Your MUST-DO List for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Kyrie Collins, Highlands Ranch-Parker-Castle Rock-Lone Tree Publisher August 28, 2017

My husband and I read the Harry Potter series together when I was pregnant with our first son, and we became avid fans from the very first chapter.

We required our boys to read the books before they were allowed to watch the movies, and they quickly devoured every word. Our older son's bedroom is decorated in all things Harry Potter, including Hedwig in a gilded cage and a leather trunk.

For a family of magic enthusiasts like ours, a trip to Universal Studio Orlando โ€” and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in particular โ€” was the most spellbinding way to end our summer break. Here is our list of "must-do" activities for a trip you'll never forget, plus a few money-saving tips at the end:

1.) Read the books and watch the movies. We had read all the books and watched all the movies before we ever started planning our trip. But we watched the movies again, one per week, in the two months leading up to it. Not only did this refresh our memories, but it really increased our excitement and anticipation as the end of the series drew nearer.

2.) The adventure is split between the two theme parks that make up Universal Studios. Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade (and Hogwarts) is at Universal's Islands of Adventure so a park-to-park ticket is a necessity for the full experience. Plan for at least two days so you can truly explore all the amazing details ... and visit the rest of Universal Studios Orlando also.

3.) Of course, you'll want to begin at Diagon Alley just like Harry did. But before you head in, chat with the driver of the Knight Bus and the talking shrunken head. They are both just as funny in real life as they are in the movies!

4.) Head to Gringotts Bank and exchange your muggle money for magical currency. Swap out your $10 and $20 bills for equal Gringotts bank notes that you can spend anywhere in the park. Plus the interactive, animatronic goblin is loads of fun. Ask him if he's seen Harry Potter, but don't ask him the same questions repeatedly or he'll simply ignore you. If desired, you can also purchase souvenir money here.

5.) Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. It was everyone's favorite thrill ride, and not just in our family either, as the wait time was often an hour or more (it does have an Express Pass option). The line does pass rather quickly, though, as you travel through Gringotts Bank. Every detail from the books and movies is there, from pillared walls to working goblins to copies of the Daily Prophet.

6.) Go shopping! That's what you do in Diagon Alley after all. Visit Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and โ€” of course! โ€” Ollivander's. Keep your eye on the dragon perched atop Gringotts while you shop. If you hear him grumbling, he's about to blow off some steam.

7.) Purchase an interactive wand! They are about $50 but this is one souvenir worth the splurge. Look for bronze plaques on the ground (there are dozens in both parks) so you'll know where and how to cast your spells, then practice your magic! It isn't easy (you are a First Year, after all), but fortunately there are usually more experienced witches and wizards nearby to offer tips in holding your wand and where to aim.

8.) Get a frozen treat at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. The ice cream comes in several delicious flavors, including butterbeer. The parlour is small so there is often a line outside. Fortunately, there are several places to cast spells nearby to keep the kids entertained while the parents hold the place in line ... or vice versa!

9.) Take a wrong turn down Knockturn Alley. Not only is it nice and cool but you can explore the dark magic and sinister items housed in Borgin and Burkes.

10.) Head to King's Cross Station to board the Hogwarts Express. There is one quite magical spot where you can video your family going through the wall at Platform 9 3/4. You'll want to take the train both directions, as it is a different experience each way, so plan to return to Diagon Alley later.


11.) Now that you've arrived in Hogsmeade, ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It is inside Hogwarts Castle and the line is full of more fun details, including the Sorting Hat, the Pensieve, the Fat Lady painting, and many more. The line for this ride is usually pretty short and moves quickly enough that it is easy to miss the details so you may want to ride it more than once. Note: This ride did leave some in our group feeling a bit queasy with motion sickness.

12.) Thrill-seekers will also want to ride the Dragon Challenge, a fast and fun roller coaster with so many loops and spins, you'll stagger with dizziness when you are done. Flight of the Hippogriff is a family-friendly coaster.

13.) Stop in at Honeydukes so you can pick up a legendary chocolate frog and other magical sweets.

14.) Drink a frozen Butterbeer. Amazingly delicious and the perfect way to cool off on a hot Florida afternoon! The non-frozen variety is yummy too (and $1 cheaper) but the frozen version won all the votes in our unofficial taste-off.

15.) Drop off postcards and letters at the Owl Post. They'll even get a Hogsmeade postmark, so send one to yourself for an inexpensive keepsake.

16.) Once you've explored every inch of Hogsmeade, return to Diagon Alley via the Hogwarts Express. Eat dinner at The Leaky Cauldron for authentic British food and a magical ambience. It wasn't crowded (although the line at lunch was out the door), and it was much less expensive than we expected. We enjoyed classic Cottage Pie, Fisherman's Pie, Specialty Chicken Sandwich, and Bangers & Mash, plus craft beers for the grown-ups and a Butterbeer-flavored pudding to share for under $80.

17.) On your way out of the park, stand on the stoop of 12 Grimmauld Place for a photo opp. Keep an eye on the second floor window to see who peeks out every five minutes or so.

Some money-saving tips:

  • Purchase your theme park tickets in advance online. You'll save time as well as money.
  • Splurge on a Universal Express pass to bypass the regular lines if you plan to explore all of Universal Studios; it will save you hours.
  • The dining plan costs less than $30 per person and includes a quick-serve meal (burger/chicken sandwich/salad plus fries and a shake), a snack (choose from items like popcorn, ice cream, churros, doughnuts, and more), and unlimited refills (including water) in a souvenir cup.
  • The 3-Day Photo Connectยฎ Star Card costs $100 in the park or $90 online and includes unlimited digital downloads of professional photos with characters and on many rides, as well as free and discounted prints, for three consecutive days. (1-Day Star Card also available.)

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