Can you help with our Universal planning please?


Family of first timers, 3 boys who will be 10, 11 and 14. We have 3 days for UOR and most of us are really keen to go to Volcano Bay as part of this. Younger 2 boys want to buy interactive wands, 2 adults have read all the HP books, seen the films and are excited about seeing the WW. 14yo was not especially engaged on a visit to the HP studios in Watford, grrrrrr, but I think should like the rides and a bit of wandering about but probably not as enthusiastic as the rest of us. We will be staying at HRH for two nights so have 3 days of early park admission and unlimited express passes.

Our dates are fixed, we fly from the UK the night before and are staying offsite for the first night. (I would have far preferred to do UOR at the end of our trip but we couldn’t get the Disney part of our stay moved forward to fit with our flight times.) I imagine we will be up fairly early and will possibly be feeling a bit wobbly the first day from jet lag and exhaustion.

The plan had been to hit the parks early and then to have an afternoon break to enjoy the pool at HRH/ nap/ recover from jet lag and then return to do some more rides and to enjoy seeing the park at night, however, my perfectly laid plans have been scuppered!

Our first day will be the last night of Mardi Gras - does this mean other evening entertainment will not be on? Will Diagon Alley still be open? I’m not sure whether we’ll last 'til the evening as we could be awake at some hideous hour that morning :tired_face: The following two days of our stay BOTH parks close at 6pm due to GradBash.

My questions are:

Can we “do” USF and IOA in two days, moving at a slower, dozy pace, shut out from the parks at 6pm, but with EPs? Possibly including some down time at the hotel? (When we booked this we thought we were getting 3 full days, all advice indicated this would be adequate for USF, IOA and VB with EPs)

When would you go to VB? Friday or Saturday? I’m leaning towards Saturday as we have 7am EPA for the theme parks on both Friday and Saturday and we would probably take more advantage of this on the Friday, plus we can enjoy the pool at HRH once we flake out, which we won’t be able to do on check out day. Will a Saturday at VB be ridiculously busy?

VB is open 'til 7pm. What time in the afternoon do the crowds start thinning out? Also wondering whether we could go there 4pimsh to enjoy the end of the day there…

Are there particular rides you’d avoid if you suffer from motion sickness and are jet lagged?! I know we’ll want to try everything but I also want to pace ourselves so we don’t end up going green :nauseated_face: at about 11am on our first morning!

Any recommendations on how long to spend where (esp in the WWoHP) and at what time?

These touring plans looked like they would be so much easier than the WDW ones initially but now I’m not so sure…

Any tips would be very helpful, thanks in advance, Brizz.

I might have missed it, but, what are your dates? That would help me give advice.

Sorry we’re going in April, 1st day is last night of Mardi Gras, 4th April. Then there for the Friday and Saturday of Grad Bash when both parks close at 6pm :frowning:

We just got home from a 4 day stay, I have 13 and 15 yo boys.

During our stay we experienced these crowd levels:

Weds. US- 2. No waiting anywhere.
Thurs. At VB all day. No crowd problem
Friday. IOA- 9 :dizzy_face:
Saturday- US - 10 :woozy_face:

Your crowd levels are predicted to be 4 and 5 except for Saturday which is 6-7.

My boys favorite park was Volcano Bay, but they are not Harry Potter fans. It rained Wednesday And VB was closed all day. So, make sure you keep an eye on the weather forecast. Otherwise, I’d do VB on whatever day the other parks are busiest. We did this park again on Saturday when US and IOA had 9 and 10 crowd levels and there wasn’t any significant lines for any ride.

With the express pass on the busiest day we waited 30 minutes for a popular attraction that said it had a 95 minute wait. The second longest wait during this peak time was 20 minutes with our average wait to enter a ride being 10 minutes. We were only interested in the Thrill or Popular VR rides.

