Experiencing the magic of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter can be done frugally and on a budget. Here are my tips for traveling to and saving money when visiting Harry Potter World.
1 Wizarding World, 2 Parks
Universal Studios is a brat in terms of having the Wizarding World split into two parks– Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are in one park, and Diagon Alley are in another. YOU HAVE TO GO TO BOTH OR YOU'RE MISSING OUT ON SO MUCH. So, here's what you do:
The Best Time To Visit To Harry Potter World
Obviously the answer to the best time to visit Harry Potter World is your 11th birthday– but, realistically, the best time to go is a low traffic day. Ideally, pick slow or moderate days, not busy or very busy traffic days for your visit using a crowd calendar online for Universal. The best time to visit Harry Potter World is anytime in September, the first half of February, or anytime in November except the week of Thanksgiving and the next few days after it.
If you go during busy or very busy days, you're going to spend so much time TRYING to see and do things, rather than actually doing them. On these overwhelmingly busy days, the lines are going to be awful for everything –rides, shops, restaurants and kiosks– and rather than wandering around HPW and taking it all in, you will have to choose what you want to see and do because you just won't be able to do it all otherwise. Typically, summer is too hectic at the parks as well as any school holidays.
Once you have picked a slow or moderate time to visit Harry Potter World, I recommend breaking it up into two magical days since you don't have a real life Time Turner like Hermione, but you can likely visit it all in one packed day if you go on a slow day. The best way to visit Harry Potter World in ONE day is to go on an absolutely slow day (think the week before Thanksgiving), and get there when the park opens and stay until they close. If you can only explore the magical Wizarding World for one day, drink all the Butterbeer, ride all the rides (and ride the Escape From Gringotts twice!) and eat at the Leaky Cauldron in the morning and the Three Broomsticks for a late lunch or early dinner, see the live performances and explore all the shops and halls of Hogwarts. However, there really is a ton of magical detail to see and you might rush through it all in one day, even if it is a slow day.
Which Tickets to Get for Harry Potter World
Regardless of whether or not you choose to go on only one day or across two days, you MUST get the Park-to-Park passes (also called Park Hopper passes). This will allow you access to both the park with Hogwarts and Hogsmeade (Universal's Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios Florida). PLUS you can only ride the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross Station between the two wizarding locations if you have a Park-to-Park pass. (Pro tip: Take the Hogwarts Express train between twice, once from each of the parks. It is a different experience each way, and you won't want to miss either of them!)
For adults, these 2-day – 2-park passes are $254.99 each. For children (ages 3-9 years old), the same passes are $244.99. I recommend buying them online through the Universal Studios website, as at the gate they can be up to $20 more. For free shipping options, you can either print them at home or pick them up from will call. (Pro tip: If you print them yourself, you avoid the will call line and get the the magic faster.)
To save even more money at the Wizarding World, SKIP the Express Passes. On the slow to moderate traffic days, Harry Potter World ride lines typically range from only a few short minutes to about half an hour for the main attractions. Save yourself a whopping $84.99 per day by skipping the Express Pass instead of the lines. Besides, many of the rides have a single rider line option– a totally separate line that skips those wishing to ride right next to those in their group. The single rider line allows you (and sometimes even a person or two in your group) to be on the same turn of the ride, but in different rows or sections as fill-ins. You may even all end up on the same ride at the same time, or you may simply each ride within a turn or two of one other and be done within a few minutes of each other. Totally worth it, especially since during many of the rides you can't see those next to you well anyway through the ride's supports and safety features.
Eating at Harry Potter World on a Budget
Part of the experience is trying iconic food and drinks from the books and movies. I went with two friends, and we always split two entrees among us the three of us. This was cheaper than buying individuals meals, plus the portions were large (sometimes we couldn't finish everything) and we got to try a lot more this way.
For our main meals at the park, we ate at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley on Day 1, and on Day 2, the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. (Pro tip: Sit OUTSIDE in the back of the Three Broomsticks, it is less crowded there and you get a lovely view of Hogwarts while you eat!)
