In the early 2000s, budding Potter fans had little hope for leaving their humdrum muggle existence behind and entering the magical worlds of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. No matter how many times they read the series, they were left to wait desperately and despairingly for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which they knew in their heart of hearts would never arrive.
Today’s generation of “Harry Potter” acolytes has it much easier. Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida offers young and old fans alike a wizarding wonderland full of shops and rides designed to dazzle even those with a superficial knowledge of the series’ sensational secrets. With 20 acres of magical fun, it is no wonder this addition to the amusement park has brought in millions of attendees to dramatically increase the park’s profits. In fact, only six months after the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010, the park announced that it had sold its millionth brew of butterbeer.
Your family may be utterly enchanted by the promise of Universal Studio’s magical realm, but you probably have some doubts about the shops, the rides, and the crowds. Fortunately, with a little guidance, you can prepare fully for your trip to the Wizarding World — unlike Harry while he searched for those Horcruxes.
If you and your family make hotel reservations at any of Universal Studio’s four on-site hotels, you are granted early admission to the parks, which means you and your kids will have one hour to see the busiest attractions before the rest of the biggest crowds arrive. Because the Wizarding World remains the newest and most visited region of the park, you can spend your morning touring the shops and riding the rides.
However, it is important to note that Universal Studio’s hotels can be a bit costlier than off-property lodgings. You can stay on budget by booking your flight to Florida on Flights.com. Alternatively, you can stay at a budget hotel for most of your trip and move on-site for the night before you plan to visit the Wizarding World.
Eat the Food
You might be tempted to smuggle in your own snacks and lunches to save money. While in-park meals can be expensive, in the Wizarding World, the experience is well-worth the price. Unlike hamburgers and French fries you’re likely to find in other amusement parks, the Wizarding World offers all the unique British cultural foods mentioned in the books, many of which your kids likely have never seen or tasted before.
There are a handful of restaurants and food stands to fill you up when your energy flags, but the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade are by far the most bountiful and immersive. For dessert, stop by Honeydukes or Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
Use the Facilities Beforehand
Little ones don’t have the best track record for letting you know when they need to go, and unfortunately, the Wizarding World has precious few restrooms to relieve the pressure of tiny bladders. Diagon Alley is particularly egregious of this crime, as there is only one bathroom located in a far, back corner — and as you might expect, there is always a long wait. Before you head to the Wizarding World, and Diagon Alley in particular, you should schedule a family pit stop to mitigate potential bathroom emergencies.
Look for Magical Secrets
Just like the books, the Wizarding World parks contain countless cute (and crucial) details designed to delight those paying close attention. If you and your family keep your eyes peeled, you might be able to spot any of the following hidden treasures around Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and Hogwarts Castle.
- Shrunken heads singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” in Knockturn Alley
- Talking snake in front of the Magical Menagerie
- Self-playing cello in the window of Dominic Maestro’s Music Shop
- Moving cat made of Measuring tape in Gladrags Wizardwear
- Kreacher peeking out a window at 12 Grimmauld Place
- Moaning Myrtle’s cries in the Hogsmeade restrooms
- The red phone booth outside King’s Cross dials the Ministry of Magic with 62442 (“magic”)
- Potions class in session in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride
- Voldemort appears in front of Malfoy Manor during Hogwarts Express ride to Diagon Alley
- And literally hundreds more.
Photos by Scott Smith on Flicker’s Creative Commons.