How to make the most of a trip to Harry Potter World?
March 1, 2016 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Friends are visiting Harry Potter World - How can I help them get the most out of the experience?

Two adult friends are going to Harry Potter World in a month. They are both late 20's and huge Harry Potter Fans. They will be traveling on the cheap where possible (grad students)
Two questions:
1. What do they need to know to get the most out of the experience? What does the average person miss that they find on the 2nd trip that they should find on the first go-around?
2. Is there something I can get/arrange for them to make it a memorable experience? I was thinking gift certificate but that's boring. Can I arrange for something "special" for them when they arrive? Can I get Dumbledore announce their names over the loud speakers?

Any thoughts/insights are appreciated. They found cheap flights from here (Boston) down so that's taken care of. They are just going to be there for a long weekend. Is there anything outside of the park worth visiting on such a short time frame?
posted by Farce_First to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been to Harry Potter World in a few years, but here's some tips based on my last experience:
- The wand shop is fun, but it's a bit of a wait and only one person out of each group of 20 or so gets "fitted" for a wand. Definitely skip the souvenir wand of your own, they're cheaply made overpriced molded resin. Get a real wooden Etsy model if you want your own custom wand.
- The candy shop is excellent, and is pretty much the only place left to get Bernie Botts beans and other Harry Potter sweets. Stock up if possible.
- Get a picture with the Hogwarts Express and whatever other Kodak spots they've added. This is probably the best value you'll get from the place. Geek out over any costumed characters you may find. I don't know of any special things you could arrange for them, maybe just subsidize their candy haul?
- I don't recall any of the Potter-themed rides being that great. YMMV.
- Harry Potter is just one part of a larger theme park, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. Save some time to visit the rest of the park since you're already there. The Jurassic Park part was fun.
-Likewise, it's in Orlando. There's tons of tourist trap things to do there. This may sound weird, but my recommendation for non-potter activities in Orlando would be to visit Gatorland. It's cheap, and my wife and I were surprised how much fun we had there and how well the gators there are treated. We expected something exploitative like a zoo or Seaworld, but it's way more like a gator rescue and preserve.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:34 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you know travel dates? I may be able to do something for your friends. Memail me.
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:55 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jelly Belly renamed their Bertie Botts beans Bean Boozled.

The Noble Collection sells wands for most of the characters;I was able to order a Lupin wand from them.
posted by brujita at 7:03 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't been since they first opened, but am hoping to go back this year, so I'm watching this thread intently (can I MeMail you too, JazzHands?)

I thought the wand experience was worth it, since they really do try to recreate the scene, and it's fun to watch even though you won't be chosen. Harry Potter World is a small area of the park, even with the expansion, so if all they're interested in is the Harry Potter part, then I wouldn't skip it. They also introduced interactive wands, which you can use to "cast" easter-egg spells in certain sections of the park. I have heard it's really cool, but pricey, so if you're looking for a gift, that might be something they'd enjoy that they wouldn't splurge on for themself.

The rides are almost all of the sort where you sit in an enclosed compartment and watch a screen while your car jiggles and tilts with the motion of what you're watching. We found it really vomit-inducing, so I'd recommend having a dramamine or seabands handy if they're prone to motion sickness.

Universal has a lot of cool areas that will be included in their park passes, but it's technically two separate parks, so they may not be able to access everything (depending on what sort of tickets they're buying). There's a Blue Man Group show right on the grounds - it's really worth it, if they haven't been yet.

My favorite Orlando attraction (though like everything is crazy expensive) is the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba at Disney Springs. Just mindblowing.

Seconding Gatorland. It's a hoot.
posted by Mchelly at 7:42 PM on March 1, 2016

I went last February. We are roller coaster people, and were enthusiastic about the whole park, so we spent a day in each piece of Universal Studios with 2/3 of each day being spent in the Harry Potter portion of that park. Roughly speaking. Arrive promptly in the morning, and dive right in. Get the park app on your phone, and take the estimated ride wait times as a reasonable guideline. Make time to do all the rides at least once. The main Hogwarts ride and the main Gringotts ride are story-based movie-rides, like a combination of a physical moving car (in all directions and pivots) and a virtual roller coaster so you feel like you're moving much faster than you actually are. Waiting an hour in line for those isn't torture, there is good scenery all over, and pieces of story (character scenes, portraits talking, etc) as you get closer.

Very cool that there are installations which can be operated by a wand - a doting mom buys their kid a wand with a chip in the tip of it, and the kid stands on a marked spot (in front of a shop window) moves the wand in the specified pattern (to levitate an object) and the object in the window levitates. Basically technology to activate a moving display (or turn on a fountain, or light show or etc), but it's admittedly really fun to see it go. I wasn't (very) tempted to buy a special wand, but I did enjoy watching other people use theirs.

