Update May 26, 2011: It’s been nearly a year since the grand opening of the Wizarding World and just last week I returned, making it my 3rd trip to the park. Not much has changed, but it was nice to go when it wasn’t peak season. Still, because the Wizarding World is small the crowds are perhaps more noticeable. During this visit, we always saved the Wizarding World for last, arriving at this part of the park around 5 p.m. (the park closes at 8 p.m.). It gave us adequate time to go on the rides with much shorter queues and enjoy all the park has to offer!
It’s been a little over a month since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal’s Island of Adventure. I had the extreme opportunity to be there during the grand opening as press, but I also returned this month to experience the park with some other friends and attend a Harry Potter conference. Here are some of the things I discovered and hopefully you’ll find useful when planning your trip to Hogsmeade!
1. The Longest Lines Ever (During the Summer)
Just because you’re able to get into Island of Adventure doesn’t mean you’ll be given immediate access into the Wizarding World. What am I going on about, you ask? Well, unless you have an early admission pass through one of Universal’s vacation packages, once the park opens, visitors are placed in a line and given separate ticket stubs which will eventually get them into the Wizarding World. The line I witnessed (but never had to stand in, thank god) was roughly three hours long. Usually by 2 or 3 p.m. in the afternoon, the line is gone and you can go in and out of the Wizarding World as you please. So sometimes it’s best to enjoy the rest of Islands of Adventure before making your way to Hogsmeade.
2. Get an Express Pass
Express passes are WORTH IT. You can get a hold of an Express pass one of two ways: stay at one of Universal’s resorts (Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel, or Portofino Bay). Your room key acts as an express pass which will help you skip the regular lines. Instead of a 45 minute wait, you might have to wait only 15 minutes max.
The second option is to purchase Express passes which are sold around the park. They’re a bit pricey, though, but very much worth it if you want to do several rides and do them more than once. Here’s more information.
3. Dragon Challenge
Dragon Challenge is one of the three rides at the Wizarding World. It is one wild roller coaster; definitely not for the faint-hearted! When I first went on the ride back in June, we went through the express line, which was wonderful. This time, however, we waited in the regular queue – big mistake.
The queue for Dragon Challenge is never ending. It starts off nice enough with banners for the four Triwizard champions, a look inside the champion’s tent, a glimpse at the golden egg, and a hall of floating candles. But after a while, the line turns into a never ending tunnel of caves. There are sound effects to make it seem as if there is a dragon outside trying to get in, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s very little ventilation in the tunnels making it stuffy, hot and uncomfortable. Many people also left the line because they were becoming claustrophobic.
The wait time in front of the ride said 35 minutes, but it was more like 45 minutes and it felt longer because of the blandness of the queue. I think Universal spent all of their money on the other attractions and didn’t have any more to spare for Dragon Challenge. It’s an amazing roller coaster, but seriously – don’t do it unless you have an Express pass.
In order to get into some of the shops like Zonko’s/Honeydukes and Dervish and Banges, you have to wait in lines that have about a 20 to 30 minute wait (during the summer). Yes, to enter a shop.
Getting into Ollivander’s wand shop is no different, except the shop isn’t really there for you to browse through. Ollivander’s is supposed to be an “experience” – about 30 guests are allowed to enter at a time and Ollivander’s protégé picks only one person from the group to select a wand. You wait almost two hours in line for a roughly 10 minute presentation. It’s incredibly well done, don’t get me wrong, but is it worth such a long wait? I don’t think so.
Since the chances are you won’t be picking a wand inside Ollivander’s, after the presentation guests exit into the Owl Post which is where more wands are shelved. You can choose to buy either a replica of one of the character’s wands (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort, Sirius Black, etc.) or buy a wand that represents your birth date on the Celtic calendar. Employees in the shop are more than willing to help you select your wand, so that’s always a bonus. Plus, the Owl Post is connected to Dervish and Banges so you can do a bit of shopping there too. Dervish and Banges is the only store that sells wizard robes (priced at $99.99, but they are glorious!) and Quaffles, the Quibbler and other Hogwarts uniform accessories.
5. The Forbidden Journey
There’s quite a bit I can divulge to you about the Forbidden Journey now that I’ve ridden it … well, you don’t need to know how many times I’ve been on it. Just take my word for what I’m about to tell you!
