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Guys, I have a confession: I’m a full-fledged Harry Potter geek.
I have been for….quite a while now. I’ve read all the books at least five times. I’ve seen the movies even more frequently than that. I own The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I have an account on Pottermore. I’m an HP geek, and I’m ok with that.
So, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been dying to get back to Universal Studios in Florida ever since they opened their second “world” in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley.
And this past weekend, we got the opportunity, when a friend’s wedding brought us to Orlando for a few days. We flew in for free using Southwest points from our Southwest companion pass, then booked our hotel, The Loews Royal Pacific Resort, through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. (We paid cash, but got a 20% discount on the rate, earned 3x Ultimate Reward points, and got credit for a stay on Loews’ loyalty program.)
The short duration of our stay also presented its own challenge: at best, we’d have less than one day, from park opening until 4pm, to get our Potter fill.
Luckily, we’d already done the rest of the attractions at Universal’s two parks on a previous Orlando trip. So we set out to maximize our precious few available in-park hours.
That meant, above all else, we needed to stay in a Universal-affiliated hotel. When you stay at one of their proprietary hotels, Universal gives you special access to one of the Universal parks an hour before the general public. On this trip, that meant we got to enter Universal Studios at 7am, whereas the general public couldn’t enter until 8am. Islands of Adventure park opened to all at 9am.
This also set helped us set our schedule: we knew we needed to tackle all the high-popularity Diagon Alley attractions when the crowds were at their lowest, right at 7am. Additionally, we’d want to be on the train to Hogsmeade Village in order to arrive right around 9am as well, to beat those crowds.
In this way, we could see both Harry Potter areas before the crowds (and the lines) got unmanageable. Our final plan was to take the return ride on the Hogwarts Express to see the London area (outside of Diagon Alley, but also Harry Potter themed) and a quick stop by the Simpsons attractions to cap off the day.
It’s also worth mentioning three additional tools that helped us in this.
- First of all, we needed Park-to-Park tickets, because the Wizarding World of Harry Potter actually spans two parks: Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure. And we needed them to be real tickets, not ticket reservations, so we didn’t have to waste any time at guest services upon entry. After multiple trips to Universal & Disney, I’ve always found the best tickets prices via Undercover Tourist. And luckily, we’ve partnered with Undercover Tourist just for this article, to give Mrs. Millennial readers a great deal: if you book your tickets through the following link, you can save $42 on Universal 2-Park 2-Day Park to Park, and get an extra day for free!
- Second, we got free Universal Express passes for staying at a Universal hotel — meaning we got to skip the line completely at certain rides like the Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff.
- Finally, I’m a HUGE fan of the site TouringPlans.com. The geniuses behind this site (which started with the Disney parks, but now includes Universal) have all kinds of advice, strategy, and tools to help you plan your theme park vacation according to your own preferences. You can choose for example, to focus on only the scariest (or tamest!) rides, focus on taking a route that minimizes walking, or pick an order that will minimize waiting in line. TouringPlans also offers apps with the posted and actual predicted wait times currently being experienced in a park, ride outages, and even a predictor of whether the line will go up or down in the near future. It’s a great in-park tool.
As a result of this planning, it seemed like we were about 10 minutes ahead of the lines all day long. Our longest wait was at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and the trek through the greenhouse took about 15-20 minutes. We did Escape from Gringotts with less than a 10 minute wait. (Both attractions frequently see 2+ hour waits and no Express pass option.)
Another nice attraction worth hitting up early in the day is the wand-sorting ceremony at Ollivanders. In this ceremony, they pick a lucky young “wizard” to try out wands, and in my particular group — it was me! Apparently, I was set out for an oak wand with a dragon heart string core. The ceremony itself is fun, but if you actually buy the wand, you can also use it around the park at designated spots to make some of your own magic happen. We had a lot of fun with these, but again, they’re only worth doing in the early morning — by 11am or so, you were looking at a 10-minute wait on each magic spot, and they honestly aren’t quite *that* cool.
All in all, we had a great time. We stayed in the park until about 1pm, at which time the crowds were getting pretty crazy, and the heat and humidity were too. We retired to our hotel pool for a quick dip, then squeezed in a quick nap before we headed off to the wedding.
Let me know what you want to know about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I’ll answer in the comments below!