Each shopping district has their own specialty. Some stuff looks very much the same (i.e. if you want a Harry Potter logo key ring you can get it in most of the shops) but in general the shops are all themed, and actually going in to the different shops makes a difference in what's for sale. Athletic jerseys in the Quidditch shop, school-house sorted tshirts in Hogsmeade, paper goods notebooks and pens in Scrivenshafts, black goth gear in Knockturn Alley, etc. So if you have a half-notion to buy something in Hogsmeade don't assume you can find it tomorrow in Diagon Alley.

One of the lucky things about being there during a cold snap was that the crowd looked great - every kid who got a souvenir school robe kept it on all day long, and everyone was buying gyffindor hats and scarves to stay warm.

Note, hot butterbeer tastes like a really sweet caramel latte sans coffee, and frozen butterbeer tastes like a slurpee with whipped cream on top. My favorite was the standard soda-style, which tastes like caramel Vernor's with soft whipped cream on it. Not the thing for people who don't like sweet as a dominant flavor, but fortunately I don't suffer from that affliction. :) There are plenty of other interesting-sounding beverages that I didn't try because I was lured in by the butterbeer.
posted by aimedwander at 8:28 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Single rider line is your friends friend. For the two big rides (Gringott's and Hogwarts), go through the long regular line once for the flavor (the portraits! Jeeves! The goblin hall! Watching all the wizarding newspapers!), then single ride it up to cut a two+ hour line down to 20 minutes and get hip checked by Draco on the pitch to your heart's delight.

Also, the butter beer and pumpkin juice are vile.

Also, if they're hardcore book fans, they should get the inter-park pass at least one day because the Hogwarts express ride delighted me to the bottom of my nerdy soul.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:30 PM on March 1, 2016

If they've got basically 2 days in Florida, spend them both at the park. We had a great time spending a 9 day trip, there's plenty of other things to do (especially for New Englanders seeing the sun for the first time in months!) but assuming they love Harry Potter, the park really takes 2 days, and I wouldn't encourage them to spread too thin.
posted by aimedwander at 8:31 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't say how long your friends will be visiting Universal for, but my husband and I did one day at Universal last September (low season, which I imagine April would be as well?). I'll list as much detail as I can from our trip so your friends can decide the extra that we spent was worth it.

1. Stay at one of the three Universal Deluxe hotels (Royal Pacific is the cheapest) - we spent $224 on the room by booking on Orbitz when they had a code for 20% off + ~$20 for parking (I consider this price to be quite expensive. Our other days in Orlando were about $80). This will allow your friends to enter one of the parks one hour early (the hotel will tell them which park opens early when they check in) PLUS gives your friends express pass to most of the rides apart from Gringotts and Forbidden Journey. The early access and express passes are useable on BOTH the check in and check out days (so if they stay one night they can get the benefits over two days).

The best part about getting in early was that we went to Ollivanders and they did a wand choosing ceremony with just the two of us!! They also modified it so that both of us were involved in the action. We were also able to take lots of photos with just a few passersby and had all of Nocturn Alley to ourselves for a few minutes.

We did Gringotts first, with about a five minute wait. When we went over to IoA, the train was about 10min wait, Forbidden Journey was about 20min (once they get into the actual building, the pre-ride section is amazing so I wouldn't have minded a bit longer here) and the train ride back was about 15min wait. The extra hour that you get is absolutely worth it. Also, show up about 20 minutes before the opening time as we were allowed to go in at about quarter to.

For the non-HP rides, we generally waited around 5 minutes for each ride when the normal wait time was 30-45 minutes. We did everything that we wanted to so consider the extra that we spent on the hotel to be value for money (although TBH IoA didn't have too many rides that interested us so we didn't spend too much time there).

If the deluxe hotels are not possible financially, they can also stay at the other two Universal hotels and some off-site hotels as they include early access but doesn't include the express passes. So if they're planning a couple of days in the parks then the wait times probably won't matter so much.

2. We bought one of the wands chosen for us at Ollivanders and had a bit of fun doing the interactive stuff around the park. We didn't buy much of anything else, so ~$50 for a wand that you can use on the day was worth it for us. It looks pretty nice in its case as well so it's on our display shelf at home. Make sure that it's the interactive one though.

3. They know that they need a park-to-park ticket to ride the HP train, right? And that train ride is different in each direction?

4. We had a shared breakfast at Three Broomsticks - the spiced pumpkin drink was nice. Also had the frozen and hot butterbeers, which were okay.

5. I really liked Kennedy Space Centre and I'm not even that big of a fan of space stuff. It's about an hour's drive each way though.

