I don’t know why I did this to myself, but basically, after my crazy one day at Disney World, I followed it up with a trip to Universal Orlando in one day!
When I was looking to visit Florida around my friend’s wedding, I also set-up a three-day trip with Kissimmee, meaning I had the weekend free. My friends and I already decided on Disney World for Saturday, but Sunday was still wide open.
At first, I looked at tickets and realized I’d have to buy a $170 park hopper ticket to see both Harry Potter attractions. Since I was spending so much at Disney and just travel to Orlando wasn’t the cheapest anyway, I hemmed and hawed a bit on whether I should go or not.
But, guys, Harry POTTER. I mean, I don’t always get how crazy people get about Disney, but then I remember I had an entire corner of my bedroom dedicated to Harry Potter souvenirs for a long time… HP was perfectly entwined in my life from 2001 – 2014. It still is, but I’m not staying up till 4 am on New Years’ crying over the last movie anymore…
Anyway, at the same time, I was trying to set-up a time to hang out with Rachel from Angie Away since she’s local. We hit it off at TBEX when we realized we were basically twinning in our jobs, our outfits, our hair, and even our tattoo placement! (Funnily enough, we showed up to Universal in similar outfits haha).
I mentioned thinking about doing Universal on Sunday for Harry Potter, and she immediately agreed, so I got the tickets off of Get Your Guide and booked a night at the nearby Best Western Orlando Gateway Hotel.
Not only is Rachel local to Orlando, but she’s also local to Universal Studios. She interned there in college, and she works there occasionally to keep her employee perks. This means, she totally knows the park inside and out, and, furthermore, has not gotten remotely tired of visiting over and over again.
Anyway, here’s what we got up to!
Universal Orlando in One Day
9:30 AM – Go to the Park
I took a Lyft over to Best Western to drop off my bags before going out for the day. I don’t know if this is a pro-tip, or an obvious tip, but even if hotel check-in isn’t til the afternoon, you almost always can go and ask about leaving your bags with the concierge! Even hostels offer this.
Anyway, Rachel met me there and we drove over in her car, but the hotel has a free shuttle service if you’re not driving!
You can see Volcano Bay from some of the rooms, so it’s gotta be maybe a 10-minute ride over at most:
10:15 AM – 12/1 PM – Universal Studios
I’m not sure of the timing exactly, but once we drove over, parked, waited in line, and got coffee, it was around 10:15/10:30 AM. FYI get coffee at the Cinnabon, it’s super fast and delicious. The Starbucks is always crowded.
Once we had coffee, we made our way to our first ride:
Rip Ride Rockit
Ohhhh my lanta. This ride is FUN. Pick a song for the ride, and then get ready for that stomach dropping adrenaline rush I expect from a good roller coaster.
Once we got off the ride, we stumbled across a little Marilyn Monroe skit! Rachael said they do a lot of these little performances all over the park, which I think is so fun and less hectic than something like a parade.
The Mummy Returns
Our next ride was the Mummy Returns, which is NOT to be missed. Everyone I know who’s been to Universal actually says this ride is their favorite. It’s just a cool ride, and the little twist in the middle makes ya jump!
Jimmy Fallon Race Through NYC
Okay, so you can actually get your ticket for this ride ahead of time. We got ours before we went on the Mummy Returns, and it was perfect timing once we got off.
It’s a fun simulated ride. You’ll wear 3D glasses and sit with a group of people. I like Jimmy Fallon, so it was fun “racing” him through NYC and beyond!
Lunch at Monsters Cafe
Nearby is Monsters Cafe which has a bunch of good food. Rachael got pizza, and I got a whole rotisserie chicken/ribs combo lunch.
I’m not gonna lie, I was actually feeling really nauseous after the Jimmy Fallon ride. I sometimes get motion sickness, which is why I avoid anything that spins, but I’d never felt so out of it after a simulated ride.
I think it was a combo of doing all the Disney parks the day before, not eating breakfast, and having two vanilla lattes in my system before going on. I dunno what, but, TMI, I went to the bathroom and made myself throw up. Don’t worry, I cleaned it all up before I left, but it did make the pressure in my head go away. I guess I’m getting old!
Anyway, lunch was delicious once I felt normal again.
We walked through the San Francisco area and onto the real reason I wanted to come to Universal:
Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
So, “Harry Potter World” is actually half in Universal Studios and half in the Islands of Adventure. In the Universal side is Diagon Alley, which even feels kind of hidden. From the main area of the park, all you really see is a London set-up with the Knight Bus outside.
Once you go through the entrance, though… da da dum…
I swear to you, my mouth stayed open for a solid hour after we entered Diagon Alley. Everything was just so amazing, I kept gaping in excitement.