On Friday with an Express pass we took the Hogwarts Express and arrived at IOA at 11:am. We did:

HP Forbidden Journey
Jurassic park River Adventure
Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Lunch :poultry_leg:
Adventures of Spider-Man
Dr. Doom
The Incredible Hulk Coaster

And left at 3:45. We were moving, we didn’t stop and shop, but lunch was a good 45 minutes long.

I can’t help with motion sickness, but when I have more time I can try to list which had definite stomach churning drops vs ones that just shook you some. Most do have drops that feel like a roller coaster.

As far as when things are busy, I think it’s typical that early and late are the least crowded with crowds being pretty steady in between.

I hope this helps and isn’t just a rambling, oversized reply :grin:


I think you can do USF and IOA 2 days even at a slow pace. I was there the third week of June in 2017 staying at Portofino. The crowds were moderate to busy (5-7 CLs). EP was not available at the Harry Potter headliners at the time. On our first theme park day, my family did most of the rides at IOA and USF including the HP headliners. We didn’t stay until closing either. I think I stayed until 8 pm ish. Others left by 6 pm.

I am not completely sure, but I suspect VB will be very busy on a Saturday in early April particularly if the weather is nice. I would absolutely visit VB during early entry. From what I heard the first 2 hours are the best for VB touring with minimum waits. The park often reaches capacity during the summer. I know you are not going during the summer, but if it is 80 degrees and sunny, I suspect VB will be very busy.

Note that your hotel EP does NOT include VB. Express Passes at VB must be purchased separately. Unless UK guests get them included? US guests most definitely do not.

When you stay at Hard Rock Hotel®, you’ll receive free* Universal Express Unlimited™ to skip the regular lines at participating rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida™ and Universal’s Islands of Adventure™. Not valid at Universal’s Volcano Bay™.

After a thunderstorm, the crowds diminish. The whole park closes in the event of thunder and lighting. If you can wait out the storm, you will be rewarded with minimum waits and very few guests around. My family experienced this on the June 2017 trip.

  • Forbidden Journey at Hogsmeade in IOA is one of the most motion-sickness inducing rides. I can handle simulators very well usually, but this one makes me feel a bit dizzy. It’s a simulator dark ride hybrid. I would hold off on this one until later in the day just in case.
  • The Simpsons Ride may also induce motion sickness. It’s a simulator with a large screen and it is rather jerky. I have only done this once and all members of my party didn’t feel quite right afterwards (and everyone had ridden all the other attractions).
  • Men in Black is reasonably tame, but it does spin very fast randomly.
  • The Hulk Coaster is obviously intense. Multiple Gs and multiple inversions.
  • Spiderman (IOA) and Transformers (USF) are simulator dark ride hybrids. Both use a car on a track as opposed to Forbidden Journey which suspends you in the air on a bench. They are not nearly as intense as Forbidden Journey.
  • Minions is another simulator, but it is pretty mild.

Your 7 am early entry hour will be the best time to explore Diagon Alley and do the interactive wand spells. The wand stations will get lines later in the day and the shops will be quite busy. Since you have EP, you can wait to do the rides.

If you want to do the Ollivander’s show, make it your first stop during early entry (it doesn’t take EP, but most people will be rushing to Gringotts first). Your 14 year old could ride Gringotts or The Mummy (which has been opening during early entry as well).

I would take the Hogwarts express to Hogsmeade around 8 am when IOA opens and spend some time in the Hogsmeade shops and wand stations before riding any of the attractions. Hogsmeade has smaller shops and narrower walkways than Diagon Alley and it gets congested quickly.

Some random notes:

  • It is worth it to walk through the Hogwarts castle even if you don’t want to ride Forbidden Journey. Personally, I enjoy walking through the castle rooms as much as the ride itself (I am a major HP fan).

  • Minions ride - This queue will take some time even with EP if the line is long (plan on a wait time of half the posted Standby). There is only one screen so the ride has limited capacity and cannot load continuously.

