So we have a confession. We are obsessed with Harry Potter. Utterly and hopelessly obsessed. We have a Harry Potter movie marathon each February, complete with treats, like a copycat butterbeer recipe, wands, and yes, even Hogwarts House scarves. We own two separate versions of the book series and own both the DVD series as well as digital copies… You know, just in case the DVDs fail us one day. And we each know our House, Patronus, and have dabbled here and there in Herbology. You get the point. So when we heard about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, we knew we needed to catch a flight to Orlando and see what this magical place was all about.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter in One Day
If you’re wondering how you can squeeze the Wizarding World in during your Walt Disney World vacation, are only able to afford one day’s worth of tickets, or just really don’t feel like spending a ton of time in a theme park, never fear. It’s actually not that difficult to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day. Here’s how we recommend you do it!
Tickets to Wizarding World of Harry Potter
One of the biggest things that will determine if you can do Wizarding World of Harry Potter comes down to your ticket choices. Here we dive into park-to-park, early admission, and more.
Early Admission Ticket At Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios Early Admission Ticket is the best way to get a head start on your day in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You don’t have to stay on-site for this perk, but if you choose to stay off-site, you will need to book your vacation including accommodations and tickets through a Universal Vacation Package. If you’re an annual pass holder with preferred or premier status, you get access to this benefit with your pass!
We have stayed offsite and onsite to utilize this benefit. And when we stayed offsite at a nearby partner hotel that was a 4-minute drive from Universal, it saved us hundreds of dollars while still getting early admission. You can find the Universal Orlando 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 early or at Park opening. Depending on which season you’re traveling in can make a difference in which Park will offer Early Admission; so it’s very important that you check before you plan.
Get the Park to Park Pass at Universal Studios
This is really non-negotiable. The only way to see all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day is to have the park-to-park pass. If you don’t, you’re going to miss one of the parks, it’s that simple. You will need a park-to-park ticket to ride the train between Hogsmeade Station and Kings Cross Station.
Universal’s Virtual Queues for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Studios Orlando has offered virtual queues for the last few years on select rides. Virtual Queues allow you to select a return time virtually, so you don’t have to physically stand in line and wait. You’ll still have to wait, but the time will be much more manageable. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter offers virtual queues for select rides on days when the Parks get a bit busier.
It is important to note- this is NOT available all of the time. When it is available, it’s available for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. And even when it is available, it is not your only option. All rides in the Wizarding World currently offer standby queues as well. To access the Virtual Queue system and reserve your rides, here’s what you need to know.
- Download the Universal Orlando mobile app
- Reservations can only be made via the app
- You can reserve 2 rides at a time
- Each reservation can hold a place for up to 8 guests
- Guests must be physically at CityWalk or at an On-Property Resort Hotel to make reservations
- As of right now, guests do not need to be inside the park to make reservations
- If the ride of your choice is sold out for the day, keep checking! They will often add more times as the day goes on.
Planning Wizarding World of Harry Potter for One Day
This may be one of the most difficult things to do if you’ve never been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but hopefully, this post will help you sort that out. Decide what you want to see and do the most. Are rides your main priority? Are you hoping to get some fun photo ops in? Is the merch, drinking lots of butterbeer, interactive spell casting, or shows most important? Or maybe you want to try to see and do a little bit of everything. Be sure to check out our First Trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter post for a lineup of all there is to do, see, and eat. Whatever your goals, we hope this post gives you the tips you need to achieve them!
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Layout
Before we dive into strategy, let’s get familiar with how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter works. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located at Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios is made up of two main theme Parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Wizarding World is spread out between the two Parks. Diagon Alley is located at the very back of Universal Studios, while Hogsmeade is located at the back of Islands of Adventure.
We cannot stress how important this is. This will save you a TON of time. Start 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. Make sure you know what time the Parks open during your trip, as times can change a lot during the year. That being said, in order to be some of the first people there, you will need Early Park Admission.
It’s definitely possible to still complete the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day if you don’t have access to Early Admission; so if that’s not in the cards for you, just plan to be at the Parks about 45 minutes early to get you through security and get you to the turnstiles. Many times guests without Early Park Admission are allowed in about 30 minutes early. So be sure to get there as early as possible to get a head start on the day.
Which Rides in Wizarding World of Harry Potter Should I do FIRST?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a couple of highly coveted rides that can take some time out of your day. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are going to be the rides that take up most of your time. Both of these rides are located in Hogsmeade, at Islands of Adventure.
The other ride that you’ll want to experience that may have a long wait during busy times is Escape from Gringott’s. Escape from Gringott’s is located in Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. 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 often experiences technical difficulties that could modify your day.
That said, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done! Hagrid’s Magical Creatures tends to have the lowest waits in the very first part of the day, during meal times, and as the day starts to wind down. We’ve noticed that usually about an hour before the park closes, Hagrid’s sees a lower wait time. As far as which rides you’ll actually be able to ride first will largely depend on if you have early park admission, and which Park is offering that for the day. We share thoughts on both below!
Start in Hogsmeade
Starting at Hogsmeade? That either means you chose to start here, or that this Park is offering early admission that day. You have a couple of choices if you plan to start at Hogsmeade. Make a mad dash to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, then go straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey if rides are your top priority.