First things first, there’s no express lane. Though there is one built, it currently is only used for those who want to tour the castle and not go on the ride. Rumor has it, though, that the express lane will be fully functional by next summer (as of May 2011, still no sign of the Express lane coming into effect). In the meantime, everyone has the opportunity to go through the regular line and tour the castle. During peak hours, the wait can be anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes, but it’s really not such an excruciating wait. The detail that has gone into this queue is amazing where you can visit Dumbledore’s office, the Herbology classroom, Gryffindor common room and so much more. I highly recommend doing the regular queue at least once.
Now once you reach the castle, you might see a line that goes out the castle doors. Don’t be fooled. This line is not for the ride. It is actually to get to the lockers since no loose articles are allowed on the ride. Lockers are free for up to two hours sometimes, enough time for you to go on the ride and come back. There’s a quick way to bypass the locker line: enter the castle through Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Filch’s is the “gift shop” the ride drops you off in, but there is an entrance to it on the right side of the castle (past the “pram parking”) and the store also connects directly to the locker area. So slither in from Filch’s, find your locker and from there you’ll see where the queue for the Forbidden Journey really begins (there are employees there instructing you). I should mention there are also lockers at the entrance of the Wizarding World, next to the Hogwarts Express though their “free” time might not be as long.
If you’ve already done the ride once and are dying to get on it again BUT you don’t want to wait another 90 minutes, I have a solution for you! Go in the single rider lane. Yes, it exists! You skip out on touring the castle (though you still get to do Gryffindor common room), but the longest wait time I ever experienced was between 25 – 30 minutes. Sometimes you could even get it done in 10 minutes. Of course, the only downside is that you don’t get to ride with your friends. The employees won’t always be shouting about the single rider lane. In fact, we got lucky when we heard about it. If you want to go as a single rider, ask one of the employees where to enter for the queue. It can be easily missed.
6. The Three Broomsticks
If you’re looking for a nice place to cool down and drink your butterbeer, head to the patio behind the Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head pub. You’re not allowed to stay in the Three Broomsticks unless you’re eating there. The patio is accessible from an alleyway to the right of the building (there’s a sign for Gringotts ATM machine). There’s also an entrance to the Hog’s Head pub from the back here so you can pop in and order some butterbeer while enjoying the cool shade and another stunning view of Hogwarts.
By the way, frozen butterbeer is much more refreshing than regular butterbeer. This isn’t just my opinion – Rupert Grint said so, too. And you can’t disagree with Ron Weasley!
7. Flight of the Hippogriff
The third ride at the Wizarding World is Flight of the Hippogriff. I haven’t talked about it much because there’s really no big secret about it. It’s a family-friendly roller coaster that’s a ton of fun and generally has the shortest wait time. If you have an express pass, you can get it done in about 5 minutes. And then go on it again… and again… and again…
8. Mind the Details
Look at the window displays, stare at the ceiling, be creeped out by Myrtle in the bathrooms, listen to the noises coming from upstairs at the Hog’s Head– no small detail has been spared. It really is amazing and you’ll be surprised at some of the things you notice. Perhaps that’s the only good thing about the long lines – you have no choice but to sit and admire all the hard work and tiny details that have gone into this park. There are a ton I’d love to share, but I want it to be something you discover for yourself.
9. One Last Thing
This isn’t so much a tip as it is a public service announcement. People of the world: please stop littering in Hogwarts. If I had to pick up another water bottle or Heineken can from in between the Herbology plants, I would’ve pulled a Filch and start threatening to hang people by their thumbs in the dungeons. COME ON. Littering in general is bad, but to do it in Hogwarts – a building that has barely been open for a year– is insulting. There are trash cans and recycle bins throughout the queue – use them! But please, do not deface Hogwarts.
So, to do a quick recap:
- Universal’s Harry Potter vacation package is worth it for early admission
- Express passes in general are worth having
- Only do Dragon Challenge if you have an Express Pass. Otherwise, prepare to suffer in the tunnels
- Only one person gets a wand chosen at Ollivander’s. Other than that, go to the Owl Post to pick your own wand
- Do the Forbidden Journey queue at least once, and then go again as a single rider for a much shorter wait time.
- Enter the castle through Filch’s to bypass the locker line
- There’s a lovely patio behind the Three Broomsticks. Go there!
- Flight of the Hippogriff is a very fun ride
- Keep your eyes and ears wide open for the details – there’s a lot that can be easily overlooked.
- DO NOT LITTER IN HOGWARTS