  • The SImpsons Ride - same issue as Minions


We went last year with two boys 10 and 12. 1. Yes, you can do both parks in two days - no problem and be done way before 6pm. If you have to be out by 6pm, not sure if you will have enough time to go back to rest and then return to park…

I would do VB your first day since you will be jet lagged. That way, you can enjoy a day out, but also sleep on a pool lounger. And I would think VB would be busier on the weekends since more Orlando residents could use it.

Ok, motion sickness…a lot of the rides at Universal are Virtual Reality type. Meaning, you are strapped in a chair and a film plays in front of you, of course, you are jerked around and stuff, but that is the kind that makes myself and my son sick. We passed on a lot of the rides, or I just closed my eyes the whole time. I avoided Minions, closed my eyes on HP, Jimmy Fallon ride. I can’t remember the others.

I hope you have a great time! Be prepared for the food cost! It felt more expensive to me than WDW. And it was harder to buy smaller meals. For example, we ate lunch at Blondies. My boys wanted the hot dogs, the hot dogs are foot longs… Of course, we could have cut them in half, but at that point in time, my kids thought it was fun and thought they could eat the whole thing. Of course, they did not, so it was a bit wasteful.


Thank you everyone, this is all very useful!

I will definitely keep an eye on the weather forecast, had forgotten about this as a factor in when to pick what.

I hadn’t thought about going to VB on our first day as I had thought the boys would be dying to get straight to the main parks. I also thought that even with Early Entry to VB at 9am we’ve potentially got quite a long wait to actually “do” anything if we’ve been up since 4am! Might be more manageable to do the earlier starts at the parks of 8 and 7am the first two days, by the Saturday we might welcome having a bit more of a lie in!

But I actually really like the idea of a slightly more chilled arrival day, avoiding the queasy rides, and depending on how much we get to rest there might be more chance of us lasting 'til later in the evening. I’m not sure how bothered the boys will be about the Mardi Gras parade but we did want to see Diagon Alley at night and the lights on Hogwarts Castle…

I had also heard that Saturdays at VB are busy so that is another reason to avoid it even if the other parks might be marginally busier, I think I’ll make copies of my TPs and compare the wait times on each day. Our EPs do not cover VB, don’t want to pay for them as this trip is so expensive already - the idea is to get there for EPA and really hit the rides as you suggest.

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Yes, we definitely wanted to get to Ollivanders first, the younger two are very excited about wands and spell casting. A few quick questions:

Is an hour long enough to explore Diagon Alley and do the spells before taking the HE to Hogsmeade? Or as we will have two mornings of 7am entry to USF would you definitely leave at 8am on the Friday and do any missed things at 7am on the Saturday? Would you suggest we all ride Gringotts before heading to Hogsmeade or would we better off returning to it later in the day and use the earlier, quieter time for spells and exploring?

Are all the shops in DA open during Early Admission?

How long would you allow in a TP for wandering through Hogsmeade and spell casting?

I’m sure we will want to give Forbidden Journey a go at least once, but I am nervous about it! I’ve heard that you miss the castle walk through if you use the EP, is this the case? Can you walk through without getting stuck in the queue?

Are there any spells which are better to do at night or are the night experiences more about the atmosphere in DA?

Oh and yes the food costs do look high. I will try to persuade people to share but we’re a difficult bunch to feed in quick service places as I don’t eat meat and the 14yo is VERY fussy :tired_face:

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I think that you can skim the surface in an hour but not fully explore.

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Is an hour long enough? - I think it depends. Personally, I would not put a hard stop time on your first day at DA and stay as long as everyone is having fun. I could easily spend 5 hours just exploring the area. However, the 14 yo may get bored and the younger kids might get antsy as lines for spell casting get longer (you will probably be able to walk up to the spots in the first hour). For my first trip in June 2017, I had a touring plan for each day marking out how long we would spend touring DA, but my family did not follow it in the parks. We ended up staying longer in DA the first day then planned. Because you have unlimited EP, you don’t need to follow a touring plan and can be spontaneous.