The Leaky Cauldron offers traditional British food and two menus: A breakfast and a lunch and dinner menu. We ordered and shared the Fish & Chips and the Bangers & Mash. It was more than plenty of food and came out to about $10 per person. Adults can also order Fire Whisky here for $8.99, or fun drinks for kids and adults alike, like the Fishy Green Ale or the Tongue Tying Lemon Squash. Try the Butterbeer Potted Cream for dessert, if your trying to get as much Butterbeer in you as you can before leaving.
The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade is a tavern that also offers rustic English cuisine. We all split Shepherd's Pie with Garden Salad and the Rotisserie Smoked Chicken Platter. They were both tasty and we had more than enough food for three people for about $25 total. In the back of the Three Broomsticks is the Hog's Head, a pub that serves all sorts of wizarding drinks and brews that you can find throughout the park. That being said, the Hog's Head is the exclusive home of the Hog's Head Brew.
Snacking At Harry Potter World
Diagon Alley has a handful of drink and snack kiosks and stands. I recommend checking out Eternelle's Elixir of Refreshment in Carkitt Market. Here you can transform your Gillywater into a colorful elixir. Choose from Fire Protection Potion, Babbling Beverage, Draught of Peace, and Elixir to Induce Euphoria.
The Hopping Pot offers a variety of snacks (British crisps (chips) and meat pasties) and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, including Butterbeer and various beers specific to the the Wizarding World, like Dragon Scale. You can get four of the six types of Butterbeer here: Hot, Cold, Frozen, and Soft-Serve Ice Cream. (The fifth being the aforementioned Butterbeer Potted Cream, and the sixth is Butterbeer fudge.) I highly recommend the frozen Butterbeer, although I really like the cold as well! As far as soft-serve goes, it is super tasty and absolutely worth getting, but go to Florean's for more of an experience.
Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour has ice cream and soft-serve in interesting, mouth-watering flavors. Someone in your group ought to get the super tasty Butterbeer soft-serve, because when in Rome, but also try flavors like Lavender, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Granny Smith. At Florean's (and numerous stands around Diagon Alley) you can get a bottle of Pumpkin Juice. It is an interesting apple and pumpkin cider flavored drink that has pumpkin pie spices in it. I am a big fan of cider in general, and I really like this cold drink. (Pro tip: Remember to shake the Pumpkin Juice before your first sip, and again if it has been sitting still. The spices and pumpkin puree tend to settle at the bottom.)
Things To Buy And What Not To Buy At Harry Potter World
Buy a couple of souvenirs while wandering the parks– Chocolate frogs, quills, pumpkin pasties, House or Quidditch team keychains or your own Golden Snitch. Ollivander's Wand Shop and Wands by Gregorovitch sell interactive wands that work at various spots throughout the parks. While I highly recommend going to Ollivander's and experiencing the wand ceremony (especially if you have kids), the wands in the shop are very expensive. Instead, purchase one or two wands online at Ebay or similar sites prior to your visit and take them with you.
Saving Money on Travel For Your Trip to HPW
We flew to Orlando from Houston on a Friday morning, and flew back out of Orlando on Sunday morning. We bought three roundtrip tickets and stayed in a hotel for two nights about 2 miles from Universal Studios. We saved by flying Spirit Airlines; our roundtrip flight was $122 per person and since we were only going to be there for a weekend, two of us only took a personal item (a backpack) as our luggage. Spirit Airlines charges for carry-on and checked baggage (although checked bags are cheaper than carry-ons), but we only needed to pack a standard backpack with clothes and toiletries for our quick trip.
We booked two nights at a hotel nearby for $44 per person per night. It had a full kitchen, two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a living room. It slept six people, so realistically it could have been $22 per night if more people had gone. We had more than enough room!
To get around, we used Uber. The trips back and forth from the park and the hotel were about $6 each, and naturally we split those as well. This means we didn't have to deal with the expense of renting a car (we took an Uber to and from the airport), and we didn't have to pay for parking! Many nearby hotels and resorts have free shuttles to and from the parks, but be sure to check their schedules, or you might end up needing a ride there or back regardless.
Do you have additional tips for saving while visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Share them below!