staying off site is Uber or Lyft. Both are extremly popular in Orlando and make accessing the theme parks super easy. Forgo the car and parking fees, download the app, and wait for your ride in the public transit area just outside CityWalk.
Speaking of CityWalk, it’s called The Epicenter of Awesome and for good reason. Situated just outside the parks, this is a hot spot for family fun, shopping, dining, and entertainment. An added Pull Over Tip – there’s free self-parking at Universal CityWalk after 6pm.
Note: He’s at the age where wearing matching Hogwarts shirts like Mom and Dad isn’t cool. Alas, they grow up so fast!
Regardless of whether you’re a Potter fan or not, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a memorable family adventure. My best advice to the non-Potter fan is to let go, immerse yourself, and enjoy the magical surroundings even if you just don’t get it. The memories you’re making are well-worth the puzzled perplexed feeling you’ll have.