Universal Studios Florida Resort, Islands of Adventure (IOA), the section named “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is our first area to explore. You will notice it is NOT the first area you encounter when you enter IOA. So why am I starting there? Because, most likely, you will want to start here as well. Basically, when you get there, you are in Hogsmead in winter. If you are not a fan of Harry Potter, Hogsmead is simply the town near the wizard school where some of the actions in the books/movies takes place. Because this area is so new, and Harry Potter is so popular, this place is a huge draw. Even first thing in the morning, just minutes after the park has opened, the lines in this area are growing quickly. No worries, though. This general insanity is pretty unique to this area only, and everything is calmer and more manageable once you leave depart. And by going here first, you are avoiding a lot of the insanity that will build over the next several hours. This area is comprised of a number of attractions, rides, stores, and other stuff. Almost every single thing has a line…the stores, too. I suggest you immediately go to the Forbidden Journey Ride.
Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey Rating: No Limit
It is a must see. My friend Erica (an Orlando resident and avid Universal-goer) tells me that the lines for this ride were over eight hours when it first opened. People were going to the park and getting in line at 9am for this ride, and some of them stood all day and never got in and had to just go back home. I’m not suggesting you do that if the line is that long. Hopefully, by going here first, your wait will be no more than 45 minutes. But be aware, if you are not there when the park opens, you most likely will wait for between one and two hours to get on this ride. But it’s worth it. If you are a Harry Potter fan, it’s incredible. The line alone is fantastic as it twists around and through Hogwarts Castle. You walk through the Herbology greenhouse and past potted Mandrakes, into the front doors and through the portrait gallery (talking portraits and all, including some insults from Salazar Slytherin), past the secret entrance into Dumbledore’s office then into the office itself where you are greeted by the Headmaster, into the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom where Harry Hermione and Ron will fill you in on their plan, and finally past the sorting hat who has some last minute advice before the ride begins…..because, yes, you are still only waiting in line at this point despite all of that excitement! OK, but if you are not a fan, it’s still a great ride and pretty cool to experience. This ride empties you into a gift shop, so you might want to take advantage of that, because all the other ships in Hogsmead are going to have a big line by the time you get off of this ride.
Flight of the Hippogriff – 10 minutes
This is a cute ride. “Family friendly,” means that it is a rollercoaster that kids can easily go on. It’s quick and it’s fun. One of the coolest things is walking past Hagrid’s cottage as you wait in line, and seeing the Hippogriff in his nest when the ride begins. But all in all, if you miss it, it’s not a big deal. If the wait is over ten minutes, move on.
Dragon Challenge – 20 minutes
I am not a huge coaster fan. It’s just that they all seem pretty much alike to me. My wife Julie doesn’t like coasters much to begin with, and this is the kind she really does not like…where your feet are dangling. But it’s was a good coaster. If you like coasters, you might be willing to wait longer for this ride. If you can kinda “take coasters or leave them” like me, there’s nothing about this one that sets it apart, in my opinion.
Three Broomsticks – 20 minutes
It’s worth going inside just to see, especially for the Harry Potter fan. If you are hungry, the chicken was excellent. We also had butterbeer, which was great. But I think they sell butterbeer throughout Hogsmead, so I don’t think you need to wait specifically to get it here.
Olivander’s Wand Experience – 5 minutes
The shops are not even really attractions in the traditional sense but, again, because this area is still somewhat new, almost every shop has a line. We did not go into any of them. However, every person we talked to complained about the wand experience and said, basically, it was an “hour wait for something stupid.” I won’t reveal what we were told, in case anyone wants to experience it, but it sounds like it MIGHT be worth seeing if the wait is short or no wait at all, but not worth any wait longer than 5 minutes. And as far as all the other shops, we skipped them all. It’s up to you.
Bathrooms – 1 minute
If you are a Potter fan, and you can get right in, go into the bathrooms in Hogsmead and Moaning Myrtle will greet you (though the echo makes it hard to understand her at times).
Finally, there are other things going on in Hogsmead, but we basically skipped everything else. The Hogwarts Express is there for a photo opportunity, and other activities. But by this point, we were ready to move on.