Before you pack your bags, consider these fun and practical tips to help make your trip to Hogwarts even more magical.
You’ve saved your money. You’ve reread the series, drinking in every detail (and waiting in suspense for Ron and Hermione to finally seal the deal). You’ve sorted yourself into a house on Pottermore. You’ve secretly hoped that you’ll find a letter of acceptance from Hogwarts in your mailbox but sadly have yet to receive one. Now you’re finally ready to plan that trip to the famed castle itself, or at least to the closest variation that you can travel to in the muggle world!
A trip to Harry Potter world is a huge bucket list item for any Hogwarts fan. If you’ve talked to anyone who has visited, you probably already know that Harry Potter World is overflowing with vivid details to make you feel like you’re actually there, eating Bertie Bott’s Beans alongside Hermione and Ron. Whether you’re a Hippogriff riding daredevil, or more into kicking back, drinking a butterbeer and wizard watching, it’s got it all. Like with any popular tourist destination, it’s important to do a bit of research beforehand to make sure you don’t miss any of the magic (pun totally intended). Check out this list of twenty practical and fun things to know before you go, and get excited for the trip of a lifetime.
20 There are TWO parks
What’s better than one theme park completely devoted to your favourite wizard and his whimsical wizarding world?! Two parks completely devoted to this. That’s right. There are two Harry Potter worlds. The Harry Potter theme parks span the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida—at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. At the Islands of Adventure, you can visit Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade village, whereas Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios. Be sure to buy a Park- to-Park ticket, which will allow you to board the Hogwarts Express (um, yes!) and travel between both. How exciting!
19 It gets packed - consider staying onsite
It may be worth spending a little more to stay at a hotel onsite at Universal Studios. Why? As you can imagine, there are a lot of Harry Potter fans out there and chances are quite a few will be itching to get into the park at the same time you are. Reserving at a hotel at Universal Studios, although a bit pricier, will enable you to hit the ground running when the theme parks open in the morning. This means you'll get to hop on rides without waiting in long lines, explore Diagon Alley like you're the only one there and snap photos without getting photobombed by a family dressed up as the Weasleys. Win, win, win!
18 You can (and should) ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions
The ride from Hogsmeade to London is a lot more cheerful, so this is the version you may want to take if you have small children. You'll watch as the British countryside passes by your window and Harry, Ron and Hermione will even walk through the train corridor to see if they can grab a set in your train car. When you ride from Hogsmeade back to London, you'll see Death Eaters flying over London and Dementors will also try to board the train. Sounds like fun. Scary fun. Make sure to have your Patronus charm at the ready to frighten those Dementors away!
17 There’s a secret London entrance to Diagon Alley
Now, come on. This is cool. Who wants to walk through some boring gates when you can enter into a theme park through a secret entrance completely inspired by the books themselves. The creators of Harry Potter World wanted to recreate as much detail as possible, including the magical entranceway to Diagon Alley. In the books, you enter Diagon Alley by tapping a specific brick to unveil a hidden alleyway. At Universal, Diagon Alley is hidden behind a brick wall in the London section of the park. It's so hard to find for some people that Universal pays an employee to stand, shout and point at the attraction’s entranceway. So, in other words, you can’t miss it (and you won't want to!)
16 You can exchange muggle money for banknotes at Gringotts Money Exchange
Not to be confused with Gringotts Bank! Gringott’s Bank is home to the ride “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts”. To find Gringott’s Money Exchange, approach Gringott’s Bank, then turn right down the alley beside it. Gringott’s Money Exchange is so small you might miss it! It can be identified by a large glass window with scales measuring gold bars inside. Once inside, be sure to ask the goblin at the front any question at all and see what he says. Then, move along to the teller who will trade your muggle bills for wizard money. This can be used to buy food and souvenirs throughout the park, can be exchanged back at the end of your visit, or kept as a truly unique souvenir. COOL.
15 You will regret it if you bring a large bag
Any traveler will tell you that packing light brings a world of perks. It means less to carry around in the heat, less to get jostled around in crowds, and in the case of Harry Potter World, less to worry about while you go on rides. You are not allowed to bring bags on any of the rides at Harry Potter World and there are only small lockers available for locking up valuables (like purses and, you know, wands). Consider leaving anything bigger than a mini backpack at home. Also, it's definitely advisable to hit the rides before you load up with souvenirs unless you want to be wearing that woollen Weasley family sweater on a roller coaster in the hot Florida sun, and we’re guessing you probably don't.
