Harry Potter

Universal Orlando Early Park Admission Changes Starting September 2

by on August 25, 2014

Early Park Admission Sign

Big changes are coming in September to Universal Orlando’s Early Park Admission perk (Photo by Seth Kubersky)

As the summer season comes to a close, we’ve gotten word of some upcoming changes to Universal Orlando Early Park Admission policies that are scheduled to go into effect early next month.

While no details have been officially announced, we’ve confirmed this information with guest service leads at both parks, and we believe the following modifications will be made to Universal Orlando’s early park admission perk (otherwise known as “early entry” or “early admission”) offered to guests at the resort’s four on-site hotels.

We will be on hand to report on the new procedures, and we will update the information on our Early Park Admission page as policy changes develop.

Early Park Admission General Information

Universal Orlando offers admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) and/or Universal Studios Florida (Diagon Alley) one hour before regular park opening. This perk is given for free to all guests staying at a Universal Resort Hotel. Guests with certain types of “vacation packages” (most commonly sold by Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations and involving both accommodations at a Universal partner hotel and theme park admission) are also allowed in early.

The turnstiles to the park(s) participating in early entry should open approximately 90 minutes before the official opening time. Both hotel and day guests will be admitted to the park, and each eligible guest will need to show his or her own room key to pass beyond the park’s entry plaza during the early admission hour. Guests not eligible for early admission will be held in an alternative area to await the official opening time.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six Counter Service Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on August 23, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Top Six Counter Service Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort. Last year we looked at the overall top six restaurants on property, and because both the Three Broomsticks and Fast Food Boulevard made that list, they were ineligible for this one. Speaking of which, later this year when The Cowfish opens in CityWalk we may have to revisit our original list because there have been some pretty impressive venues (including Antojitos and Vivo) who have made quite an impression since their debut. However, today we are looking resort wide for the counter service restaurants that we love the most, starting with….

# 6 – Thunder Falls Terrace (Islands of Adventure)

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Thunder Falls Terrace

 

Located in Jurassic Park, Thunder Falls Terrace has several things going for it. The first is its menu. Unlike your typical theme park counter service, this location eschews traditional fare like hot dogs and chicken fingers and instead has items such as charbroiled ribs and rotisserie chicken. It is also one of the only counter service locations where you can get a mixed green salad made in front of your eyes.  There are several large seating areas inside (along with  tables outside as well) with one area has a fantastic view of where the Jurassic Park River Adventure boats splash down. This is even more fun to watch when guests walk by this area not realizing they are about to be in the Splash Zone and get soaked.

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Universal Orlando Offers Celebration of Harry Potter in 2015

by on August 14, 2014

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express ©Universal

Universal Orlando announced a three day Harry Potter themed event today, the Celebration of Harry Potter, for January 30 to February 1, 2015. The fan event will offer appearances from actors of the Harry Potter films and an expo in addition to exclusive access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley for ticket holders.

Guests may choose from a package that includes:

  • Three nights in a Universal or Universal partner hotel
  • Three day park-to-park admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • An evening dessert party in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley
  • Reserved seating for actor appearances and discussions
  • Early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (one hour)
  • Breakfast at Three Broomsticks
  • A welcome pack and commemorative merchandise

Annual Passholders may opt for a package that does not include park admission (but does include the hotel stay). The minimum stay for either package is three nights.

Guests who don’t wish to book the full packages may choose admission only, which will include actor appearances and the expo.

The event package for two adults starts at $555 for the partner hotel ($357 AP), $657 for Cabana Bay ($465 AP), and $855 for Royal Pacific Resort ($657 AP). Packages must be booked by phone at 1-888-343-8991 starting Thursday, August 21 at noon Eastern time.

