Trip Tips: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

If you, like me are (1) crazy about the Harry Potter books and movies and (2) get the magic of the theme park then you were no doubt over the moon at the opening of the Harry Potter Park at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.  If, unlike me, you have not yet had a chance to visit here is my account of my visit in December 2010 with my 11 year old nephew and 6 year old daughter.

Universal Studios Florida

Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure

The Universal Resorts in Orlando consist of two parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.  The parks are connected by CityWalk, an entertainment area with restaurants (including Emeril’s and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville) and a giant movie theater.  The resort area also consists of three hotels.  If you stay at one of these hotels you get an express entrance on to each of the rides, although Harry Potter is not included in the express package.

Arriving at Islands of Adventure (IoA)
The weekend we were there, Universal studios was offering a great special 2 for one (practically) to visit both parks.  We decided to head straight to IoA for our first day and brave the threat of rain.  And rain it did!  But no worries, we bought Harry Potter Ponchos and forged ahead.  As with any theme park, my most important piece of advice is to be ready to head in when the gates open and make a bee-line for your first priority attraction.  We headed straight for WWHP which is in the back of the park.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
First of all, if you are going with younger or smaller children, it is critical to be aware that there is a 48″ height requirement for entry into “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”  Although my 6 year old daughter has read many of the books, seen many of the movies and has no fear at all, she was not able to ride.  But the most important thing was that we were armed with this information prior to getting there, so expectations were managed and crisis averted!  More on that in a bit….

WWHP is not exactly an expansive area, but this adds to the charm.  And makes it a little crowded at times.  But this is one good thing about a rainy day at the park.  Crowds were seriously diminished that cold and rainy day.  So do not despair if the weather is less than perfect.  It may work to your benefit.  We bypassed the shops and headed straight for the castle, with a pit stop at “The Flight of the Hippogriff,” (a Jr. roller coaster) which was on the top of my 6 year old’s list.  She was truly terrified from the moment we actually sat down on the coaster.  We strongly encouraged her to not freak-out and when the ride was over she was screaming to go again.  Success.

After that, we headed straight to the entrance to Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey.  No line!  At the entrance, you are asked to put all loose items (umbrellas, purses, backpacks, etc…) into a free locker, then you are on your way.  On non-rainy days, and later in the day there are certainly long lines.  But if you get there first thing in the morning, it will be much less of a wait.  And on this particular ride, it is actually beneficial to have at least a bit of a wait to have time to take in the details of the castle and enjoy all the special effects, which are big time fun.  With no line, you miss out on a lot while you whiz right by, missing visits from the Hogwarts crew and the details of the story on which the ride is based. Keep this in mind when considering the single rider line – a better option for a second visit to the ride.

This brings us back to the 6 year old who could not ride the ride.  She had a blast simply touring the castle and was thrilled to find that there was a special “child swap” room where one adult can wait with the under-sized child while watching The Sorcerer’s Stone (HP movie #1 – but you already knew that, I’m sure) playing.  The “child-swap” is a great option for several additional reasons.  First, our party (my parent’s, sister and the two kids) got to bypass a lot of the line to participate.  Also, at the end of the ride, the other adult gets to go straight on the ride and my 11 year old nephew got to go again too.  Very exiting.

The Forbidden Journey ride is absolutely the best, most fun ride I have ever been on.  A combination of a dark ride that moves on a track with anamatronics and special effects and a virtual flight simulator (on steroids!) it is impossible to describe.  We all thought it was our favorite ride.  Period.  Certainly lived up to all of our expectations, especially because we got to ride it a second time with very little wait.

Food: The Three Broomsticks
Any fan of the books must eat at the three broomsticks.  GET THERE BEFORE the lunch and dinner rush.  It fills up fast.  Our party the adults ordered fish and chips and kids meals of mac-n-cheese.  The food, at typical theme park prices, was unexpectedly good.  You must try a butter beer.  Very thick and sweet but worth a try.  Must get water too!  The pumpkin juice was even better – more refreshing- like a twist on apple juice.  You order at the counter and carry it to a seat.  The staff was terrific in helping you find a table for your party and carrying/ navigating your plates through the crowds.  One server even saw me standing in line for waters and went and got it for me.  Also, don’t miss the bar adjacent to the Three Broomsticks if you find yourself in need.

Other Areas and Rides
I was thrilled (albeit surprised) that my daughter was indeed allowed to ride on Spider Man, another dark ride with virtual flight simulators and up until I rode Harry Potter, was the all time best and most high-tech ride ever.  She loved it as well as the Jurrasic Park river ride (where our ponchos also came in very handy). The Cat in The Hat  and the train ride in Suess Landing were also big hits with everyone.

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