So we have a confession. We don’t really like Universal Studios. We don’t know what it is, but it’s just really not our thing. Maybe its because we grew up an hour from the roller coaster capital of the world and it takes a lot to excite us in the thrill ride department. Or maybe its because its just not Walt Disney World. Whatever it is, we can usually pass on Universal Studios. But, we do LOVE Harry Potter.
UPDATE: Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
With the addition of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, how you plan your day can vary greatly around what we’ve laid out here. Not only have wait times been hours long, but the ride isn’t consistently running due to technical difficulties and Universal Studios trying to provide the best experience possible for all guests who are riding it. Therefore, the ride may or may not be available during your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and as a result is not included here. Once the ride is successfully running consistently for guests, we will retest our strategy and report back here!
Wizarding World of Harry Potter in One Day
We had several days there, but if you’re wondering if you can squeeze the Wizarding World in during your Walt Disney World vacation, are only able to afford one days worth of tickets, or just really don’t feel like spending a ton of time in a theme park, never fear. Its actually not that difficult to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day. Here’s how we recommend you do it!
We cannot stress how important this is. This will save you a TON of time. By early, try to be among some of the first people there. If they say they are opening at 8 am, be in line at 7:30, you get the point. That being said, in order to be some of the first people there, you will need early admission ticket.
You don’t have to stay on site for this perk, but you will want to book your vacation including accommodations and tickets through a Universal vacation package. We stayed offsite at a nearby partner hotel that was literally a 4 minute drive from Universal and saved hundreds of dollars while still getting early admission.You can find the early admission calendar here, to see which park is opening early, at what time on what days.
Having this will make a HUGE difference in wait times whether you are arriving at early or at park opening. Islands of Adventure usually opens first, so you’ll want to head there and go straight to the back of the park, to Hogwarts castle. Its the only part of the park open early, so just follow the crowd.
Stop to take a few pictures of the empty Hogsmeade and then go straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. When we were there, we had a 10 minute wait at 8am. I’m never one to complain about not waiting, but this is a queue I would go through again and again just to see the details. It is stunning and is really something to experience. We kind of let people go in front of us so we could take it all in, the line was just moving that fast. This is a queue that you will have to store your belongings in a locker for, so if you want pics, make sure you bring your phone or something that fits in your pocket. I brought my gopro and it was fine.
Get the park to park pass
This is really non negotiable. The only way to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day is to have this pass. If you don’t, you’re going to miss one of the parks, its that simple. Mainly, because you will need a park to park ticket to ride the train between Hogsmeade Station and Kings Cross Station.
After you’re finished flying above Hogwarts with Harry, head over to the Hogwarts Express. Unless of course, you want to grab a Butter Beer, which trust me you do, then head over to Hogsmeade Station.
The Hogwarts Express will usually start running around 8:30ish(assuming that the Universal opens at 9) so if you can be amongst the first on that train ride over to Kings Cross Station, it will put you ahead of the people who are coming in at open at Universal Studios.
Diagon Alley is located at the back of Universal, so taking the train over early will put you ahead of those racing to the back even if you don’t catch the first train out of Hogsmeade. You’ll want to experience the train in both ways anyway so this is your first opportunity. It’s a pretty short ride and is the only way you should be getting from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley
Once you get to Diagon Alley, take a few minutes to take a few photos without all the people and head over to Escape from Gringotts. This was our absolute favorite ride there and I think we rode it 10 times. This is another one you will need to store your belongings, so throw your stuff in a free locker and head to the bank!
Diagon Alley is SMALL and it gets very crowded very quickly. Since shopping is a huge part of the experience in Diagon Alley, my recommendation is to head straight to the shops after you’ve had your fill of being chased by Bellatrix and Voldemort at Gringott’s.
Shop the Shops!
We loved Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes of course! And if you’re in need of a wand you can visit Ollivander’s for the wand ceremony-there’s a shop in both locations- and I recommend you start this early as well. The lines to perform spells can get pretty long, so if you’re planning to buy a wand, do it early to get ahead of the game. If you’re not interested in seeing the wand ceremony(we recommend that you do), you can also buy a wand from various carts throughout the Wizarding World.
While in Diagon Alley, visit Gringott’s money exchange, the Leaky Couldron, Florean Fortescue’s for some ice cream, get critiqued by a very judgemental mirror at Madam Malkins and stop by The Fountain of Fair Fortune for Butter Beer.
Make sure to check out the shows in Carkitt Market, they are incredible and you won’t want to miss them. Listen to the magical vocal stylings of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Or watch the magical puppeteers perform stories from Tales of Beetle the Bard. They’re all great and are a nice break from the heat as that area is shaded.
And don’t miss Knockturn Alley. Shop at Bourgin and Bourke’s, perform spells and escape some of those crowds and the heat for a little while.
On your way out of Diagon Alley, stop at 12 Grimmauld Place and catch a glimpse of Kreacher peeking out the upstairs window. He’s pretty creepy and will peek out every so often when muggles are knocking at his door.
Take the Train Back
Before you get back to Kings Cross, stop and chat with the knight bus driver. He is hilarious and you can get your photo taken with him if you want. Step inside the red telephone booth and listen to a message from the ministry of magic and then head back to the Hogwarts express. We actually found the bus driver and the telephone booth to be less crowded later in the day but you can do this either time.
Be sure to pay attention when getting on to platform 9 3/4 on your way back to the train, the visual effects are amazing and are something you won’t want to miss!
Once you get back to Hogsmeade, be sure to stop at Honeydukes to get your fill of chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties. You can also perform spells throughout Hogsmeade, grab some food at Three Broomsticks, drink all the butter beer you can, see performances from students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons Academy as well as the Frog Choir, and send a postcard via Owl Post.
Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff are the other two rides in this area and we never noticed the lines very long for these at all.
Single Rider Line
We didn’t take advantage of this since it was just the two of us and we wanted to ride together. After talking to a lot of other people though, if you’re party is ok with riding as singles, you can save a lot of time by using the single rider line. I recommend at least going through the regular queue once at both Forbidden Journey and Gringott’s though because they are both extremely impressive.
Skip the express pass
If you are only going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and already springing for the park to park ticket, the Express Pass is something you should just skip. While it’s pretty much the equivalent of the fast pass at Disney and will get you through the line faster, if you take our advice about hitting the rides very early, you won’t be in line that long. For us the cost of this pass, in addition to the park to park, just made it feel crazy-expensive and we can easily wake up a little earlier to get to those rides first, which is what we recommend.
You’re in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, why would you want to leave? We actually noticed a lot of people leaving around 5ish while we were there and the lines for Forbidden Journey had gone down quite dramatically.
Its actually really easy to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without feeling rushed in one day if you plan to arrive early and stay late.
Whatever your Universal Studio plans we’re sure you’ll be able to tackle this one day challenge, without feeling rushed or wondering where all your money went. 🙂