The Universal Crowd Calendar has not yet been updated for this event. This year’s celebration of Harry Potter in late January had low overall park crowd levels, but many fans in the Wizarding World areas.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six New Food Options in Diagon Alley’s Leaky Cauldron

by on August 2, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Top Six New Food Options in Universal’s Diagon Alley. We began our mouthwatering journey into Diagon Alley two weeks ago when we went through the best new drinks and continued last week by looking at the best new snacks. Today we finish up our glutonous trilogy by hopping into the Leaky Cauldron and checking out the newest food options inside the Wizarding World. Offering traditional British pub fare, the Leaky Cauldron serves a menu that differs wildly from the standard hamburgers, chicken fingers and pizza that we’ve become used to inside the theme parks. Our All-Star blue ribbon panel of experts sat down and tried everything, and today we’re counting down the best of the best….

# 6 –  Bangers & Mash

Leaky_BangersAndMash

Bangers & Mash (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Bangers & Mash delivers in a big way. Two large pieces of sausage sitting on top of mashed potatoes with onion gravy and servings of vegetables to top off the plate. Seeing real vegetables instead of french fries at a quick service restaurant still takes some getting used to, but it is definitely something long needed in the theme park world. One day we are going to have to have an official Bangers & Mash Taste Test between Walt Disney World and Universal. Settling once and for all which venue has the best version of this dish with entries from Rose & Crown (Epcot,) Raglan Road (Downtown Disney,) Finnegan’s (Universal Studios Florida,) and the Leaky Cauldron. ($11.99)

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New Universal Orlando Two Day/Two Park Touring Plans

by on July 31, 2014

Universal Orlando two day/two park touring plans

2½ hours is considered a moderate wait at Gringotts! Be prepared with our new Universal Orlando two day/two park touring plans. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

If you are planning to devote a day of your vacation to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll quickly discover that there is more to do at Universal Orlando’s park than can be covered in dozen hours. We’ve had a great response to our recently published Diagon Alley touring plan and one day/two park touring plans, which I encourage you to read if you haven’t already. But an even better way to experience everything Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure has to offer is with these new Universal Orlando two day/two park touring plans.

The good news for guests just now getting to Gringotts is that the ride is running much more reliably and with greater capacity than only a couple weeks ago; as a result, standby wait times are peaking in the morning at half their former 450-minute high-water, and dropping to 120 or less by late afternoon. There is still a rush to Diagon Alley every morning, resulting in a queue to enter London for early arrivers. But the return time tickets are rarely needed any more, and crowd control barricades around the area have been vanishing by lunchtime.

Note that these new two-day/two-park touring plans have been optimized to account for the recent reduction in operating hours, and should scale well with diminishing crowds as hours are reduced further this fall. As always, we’ll continue refining our plans using the latest data, and subscribers can edit and evaluate them for themselves by personalizing a copy of our premium plans. (Be sure to look for a link to Part 2 at the top of the plan, and make a copy of each part.)

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six New Snacks in Universal’s Diagon Alley

by on July 26, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Top Six New Snacks in Universal’s Diagon Alley. Last week we went through the best new drinks available in the Wizarding World and today we are going to satisfy our sweet tooth by looking at the top six snacks inside Universal’s new land. All the venues in Diagon Alley, the London Waterfront, and King’s Cross station were eligible. What made the cut from our blue ribbon panel of experts? Let’s count ‘em down…

# 6 – Chocolate Potted Cream (The Leaky Cauldron)

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Chocolate Potted Cream (photo by Brandon Glover)

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New Universal Orlando Wizarding World Two-Park Touring Plans

by on July 23, 2014

Gringotts Queue

Learn everything you’ve always wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) about visiting both Gringotts and Hogwarts with our new Wizarding World two-park touring plans! (photos by Seth Kubersky)

A few days ago, we published our newly updated Universal Studios Florida touring plans, which provide step-by-step instructions for tackling Diagon Alley and the crowds at the Gringotts bank ride with maximum efficiency. Those guides are now available as premium touring plans that can be copied and edited in Lines, with versions for Early Entry guests and for those staying off-site.

Today, we’re following up with the first installment of our most frequently requested touring plan: one-day/two-park plans covering both sides of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. These new plans cover both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. They feature all Harry Potter attractions (including rides on the Hogwarts Express in both directions) in a single day, and assume you have a Park-To-Park (Universal lingo for “parkhopper”) ticket.

