Has anyone else been on a Harry Potter movie kick? Just me?
Perhaps it’s because I grew up going to the premiere of each movie during Thanksgiving break every year with all of my cousins…or maybe it’s because Hogwarts is so gorgeously dressed up for the holidays in each movie…either way, I’m loving every minute of it.
In honor of the premiere of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald this past weekend, I’m excited to reveal a three-day getaway to one of my favorite places, which is coincidentally the closest I’ll ever get to attending Hogwarts – Universal Orlando Resort!
I have been to the two parks that make up this resort handfuls of times and each time, they are more fun than the last! Orlando’s weather makes this the perfect place for a getaway at any time during the year (although summer can be very hot and humid!) and three days provides the perfect amount of time to explore both sides of the resort fully.
I highly recommend matching shirts for your entire group!
Getting There and Getting Around
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is located about 25 minutes from the resort, which is your best bet for getting in/out of the area. If flights happen to be cheaper to Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), this is about a 45 minute drive.
Renting a car is always an option, but double-check on your accommodations regarding parking rates. Uber or Lyft is easy enough and will run you about $30 to get from MCO to the resort.
Image via Universal Orlando Resort
Where to Stay
Universal Orlando has six resorts within the property in three different pricing tiers. If you’re heading here for a three-day weekend, I highly recommend staying at one of the properties listed below for the room key perks as well as for the easy access to the resort, especially if you aren’t renting a car.
The newest resort of the bunch, Adventura is a futuristic getaway with standard rooms and kids suites that sleep up to five. It has one pool, a splash pad, and a fire pit for guest use. Adventura is located next to Volcano Bay and is surrounded by easy walking paths to get to all parts of the resort. Your room key will grant you early access to the parks.
A resort set in the 1950s, Cabana Bay offers rooms in retro styles, including suites that sleep up to six. It has two pools, a lazy river, and a bowling alley within the resort, as well as walking paths to access all parts of the resort. Your room key will grant you early access to the parks.
A Caribbean escape with themed dining options and a pool featuring a water slide and a sand beach, Sapphire Falls is a tropical dream. It has standard guest rooms that sleep up to four adults and an array of suites to choose from. There are walking paths to access all parts of the resort, and your room key will grant you early access to the parks.
My personal favorite of the bunch, the Royal Pacific whisks you off to a Polynesian escape. With standard guest rooms, club level rooms, and suites, there is something for every type of group. There are five themed restaurants on property, a lagoon style pool surrounded by a white sand beach, and a quick walking path to the parks. Like the other resort hotels, there are walking paths to access all parts of the resort and your room key comes with early access privileges as well as working as a Universal Express Unlimited Pass for fastpass access to the most popular rides.
If a laid-back vacation is your style, check in at the Hard Rock Hotel to be treated to the rock star lifestyle. The Hard Rock has standard guest rooms, club level rooms, and suites, as well as four restaurants throughout the hotel. The pool is the shining star of this property, with an underwater sound system, a slide, two hot tubs, and a sand beach. Like the other resort hotels, there are walking paths to access all parts of the resort and your room key comes with early access privileges as well as working as a Universal Express Unlimited Pass for fastpass access to the most popular rides.
In full Italian-style with food options abound, Portofino Bay features eight dining options throughout the property. It has standard guest rooms, club level rooms, and suites, as well as three pools all with distinctive themes. Like the other resort hotels, there are walking paths to access all parts of the resort and your room key comes with early access privileges as well as working as a Universal Express Unlimited Pass for fastpass access to the most popular rides.
Islands of Adventure
The side of Universal Orlando Resort known for thrills at every turn, Islands of Adventure is broken up into eight themed lands all with their own flair. You’ll be welcomed to the park through the first, Port of Entry, a boulevard lined with shops and eateries before your deciding if you’ll head toward Marvel Super Hero Island or Seuss Landing.
We’ll kick off this tour in Marvel Super Hero Island where The Incredible Hulk Coaster is the center of attention. With its green track and loops at every turn, it’s impossible to miss. This is one of the most popular rides in the park, so be sure to jump in line early in the morning or right before park close to avoid a massive wait. The other can’t miss ride? The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – a 3D journey with Spidey through NYC as he races to save the day.
Next, you’ll splash into Toon Lagoon, the perfect place to escape a humid day in the park! This area is home to classic comics and two amazing water rides that will get you soaked. Be sure to put on your poncho for Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, a plunge through white water rapids, and Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, a more classic floom ride experience, although you’re sure to be splashed from every seat on the log.
Skull Island is one of the newest parts of this park and is home to Skull Island: Reign of Kong, an indoor/outdoor 3D experience. You’ll pile into a vehicle with dozens of other passengers as you try to escape the jungle the same as you entered it. (Insider Tip: The queue of this ride is awesome, but jumpy! Be on your toes the entire time!)
As you continue your journey, you’re welcomed into Jurassic Park, home to one of my favorite theme park rides of all time – Jurassic Park River Adventure. Another great one for a hot day in the park, this river adventure will take you on a scenic water cruise gone wrong. Considering this ride has a dedicated splash zone for people just to stand in and watch, be prepared to walk off wet!
