Family tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida
August 6, 2018
July 2 was the 20th anniversary of the release of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
I remember discovering the book fairly soon after it came out. After reading the first in the series, I would anxiously await the next in the series. Now that I have children, I've had the joy of re-reading the series with my daughter and watching her fall in love with the stories, too. What better reason to make 2018 the year to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios?
Serendipitously a trip to Orlando, Florida, made its way into our family travel plans this year. We knew we had to take a day to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Was a day enough to make the most of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? What did we do right and wrong in planning? Was it worth it?
This mamma blogger did a bit of research first. It was enough to make the most of our limited time at Universal Studios' two parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. So, here's what we did right and what we learned along the way.
Where to stay
We stayed at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which was the least expensive of the three. There is a premium for any of these hotels. But it is worth it, particularly if you have limited time. When you stay at any of these Universal hotel properties you get free Universal Express Unlimited privileges. This allows you to wait in much shorter lines for all of the rides. If you have one day, like us, to explore two parks, then this is key to experiencing as much as possible. It has a value of $129.99 per person and if you are a family of four, then that is likely a larger value than the nightly cost of the hotel.
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At these hotel properties as well as the other four Universal hotel properties you also have access to the parks an hour earlier than the general public. So, if you can't swing the price of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel or Loews Royal Pacific Resort, then you should book one of the others. They include Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal's Aventura Hotel and Universal's Endless Summer Resort.
About Loews Royal Pacific Resort
The pool at Royal Pacific was busy but lush and beautiful. It has a fun splash pad that the kids really enjoyed. The room was lovely with lush tropical views out the window. We had room service delivered. Since we had a 3:30 a.m. travel start that morning we crashed early in the comfortable beds to the sound of rain. The next morning we were up bright and early to grab a quick bite to eat, check out and catch the boat over to Universal Studios for the early park hours. I wish we would have had more time to spend at the resort. Next time.
If you want to experience both Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, as well as the Hogwarts Express, then you must purchase tickets for two parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure). Yes, they get you here. You must also purchase tickets for both parks on the same day in order to be able to take the Hogwarts Express back and forth. We purchased these tickets online fairly last minute and I did notice that the price went up slightly the closer we got to the date of stay. I believe that it would be best to purchase these online as far in advance as possible.
Start at Diagon Alley
It was Universal Studios Florida that had the early opening hour for hotel guests. And, that is where the boat from the Royal Pacific went, so that is where we started. Diagon Alley was amazing. It was so fun to feel as though you were actually in a Harry Potter book.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringots was one of two rides open early so it was the first we hopped into line for. Both my daughter and I loved it. Even waiting in line was fun, at least as soon as you were actually in Gringots. The tellers were lifelike and there was every attention to detail. There were Daily Prophets along the way with moving photos, just as in the books. The ride was 3-D, a little scary but not too much. Our pre-K son wasn't too sure about it though.
Take the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts at Islands of Adventure
A life-like Hedwig watches you as you wait in line for the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure. Our express passes didn't make this line feel much shorter, but it was worth it. The train ride over was very cool. Take it both directions as there are different things going on outside the train window. You might even catch a glimpse of Voldemort. Also, there is something surreal about stepping out of a train station on a hot humid Florida summer day to Hogwarts Castle covered in snow.
The express passes sure did come in handy as we arrived at Islands of Adventure to loop the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. Even the pre-K boy loved this one. While a little jerky it had lots of fun twists and turns and views of Hogwarts.
We finally made our way over to Hogwarts Castle itself and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The castle itself was very cool, and so fun to see. But we were at meltdown warning zone by this point and made the decision to go into the castle but try the rider swap. Rider swap is where one adult can wait with a younger child while the other adult takes the older child on the ride. Then the adult who waited can take the ride with the older child upon their return. This ride would definitely have been too scary for a preschooler. However, our almost middle school daughter loved this ride. You soar through a quiddich match and throughout castle grounds led by Harry, Hermoine and Ron in a thrilling 3-D experience.
And that pretty much wrapped it up for us. A very short line for the Hogwarts Express ride back to Diagon Alley. A couple of quick rides on the way out. Then a boat ride back to Royal Pacific Resort. Pick up luggage and Silvercar and we were on the way to our next adventure.
Was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Worth It?
Yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando was worth it for us. Our daughter loved it. And, it only served to strengthen her love of Harry Potter books. It was expensive but we would do it all over again to have her continue to embrace the books and reading. And, the look of joy on her face that day was priceless.
The Universal Studios App has a great map with wait times for the rides. I'd highly recommend downloading before you start your day.
Don't bother bringing a camera. You will just have to lock it in the (free for limited amount of time) lockers when you get on any of the rides.
Be sure to get butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron or in Hogsmead. Mmmm, butterbeer is surely refreshing on a hot day.
If you plan on buying a wand with magic, then do it early so you can search for the magic. Maybe even purchase it at the hotel before arriving at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is best suited for those old enough to have read some of the books. And, it seemed to have a happening night-time environment ideal for teens and older. For those with younger kids, you might want to head over to Toy Story Land at Disney World instead.
Transportation to Universal Studios Orlando
Car rental is our second to least favorite part of travel. My husband hates that you can only reserve a car class or category and not the specific car. I always hate the paperwork and the pressure that I always feel to sign up for the extra insurance that bumps the price up. We both hate the exorbitant price charged for booster seats and car seats. And, trying to find a gas station to fill up as you are rushing to make your departing flight is always a pain.
But this time we got a car from Silvercar and it was seamless. Silvercar advertises taking all of that annoyance away. And, they succeed. You know exactly what you are getting down to the color, silver. It is as easy as could be, all done in advance through the app. And you don't have to worry about filling up the tank or extra charges adding up.
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