Surviving a summer visit to Universal Orlando – A Floridian’s tips for a magical Wizarding World experience
In just one week, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley will open to the public! And I know that a lot of MuggleNet’s readers will be heading to Orlando soon to enjoy the brand new expansion! A lot of the guests to Universal Orlando come from all over the United States and from all over the world and therefore find themselves woefully unprepared for the Florida weather. July and August are the hottest months in Florida, with the high temperature in Orlando averaging at 92°F and humidity that can reach upwards of 90%! Without properly preparing for these extremes you risk suffering from heat exhaustion or even heatstroke. And no one wants to spend their day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter feeling as though they’ve accidentally taken one of Fred and George’s Fainting Fancies!
As a life-long Floridian (and annual passholder to Universal), I am more than happy to share my tips for surviving a summer visit to Orlando. Hopefully, this list will prove beneficial to everyone, and even frequent visitors to Universal might learn a few tips!
1. Reapply your sunscreen!
One of Florida’s nicknames is “the sunshine state,” and without sunscreen you will end up as red as a Chinese Fireball. And you can’t just apply once; reapply, reapply, reapply! You need to reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours because you will be sweating it off in the humidity. I have found that the best time to reapply is while you’re waiting in line for a ride; you have plenty of free time, and your friends can help you with those hard-to-reach places!
2. Dress as light and as comfortably as possible!
Wear light colors because dark clothes absorb the heat. I suggest wearing shorts and tank tops if at all possible (but remember: the more skin you show, the more sunscreen you have to apply). Your clothes should be thin and breathable and hang loosely to avoid clinging to you when you start to sweat. Hats and sunglasses are a must to protect your face and eyes from the harsh Florida sun! I always wear my Ravenclaw hat to represent and show some house pride!
Most importantly, wear comfortable shoes! Universal Orlando is BIG, and you will be doing a lot of walking. And when you’re not walking, you will be standing in lines. So make sure that the shoes that you decide to wear are comfortable enough to walk multiple miles and spend 10+ hours wearing.
3. Bring a poncho because it *will* rain in the afternoon!
Florida is unique in the fact that our weather can change at a moment’s notice, and this is especially true in the summer. Summer is Florida’s wet season, so what looks like a perfectly sunny (but hot) day will invariably turn to heavy thunderstorms in the afternoon. Don’t worry: These storms will only last an hour or so before returning to blazing sun and humidity. Don’t believe me? Here are three photos taken on the same day in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.
Although these storms don’t last too long, without rain gear you will end up cowering underneath the few covered areas waiting for the torrential downpour to abate instead of wandering the (now empty) areas and checking out shops. Of course, ponchos and umbrellas are available throughout Universal, but they can get a little pricey. You can purchase a poncho from Walmart (or even some dollar stores) for very little and save your vacation budget for more Butterbeer ice cream! It’s also a good idea to use the afternoon thunderstorm as a chance to sit down, relax, eat some snacks, maybe nap, and overall just refuel for the rest of the day.
*Note: All of Universal’s outdoor attractions shut down for lightning, including Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff, but not the brand new Hogwarts Express (Thanks to lupinlove for the correct info!).*
4. Bring a wide-mouthed reusable water bottle!
It’s important in the Florida heat that you stay hydrated. Any food cart or quick service restaurant in Universal (which includes both the Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron) will refill a wide-mouthed water bottle with ice water for guests for FREE! (You’ll still have to wait in line for this, of course.) If you want to stay hydrated but want to skip the line, there are plenty of water fountains to refill a reusable water bottle, but the Orlando water tastes a little strange, so be sure to bring individual Crystal Light packets or a bottle of Mio to cover up the odd taste. And make sure your bottle has a clip so that you can just attach it to your bag or belt loop and have your hands free.
*Note: Universal will only fill wide-mouthed water bottles for sanitation reasons.*
If you plan on drinking any fountain drinks, I highly suggest investing in a souvenir cup or a Coke Freestyle refillable cup. The souvenir cups offer you refills at only $0.99 forever at practically any beverage cart or restaurant within the parks. (And yes, your Butterbeer mug counts as a souvenir cup!) The Coke Freestyle refillable cup costs $11.99 for the first day (and $8.99 for additional days) but offers you FREE refills for the duration of the day. Unfortunately, these can only be refilled at eight locations within the two parks. Pick the cup that works best for you.
5. Buy your souvenirs on your way out of the park or utilize Universal’s package pick-up!
No one wants to spend their day hauling around the Harry Potter goodies they couldn’t resist buying. Plus, both the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts require the use of lockers for all bags. A great way to avoid this added hassle is by utilizing Universal’s package pick-up, which allows you to purchase your souvenirs and simply pick them up on your way out of the park. (In Islands of Adventure you pick up your purchases at Ocean Trader’s, and in Universal Studios Florida you pick them up from On Location. You can also have them sent directly to your room if you’re staying at a Universal resort hotel.) However, the items you purchase will generally be ready for pick-up only the last few hours before the park closes. If you plan on heading out early, you will not be able to do this.
