Advice for Dec 30 with HP-obsessed kids? Will they close the entire HP area?

We have 2-park tickets and express passes for 7 people (grandparents ~70yo, parents ~40yo, and kids age 11, 8 and 5) for Dec. 30. No early access because we’re driving from Sarasota in the morning (so might not arrive until 9 - we’re debating whether to leave home at 6 or wake up earlier). Kids are big Harry Potter fans. I realize everything will be super crowded, so we’ll just have to expect that. Nonetheless, would like to be as smart and well planned as possible. Would love any advice, particularly:

  1. Which park should we start with?

  2. What should we plan on doing for lunch and dinner? Should we order online in the app (only seems to be available for restaurants outside of HP world)? If we leave the HP-areas for lunch, are we likely to be blocked from re-entry due to crowd size? If we do try to eat at the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks, how long will it likely take to wait in line, etc.? Is there outdoor seating anywhere?

  3. Anything else?

Thanks so much! Really appreciate it!

This is the busiest time of year for the parks, the earlier you can arrive the better. Keep your expectations for what you’ll see in check and you’ll be happy.

  1. Either would be fine, there is more Potter in IOA. The only Potter attraction not offering Express is Hagrid. I think hitting all the Potter in one day is doable with Express plus you can ride some other attractions with plenty of time.
  2. Leaky and Broom is counter service so it’s first come first served. Broom has a large outdoor seating area in the back, Leaky has none. If you don’t HAVE to eat inside Potter then don’t, it will be slammed. Instead go online and book lunch at CityWalk (it’s located next to IOA and USF, between the two parks) online.

If you’d prefer a outdoor dining location the following restaurants offer outdoor dining (and the size of the area):
-Toothsome (small)
-NBC Grill Brew (small)
-Vivo (small)
-Cowfish (large)
-Margaritaville (large)

Book now!

  1. Have fun! Pick the attractions you want to ride, make a touring plan, and have fun!

Ok, having just been there a week ago for our 3rd visit here’s my advice:

Start from Universal Studios side. This will lead you to Diagon Alley through the London Town area. I like to start this way because it’s very Potter to start in Diagon Alley.

At the end of the street is Gringots and the Dragon. This is also where the Escape from Gringots ride is. It’s very cool. (again, another reason to get the express pass)

The Leaky Cauldron restaurant is there, The Weasley’s shop, Olivander’s Wand shop, the Ice Cream shop and the Butterbeer store… right past the Butterbeer shop and across from the restrooms is a dark alley you can take back to Nockturn Alley and some neat stuff.

After you explore Diagon Alley and come back out, turn to your left and there is Grimold Place and you’ll see # 12. Be sure and stand there a while and on the second floor window you’ll get a surprise.

You will pass Kings Cross station on way to Diagon Alley and that’s where you can take the train to Hogsmead which is in Islands of Adventure. You want to take the trip on the train both ways as the experience is different each way. VERY MUCH WORTH IT.

In Islands of Adventure is Hogsmead is the Three Broomsticks Restaurant (identical menu to Leaky Cauldron) and the infamous Hagrid’s Motorbike ride. I’ve got no advice on Hagrid’s other than be ready to stand in line. I think that if you were at the park the minute it opened and went straight to the ride it might not be too bad but I don’t know. We tried but just couldn’t justify the time standing in line.

In Hogsmead is Hogwarts Castle and it’s pretty amazing to see and be ready to take pictures of. Inside the castle is FORBIDDEN JOURNEY. It’s a wild ride that you should look up descriptions of if anyone in the party has motion or issues on rides. Having said that, in our three day visit we went on it 13 times. Child #1 loves it and with ExpressPass we pretty much just walked on.

There’s also the mild and short Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster. Even kids that don’t want to ride coasters will ride it since it’s short and mild.

There is a wand shop in Hogsmead but not different than Olivanders in Diagon Alley. Honeydukes candy shop is here. There’s some unique items but a lot of what they sell is candy you could get at the bulk candy store in your local mall.

The big thing about both parts of the Universal Wizarding World is the experience. The immersive visit is what it’s all about. Just walking through Diagon Alley waiting for the Dragon to do his thing is one of my favorite things and being there at night is amazing.

Yes, you need express pass, it’s worth it especially at this time of year. I would never consider going to the park without it.

Other cool rides in the parks: The Minions Ride, Transformers, the intense Curse of the Mummy, 3D Race through New York and if anyone loves wild coasters there some of those.

Food-wise… Universal’s in park food options are nothing to get excited about.

Please feel free to ask as many questions as you like.

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