A Harry Potter-Oriented Trip to Universal Orlando

Overall Logistics

  • Universal studios is where the more classic universal properties are, e.g. Jurassic Park, Simpsons, Men In Black. Islands of Adventure has other stuff.
  • Monday was busier than Tuesday, Tuesday had maybe ~30 mins max waits for even normal rides at Universal Studio, though a little longer at islands of adventure
  • On Monday, I got through all of islands of adventure, and part of universal, after arriving at ~8:20 (20 minutes into early open), and leaving at 8pm
  • On Tuesday, I was tired and arrived at ~10am, and left at ~5:30
  • Be prepared for lots of walking
  • I booked two separate hotels for 2 nights:
    • Endless Summer (Dockside), which was ~150 / night, for Sunday night. The room was actually quite spacious, ended up getting 3 beds! Parking was also cheaper, at ~15ish for a night
    • Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which was ~450 / night, for Monday night, but crucially, included unlimited express passes for all guests (at least 2?) for both check in and check out dates. There’s also water taxis going from the premier hotels (including this one) to City Walk, which is the boardwalk between the two parks
  • I think this ended up being a good decision overall. I didn’t make use of any of the other hotel facilities (e.g. gym, outdoor pool “lagoon”, beach, etc), but I could potentially do that next time if I pack / plan differently. I roughly break even when you consider the unlimited express passes (which I did use to do a few popular coasters multiple times) (versus a cheap hotel + buying separate passes). I think the proximity to the parks ends up making a difference though, as it’s faster to get to / from the parks (~8 mins to 1 park, ~12 to another), and you get the water taxis, which turned out to be convenient when I got tired of walking.
  • If I had gone with other people, staying in the premier hotel (and getting each guest an express pass) would definitely have been the move, as it doesn’t cost anything extra.
  • I wasn’t using the app for most of the trip, but I ended up being forced to use it to order food at the Leaky Cauldron (in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios). Turns out the app is actually pretty decent, and has all the showtimes and maps, plus your location and some filtering. It definitely made it convenient to ensure I had done / seen everything I wanted to (thought it didn’t offer explicit checklist functionality). The PDF maps make it easier to see the details of the rides though. tl;dr:
  • City Walk has a movie theater (Cinemark), but the last showtimes are ~9:30 - 10:30. That does leave some time between the parks closing and dinner to catch a movie, but you’d have to reserve something in advance at the restaurants. Luckily, reservations are also easy to do online.
  • There’s a couple of escape rooms in City Walk as well, but I only just learned about them when looking for restaurants for dinner, and wasn’t able to purchase tickets. If you want to do this (supposedly 1-8 people), you should plan ahead.
  • There’s a shuttle to the Universal hotels (at least the premier one(s)) directly from the Orlando airport (MCO), so you can get away without a rental car / Lyft. Not sure if the shuttle costs anything though, as I didn’t use it.


  • All the small lockers are free, which is really nice! They’re bigger than a post office medium box, which meant there was always room for my phone + wallet + keys and plenty more if I wanted.
  • Some rides offer lockers, but it isn’t actually necessary for them (if everything is relatively tightly in your pockets), e.g. Escape From Gringotts. Loose items like necklaces and such should probably be put in the lockers though.
  • The more intense rides (coasters) have metal detectors before they let you ride, to ensure that you’ve put everything into the lockers. This includes at least the following. Conveniently, there’s a little symbol in the legend on the PDF map which indicates what rides have which requirements, including metal detection.
    • Velocicoaster
    • Rip Ride Rockit
    • Hulk
  • Some rides are duplicated between different Universal Studios locations, e.g. I think the Transformers ride was also at the Singapore version of Universal Studios.


  • You can get your merch sent to your hotel room (for free), but it takes some time (e.g. 10am+ the next day).
  • You can also (for free) have it sent to main Universal Studios store in City Walk (between the two parks), which can happen on the same day. The main store is open until midnight, which makes it very convenient to pick up upon leaving the parks. I wasn’t able to send something I bought at 6pm to the main store though, so plan at least a few hours ahead.
  • A lot of the more common (popular?) merch is available in many locations (e.g. Hogwarts house hoodies, wands, HP candies), but there’s also many store specifics, e.g. certain hoodies, plushies, etc. Thus, be sure to check all the stores, if you’re looking to buy merch.
  • I ended up spending $275 on merch, between 2 hoodies, some cards, and some stuff from Honeydukes.
    • The chocolate wand was nothing special, literally just a stick of dark chocolate. Probably not worth buying if you don’t care about the packaging.
    • The exploding bonbons are white chocolate with poprocks inside, which was an interesting combination, and definitely worth trying.
  • In hindsight, I probably should’ve bought the $300 gift card, and just gotten a wand out of it for the last 25 dollars. The wand wouldn’t have been one of the interactive ones though (which is probably where most of the fun is), so maybe I did make the right decision anyway.
  • The house robes are cool, but the material feels really cheap, and definitely not worth $140.
  • Fred and George’s wands lock together to make a Quidditch broom with the handles!

Harry Potter Stuff

I originally planned the trip with the intent to spend the entire 2 days in Harry Potter World, but that ended up being a gross miscalculation. There’s definitely not enough stuff to keep me busy for 2 full days - I spent maybe 5-6 hours there total, over 2 days.

  • It’s worth riding Hogwarts Express in both directions, as the story is different each way, as are the sets you see while waiting in line. Plus, it turns out to be a decent, relaxing way to get between the two parks.
  • Reddit suggested it wasn’t worth waiting in line for the Ollivander’s wand selection experience, so I didn’t end up doing that.
  • The Forbidden Journey ride takes you through the inside of the Hogwarts castle they have built (probably), which was a neat double use of space.
  • Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) definitely feels more “Harry Potter-y”, with lots more shops / general decoration. Start at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade), so you’re not disappointed :).
  • Butterbeer tasted like a cream soda of some sort, which I guess is roughly the intent.
  • Pumpkin juice was like liquid pumpkin pie, and it was fantastic.
  • Leaky Cauldron (Universal Studios) had more HP-specific drink options, including Fire Whiskey, which I didn’t see anywhere else. Supposedly, the Fire Whiskey was a mixture of cider and whiskey, but I didn’t get to try it. It also had some (2-3) vegetarian entrĂ©e options, whereas I think Three Broomsticks (Islands Of Adventure) didn’t have any (for lunch). Might’ve had some breakfast (8-10) options, though.
  • The Knight Bus outside King’s Crossing talks back to you, and is overall pretty funny. Definitely worth watching / interacting for a bit. You can also go around the back to look inside!