Instead, just wait to make all of your purchases at the end of your day. A large portion of the souvenirs on sale in the WWoHP are available for purchase in the other shops throughout Universal, and these you can grab on your way out of the park. If they aren’t, save an hour or two at the end of the day to do your shopping in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley in order to avoid carrying shopping bags all day like a house-elf and to prevent your goodies from Honeydukes from melting!
6. If you plan on riding the water rides, bring a change of clothes and a Ziploc bag!
Islands of Adventure has a bunch of water rides that can help you to cool down from the heat. However, if you want to ride them, bringing a change of clothes is a must! Due to the high humidity of Florida you will not dry off completely, and no one wants to spend the whole day with wet underwear (trust me, I am speaking from experience). Unfortunately, free lockers are not available for water rides, although Universal does offer standard lockers to rent throughout the parks to store towels and dry clothes (they rent by the hour and max out at $20 a day). The water rides will get you as wet as Dennis Creevey after his accidental dip into the Black Lake, so it’s important to bring a plastic Ziploc bag to protect your phone, keys, and any other valuables that cannot get wet.
7. Bring lots of snacks!
Universal allows guests to bring snacks into the parks, which is important if you’re on a budget. You should bring as many snacks as you can carry. I suggest snacks that are high protein to help you keep your energy up. My go-to treats: protein bars, beef jerky, trail mix, pumpkin seeds, and individual packages of snack foods (pretzels, Cheetos, Doritos, etc.). Don’t bring any snacks that contain chocolate or that can melt because they will. If you want to bring more temperature sensitive foods, like cheese or fruit, it’s a good idea to rent a family locker at the front of each park. Like the smaller lockers available throughout the park, the family lockers also are rented by the hour and max out at $20 for the day. You are allowed to bring a smaller cooler into Universal, which I suggest you stock with frozen water bottles to keep perishable food cool. The family lockers are MUCH bigger and are perfect for storing extra snacks, sunscreen, towels, dry clothes, basically anything you don’t feel like lugging around the park.
8. Don’t Avada Kedavra your phone!
During your trip, you have to make sure that your phone can last all day. Without it, how are you supposed to post pictures of you inside Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes to make all of your Facebook friends insanely jealous? It’s also super important to be able to stay in contact with your companions, especially if you split up. If your phone does pass through the curtain during the day, you can always head over to Wossamotta U, located in Islands of Adventure’s Toon Lagoon, and purchase 30 minutes of charging time for your phone for $5. If you need to access the Internet, you can buy computer access there ($5 for 10 min, $7 for 15 min, $10 for 30 min, plus up to 5 pages of printing), and they also sell phone cases, chargers, and SD cards. Wossamotta U is the only location where you can purchase charging time, but phone chargers are available for purchase inside Universal Studios at the Betty Boop store.
9. Don’t beat the crowd; outsmart it!
Although I haven’t been to Diagon Alley yet, I have visited Hogsmeade a lot. (Living 2 1/2 hours south of Orlando does have its benefits.) In order to get maximum enjoyment out of your trip to Universal Orlando, here are a few of my tried-and-tested tips for the Hogsmeade area:
- Getting to the park right when it opens is a mistake. Yes, you will enjoy shorter lines for an hour or so before the rush hits, but you’ll also be exhausted by about 3 p.m. Instead, eat breakfast at your hotel (if they offer a complimentary breakfast) or at a nearby restaurant and get to the park a few hours after it opens. You’ll miss a majority of the craze for the parking garages, and you’ll also be able to stick around the parks longer because…
- … the park empties out after 5 p.m., and you’ll enjoy much shorter waits. If you can arrive when the park opens and leave when it closes without feeling as though you’ve been hit by a Stunning Spell, enjoy a full day. Plus, there’s nothing as beautiful as Hogwarts Castle at night.
- There are two carts within Hogsmeade that sell Butterbeer, but the lines are often long and in direct sunlight. You can also purchase both cold and frozen Butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head. The lines for these establishments are generally much shorter (as long as it’s not a lunch or dinner rush), and you can enjoy your drinks in air conditioning. But if you do visit the Hog’s Head, be sure to tip your bartender. Otherwise, they might just curse you with the Jelly-Legs Jinx!
- You can relax in the patio area behind the Three Broomsticks without buying anything. You have to make a purchase in the Three Broomsticks to enjoy the air conditioning, but the outside area is covered and has ample seating. To access this area, simply walk through the archway just to the left of the restrooms that also contains an ATM and water fountains.
10. HAVE FUN!
Don’t spend your whole vacation worrying about hitting everything. Relax and take your time during your trip to Universal. The last thing you want to do is stress yourself out that you managed to scope out every shop except Dervish and Banges or that you only tried two of the new drinks from Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment. A vacation isn’t about doing everything; it’s about having fun with your friends and family. This couldn’t be more true for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the magic. I’ll see you there!