Though most blogs will tell you to visit Harry Potter at the end of the day when crowds have died down, I knew I wanted to be there for several hours, so that meant rushing early in the morning. Because we went in May (off-season), we only had moderate crowds (around 20 minute waits for most major rides). And I am glad I didn't wait until the end of the day because we were there for 5 hours including lunch. There is just too much to see and do to try to rush through the last two hours before park close. Afterwards, I practically wanted to frame my receipts--The Three Broomsticks, Dervish and Banges, Honeydukes, Filch's Emporium. It was the best commercial day of my life which is why I have a top 10 list for this park within a park.
#1--The Castle-- I forced myself to walk to the castle past the enticing shops, into Filch's emporium, through the locker room and right into the inside line for the castle (the outside line is technically for the lockers though sometimes employees force everyone to wait in it). Why didn't I need a locker? With a baby, we were always using the parent swap, so all our bags just hung from the stroller throughout the day with one parent or the other (everyone else will need to store their bags and with too few lockers, that can add to your wait times). If you think the castle looks extraordinary from the outside, wait until you see the inside. Knowing I wouldn't have time to do it twice, I took my time moving through the tour, allowing impatient groups to go ahead. There are mandrakes in the greenhouse, potions in Snape's dungeon, a sorting hat, and more. And then there is the ride at the end of the tour. Shaped like a broomstick, you fly through various of intense adventures from the book (I only screamed when the giant spider moved). My only disappointments is the ride is very jerky (more than one patron has lost his butterbeer on the ride) and the interior castle is dark enough that it is difficult to make out all the fine detail or take good pictures. As for the mom swap room--air conditioned with a continual loop of Potter movies.
#2--The Hogs Head--this is my Potter hack. No need to stand in the blistering heat in a 45 minute butterbeer line. Simply waltz into the Hogs Head and order at the counter from a "gruff" barman. It comes chilled or frozen and you will probably want to sample both to see which you like more (I prefer frozen). Normally we drink water at amusement parks to save money, but here we splurged and let each child order their own (twice, once at the beginning of our Potter day and once at the end 5 hours later). Well worth the money. If you have bags on the stroller, go ahead and order one in a souvenir cup as a special memory (since storing it the rest of the day won't be an issue). Fortunately, our daughter found a recipe to replicate it at home. We also tried pumpkin juice (from an outdoor cart) which was only okay. Soda is not served at Potter World, but milk, juice (besides just pumpkin), and other approved Potter beverages like butterbeer are available.
#3--Ollivander's--a demonstration (show) rather than a ride, this magical shop allows one lucky participant to test out wands. The actor is extraordinary and sweetly spoke to my son (who had not been chosen for the demonstration) and helped him pick a wand as well. At $30, the wands are pricey but good quality with a staggering variety (both named wands like Hermione or Bellatrix as well as generic wands). Both my sons picked generic wands and my only complaint is that they do not sell a Mrs. Weasley wand. This shop is connected to the owl post which will stamp and actually mail your postcards from Hogsmeade.
#4--Shopping--I spent over an hour going through the different shops looking at the shirts, toys (sneakascopes and the monster book of monsters are both big sellers), stuffed animals, wands, cups, movies, quidditch supplies, books, scarves, robes, and more. The stuffed animal collection had my son enchanted--Buckbeak, Scabbers, Hedwig, Pigwidgeon, Fluffy, Fawkes. There were plenty of items for each of the houses at Hogwarts and my favorite shirts--muggle and wizard ones (since I married a muggle). Outside the shops were dazzling animated window displays. The only problem is that the shops are small (authentic to the books) which makes them hard to navigate especially with a stroller and easily overcrowded. Filch's Emporium, which is the only exit to the castle ride is constantly wall-to-wall people. Also note, the stores along Universal's Citywalk carry many Potter items like wands for those wishing to pick up their items at the end of the day.
#5-- The Three Broomsticks--with the triangle symbol of three brooms, this cafeteria style restaurant is the obvious lunch stop. On a nice day, eat outside with a spectacular view of the lake and other islands. Kid meals (and frankly adults meals as well) are reasonably priced and the menu reflects a British diner--fish and chips, shepherd's pie, cornish pasties. This is not fast food with fairly large portions (I couldn't finish mine but then again I had already had two butterbeers). And you can't eat at The Three Broomsticks anywhere else. For Potter nuts, this is a must-do for lunch.
#6--Honeydukes--We spent a good deal of money here (in part because my daughter has a cooking blog with a review of Potter foods). We were full from our Three Broomsticks lunch so with the exception of a cauldron cake we packed these items into our suitcases. The Chocolate Frogs are gigantic and the most fun item to open and collect the cards but the chocolate is low quality and they are so large you can only buy one or two (let the fight for the cards begin). The Sugar Quills were gigantic lollipops (perfect a week later, at home). Every Flavor Beans were probably the crowd favorite with a good mix of delicious and disgusting flavors (ear wax flavor, anyone?). And Peppermint Imps were surprisingly delicious (wish we had bought an extra box of those). Our only real disappointment was the cauldron cake which was like an okay cupcake. They also sell a wide variety of other sweets including non-Potter related goodies like fudge. Though butterbeer was my favorite Potter treat, a few purchases in Honeydukes is a must (did I mention how much we liked the Every Flavor Beans and the Peppermint Imps?).
#7--Flight of the Hipogriff (Hagrid's Roller Coaster)--Meant to simulate Buckbeak's flight, this junior roller coaster was my 4-year-old's favorite ride in Orlando (including all of Disney World). In addition to being a great junior coaster, the line loops past Hagrid's Hut and Buckbeak's nest. This is also the only ride younger children (but no toddlers) can go on at Potter World and there is no playground. I recommended the talking at Lost Continent or Seuss Island to entertain little ones while older children experience the rest of Potter World.
#8--Twin Dragons--These full sized roller coasters (must be 55 inches to ride) are different from each other so both should be ridden. Unlike the fairly tame flight of a hippogriff, these coasters represent the power of two dragons--one Hungarian, one Chinese. Though they are no longer synchronized with the illusion of crashing into each other, these roller coasters still offer full sized thrills (the fireball was our favorite).
#9--The Hogwarts Express--at the entrance is the engine of the train with its own platform--9 3/4. Be sure to grab you photo with the conductor at this iconic scene. Lockers are also located here if you want to store your luggage.
#10--Moaning Mrytle (and other little touches)--Potter World is magical with incredible attention to details including snow on the rooftops, animated wanted posters of Sirius Black, and a famous ghost in the bathroom--Moaning Mrytle. Not only girls can hear her complaints as she splashes in and out of her toilet, but the boys get enjoy this ghost as well.
A Note for Muggles
Those who are sadly not Potter fans will probably find this island overcrowded and easily completed in a couple of hours (I recommend the twin dragon coasters, castle ride, and a butterbeer to anyone visiting Universal even if they have never read a Potter book or watched a Potter movie). These guests (known as muggles) should visit this island at the end of the day when crowds have likely thinned.
As for the rest of us, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a well designed amusement park that quickly fills up and provides hours of enjoyment. From rides, to shopping, to food, this is one of the most amazing and magical places ever created allowing fans to step into the books in an extraordinary way. You will not want to miss it on your Orlando vacation.