How to handle first time visit to Wizarding World?

Planning a 2-day trip to Universal Orlando in Jan. We have never been. Our kids are 7 and very big Harry Potter fans.(They’ve read (poured over) the first 3 books and seen the first two movies - trying to slow go a little.)

I really want Day One to focus on all things Potter - it’s why we are going. Our first day there appears to be a “2” level day in both parks. We will be staying at an on-site hotel, and IOA has early entrance that day. I have a subscription to Touring Plans and will be using diligently.

Now to my question for experts and Potter fans: For a full-on best experience, does it matter where we start? I really thought we would start in USF, by hitting Diagon Alley, et al, then taking the train across to IOA. Like Touring Plans recommends, and much in the order of one Harry Potter himself. And I really think our kids would appreciate that experience. But the big monkey wrench in that plan is that IOA has early entry. So is early entry definitely worth it, even on a “2” level day? Is there no big difference – even to Potter fans – where you start?

What’s a poor muggle like myself to do? Thanks in advance.


Personally, as a huge Harry Potter fan, I like to take a day and do all things HP in the order he did them. I would start by arriving at USF about a half hour before scheduled opening. Once I was let in, I would head to Diagon Alley and do everything I wanted to do there: ride, shows, Ollivanders, spells, then be sure to talk to the Knight Bus conductor and Dre Head, and then take the Hogwarts Express over to IOA and do everything I want there. I don’t think that missing that EE hour at IOA will hurt you. And I think that doing the Harry Potter experience in that order will more than make up for it.


I hate to be the opposite here, but I would do Forbidden Journey before Gringotts.
Gringotts just blows FJ away! Completely!
And I found Diagon far more impressive than Hogsmeade.
Universal learned and improved both exponentially!!
Just relax and enjoy! Either way you explore them, you won’t lose anything of the wonderful theming.
Have a great time!

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Thanks for the responses!

@rebeecky that’s exactly what I was hoping to hear. I just hope I’m not blowing it and end up in long lines. Makes me anxious thinking that we are staying on property, but not taking advantage of early entry. But it sounds like it’s worth it (and on a “2” day) to unveil the Harry Potter worlds in the way my kids know it. (DD7 was Hermione for Halloween this year, btw.)

@quicha if I get you right, I think you are recommending saving the best for last (which I totally get). But you’re not necessarily recommending doing in that order for crowd/line purposes, right?

Also, it looks like Dani is doing a Best Week Ever post on the blog tomorrow that will touch on first time trips to Universal. Looking forward to it.

Keep the thoughts and advice coming. Very much appreciated. Thanks!

If it helps any, think of it this way. If everyone staying on site wants to take advantage of early entry, all those people will be flooding IOA. If you get to the entry for USF early, you will be at the head of the pack of people entering that park. Last summer, my son and I took advantage of IOA EE and waited longer for Forbidden Journey than we did going standby in the evening, simply because everyone was heading for the same place at the same time.

I agree with @quicha that Diagon Alley is way better than Hogsmeade, but I find Forbidden Journey to be better than Escape from Gringotts. And for me, as a serious Harry Potter fanatic (read: “Potter nerd”), it is worth the spectacular Diagon Alley reveal coming first (and being more empty!) to do it in the same order as the books.

If you have any other specific questions, I am more than happy to offer my input!

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Based entirely of how blown away I was by each @DCJP!
Now, having said that, I was able to ride Gringotts in the evening (aprox. 30 minutes before closing) three times in a row with no wait whatsoever so I would recommend IOA then USF anyway!

I put together a touring plan that actually uses some of @rebeecky’s AND some of @quicha’s advice.

You start your day as early as possible in USF and get Minions out of the way first - for some reason it backs up… and then head over to Diagon Alley… BUT you limit your interaction with Diagon Alley at this point. You basically only go to the Hogwarts Express. For me, it’s important that the first trip on Hogwarts Express start at King’s Cross and travel to Hogsmeade… the way it is in the books.

So then you’re at IOA and do all of the pertinent Harry Potter stuff there and even do the rest of your priority items in IOA if you want - throughout mid-morning though early afternoon.

Later in the afternoon, when you’re done with IOA and Hogsmead, you travel back, via the return trip on Hogwarts Express and take the time later afternoon/early evening to fully explore Diagon Alley, ride Gringotts and do dinner at the Leaky Cauldron.


As you can see, I think you’re going to be ok no matter what you do. No matter where you start, no matter how you travel, you are going to have an amazing time. In the end, it’s really going to be up to what is most important to you and your family. The Harry Potter stuff is incredible and you really can’t be fully prepared for it. You have to experience it. :relaxed:

The one other thing I would add is that no matter where you start, you should try to be in Diagon Alley in the darkness of the evening at some point. The place has a completely different feel in the dark.


you can’t go wrong. Personally I thought Forbidden Journey was a better ride, but Gringots was awesome too. So I would just suggest whatever park opens first - hit the HP on that side and go from there (assuming you have early morning access). The two sides are completely different so you really can’t go wrong - just hit the major ride on the side you are on FIRST - and then if you can - do it again before the lines get long. We didn’t do “a day” of HP. We did some, then did other parts of the park then took hogwarts etc. you can totally spend a full day no problem - but we split it up. Have your kids bring their robes etc if they have them. Try to do Olivanders (on Diagon Alley side as it is a bit larger) if possible - the wand ceremony is really cool - not a MUST see - but definately worth it if you can. And just enjoy the ambiance and wonder. Hit the major ride and then get rid of a guide and just enjoy. We sat there eating butter beer ice cream (so flipping good) and just watched the muggles from the steps. We explored shops and just enjoyed exploring and that was more fun than the rides.

BRING MONEY for souvenirs. We are NOT souvenir buyers - but the stuff they had in HP was awesome and didn’t feel bad spending the money at all. The kids each got “Magical Creature” we got some T shirts and my son got a Wand. Was it worth the extra money for it to do things in the park - ehh edbatable - but he had fun and he partially paid for it himself.

You cannot go wrong - just don’t plan too much - enjoy it


Thanks everyone for the responses! Very very helpful, as I wrap my head around it and put TP’s together. Our goal is definitely to soak it all in, with Day 2 then dedicated to hitting the good non-Wizarding World attractions.

And while we’re at it, what’s better for lunch in the Wizarding Worlds: Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks? Or maybe something else? (Fwiw, we are eat breakfast on the go, then sit for lunch (and a beer) types.)

I think that the food is good in both of them, but I prefer the ambience in the Leaky Cauldron. It looks like it was lifted right out of the movie. I had a second breakfast one day at the Three Broomsticks (we eat regular breakfast on the go as well) and then lunch a different day at the Leaky Cauldron. Both are great, but if you can only have one, I choose Leaky Cauldron.


Our favorite in park restaurant was Mythos (right outside of Hogsmead on IOA side). So certainly not HP - but we loved it. My family didn’t care for either of the main HP restaurants (they are quite picky) and the menu was decidedly English.

Just an option


Not HP - but we LOVED MYTHOS (right outside of HP on IOA side). It was a civilized res bit from the rest of the day. My family isn’t into English food and the food at LC and 3B is very English (next door neighbor is English and he noted how authentic it is). So just another option.

We enjoyed Confisco Grill in Islands of Adventure.

My daughter and I went to Universal this past February. The crowd levels were low the three days we were there (most crowded day was a 4), and it was my first time to the parks since the addition of ANY of the Harry Potter Experiences. I’m a GINORMOUS Potter Nerd, so I was in 7th heaven. We didn’t wait too long for much of anything, other than Gringotts for about 45 minutes one time that we rode it (we rode it a total of four over the time we were there). We ate at the 3B twice, but stuck to foods that were familiar to us. I will say, frozen Butterbeer is about the best thing I’ve ever had at a theme park. EVER. My suggestion: the candy shop in Diagon Alley was significantly less crowded than Honeydukes in Hogsmeade with the same options if not more.


“I will say, frozen Butterbeer is about the best thing I’ve ever had at a theme park. EVER.”

I second this notion. STRONGLY!


One of my gymnasts I coach is heading down there next week- I told her she HAS to try it!

All these tips are great. Thank you all! And feel free to keep 'em coming! It’s just always so hard to wrap one’s head around it, until one has been there.

Our kids are into Greek and Roman mythology, so lunch at Mythos on Day 2 will be perfect. Leaky Cauldron for lunch on Day 1.

And Butterbeer…check.

I also highly recommend the hot butterbeer. Also, if you haven’t already seen it, on this site there is a book that you can download for free that is dedicated entirely to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and gives lots of excellent tips. There are also some great tip threads in the chat on the Lines app.


ALL I can say about the butterbeer is - it is exactly as you would think it would taste. We had the “beer” and I had the ice cream. Both were awesome. I was a huge WDW guy - but have to say Universal is phenomenal. Just don’t feel rushed. Go hit the rides and then just “be” and explore. We had so much fun just tooling around and taking it all in. There are details everywhere and just enjoy the ambiance - it is exceptionally well done.

If you have any HP stuff (robe, glasses, etc) bring them. People are dressed up. They have VERY nice robes there but they are very expensive. I do have to say the merchandise is awesome (and we don’t normally buy things like that) but the merchandise is really very cool. I am wearing my Gryffindor shirt right now!!