14 Moaning Myrtle haunts the bathrooms
That's right. You read correctly. Moaning Myrtle haunts the bathrooms. Every bathroom. In most theme parks, you might be a little bit concerned to hear someone throwing a tantrum in the bathroom. In Harry Potter World, this is one of the truly delightful details of the adventure, which makes even going to the bathroom something memorable. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like ghosts) Myrtle herself does not make a visible appearance, but her moans are played on audio for everyone to hear as they use the facilities. This is just one of the many entertaining and magically on- brand details that Harry Potter World has in store. Curious about the others? Keep reading.
13 Avoid the Shops if you’re Claustrophobic
There's just no getting around this, unless you're the first to arrive at the park and do a marathon sprint through all the different shops, that is. Most of the shops are so small that two people can barely fit down an aisle side by side. If you are claustrophobic, or at all uncomfortable with crowds, be aware that you can buy almost all of the same souvenirs at the large souvenir shop by the main gate. Although most of the shops are a tight squeeze, Honeydukes and Zonkos are larger and promise a more pleasant shopping experience, not to mention being full of super fun stuff. Anyone care for a chocolate frog?
12 The rides just simply aren't for everyone
It turns out that riding a Hippogriff may not be all that it's cut out to be in the books. “Ride of the Hippogriff” is marketed as a family-friendly ride, and that it definitely is. Far from thrilling, this ride is a better fit for families that want to take kids on a rollercoaster ride that’s not too scary. On the other hand, “The Forbidden Journey” ride is extremely fun and exciting. It's a 3-D RoboCoaster simulator that takes you through the castle, into the Forbidden Forest, and onto the Quidditch pitch. Just don't go on this one directly after lunch, as it's notorious for making people sick to their stomachs.
11 Always Leave Room for Lunch
Harry Potter world boasts a variety of amazing dining spots, taken directly from the books. Also, unlike many other amusement park cafeterias, the food is actually good! Consider visiting the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade or The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, for some delicious English pub fare. If you're feeling like something on the strong side, you can go to the Hog’s Head pub (beside the Three Broomsticks) to sample some beer with fun thematic names like The Wizard’s Brew and Dragon Scale. You can also find these beers at the Leaky Cauldron and the Fountain of Fair Fortune in Diagon Alley. If you're not much of a brew drinker, but looking to try something equally on-brand than you’ll have to…
10 Have a Butterbeer, or seven
Seriously. These are just as good as you always dreamed that they would be. The Harry Potter World version is sweet, frothy and surprisingly refreshing. It's so good that even J.K. Rowling fell in love with it when she visited. Now, for a fun twist. Butterbeer is available in a variety of forms, including as a cold beverage, a frozen beverage and a hot beverage. Just to make matters more confusing (and delicious) you can also buy it in the form of ice cream, fudge and potted cream. Can't choose which one you want? Try all of them! You're only in Harry Potter World once, after all.
9 If you don't do anything else, visit the Knight Bus
Word has it that this is hands down one of the best things to do in Harry Potter World. Just like in the books, the Knight Bus is a full triple-decker bus, sitting in the streets of "London", just outside of Diagon Alley. Unfortunately, it does not fly, but it does boast a bunch of other fun features that you won't want to miss. Stanley, the conductor, is apparently hilarious, with lots of funny jokes and stories to share. In the Harry Potter books and film, there is a shrunken talking head named Dre Head which hangs from the front of the Knight Bus. This incredible detail is not missing from the mock bus. Also, get this; Dre Head not only talks but he actually talks *to you*, making actual conversation. We're not sure what kind of actual wizardry is at play here, but it's pretty darn cool!!!
8 You can (and should) call The Ministry of Magic
No prank calls here… You can really, truly do this! There is a red phone booth outside of King’s Cross station which makes for an excellent photo opportunity. On top of the fact that this is just so adorable and English, you can actually dial through to reach The Ministry of Magic itself. All you have to do is dial 62442 (MAGIC) and you'll be connected with the all-important organization. The verdict is out on whether you can actually carry on a conversation with the person on the other line, or whether this is more of an automated recording. Regardless, it's pretty cool to ring through to the Ministry, even if just to say a quick hello.