[One day I’ll write a post about my diehard love of all things Harry Potter (and Taylor Swift), but I’ll save the geeking out for that. Suffice to say, while I’m not as detail-oriented as most Potterheads, I was salty AF when I found out I could never qualify to play Cho Chang in the movies. Nevermind my age, lack of acting experience, and lack of British citizenship.]
Diagon Alley is as amazing as you’d picture it to be in the books and from the movies. We walked into Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes first, and I stopped myself from buying everything right away.
Then we did the first thing you must do upon entrance into Diagon Alley– get a wand! Do I feel a little silly spending $50 on a wand? Um, maybe like the small part of me that died a long time ago. But the rest of me was more than stoked when I picked out my willow wand and started playing with it at the different markings!
Plus they do this awesome bit at the beginning where Ollivander speaks to everyone like he did with Harry. He even picks someone from the audience, but it’s usually a kid. Guess who’s going to be the mom that shoves her kids to the front of the group so they’re picked? *cough cough*
Once I had my wand, we wandered around some more, including into the spooky Knockturn Alley.
And then, of course, we got Butterbeer! I had the frozen Butterbeer, and it was amazing. I kind of want more…
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
With our Butterbeers in hand, we then went over to Gringotts to ride that ride. They have a single rider line which makes things go MUCH faster. I was in heaven looking at all the details inside. The ride itself is super cool; it’s a mix between a simulated and a physical ride.
Before we hopped over to the next park, we walked over to Krustyland to get a donut and see the colorful designs. MIB is also over there, but we didn’t go in.
Hogwarts train ride
So, the cool way to get from one park to the next is to ride the Hogwarts Express! Heck yeah! You get to sit in the carriage, and it feels like everything is going on outside the window and the door. You might even see some Dementors floating around…
3:00 PM – Islands of Adventure
We got off the Hogwarts Express and found ourselves in the next park, the Islands of Adventure. This will put you right in the next half of Harry Potter World:
When we went, Hogsmeade was already decorated for Christmas, giving it an even cozier HP vibe. It actually started to downpour right after we go there, so we decided to make a run for it and wait in line at the big ride of the park.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Hogwarts, I’m finally here!!!
JK, a little. The single rider line for the Hogwarts line was actually pretty short all things considered. It’s cool because as you wait, you’ll pass things like the sorting hat as he dishes out some safety precaution. I think it was either in this line or the Gringotts line where I took the Pottermore test again and found out I was a Ravenclaw.
Anyway, the Hogwarts ride was ah-mazing, and I legitimately starting tearing up as it began because I was so excited and impressed by everything. Something in my hormones went nuts in college because dying puppies on TV never made me cry, but now I’m crying over Harry Potter rides.
Once we got off the ride, I went a little ham in the gift shop, owning my newfound Ravenclaw status with a sweatshirt and paying homage to my idol, Hermione Granger, with a fun pin.
We also went into Honeydukes where I got some chocolate frogs and jelly beans.
I, obviously, have to come back in the future because while we were there, I found out they’re building another Harry Potter ride, and I can’t wait to try it!
You can actually really easily exit Hogsmeade and go straight into Jurassic Park. This is where Rachael works, so we went to a fun, lil dinosaur exhibit.
Other Islands of Adventure Parks
The Hogwarts ride actually left me feeling a little less than okay, so I didn’t want to risk getting sick again on another ride.
However, there’s a really cool Skull Island Island ride, the Hulk coaster in Marvels Super Hero Island, and a bunch more I want to ride when I come back!
Instead, we just meandered around towards the exit, where you can get to the car park really easily!
Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando
Wow, I don’t know if it’s because it was a Sunday, I was with Rachael, who’s a Universal expert, or I was just more mellow from the day before, but Universal was such a nice, less stressful day compared to Disney! The age average was definitely significantly higher, and there were far fewer strollers about, soooo…
Either way, relax! You can enjoy everything at a calmer pace. It also doesn’t take a friggin’ hour to get between the two parks, which in itself adds a few years back onto my life.
Stay somewhere with shuttle service
Whether you stay at one of Universal’s resorts or a nearby hotel, make sure they offer a free shuttle service so you have one less thing to worry about money-wise! Like I said earlier, I stayed at Best Western Orlando Gateway. I really enjoyed it, and it was so close to the park. Check rates + availability here
Take advantage of the single rider line
Yay for single rider lines! We used these for every ride, and it made things much faster.
Where to Book Tickets
I got my tickets from Get Your Guide, and they send the ticket directly to your email. It’s the same price as buying it directly. You can just hold up your phone when you go in, and it’ll scan the barcode (no need to print).
I think that’s about it! How would you guys spend one day at Universal Orlando? I wish I hadn’t gotten so sick or else I’d have tried so many more rides!