The Universal resort in Orlando is made up of three parks; Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. We didn’t bother with the water park, but we visited Studios and Islands. We started off at Islands of Adventure.
Naturally, we headed straight for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You step through an archway and are transported to Hogsmeade. The area is massive, and created in loving detail. All the famous shops line the street, from The Three Broomsticks to Honeydukes. There is something surreal about seeing the snow on the roofs in the blazing Florida heat, but it looks so pretty.
The shops are all quite small, so I’d suggest hitting this island first so you can actually look at things. We spent ages wandering the street and soaking up all the Potter detail.
We turned a corner and there was Hogwarts. The build is clever, with forced perspective making the castle look much bigger than it really is, although it is actually pretty big!
Hogsmeade is home to three Potter rides, Dragon Challenge which is a fast paced double roller coaster that used to be Duelling Dragons (this ride closes on 5th September to make way for a new ride, so go NOW if you want to ride it), Flight of the Hippogriff which is a gentler ride, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The Forbidden Journey takes place in Hogwarts. The queue weaves through Hogwarts, taking you past talking portraits of the founders and the Fat Lady, through Dumbledore’s office and into a classroom where you are greeted by Harry, Hermione and Ron. The ride is fairly gentle, despite the intense looking restraints. You zoom around Hogwarts, encountering lots of adventures on the way. Be aware that a lot of stuff leaps out at you, so not one for easily scared children. One poor kid behind us howled the whole time. I also suggest you avoid it if you’re afraid of spiders…
Obviously I had to try a Butterbeer. You can buy this cold or frozen (and hot in the winter). I opted for cold. I’d describe it as a sweeter cream soda, with a butterscotch foam top, that made me think of melted ice cream. Try and drink as much of the drink through the foam as you can; it’s much tastier that way. It was good, sweet, fun and quite refreshing.
We headed off to Marvel Super Hero Island. I loved this island. It looks like it fell straight out of a comic book and there is so much fun little detail to notice. The famous The Incredible Hulk Coaster is here, although I was too chicken to try it out myself. I did love The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man which is a mix of 3-D, simulator and rollercoaster somehow. It was like nothing I’ve ever ridden before, and it is incredible.
In this area, you can meet some Marvel heroes, so obviously we headed straight for the X-Men. I cannot say enough good things about these guys. They were all so funny, so chatty and so in character. We ended up talking comics and cosplay with Rogue and Storm for a while, Cyclops was super sweet and Wolverine insulted us. Perfect.
From there, it was all aboard the Hogwarts Express to head over to Universal Studios. You can easily walk between the parks, but don’t. Get the train. Trust me. There are some surprises on the trip.
The train drops you in London, where we immediately found Grimmauld Place. From there, we wandered into Diagon Alley. I pretty much forgot about taking photos (there is a lot more video) because I was so busy gawping at it all. It’s an incredible creation, and a pretty immersive experience. Try the shops, brave Knockturn Alley and grab some lunch in The Leaky Cauldron.
There’s a few fun rides in Studios, but to be honest the highlight of all of it is the Harry Potter areas. Truly incredible.
You can see my vlog of the day here:
top tips for universal
- Take as little as possible. You are not allowed to take any bags onto almost all the rides, and some won’t allow you anything in your pockets either. Bags must be left in lockers by the entrance. The lockers are free while you ride. Get to the Potter rides early; there are so few lockers. It took us half an hour to get a locker in Hogwarts, and then we queued for so long, it timed out and tried to charge us $3 to get out stuff back out.
- Get the free refills drinks cup. It sounds like a lot of money for a cup, but we bought one between us. You can refill these at stations all round the park for free, so you can properly hydrated and dodge some of the queues for drinks.
- Get the mobile app. The app has a map of the parks, it shows queue times, alerts you if queue times drop and you can use it to book Express passes.