7 The Wand Choosing Ceremony is not to be missed
If you're lucky you'll get picked to choose your wand (or, more accurately, have your wand choose you). If not, you'll still get to watch something truly magical. One member of the audience will be chosen by someone who looks exactly like how you always pictured Ollivander to look. You will get to watch as they interact with each wand and eventually get chosen by *their wand*. In the store, the wands are all laid out exactly as they are in the books and movies, and can be purchased for $30-$50 a pop. This is the perfect opportunity to geek out and take home an amazing souvenir. Just be sure if you do purchase a wand to consider that….
6 Buying an interactive wand brings on even more magic
On the lower end of the pricing scale ($30ish) are your run of the mill wooden stick wands. They are still themed and make a great souvenir to bring home or to bring as a gift for a friend who didn't make it on the trip. For just $20 more, you can purchase an interactive wand, which you can actually use to cast pretend spells and create more magical experiences throughout Harry Potter World. Each interactive wand purchase comes with a wand, wand box and a map that marks all locations throughout Harry Potter World where you can use your wand. This is a fantastically fun purchase for kids (and big kids, of course.)
5 You can save money with these hacks
Amusement parks are expensive. Period. So, it’s good to cut costs where you can. You can purchase water at the Park but it costs a whopping $4 USD. It's branded as Gilly Water, which is extremely fun, but nobody wants to spend upwards of $20 on even fun branded water to quench their thirst throughout the hot day. Consider bringing your own reusable water bottle and filling up at water fountains throughout the park. Also, if you want to dress up, consider bringing your own wizard gear, as purchasing costumes at the park will cost you an arm and a leg (and that money is better spent on Butterbeer, honestly.)
4 Bring a good camera
Harry Potter World is so full of incredible details. It's extremely clear that the creators not only read the books, but loved them just as much as any other devoted Hogwarts fan. You're going to make some incredible and geeky memories here and you're going to want to remember them. While you're in the park, be sure to explore every nook and cranny of both theme parks so that you don't miss any bit of the magic. Also, be sure to pack a camera that will do justice to the fine details that the park has to offer. Be sure to bring a decent photographer along too, while you're at it. The last thing you want are a bunch of half thumb covered upside down shots, courtesy of the bad photographer in the group!
3 You can tour Hogwarts, even if you don't ride
Not everyone is a ride fan, and that is totally ok. This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the park from the very safe and comfortable vantage point of the ground. Did you know that you can ask for a tour of Hogwarts castle without riding the Forbidden Journey? In fact, word is that this may even be more fun as you go through some secret corridors and get to see talking paintings that you don't see on the actual ride. This is a great option for people that are prone to motion sickness, have medical problems and for small children that may not enjoy the ride itself.
2 Knockturn Alley is a must- visit
In the Harry Potter world, Knockturn Alley is the corner of Diagon Alley where all things “Dark Arts” are purchased. This part of Diagon Alley is not to be missed, especially for all of you Slytherins in the crowd. Head to Borgin and Burkes where you can check out some eclectic Dark Arts artifacts, including Death Eater masks. Also, watch for moving severed hands, dancing skeletons and spiders. This place is as delightfully detailed as it is disturbing. Oh, and did we mention that it's nice and dark inside, offering a slightly haunting haven away from the Florida sun? Be sure to check it out, just maybe consider leaving the youngster, or group scaredy cat, out for this one!
1 You’ll have more fun if you re-read the books first
Or rewatch the movies! This one goes without saying. Harry Potter world is so nuanced that you will be sure to have a much richer experience if you go in fully on top of your Hogwarts trivia. There are so many fine details to see… far too many to even mention in this article. That's probably for the best too, because we didn't want to spoil the whole thing for you! Also, consider sorting yourself into a house before you go. This will make it easier to pick out swag and souvenirs on site. Remember, this is the one place in the world where the coolest thing you can possibly be is the biggest and giddiest Harry Potter fangirl or boy (or wizard/witch) out there. So, go ahead, freak out, and have an amazing time!