You can usually find a 10-15 minute wait at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey if you are there early enough. And this is a queue we 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 the first few times we rode it so we could take it all in. Both rides require you to store your belongings in a locker, so if you want pictures, make sure you bring your phone or something that fits in your pocket.
Or you can take advantage of an empty Hogsmeade and grab some photos. The earliest part of the day is the least busy for casting spells, so if you have an interactive wand, now is a good time to do that! If you don’t have one, you can buy one from a few different shops. And if you don’t have one but want to experience the wand selection ceremony in a wand shop, we recommend getting in that line as early as possible as it tends to get very busy as the day goes on.
Start at Diagon Alley
If you’re not starting at Hogsmeade, that means you’re starting at 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 is one of our favorite rides in the Wizarding World. The queue for this ride is absolutely amazing, and another one you’ll want to really take in all the details. You’ll also need to store your stuff for this ride, so throw your stuff in a free locker and head to the bank! During slower times, this ride tends to have lower wait times during most parts of the day, but during peak hours, you will be glad you got to ride this one first.
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.
Taking the Hogwarts Express
Regardless of which Park you start in The Hogwarts Express will usually start running about 15- 30 minutes before the actual Park opens, so if you can be among the first on that train ride over to whichever park you didn’t start in, it will put you ahead of the people who are coming in when that Park opens. This makes taking the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley your best bet to maximizing your time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are located far from the entrances of their respective Parks. So taking the train over early will put you ahead of those without Early Park Admission racing to the back even if you don’t catch the first train ride of the day. 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. Check out our first-timer’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to help get your bearings on the layout, rides, shops, restaurants, and more.
Shop the Shops at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
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, be sure to visit all of our favorite places.
- Gringott’s Money Exchange
- The Leaky Cauldron
- Florean Fortescue’s for some ice cream
- Get critiqued by a very judgemental mirror at Madam Malkins
- Stop by The Fountain of Fair Fortune for Butterbeer
Check out the shows in Diagon Alley
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. Watch the magical puppeteers perform stories from Tales of Beetle the Bard. This is one of our favorite shows and luckily both of these shows are usually scheduled within 15 minutes of each other and are located at the same stage, so you can catch them one after another. They’re all great and are a nice break from the heat as that area is shaded.
And don’t miss Knockturn Alley. You can shop at Bourgin and Bourke’s, and perform spells to escape some of those crowds. Knockturn Alley is generally colder than the other areas of Diagon Alley and is a great break from the heat too.
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 and Forth in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Before you get back to Kings Cross Station, 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.
Platform 9-3/4 Hogwarts Express
Be sure to pay attention when getting on to platform 9 3/4 on your way back to the train in King’s Crossing; the visual effects are amazing and are something you won’t want to miss! Be sure to take a look at our Hogwarts Express Visual Effects web story to see these in action!
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. Or grab some food at Three Broomsticks and drink all the butterbeer you can. Be sure to check out the performances of students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons Academy. Stop and listen to the Frog Choir. And before you leave you can even send a postcard via Owl Post.
Rides in Hogsmeade
Hogsmeade has the most rides of the two sections. Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride are located here. Flight of the Hippogriff is also located here. This is not really a must-do for us. But if you really want to do it all, it’s a small, cute roller coaster that never really has a long line. So it’s easy to add to your day after you have finished your higher-priority rides.
Single Rider Line at Wizarding World of Harry Potter
We didn’t take advantage of the single-rider lines here, but you can save a lot of time by using the single-rider line. If you’re traveling with a group of people where this makes sense, you should! I recommend at least going through the regular queue once at both Forbidden Journey and Gringott’s though because they are both extremely impressive.
Express Pass at Universal Studios
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, it’s easier to just get to the important rides at rope drop and save some money at Wizarding World.
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.
That being said, if you’re not an early riser, or don’t have access to Early Park Admission, the Express Pass can be useful. Be aware that it is very expensive on its own though. The Express Pass at Universal Studios can be used for the Hogwarts Express, Escape from Gringott’s and Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey, so if you have it, you’ll really only have to wait in line for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures. If you’re a Premier Passholder or if you’re staying in a Premier Resort at Universal though, you will automatically get Express Pass which can be super helpful, especially during busier times.
Stay late in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
You’re in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, why would you want to leave? We actually notice a lot of people leaving around 5ish every time we’ve been there. And as a result, a lot of the lines go down quite dramatically. We were able to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures with only about a 15-minute wait at the end of the day.
Use the Universal Studios App
Did you know that Universal Studios has an app? Well if you didn’t, now you do! The Universal app is free and so helpful for a lot of things and can store your tickets, payment method, and show wait times for attractions. This is a great tool to help you plan your day as it also shows you when certain shows like the Frog Choir and Tales of Beedle the Bard are being shown.
We highly recommend using this app if you’re trying to do the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day; it’ll help you stay more organized and keep up to date on the latest wait times.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter in One Day
It’s actually really easy to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without feeling rushed in one day. Especially, if you plan to arrive early and stay late. Whatever your Universal Studio plans we’re sure you’ll be able to tackle this Harry Potter World one-day challenge, without feeling rushed or wondering where all your money went. 🙂 And speaking of money, be sure to check out our post about saving money at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .