Jitters of a die-hard DW fan going to Universal for the first time

I think I’ve been brainwashed by Disney so that my brain rejects all non-Disney. I can absorb Disney World stuff like a sponge but Universal is making me scramble and feel unsure of everything despite my studying the Unofficial Guide and searching through this amazing forum (you guys are the best!)

First, their app confuses me with its basicness. As far as I can tell, it’s only useful for finding attractions on the map, looking up Wait Times, and ordering food for a handful of Mobile Order locations. Am I missing another useful perk of using the app? Also, do I “need” to link my park tickets to the Universal Orlando app? Are there any benefits to doing so? Will it make park entry faster?

We’re staying at the Loews Royal Pacific for one night to obtain the Express passes for 2 days (thanks for the tip, everyone!). How far is the walk to both USF and IOA? Everyone talks about the bus and boat but I thought simply walking over should be faster? Are we talking a 5 minute walk or 20/30 minute walk?

Even their Photo Package seems cumbersome. I bought it ahead of time but I still need to bring my receipt to a photo kiosk to actually get my photo package. I’m assuming the photo “package” is a physical photo card which I’ll have to get scanned at each attraction/photographer? (I miss my Magic Band!) I’m also thrown by all the cautions I’ve read about checking my photos online to make sure all photos are present and with special effects layered in BEFORE I leave the park. (Do mistakes happen that often?) I feel like I read somewhere that I should go to a photo kiosk inside the parks to obtain my package instead of the front entrance photo location, which will likely be mobbed in the mornings. Anyone have recommendations about this? This makes Memory Maker seem like such a breeze!

Lastly, planning for HP Worlds at both locations has been incredibly stressful. We only have 2 days at Universal. I think we will hit Forbidden Journey/Gringotts first on their respective days (using the regular standby lines to experience the full queue’s pre-shows/gawk at the HP stuff) and explore some of Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley before escaping the HP crowds to do other IOA/USF rides with Express Pass. I’m counting on the Express Pass to help us get onto non-HP rides easily no matter what time we eventually leave HP world. How much time would you guys guess we would have in the HP worlds before the congestion makes us run for the hills? 1 hour? 3 hours? I’m hoping that after we are done with the non-HP attractions, we can then head back to Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley to explore more with hopefully less congestion? Is it too much to hope for that it will die down a bit by 3pm?

I was planning to visit the Ollivanders in Diagon Alley to purchase the interactive wand for my kids (as I had read that the shop in Hogsmeade is much smaller and thus generating much longer waits) but our USF day is day 2. So now I’m worried that we should really hit the first Ollivanders despite the smaller shop just so we’ll have the wand to play with on both days. How fast does the wait usually build up in both Ollivanders? My crowd level for IOA on day 1 is predicted to be 5 and the crowd level for day 2 at USF is an 8 (ick!).

Based on what I’ve read on the Forum, I think we’ll forego waiting in line for Hagrid’s in the mornings (to avoid eating up valuable morning touring time and to avoid getting trampled at rope drop) and just hope to get lucky with Hagrid’s wait times later in the day. I’m terrified that if we try rope dropping Hagrid’s, we’ll be waiting 2 hours in vain for a ride that seems to go down with alarming regularity. My family is spoiled by my FP planning, rope drop strategies, and Lines TPs for Disney so they’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for anything. Waiting for several hours for Hagrid’s while my family is chomping at the bit to try everything at Universal for the first time seems like a bad idea.

Any advice is appreciated!

I have heard terrible things about Hagrid’s breaking down, not opening at Rope Drop, etc. Just look up videos on YOUTUBE or BLOGS to see what I’m talking about.

Brian, from TOURING PLANS, has a podcast episode about his recent trip there with his family. He works for TOURING PLANS, and they never got to ride the ride. It’s a long episode, but it’s worth a listen. Episode 28: Brian’s Universal Orlando Resort Trip – The Very Good and the Very Bad

I don’t want to scare you off, I just want you to be prepared.

My Husband got a wand at Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, and it was a great experience. I would go early.

My biggest gripe with UOR is that most of the rides are NOT pooh-friendly size. Aka - if you’re plus sized, or have really long legs, you’re gonna want to sit in the tester seats BEFORE you commit to a long cue.

We’re going for HHN this year, and it’s the best Halloween party I’ve ever enjoyed… and we love MNSSHP, so that’s saying something.

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We actually found Universal (with Express Pass) to be way less stressful than WDW. We hit the Harry Potter stuff early and then went back later in the day to Diagon Alley to look around more. There is so much to see there. We had a rough idea of rides we wanted to do but mostly just went where we felt like going.

Never did the photo package, so can’t help with that. We also did not bother with using the Universal app. Didn’t really find we needed it at all.


Your express pass will come in handy, cutting wait times down dramatically. The universal parks arent as massive so start in HP, make the circle and end in HP, use train to hop to other park. Alternately, u can start at Ollivanders to get wand n train it over to other park if this works. First day isnt going to be too bad. We did 3 days at universal and not full days, it was prob too long.


#1 – Yes. That’s all the App really does. If find using TP’s App at USF / IOA to be better than the Universal App. The only things the Universal App does better is to show where bathrooms & Coke Freestyle machines are located.

#2 – It’s half a mile. About a 10 minute walk.

#3 – The Universal Photo Pass App is called “Amazing Pictures”. I’ve used it and it’s great. It’s very similar to Memory Maker. It will update throughout the day as you take pictures. Also, your package should get at least one printed photo from either HP rides included. I have gotten both. I don’t know if that was an error by a Universal Team Member or included. FYI – The photo for Gringott’s is taken while in the queue. I didn’t know this my first time through with Express Pass. I went back on the ride / through the queue just to get my photo taken. I will say that staff aren’t very educated about My Universal Photos / “Photo Pass”. It took me using it to once to be a pro and know more than most TMs. Oh! There’s a place on Hollywood Blvd. called “The Dark Room”. It is a place with 6 green screens that take multiple fun “Magic Shots”. Most people don’t even know it exists. I had to almost wake up the TN in there when I came in. I was the only person she had seen that day! There are many self-serve photo places like the Back to the Future DeLorean or Jurassic Park van. Keep your eyes open. (Plus after rides like E.T. or Spider-man there are places to pose with those characters if you have the Photo Pass.)

#4 – WWOHP is amazing. I’m still unsure if SWGE will match it even though it’s built by the same people. If you have Early Park Admission – which you should staying on-site – I HIGHLY recommend going to Olivander’s first if you intend on buying an interactive wand before going on rides or at least as soon as you get off your first ride. This will give you plenty of time to use the wands without having to wait. I never had much trouble with people taking turns, but sometimes it can get a bit crowded with everyone waiting to do the spells. Like EMH at WDW you’ll have plenty of time and space for that hour and the first after park opening. Capacity grows just like WDW, maybe not as many people, but very similar patterns. I’d say after about 2 – 3 hours in each part of WWOHP you’ll have seen it. You do need a “Park to Park” ticket…aka “Park Hopper” to ride the Hogwarts Express. It really is great. It’s a different experience in each direction. So you get two separate shows depending on which land you are going to on the train.

It’s such a great park. If I lived down in Florida I’d get an AP. I imagine it’s similar to what people in CA experience with DLR. If you have any more questions, please, ask.


Darkmite2, you are a treasure trove of info!


I fell in love with USF / IOA pretty fast and hard after going. It’s like finding out there was a snack that you never tried because of its odd name / color / look. Then you try it and are like “Wow! That’s awesome! Why didn’t I try that sooner?” I’ve missed out on too many USF / IOA experiences that have since closed because I always only went to WDW each trip for 30 years.

I couldn’t find much about USF / IOA when I started going. There are 2 - 3 ppl here that are helpful, but not the large group that WDW/DLR has on these forums. So I make sure to try to answer as many USF / IOA questions that I can.

Oh! Since I’m talking food… don’t get your hopes up about in park dining. It’s pretty mediocre. The WWOHP is probably the best Quick Service and it’s “OK”. There are lot of great treats and drinks at WWOHP though. If you want good Table Service dinning, just walk outside the park gates to CityWalk. (It’s their version of Disney Springs)


@darkmite2 is dead on with most of his advice. I agree with pretty much everything he said. I think the best thing you can do is take a deep breath and not let yourself get too worried about it. If you can navigate Disney, navigating Universal with Express Pass will be very easy. And, as mentioned, be sure to check out Diagon Alley in the evening as well. First thing in the morning during early entry and last thing in the evening are my absolute favorite times in Diagon Alley.

With regard to food, if you go into it expecting theme park quality food, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I have enjoyed the meals I have had at Leaky Cauldron, Mythos, Thunder Falls, Three Broomsticks and the Bumblebeeman taco truck very much.


That’s an excellent tip, thank you! I hadn’t read about that anywhere else.

@rebeecky, thank you for confirming (and expanding, I’ll check the Thunder Falls menu) the list of restaurants we’re planning to eat at. Oh, that reminds me I should figure out which day I want a reservation at Mythos.


It’s great! Here’s a couple of The Dark Room pics!


Try not to worry. You are going there to have fun. Enjoy! :):grin:

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Are the Dark Room pics included with the regular photopass? I pre-purchased an annual one for our trip this Dec…plan on upgrading to APs while there to revisit next fall as well.

This is our 1st Universal trip…have been to Disney 3 times…kids are getting older now though and with the price of trying to do a week with 5 people at Disney absolutely through the roof…UO was just much more doable for us with the new Endless Summer hotel 2 bedroom suite prices.

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Yep! There are also a few places you can take after photos after rides also that are kinda exclusive for PhotoPass users. Be on the lookout. I couldn’t find my Spider-Man photo right now, but I like that one too!


We did three days at WDW (for the second time) earlier this year, and then two days at Universal, and while I love the rides at Disney more, the overall Universal experience was waaaay less stressful. Other than Hogsmede, even when the crowd levels were 8, it felt less crowded than Disney. Granted, the new Hagrid ride was still under construction then (we were literally standing beside the construction barriers speculating as to what it was going to be when Universal issued the press release!) so crowd levels and wait times will probably be different now.
As an organized planning kind of person, I felt like I had to “DO” Disney, with a touring plan and fast passes and everything, but Universal was much more like a vacation and we just rolled with it and still managed to see everything we really wanted to. I had a touring plan going in, but we ended up just doing what we felt like when we felt like it, and the only crazy line we waited in was for Gringotts, but it was cool because there’s so much to experience there.


It will be easy peasy! The only thing I will add, are the ride locker system. This past January, I decided to go last minute and added my eticket to the app. The attendants had to assist me with the lockers, said the etickets wouldn’t scan!
Also check your photos periodically and if you’re missing any you can get them resolved before leaving the park.
But you will have fun!


Here are some other things I thought of if you have time.
London, visit the Knight bus, go to the phone booth and dial MAGIC.
Look for Creecher in the upper window of Grismald Place.
Diagon Alley at the ride, if the wait time is low go thru the regular line, because they will have a photo opportunity.
Hogsmeade go to the owlery and you can send postcards with Hogsmeade stamp.
The bridge leading out of Hogsmeade to Jurassic there will be someone taking pictures there with Hogwarts as the background.


You can actually get your picture taken even in the Express line in Gringotts. Sometimes they have a photo booth open in that line, and if they don’t, you can ask one of the TMs if you can get a picture taken and they will pull you out of line, take your picture, and then put you back in the Express line. I did it both ways on my last trip.