As you make your way down the path, you’ll see Hogwarts off in the distance and be whisked into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This area is home to the original HP ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as well as a skyhigh coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff. There are details at every turn, bringing the books to life in front of your eyes. Even if the wait is long for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, it’ll be worth it – this queue is one of the best I’ve ever seen. From here, you can take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley and the Universal Studios side of the parks or continue your journey to the Lost Continent.
The Lost Continent is going through a bit of a renovation at the moment, but is home to Poseidon’s Fury, a live-action stunt show. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this show requires about 15 minutes of standing, but is excellent to escape from the heat!
The last part of this circular park (or the first, depending on where you begin!) is Seuss Landing, home to all things Dr. Seuss. If you have kids in your group (or just adults that love Dr. Seuss!), this is a great place to spend a bit of time. The area is incredibly well themed, has fun snacks and treats, and features four family-friendly rides for all ages.
If you want to play director, producer, or actor for a day, head to the Universal Studios side of the resort to be transported to mini-movie and television sets. Each area of this park is thoughtfully designed to feel as if you’re stepped on screen. It is not as distinctly divided into lands, but rather attraction areas with theming around each ride.
The first thing you’ll notice is Gru’s house, which is the home of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, an indoor ride that is perfect for everyone in your group. The queue line will have you oohing and ahhing over the details inside Gru’s home that are just like the movies. Across the way is Shrek 4-D, a fully immersive mini-movie that is completely family friendly as well.
By now, you’ve definitely noticed Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the red coaster that dominates this part of the park. Like The Incredible Hulk Coaster in Islands of Adventure, this line gets long quickly so be sure to jump in right at park opening or just before park close. (Insider Tip: This coaster is filled with twists and turns, keep your head against the headrest for a smoother, less dizzy ride.)
As you round the corner, you’ll notice Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, an indoor 3D experience. If you download the Universal Orlando Resort app on your phone, you can secure your place in line for a shorter wait at a selected time later that day.
Next up, a personal favorite, Revenge of the Mummy. I could ride this ride back to back to back and still have as much fun on the tenth ride as the first. This is an indoor coaster (think Space Mountain at Disney) that has sudden twists and turns while moving backwards and forwards. The experience varies based upon where you’re sitting, so I highly recommend riding it twice and trying two different spots if you can!
Across the way, you’ll likely notice Optimus Prime welcoming you to TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D. This indoor 3D experience is amazing and should not be missed. Lines for this ride also get quite long, so try to grab a place in line when the wait is around 30 minutes – the queue is interactive and fun to walk through!
Fast & Furious – Supercharged is just down the way, one of the newest additions to the park. This ride took the place of Disaster!, and shares a lot of similar qualities to that layout. You can use the Universal Orlando Resort app on your phone to secure your place in line for a spot later in the day.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of this park, King’s Cross Station, the Knight Bus, and Diagon Alley await you next. I won’t spoil any surprises, but plan to spend a good portion of your park day here. The details in Diagon Alley are impeccable and wait times for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts will run you at least 45 minutes. Here, you can also make your way through King’s Cross Station and onto the Hogwarts Express back to Islands of Adventure. The experience differs on both sides, so be sure to ride both ways if you have a Park-to-Park ticket!
Across the lagoon in the midst of the park is MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, an immersive experience in which you get to compete against those in your car for who can hunt the most aliens. This ride is super fun and usually doesn’t have a crazy long wait, it’s a must for competitive groups!
Down the pathway, you’ll make your way into Springfield, home of the Simpsons. The Simpsons Ride is housed in a large structure and is impossible to miss as you walk in. Past that is Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl and incredibly well-themed dining options.
The last area of the park is Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, home to Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster and E.T. Adventure. A good way to round out your day, both of these rides are completely family friendly for your entire group.
Butterbeer lives up to the hype, I promise.
Tips & Tricks
1. Download the Universal Orlando Resort app on your phone and become familiar with it before you go to the parks. When I went to the parks this past spring with a large group, this app served as an incredible guide and saved us so much time. Wait times are displayed in real time for every ride, so before you jump on the Hogwarts Express to get to a different park, be sure to scout out the waits.
2. The Park-to-Park ticket is worth every extra dollar compared to a one park per day ticket. As if being able to ride the Hogwarts Express isn’t convincing enough, being able to bounce between parks throughout the day will absolutely make your trip that much more fun.
3. Don’t be afraid of rain, it will not ruin your trip and it will feel like you have the parks to yourself! If you get caught in the pouring rain, which we did many times during our last trip, you’ll be the ones braving the rain running to your next ride and benefiting from the short wait times while everyone else is huddled under a shop awning waiting for it to pass.
4. If it is forecasted to be a rainy day, make your way to Universal Studios. Most of the rides here are indoors and won’t close during a rainy day.
5. Let’s talk Butterbeer. Everyone has their favorite…I prefer the frozen variety. Do yourself a favor and try both frozen and non-frozen, they are completely different experiences and both are incredibly delicious.
6. Other than Halloween, when can you dress up and have absolutely no one judge you for it? At a theme park, of course! With my group on our last trip, we had planned outfits for our three days in the parks and it made each day so much more fun in our matching shirts.
Have you been to Universal Orlando Resort? What’s your favorite part? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to let me know your HP house!
Oh, and what HP house am I? A Slytherin, of course!