Guide to Universal Orlando

Guide to Universal and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

When we heard Universal Orlando had created a Wizarding World of Harry Potter that basically let us muggles walk in Harry’s footsteps and truly step out of our mundane world into his – we had to see it! This was our main motivation for heading down to Orlando. Then since we would be down there how can we not pop over to Disney World and complete our regressive journey from adult to child in the space of a week by visiting these two world famous theme parks.

Guide to Visiting Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort is currently comprised of two theme parks – Universal Studios which is mainly 3D simulators based on popular films and then Islands of Adventure which is the park for the thrill seekers filled with roller coasters and water rides (which are not afraid to soak you). Between them lies CityWalk, a retail complex that is also accessible to the public, open all day and well after the theme parks close.

Download the Universal Orlando Resort App

First things first, download the official Universal app, which is free! The app provides park maps, lists and details the attractions and most importantly up-to-date wait times.

Arrive 30 Minutes Prior to Gates Opening

This allows time to get through the security bag search, the metal detectors and still arrive at the gates as they open.


Buy a park-to-park ticket as the Hogwarts Express that connect the two parks is a must do and you can only access this ride with a park-to-park ticket. You can comfortably do each park in a day. In the off-peak season when the wait times are minimal you could do both parks in one day.

What to Pack

My biggest questions, what do I wear in Universal? Can I carry a bag, as what will I do with it on the roller coasters?

Something they take very seriously is you cannot take any loose items onto the roller coasters, even if it is in a buttoned up pocket. No sunglasses, cell phones, coins, selfie sticks, hats etc. Some of the rides even require you to walk through additional metal detectors before getting onto them to ensure you haven’t forgotten (or tried to sneak) something in.

  • Back Packs – Obviously you can rent lockers but otherwise, the big roller coasters provide free lockers at their respected entrances. They are free for about 30-60 minutes thereafter you have to pay per hour (as long as the ride wait times are not too long you will be fine).
  • Water – Pack a water bottle which you can refill throughout the day at the water fountains positioned near all the washrooms.
  • Ziplock bag – The water rides have no issue drenching you and your belongings which you are permitted to take along with you on these rides. Thus I highly recommend placing your cell phone and park admission ticket in a ziplock bag and into your pockets or backpack – this way you can ensure they stay dry and safe if you get wet or rained on.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando

Our Favourite Rides

  • Escape from Gringotts
  • Dragon Challenge
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Shrek 4D

There is no escaping getting wet on these three rides

  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges

To sum up our time at Universal Orlando – We happily got super soaked! Not because it rained but the water rides are not afraid to drown you and the other rides and 4D simulators merrily spritz you with water. It actually comes as somewhat of a reprieve from the Florida heat and humidity.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios

Visiting Wizarding World of Harry Potter

And then to any Potter fan, the Wizarding World will take your breath away. Walking through Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley transports you to their world, with almost everyone dressed in floor-length black robes, waving a wand and surrounded by snow-capped turrets and cobbled alleyways lined with wacky window displays you will instantly forget it’s – sadly – not real.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter falls across the two parks, Hogsmeade (encompasses Hogwarts) is in Islands of Adventure whilst Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios and the Hogwarts express connects the two.

Do Not Miss: 

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Walking through Kings Cross station platform 9¾ – mind blowing illusion
  • Talk to the Night Bus conductor
  • Ride the Hogwarts Express both ways – each journey has a different experience (only accessible to guests with park-to-park tickets)
  • See the Ollivanders wand experience
  • Grab a frozen Butterbeer
  • Really take the time to absorb all the details, the moving portraits and the moving photographs on the front pages of the newspapers scattered about…

The Forbidden Journey ride – is not for those with a weak stomach. I have an iron cast constitution and even I felt a little motion sick stepping off this ride. But if you can’t face the ride, ensure to at least take a journey through the Hogwarts Castle.

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_Wizarding World

Universal Studios Orlando_chocolate frog

Universal CityWalk 

Beyond the theme parks is CityWalk a shopping and dining area that is open to the public and does not require an admittance ticket to access. Besides having loads of cool restaurants and cocktail bars it also has a cinema, the Blue Man group theatre and mini golf.

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is a must visit for anyone with a sweet tooth. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth the steampunk inspired chocolate factory interior is worth checking out. They also have an extensive menu of burgers, salad, pasta and brunch. Consider sharing a meal here as they are not shy with their portions and you really want to save space for dessert.

Vivo Italian Kitchen The modern Italian restaurant has a diverse menu of authentic dishes at very reasonable prices.

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Chocolate Emporium

Hotel Resort: Cabana Bay

We stayed within the Universal resort at the retro Cabana Bay, the hotel has two kid-friendly pools, a lazy river, a waterslide, a very well equipped gym, restaurants and even a bowling alley. The perks of staying at a Universal resort are, you’re literally walking distance from the theme parks otherwise you can catch the shuttles that run all day and nights but the biggest perk is you have early access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. One hour before the park is open to the public hotel guests can experience the magic before the crowds.

Universal Studios Orlando_Cabana Bay


Tracey Pictor

Tracey is a South African expat living, travelling and working her way around the world with my dear husband and cat.

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