I’m a little (okay a lot) behind in sharing everything from our amazing trip to Orlando back in the beginning of September, but you know, I moved across the country and then had to get my feet on the ground in my new home state, so I’m giving myself a little bit of grace in the writing department. But, now that things are slowing down and settling into a bit of a routine, I finally can start sharing all the magic from our amazing trip to Universal Studios Orlando and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
When Dustin and I decided to leave Arizona and move to Louisiana for the summer, I told him I would go willingly with two conditions: one being that I got my own monthly budget to Sephora and the other being that he took me to Harry Potter world at the end of the summer. I was approaching my 10-year Happy-No-Cancer-To-Me anniversary and I wanted to really and truly celebrate that occasion, instead of letting the survivor’s guilt drag me down. Dustin, being the amazing husband that he is, agreed. He worked hard all summer, we saved up our money and even had to change our plans last minute because of a tropical storm, BUT! We made it and easily had the best trip of our lives.
I did a TON of reading and research when it came to planning our trip but still felt really unprepared when it came time for our trip. I’ve only ever been to Orlando once before (when I was 10) so I really had no idea what to plan for or what to prepare for. That being said, I wanted to share our trip in a bit more of a guide format in case anyone out there is looking for information like I was or if you’re planning on going to HP world in the near future!
The Ultimate Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Orlando) – Part One
I was initially going to put everything about our trip in one post but it would easily be over 5,000 words. I have so much to share and so much to talk about that I figured I’d break it up into smaller chunks. This post will talk about how we booked our trip, where we stayed and how we planned out our trip.
What is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando is just a part of the Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Florida. They are based off of the movies and books by J.K. Rowling, with rides, shops and food all brought to life from the world of Harry Potter. It’s important to know that Univeral Studios is actually two parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is spread across both parks (and connected by the Hogwarts Express!) You need a Park Hopper pass in order to access both parts of the park. Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios.
Also good to know – There is also a Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Universal Studios Hollywood park, but it ONLY has Hogsmeade and that Hogsmeade only has two of the 2 of the 5 rides that the Orlando park has. So, if you are deciding which park to go to based on the Harry Potter experience, I DEFINITELY recommend the Orlando park because there is so much more to see and do.
Choosing our Dates:
Living in the Deep South during the summer taught us that we did not want to go in the middle of July or August. The humidity is just miserable and I knew it would really dampen our experience at the park if we had to walk all day in it. The summer is also the peak time for the parks, so I didn’t want to have to worry about crowds or lines.
We originally had planned our trip for the very last week of August (running into Labor Day weekend) but a tropical storm changed our plans, so we rescheduled for the first week of September. We arrived in Orlando on Wednesday and spent Thursday and Friday in Universal Studios and Saturday in Disney before heading back on Sunday.
From what we saw, the first week of September is THE TIME to go to Universal! It’s the first week of “off season” and since everyone is back in school right after Labor Day, the parks were really empty, especially because we went on a Thursday and Friday. Yes, there were people, but we didn’t have to wait longer than 10-15 minutes in any line for any ride and moved freely around the park without getting frustrated by crowds. The Harry Potter sections were definitely the most crowded out of all the park, but even those were not bad!
Where we stayed at Universal Studios:
I spent weeks researching different vacation packages offered through different travel agencies and places like Costco & Sam’s club. Ultimately, though, we decided to book our vacation through Universal Studios itself for a couple of reasons: The vacation package we choose was surprisingly within our budget and I wanted a couple of the perks that was only offered through Universal Studios. We also wanted to stay at an actual Universal Studios resort hotel because we would be close to the City Walk (Universal’s version of Downtown Disney) and the shuttle services were much more accommodating to the park.
We decided to stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort. This hotel has a really fun 50’s dinner feel and is one of the newer hotels that UOR has.
Things to Know about Cabana Bay Resort
- This is a family resort, so the hotel doesn’t offer rooms with just king beds. We picked the basic room, which came with two Queens. Anything above that was a suite. While this wasn’t a make it or break it for us, it was kind of weird to have an extra bed and to feel like we were paying a little more than necessary for the extra sleeping arrangements.
- This hotel has a Starbucks in the main lobby, along with a cafeteria-like diner with several different “sections” of food, including a Pizza counter, a sandwich place, and an Italian counter. Dustin and I ate here the first night and got flatbread pizzas from the Pizza place. It was a little over-priced and wasn’t Earth-shattering, but it was pretty good. I recommend bringing snacks with you to keep in the hotel room so that you can eat without spending extra money in their convenience store
- They have two pools and a lazy river, all open until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. The lazy river did NOT have tubes for you to use, you either had to purchase them or bring your own. They play a movie every night by one of the pools and there are plenty of towel shacks for you to grab dry towels from.
- You DO have to pay for parking at the hotel (it was 12 dollars a day and was charged to the credit card on file when we checked out) so that was kind of a bummer. At the same time, we didn’t have to pay for parking at Universal Studios because we took the hotel shuttles and it was more expensive to park there, so I guess we did save money in that way.
- Cabana Bay has a shuttle running to the parks and City Walk every 15-20 minutes, plus a walking path that it about a mile to get you to the park entrance as well.
The biggest reason we choose this hotel was because it was the only one that offered early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter within the package. We couldn’t get this perk with any other agency that we looked into. I knew that Harry Potter world would be one of the busiest parts of the park so I really wanted to have that extra hour before the doors opened to the rest of the public to explore without the crowds. This early-hour pass only got us into Hogsmeade (not Diagon Alley) an hour early, but it still worked out because we could hop the train to Diagon Alley right at 9:00 and get there just as it was opening. That gave us another 30-4o minutes to enjoy the scenery and get on the rides with barely ANY crowds!
We do NOT regret choosing Cabana Bay for this perk at all; it was well worth the extra time we had to get into the park. We basically walked onto all of the rides in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and we even got to do Escape from Gringotts two times in a row (more on this in part two, coming soon.)
All in all, it was fun to stay at Cabana Bay and we don’t have any major complaints about the hotel. It was cute and themed well, but we weren’t totally blown away by it. However, we are so glad we choose to stay there for the early admission, and I would stay there again just for that perk!
Our trip to Harry Potter world was by far one of the best vacations (if not THE best) I have ever taken. I’ll be back next week with a blow by blow of all the amazing things we did and saw, plus all the tips and tricks we learned to get the most out of our trip!
Have you been to Harry Potter world? Where did you stay?
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