If you want to do something special for them, I'd suggest getting them a night at one of the deluxe hotels (or split the cost with them).
posted by fallsauce at 1:03 AM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've honestly gone just for the food. The Three Broomsticks is good, but the Pig one in Diagon Alley is better. Be prepared for long waits (like lines to get into the restaurant as long as for a ride), so don't wait until you're starving or have some candy/snacks to munch on. There are mini shows in Diagon Alley with singing witches. That's fun. Definitely be there as early as possible, preferably when the park opens. Also, Mythos in IoA is a top rated restaurant, although I haven't tried it yet. Do get the glass tumblers with the house crests, they are magical. As in I fangirl every morning when I drink orange juice out of the handsome Slytherin one. Know that it will be hot, tiring, and most certainly crowded but so worth it. Btw, every ride is worth going on for the experience, but the dragons one is probably the best roller coaster type. Have fun!
posted by lunastellasol at 5:00 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best advice is to either stay at one of the hotels that gives you the express passes or just buy the passes.

Also get the 2-park ticket to experience the Hogwarts Express: start with Universal Studios and then go to Islands of Adventure via the train to get the proper experience (i.e. leaving from platform 9 3/4).

I was able to do all the HP rides and 3-4 others in both parks with just half a day in November. Most of the parks consist of gift shops, and a lot of the rides are very kid-oriented. As an adult and a HP fan I would say one day is more than enough time.

The express pass is the key.
posted by exolstice at 5:56 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I followed the very good advice found in an earlier thread on the subject and had a great time with my daughter 3 years ago. I understand they've added some features, but I think a lot of the info is still good. Have fun! We did!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:09 AM on March 2, 2016

1) Get a multi-park pass… necessary to ride Hogwarts Express and go to both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Not something to cheap out on. (And if they’re into roller coasters or water rides, the rest of Universal has some really good ones.)
2) The interactive wand stuff is cool. If you want to give them a gift and they’re staying at a Universal resort, I’m betting that you could arrange to have one waiting for them in their room when they arrive.
3) I stayed at Cabana Bay because it was the cheapest Universal resort that enabled early entry. The shuttle worked well, the pools were great. I get tired easily so went in the morning, went back to the hotel for lunch in my room and some rest, and went back out later. (Do check the room for bedbugs before unpacking though.)
4) I went in November so express passes were not necessary. The crowds in the tiny shops and such would have driven me crazy if I went during a more crowded period.
5) If it’s their birthday, anniversary, etc. they can get buttons that say that, which makes it more likely they’ll get chosen at Ollivander’s, and all the staff will talk to them. (My daughter, who had one for her 11th birthday, got tired of that and took it off post-wand.)
6) I’m broke so in addition to leaving for lunch (and also bringing dinner to eat at the hotel; it had a fridge and microwave), I brought in granola bars, cashews, etc. too. instead of buying food in the park.
7) Two or three day tickets probably won’t cost much more than one-day. We did it all in one day, but we didn’t have any crowds to deal with, and we still enjoyed going back on the second day.
posted by metasarah at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

If they are roller coaster fans: The “Dragon Challenge” coaster has two different tracks (red and blue), and you can choose which track to ride when you get to the front of the line. So they should pay attention to which track they end up on, and then go back and ride the other one too.

The Wizarding World areas are quite far from the entrances to each park, so make sure you know where to go when you get to the park entrance. (If you get there during the early entry time, the staff will direct you straight to right place.)

There are a few easy-to-miss Potter-themed things in the “Muggle” London area outside of Diagon Alley, like the (non-functional, purely decorative) doors to the Leaky Cauldron and Number 12 Grimmauld Place. And some not-so-easy-to-miss ones like the Knight Bus.

The simulator ride inside of Hogwarts was my favorite ride, but it’s fairly hard to understand the story behind the ride, which unfolds through a series of scenes as you go through the line. The dialogue is very difficult to hear, and it’s easy to miss parts if the line is moving too quickly. You might want to find a summary of the plot somewhere if you don’t want to miss things. The same is true to some extent of the Gringotts ride. (In both cases the “story” is really just a bunch of excuses for various things that happen during the ride, so it’s also fine to just go along for the ride without trying too hard to understand.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:07 AM on March 2, 2016

I would also recommend starting in Muggle London (checking out the Knight Bus and the door to Grimmauld Place and everything), because then they get to have the amazing experience of walking through a twisty brick passage (they play some sound effects that sound like the bricks shifting out of the way) and entering into Diagon Alley just like Harry being led in by Hagrid. The "reveal" experience of seeing this part of the park for the first time was surprisingly emotional for me; I definitely thought "oh, now I understand the people who cry at Cinderella's castle." And then when they're all done in Diagon Alley, they can go back to Muggle London's King's Cross station and take the train to Hogwarts.

The other cool thing I noticed was an unexpected glimpse of Diagon Alley from the Simpsons-themed land. When you're standing in Springfield, you can look across the water and see the London streetscape. But if you look closely at the rooftops, you can see just the very tiny tip of a dragon's tail peeking above the houses -- this is the dragon perched on the roof of Gringott's Bank. And if you catch the timing just right, you can occasionally see an impressive ripple in the air above that dragon tail: the wave of heat coming up when the dragon breathes fire. When I noticed that I thought it was a nice little hint of the magical world otherwise entirely hidden behind the row houses.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 6:28 PM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

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