Hi there! Yesterday, I returned home from my five day stay in Orlando. My friend and I visited Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for three days to see Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley for the first time :) We had a wonderful time thanks to some small tips that made a huge difference that I thought I would share in case anyone else wants to visit the magical world of Harry Potter. I highly recommend it :) So, here they are.
1. Package deal: The best thing we did was purchase our tickets in a Harry Potter Universal Package. It came with three park-to-park tickets, two breakfasts at the Harry Potter parks (The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron), access to City Walk clubs with no cover fee, an adorable welcome package and best of all, early admission to Diagon Alley all three days. Yes, it's pricey but you will feel it's well worth it the day you leave.
2. Early Admisson: If you purchase the package, you will be let into Universal Studios (US) an hour before the park opens to the public. So, during peak times, park hours are moved to 8am allowing early admission to begin at 7am. What they don't tell you is this. They let you in earlier. Here's how we did it. We arrived at the parking deck at 5:45 and got in line at the US turnstiles. They open the gates at around 6:25 allowing us to be guided to Diagon Alley to wait in line again until about 6:45 where we are let in. Then most everyone gets in line for Gringotts, all around 15 minutes before you're even supposed to be let into the park at 7am. So, when you go, check to see what the opening hour is, and plan to be in line at the gates an hour prior. This hour is precious time where only those with early admission have access to the park.
3. Hotel: If you're not staying at an on site resort, try to book a hotel that is on Universal Boulevard. This is the road that Universal Studios is on. During peak times, traffic can get crazy and the lights are really slow to change so, only having to turn left or right onto Universal Boulevard saved us a lot of hassle getting to the park early in the morning and going back midday when we left for a break.
4. Wait times: Diagon Alley opened it's doors officially on July 8th. We went the 12th-16th when crowds were still considered "heavy". Wait times for The Gringotts ride spiked to 6 hours by noon. Our biggest fear was that we wouldn't be able to see all of both parks in three days. However, because of our early admission and two other factors to be discussed next, we rode and saw everything in both parks (Harry Potter and non) at least twice, all in the first day. And we left two hours before the park closed. So, don't let wait times or crowds scare you away. It is definitely possible.
5. Schedule: The best day to visit Diagon Alley and both parks in general is on Sunday. Even though it's on the weekend, nobody is there. I mean, nobody. We rode Gringotts twice that morning and visited every shop in both parks way before lunch. And the whole day is like that. Monday and Tuesday the crowds kick back up to the usual high so if you can plan a Sunday into your trip, do so. I also recommend it being one of your first few days where your feet are still good to carry you through everything :)
6. Single Rider: Unless you are traveling with a big group, single rider lines are the way to go for all rides and attractions. Simply choose that entrance, walk with your friends all the way there, wait in like for like, 5 minutes, and re-ride a thousand times. While I would recommend going through the regular line at Forbidden Journey and Gringotts at least once to see the sights, doing single rider thereafter will allow you to enjoy the ride over and over again. While others waited for four hours for Forbidden Journey, my friend and I rode it 5 times in a row, walking right onto the ride each time. And 99% of the time, we would get on the same cart or at least the adjoining carts.
7. Rain: Rain will become your friend. Don't pack up if you see storm clouds because that's what everyone else will be doing. Embrace the cooling water and run to all the rides that now have no wait. Hours after it clears up, crowds will still be lighter than normal. In Orlando, a good rainstorm hits around 5 o'clock each afternoon, religiously. Roller coasters will still operate unless there is lightning. Good thing the two best HP rides are indoors :)
8. Grub: The food at The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron are cheaper than most places at the park. Except for breakfast for some weird reason, however you get two free with the HP package ;) But we decided to "splurge" for an English dinner on our last night at TTB only to find it was $12 on average per entree. And you get a lot of food, really good food. Delicious shepherds pie and apple pie. Mmmm pie.
9. Ask around: The HP workers are now your new mates. In Diagon Alley, there's a covered area in the back right called Carkitt Market where two shows are performed hourly, the witch songstress Celestina Warbeck and the ridiculously magical puppet show of The Tale of the Three Brothers. However, once you're in the park, there aren't any posted schedules of the shows. There are however, men walking around with black outfits and iPads with the schedules on them. Ask them when they are, you don't want to miss them!
10. Surprises: No, not the good kind. My last tip is to plan for the unexpected. During our trip, there were travel companies boasting 500+ fifteen year olds that spoke no English whatsoever, guided by about four travel guides. They literally engulfed the entire park. Every line, they were there, most of the time loudly chanting songs or cutting in line. So, if you're a person with a low tolerance for crowds (hello) or have the patience of a newborn (me again), seriously just prepare for anything. Speaking of which, now is not the time to look cute and buy new shoes. Wear your old faithful's and be sure to bring some band aids because you will get blisters, calluses, cuts, or if you're lucky enough like me, all of the above.
Most people don't know this (I saw no one else at the park do it) but outside of Diagon Alley in London there is a red phone booth that is the public entrance to the Ministry of Magic. Once inside, you can dial 62442 or 'MAGIC' and it will connect you to a delightfully fun phone call :)
So, there are my tips on how to get the most out of your vacation to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hope you can visit soon!