Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Harry Potter: Travel tips

I absolutely loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. From the steaming Hogwarts Express to the towering Hogwarts castle it was not only a feast for the eyes but also an incredible experience. To walk through Hogsmeade and its intimate shops with snow-covered roofs and crooked chimneys was pure magic. The world I’ve grown to love unfolded before me and whisked me away to a place where Dementors and Moaning Myrtle seemed as real as the never-ending line for Butterbeer. Here are a couple of travel tips on a Universal/Islands of Adventure vacation. Check back for Harry Potter: From A to Z.

Traveling tips

Stay on site if you can afford it. It’s worth every penny. I recommend Hard Rock Hotel. It’s a short walk from the hotel to both theme parks – Universal and Islands of Adventure – and City Walk. Plus, as a perk, Islands of Adventure is open one hour early so hotel guests can enjoy Harry Potter before the general public. Also, as a guest at an on-site hotel, you get to use your room key as an express ride pass that allows you to bypass the regular lines at select attractions. The hour-early admission and express ride pass save tons of time. And since I’m not patient, this was perfect.

My second tip is to take your AAA card. Your card can save 10 percent at select gift shops and restaurants at both theme parks and at Universal City Walk. I discovered this my first day when a cashier noticed the card in my wallet and told me about the discount. From then on, I was using the card and saving, saving, saving.

I recommend hitting the park in the morning then heading back to the hotel to relax in the afternoon. I enjoyed cooling off in the hotel pool and sipping a frozen drink (or two). After a few hours of downtime, head back to the park(s) and stay until closing. The parks really do look different at night with their colorful swirls of bright lights.

I like to hop from park to park so I always get a park-to-park pass. This means I can jump back and forth between both parks throughout the day. There were days that I was in Islands of Adventure in the early morning, Universal in late morning, Islands early evening, Universal late evening. A park-to-park pass gives you the most flexibility. I would hate having to stay in one park for the entire day.

Go see Blue Man Group show. I ordered the tickets online before we left and picked them up at the box office upon arrival. We had great seats: two rows from the stage and dead center. I had never been to a performance like this and didn’t know what to expect. I’m not even sure how to describe it. The men are blue. They don’t talk, and their eyes look like golf balls. They’re awesome drummers and they do funny things that will crack you up. And the best part – at the end, tons of toilet paper rolls (and I mean tons) unroll forming waves of white across the entire auditorium. The show is just plain fun and you laugh so much your jaw hurts.

So those are my travel tips. If you been to Universal/Islands and have additional tips, please share in comments. Oh, and did I tell you, it’s great to be back with all of my cyber friends. I have a lot of catching up to do.


  1. great to 'see' you again, Buffy and glad you had such a great time. I've heard the blue man group is pretty cool.

  2. Hey, Buffy! I agree -- the early hour entry into Harry Potter and the Express pass to the front of every single line was well worth the rate for staying at the Hard Rock! The Express pass was better than a Disney Fastpass, because you could use it everywhere and as many times as you wanted! The only ride we waited more than 10 minutes for was, of course Harry Potter. (That was still 40 minutes for us -- how about you?)

  3. Dianne, I went first thing in the morning, arriving at the gate by 7:30 a.m. I pretty much just walked on the ride at this time of the day. But by the afternoon, I couldn't believe the lines that had formed throughout the park, staged in areas, just to get into Hogsmeade. Not to mention the lines these folks had to wait in once they got into the area for the rides and the wand shop and everything else. Even my line for the wand shop (which I got into after the ride) moved pretty quickly. My kids often went at night, closing the park in this area. They said it was awesome at night and the crowd had thinned substantially.

    Also folks, take plenty of water if you go in August and you might even consider taking an umbrella to shield you from the sun. I saw a lot of folks with umbrellas.

  4. Sounds great! I'm not usually a theme park person but I think I'd love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hope to make it down some day!

  5. Hey! You were in my neighborhood. We may have even passed each other while hanging out in the parks!

  6. Buffy, it sounds like you had a wonderful time! We are thinking about going there for Christmas this year. Our summer vacation was cancelled, so I have my fingers crossed that my hubby can leave the office over Christmas...I'm glad you had fun!