I would wait to do Gringotts until 8 am when the park opens or later in the day when the shops and spell casting spots are busy. You’ll want to ride the train back to DA as the trip is a bit different each way.

I think all the DA shops are open during Early Admission. I did not encounter any that were closed.

Wandering Hogsmeade and spell casting - probably 60 minutes. The area is smaller and there is less to explore than DA.

You do not miss the castle walk through with EP. You miss the outside queue (unthemed) and greenhouse section (which has no AC) using EP, but you enjoy all the castle rooms. The Single Rider line misses the castle walk through.

There is at least one spell in DA that is better at night (it involves lights).


If you want to see it all, I would say no. The spells alone can take a lot of time, depending on lines and if you “get it” or not right away. To really see everything, you will need more time. Disclaimer: I am a huge HP fan and I love soaking in every detail, so for me, I would need about 2 hours. If you just want to glance over everything, an hour should be fine.

This one is smaller, so could probably be accomplished in an hour or a little over.

In both cases, this does not take into account seeing shows.

That is correct. EP cuts out much of the castle, so I would plan on going standby at least once. You cannot bypass the line to just walk through, unfortunately. They used to have a “castle tour” line, but that is now gone.


Could you share more detail on what you miss by doing the EP line?
There seems to be really conflicting advice on the EP line for both HP rides - some people say it just means you do not get to linger as long in the queue (plus skip the photo in Gringotts and greenhouse on FJ) and others say you miss a lot. Trying to decipher too if it is worth doing the queue.

I thought the reason the castle tour was no longer being offered was because that route is used for the EP line now. I used EP on my September 2018 trip and we went into the castle through the dungeons, portrait room, Dumbledore’s Office , DADA classroom only skipping the greenhouse. It is possible we didn’t use the EP line by accident (that happened on Jurassic Park River Adventure). Crowds were really low so maybe we didn’t notice the difference.

Hmmmm… I wonder if it varies by how busy it is. When I went through the EP line in August, I basically went into the castle and immediately navigated up a different staircase that took me right from the portrait staircase into Dumbledore’s office. It did not take me through the greenhouse, past the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, past the hour glasses or the various other statues. Maybe I should check my facts!

When I went in August, I did not pass the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, the Room of Requirement tapestry, the hour glasses, the statue of the Hogwarts architect and The greenhouse for sure. There may have been other things that were missed, but I can’t remember. No matter which line you are in, you can always just tuck yourself into a corner and let other people pass you while you linger as long as you want.

When I took the EP line for Gringotts in August, I didn’t miss anything. They even had a camera in the EP line. One time they didn’t have the camera and we just asked to be taken out to have the picture taken and then got right back into line.

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After thinking about it, I wonder if I am conflating my two experiences.I am sure we skipped the greenhouses with EP. I thought we saw the castle tour including the 2 pre-shows.

In June 2017, I had EP (from PB hotel), but EP was not yet accepted at the HP headliners. This was a trip with my parents, younger sister and my SO. We went through the whole FJ Standby line with a posted wait of 45 minutes. It really wasn’t bad at all; I would wait this amount of time again.

In September 2018, I also stayed at PB, but this time with my sister and a couple of her Potterhead friends. EP was definitely accepted on HP headliners. I took a red eye from the West Coast to Orlando, went into the parks on Day 1 (skipping WWoHP because one of the friends didn’t have admission on Day 1). We toured the WWoHP on Day 2 with everyone. We used (or intended to use) the EP line at FJ (started the touring in DA so it was early afternoon before we got tot Hogsmeade).

Ok, now I’m following along to see what the answer is about seeing the castle in the EP line. I had heard it was the old “castle tour” line, too. Sadly, we were just there last year and used the EP line but I was a sleep deprived zombie and I can’t remember what I saw.

And what photo in Gritngotts? Definitely didn’t see a photo in the EP line.