Updated: Oct 7, 2020
No trip to Orlando is complete without a visit to Disney, Cape Canaveral or Universal Studios. The latter featuring two worlds constructed as miniature replicas of all things Harry Potter.
And you don’t need to be a super-fan to enjoy any of it. The construction quality and imagination imbued into the scenery and use of space is really quite a treat. There aren't a lot of castles in the US, for example, so seeing a full-scale replica in the heat of Florida is itself an interesting prospect.
But even watching other people explode with joy is a great experience. Seriously, you could get your money’s worth just observing all the excited kids trying to use their magic wands to control random objects strewn about in shop windows of Hogsmeade!
If there’s anyone in your group under 30 there’s a good chance the works of Rowling have been building their anticipation since long before you took off for the airport. That means a ride on the Hogwarts Express is probably featuring pretty high in the travel dreams of at least one of your travel companions on this adventure! Keep reading, we’ll get to the tricky part.
You don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the atmosphere
I’ll be honest in that Harry Potter may be perhaps a little after my time. I was in my 20s when the latter half of the series first hit the shelves.
I also don’t yet have my own children to enjoy the family-friendly stories. That means that between my wife, Holly and myself, she’s the fan by default as she really enjoyed the movies! She’s also our Chief Fun Officer, so it’s her job to find all the ways to have fun. Neither of us can complain about finding that fun at Universal!.
Here's where the tricky part starts
Universal Orlando Resorts encompasses two theme parks and a water park. The classic theme parks are, of course, Universal Studios, and the somewhat newer Islands of Adventure. Volcano Bay opened as the third attraction in May of 2017, a dedicated water park.
In addition to the huge parks, visitors can enjoy the CityWalk space for dining and shows. Some of which do have a cover charge to enter.
There are Harry Potter themed lands in both Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure. Separated by either a gigantic walk around the front entrance to either park or via the more convenient route joined by the Hogwarts Express train ride.
The park-to-park problem
But here’s the well-played business case by Universal, and where a bit of confusion lies. The Hogwarts Express ride is actually a one-way transportation element bringing guests from one park to the other.
So, you could travel from Universal Studios to the Islands of Adventure or the other way around. Because you’d have access to all the great rides after disembarking the train, passengers must be in possession of a park-to-park pass.
With a variety of passes on offer, if you’ve purchased multi-day but single park passes, you will not be able to enjoy the Hogwarts Express.
Both worlds are very well presented and certainly worthy of your time on a visit
Again, I’m no life-long Potter fan, but I did enjoy the theatrics and creative use of what I can presume were shadows, alongside other non-visual effects that brought the train ride to life. As a long-time, now former resident of London, I also really enjoyed the recreation of King’s Cross station which forms the main façade in Universal Studios, somewhat obscuring the secret entrance to Diagon Alley.
Look hard, you may just walk on by! We did!
Over in the Islands of Adventure side lies Hogsmeade in the now-older Wizarding World of Harry Potter; complete with castle and snow-dusted street scene from the films. A truly convivial atmosphere further enhances the scenery as you wait to board the revived Dueling Dragons (now the Flight of the Hippogriff) or the cool, VR enhanced Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
We stopped in the Three Brooms for a bit of refreshment and respite from the sun. Again, the atmosphere is not to be missed if you’re in Orlando.
You’ll get better value out of a park-to-park pass
My experience at the parks is that they can get a little busy, but that one is always busier than the other. If you’ve got a park-to-park pass you can slip between the two and make the most of your time in avoiding long lines or returning to those most anticipated attractions at your leisure as the day progresses.
You’ll get better value with an Express Pass
Save yourself time on your feet and enjoy more of the rides and attractions by investing in one of the two options for an Express Pass – as if things weren’t confusing enough there are two options: The full, unlimited Express Pass and you can actually purchase single use passes which act like vouchers.
Remember that not all rides and attractions permit use of either Express Pass, but you’ll still get more out of your time in Orlando.
You’ll get better value by staying at one of the on-site resorts
Instead of driving, navigating the parking, and lining up just to enter the parks, you could save that time and enjoy a longer day of thrilling rides and entertaining shows by staying at one of the on-site resorts.
You'll not only gain back the time you would have spent in transit, but staying on-site will give you early access to the park as Universal Resorts guests may enter a full hour before the general public.
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