I’m writing this blog after having spent a day doing ONLY the Harry Potter stuff at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
Before my trip, I had Googled and searched and asked questions and tried to figure out how to do only the Harry Potter stuff but I couldn’t get a firm grasp on the details. I was frustrated and confused and, yes, irritated. Everything I found assumed the reader had been to Universal Studios and/or Islands of Adventure before, but I had not – so their advice and recommendations left a lot out. So I am going to post this detailed information here, based on my personal experiences. Here’s a map showing the locations of Hogsmeade (left) and Diagon Alley (right):
First: buy your ticket online. If you want to visit both parts of the Harry Potter experience (Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade), you must purchase a “park-to-park” ticket. These tickets are not dated, so buy whenever you can, and check the opening dates/times on the Universal Studios website so you know when to get there. If you are only doing the Harry Potter portions, I don’t recommend the Express Pass because it’s no good on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, or Hogwarts Express. The quickest way through the lines is to go as a “single rider,” which means whenever there is a group of three, you’ll get the extra seat in their row/car. (The Hogwarts Express can have up to six or eight people in a compartment.)
I took an Uber (less than $7) from our hotel to the “guest drop off” area for Universal Studios. This is an important thing to remember: if you want to go to Diagon Alley first and Hogwarts/Hogsmeade second (following Harry’s timeline), this is what you need to do. Have your Uber drop you at the guest-drop (see the red arrow, below):
After you tip your driver (I always carry a few $1’s for this) go up the escalator and across the huge open space to security screening, represented by the curved blue line on the map below. You don’t need your ticket at this point. After clearing security (think: airport, but leave your shoes on), you’ll be in for a long-ish walk that includes two moving sidewalks and an escalator back to ground level, where you will walk through a gaggle of restaurants and such to the main gates. The red dots show the path you will take:
Once at the main gates, visit Guest Services (to your right) to have your “print at home” ticket exchanged for a small credit-card sized ticket that is easier to carry. Ticket in-hand, proceed to the gate where the attendants will link your ticket to your fingerprint. Do not lose the paper ticket! It must be shown to board the Hogwarts Express between the two parks.
OK – back to getting inside the park. Fingerprinted and ticket safely stowed, make your way to London. The green arrow shows the entrance gate where you were just fingerprinted, and the red arrow points to “London” in Universal Studios.
There are two paths you can take there, depending on what time you arrive. If you arrive before official opening time, you will be diverted through “Hollywood.” Wander down Hollywood Boulevard, and hang a left at Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard, then a right on The Embarcadero. Follow The Embarcadero toward the right, keeping the lake/lagoon on your right (red dot path, below). Keep looking ahead and you will eventually see London on the left. If you arrive after official opening time, there is a more direct route to London (blue dot path, below):
See that red building directly under the letter J on the image? That’s the entrance to Diagon Alley! Go through the Leicester Square Underground “entrance” and you will walk through the wall of “moving” bricks, directly into Diagon Alley!
Gringotts is straight ahead, with the fire-breathing dragon on the roof. That’s also where the Harry Potter & the Escape from Gringotts ride is (enter on the right-hand side of the building) -and it’s the best of all the Harry Potter rides, by far, in my opinion. This is also the only ride in this section of Harry Potter-Land. You will have to stow everything but what will fit in your pocket; free (45 minutes – “while you ride”) fingerprint-activated lockers are located behind the goblin standing on the pile of Galleons, also to the right of Gringotts.
About that dragon: Every ten minutes the dragon “breathes fire” – or so they say. Sometimes it just makes a lot of noise with no flames…
Diagon Alley has been blogged about extensively, so I won’t go into much detail here, other than to say breakfast and lunch at the Leaky Cauldron are very decent, food-wise. You can get butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, and if you want to stand in line to go through the “wand selection experience” you can, at Ollivanders. Know, though, that if you just want a wand, there are ample opportunities elsewhere to purchase a wand (either plain or interactive), in a variety of stores.
Once you’ve seen Diagon Alley–be sure not to miss Knockturn Alley, which is well-hidden between the Leaky Cauldron and Florean Fortescue’s)–
–go back out the brick wall and turn right to King’s Cross Station. This is where you will get on the Hogwarts Express.
Your ticket/fingerprint will be scanned, and you will enter a fairly realistic interpretation of the real King’s Cross in London, complete with train/track announcements and schedule boards. You will walk through a brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 to get to Platform 9¾.
When you get on the train, you will notice that the windows are actually television screens, and you will see silhouettes of Ron, Harry, and Hermione through the compartment door, and hear their conversations.
The train arrives directly in Hogsmeade, which is the only section of Islands of Adventure (locals call it “IOA”) you will need to visit in order to see the Harry Potter stuff.
There are three rides in this section: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Dragon Challenge. The Forbidden Journey ride is indoors and lots of fun – again, you will have to stow everything that won’t fit in your pockets in a locker. While waiting in line, you will see the Sorting Hat, and you will board your rollercoaster car under an enchanted ceiling of floating candles.
The Dragon Challenge requires you to put everything in a locker. Your pockets must be empty to ride it, and you will have to go through a metal detector prior to boarding. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a “kiddie-type” coaster, but it’s kinda cute.
My plan was to ride the Gringotts ride and take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade to ride the rides there. Then I planned to shop, so I wouldn’t have to wag bags of goodies all over the place, or worry that my wand bag wouldn’t fit in the lockers. My shopping started in Hogsmeade, and then I took the train back to Diagon Alley–and you really should take it both ways because it’s different depending on which way you’re traveling–where I had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, had butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, bought more stuff, then headed back toward the park entrance. I made my final purchases of HP goodies at the WB studio shop that I passed on my way in (very near the entrance), just for convenience.
Retrace the red dots from the gate to the guest drop-off. It will seem like a very long walk! Back at the guest drop-off, I hailed my Uber and was back at the hotel about 10 minutes later. I spent about 6 hours in the park; when I return, I will spend more time because I definitely want to ride the Gringotts coaster several times. It’s that good.
The one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was that some rides might be “experiencing technical problems,” so build in extra time to wait – just in case.
Questions? Did I leave anything out? Feel free to ping me with specific questions and I’ll be glad to answer.