The first thing you need to know is that there are two Universal parks (Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure), and both of the parks have Harry Potter attractions.
When it comes to buying tickets, you have a couple of options. You can buy a single park pass for either of the parks or you can buy a park hopper pass that will allow you to take the Hogwarts Express and visit both of the parks. (Of course, you also have the option to buy multi-day passes.)
Our family opted for one-day park hopper passes. The passes are more expensive, but in my opinion, it was totally worth the extra cost. Upgrading to the park hopper pass gives you the ability to access all the Harry Potter attractions (in both parks) and ride the Hogwarts Express.
Whatever option you choose, you are going to want to arrive early, as it takes time to park, go through security, and make your way to the front gates. (Tip: Take a picture of the parking sign near your car so that you remember where you parked.)
If you are like me, you might also want to plan some special outfits for your family. I saw many people with Harry Potter robes, but I think the t-shirts I had made were cute and less cumbersome.
The Universal parks are large, and there is no way to see everything in both parks in one day, so you'll need to make a plan before you arrive. Here's what we did:
We parked at Universal Studios, and when the park opened, we went directly to Platform 9 3/4 to board The Hogwarts Express. We did everything we wanted to do at the Universal Islands of Adventure park, and then we headed to Kings Crossing to take The Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios (where we spent the rest of our day). Note: While you wait in line at King's Cross Station, there's a special area where you can stand in front of an illusion mirror that makes it look you are are actually disappearing into the wall at Platform 9 3/4.
The Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) contains the following "don't miss" Harry Potter attractions:
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - This is a fantastic ride, and one that you won't want to miss! You'll soar above the castle grounds as you join Harry Potter and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of magical creatures. This amazing attraction uses groundbreaking, state-of-the-art technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind ride experience.
Dragon Challenge - This is a really fun twist and loop high-speed roller coaster. It's a lot of fun for those that meet the height requirement.
Flight of the Hippograph - This is a family-friendly ride that takes to the air and swoops past Hagrid's hut.
Honeydukes Sweet Shop - You'll want to visit this special store at Hogsmeade. It's full of all your favorite Harry Potter treats, including Bernie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs.
And if you have time, you might want to make a quick stop by Owl Post too. You can mail letters here with a special Hogsmeade postmark.
After you have finished at Universal Islands of Adventure, you can take The Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. The train is a fantastic way to move between the two parks, and the journey is full of magical details and fun surprises.
Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) contains the following "don't miss" Harry Potter attractions:
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts - This is one of our favorite rides, and it is one you don't want to miss. You'll experience a pulse-pounding adventure on multi-dimensional thrill ride that puts you right in the middle of the action as you navigate your way through the perils of Gringotts vaults. The details (even in the line-up) are amazing!
Leaky Cauldron - You can pop into this wonderful Diagon Alley eating establishment for something to eat and a delicious and frothy Butterbeer.
Ollivanders - This was a favorite stop for my boys. You can head to the back of the store to see a wand choose a wizard, and you'll have the opportunity to purchase your own wand. The wands are pricey, but they make a wonderful keepsake. You can purchase character replica wands or interactive wands (that you can use throughout the park to perform your own "magic"). If you buy an interactive wand, you'll receive a map with 34 marked locations. When you locate the medallions on the map, you can say a spell and wave the wand to make things happen.
Gringotts Money Exchange - If you are planning on making purchases at the park, you can pop into Gringotts Money exchange "muggle money" for "wizarding bank notes" that can be used throughout the park. You'll also receive a little money folder that can be kept as a souvenir.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes - If you are a fan of the Weasley twins, you'll want to check out their famous joke shop. It's a fun store to explore.
There are also many fun "secrets" to uncover as you wander around the parks, so take some time to explore. e.g. You can dial MAGIC (962442) inside the British red phone booth outside the entrance to Diagon Alley to receive a message from the Ministry of Magic, or you can receive a special message while standing in front of the mirror at Madam Malkin's Robes shop. Also, the dragon on top of Gringotts Bank shoots out fire (approx. every 15 minutes), and it is awesome!
There are also many more fantastic rides and attractions in both parks, but this post focuses on the Harry Potter highlights. I'll be writing about some of the other fun things to do at Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure soon!
Have you been to these parks? What was your favorite part of your visit?
Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)
Disclosure: I received two free tickets in exchange for my honest review of this park. As always, the opinions on this blog are 100% my own.