[Note: If you caught the early edition of this post, you may notice that the touring plans have changed slightly. Using the latest data crunched overnight, we've tweaked the morning attraction order to squeeze in one extra attraction! Similar upgrades have already been made to the premium one day USF/Diagon Alley plans we've previously published. You're welcome!]
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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six New Drinks in Universal’s Diagon Alley

by on July 19, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Top Six New Drinks in Universal’s Diagon Alley. The original plan for this week was to take a look at the top six options for food and drink in the newest addition to the Wizarding World, but after reaching out to a blue panel commission to tabulate the results we came to one realization: that mission was truly impossible. There are so many new foods, snacks, and drinks within Diagon Alley and each person seems to have a different favorite. So we’re going to take a page from Bill O’Reilly’s playbook by throwing out the previous plan and we’ll do it live! We’re gonna break down our favorites in each category over the course of the next three weeks and we’ll start off with our favorite beverages…

WWOHP_drinks

A murderer’s row of drink if there ever was one. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 6 – Tongue Tying Lemon Squash

WWOHP_Lemon

Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (photo by Brandon Glover)

Our list begins with the Tongue Tying Lemon Squash. Think of the lemonades you get freshly made at your local fair or farmer’s market and imagine more lemon being used along with a hint of vanilla. The taste is very tart, but this drink has already become the best lemonade on property. ($4.79 at the The Hopping Pot)

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New Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans

by on July 19, 2014

Diagon Alley touring plans

Massive crowds await inside the Gringotts bank. Be prepared with our new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley touring plans! (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

It’s been a little over a week since the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and Universal Studios Florida‘s blockbuster new attraction continues to attract astoundingly oversized crowds. While you won’t find the massive queue clogging park walkways that accompanied the opening of the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, thanks to greatly improved crowd control procedures, guests are still waiting upwards of 5 hours on a daily basis just to Escape from Gringotts. While the new “multidimensional” thrill machine is certainly a marvel, we here at Touring Plans are congenitally allergic to advising any of our readers to invest half their vacation day in any one attraction, at the expense of experiencing everything else that Universal has to offer. In that spirt, we offer our newly updated Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans, along with a comprehensive commentary with everything you need to know in order to open your magical bank account with a bare minimum (relatively speaking) of waiting.

The following Diagon Alley touring plans are based on first-hand observations conducted during pre-opening media previews, soft openings, and daily operations during grand opening week. The plans were optimized based on a peak day (9.5 out of 10 on our crowd calendar) and may need modification once off-season arrives with shorter hours. As operational patterns evolve, we’ll continue to update our plans for maximum efficiency.

These plans will also shortly be available as premium plans on TouringPlans.com and in our Lines app, so subscribers will be able to copy and edit them at will. Be aware that our system is not yet able to properly account for the queuing and return time tickets required to enter Diagon Alley, and may therefore return inappropriate results for that area’s attractions; for the moment, we recommend editing the attraction order manually through our website, and using “evaluate” instead of “optimize” for Diagon Alley plans.

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PotterWatch: Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley Soft Openings

by on July 6, 2014

Diagon alley soft opening

Regular guests get their first look at the Universal’s newest Wizarding World during the first day of Diagon Alley soft openings (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Nearly a month after construction walls came down around Universal Studios Florida‘s London waterfront, PotterWatch finally paid off this past week, as regular guests were finally allowed to experience Universal Orlando‘s new Harry Potter attractions in advance of the expansion’s July 8 official opening. Hogwarts Express began “technical rehearsals” on July 1, and the first Diagon Alley soft openings started on July 3.

While the Gringotts ride is not available during these previews, all shops, restaurants, and shows in Diagon Alley should be open to guests on a daily basis until the grand opening on July 8.

As congested as these photos may appear, this is nothing compared to how busy Diagon Alley will be once opening day officially arrives. With minimal queues to enter the area, and posted standby waits at Hogwarts Express of 30 minutes or less, this is an ideal time to experience Diagon Alley without the crushing crowds that are surely coming right around the corner.

Check out these front-line photos from July 3, documenting the first few hours after ordinary visitors were first allowed to experience the new Wizarding World:

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