Ever since the Harry Potter books came out, fans were begging for a theme park set in the wizarding world. J.K. Rowling created such an immersive experience through Harry's time at Hogwarts and all of the other incredible things he encountered along the way. Naturally, a year before the last Harry Potter film was released, Universal Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of their park. It was everything fans hoped it would be and more, which spawned two more parks in Osaka, Japan and Hollywood, California.
Part of what makes the Harry Potter theme parks so incredible is that J.K. Rowling pretty much oversaw everything down to what was served in the on-site restaurants. The attention to detail is staggering and there are a number of Easter eggs and hidden secrets around the park. There are also quite a few hacks that will turn an ordinary visit to the park into an unbelievably awesome time if you know what to do, where to look or who to talk to. If you want to up your WWOHP game, look no further than these 15 Wizarding World of Harry Potter hacks that are magical AF. Mischief managed!
15 You can ask for a private tour of Hogwarts
One of the best parts about the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is that you're entertained while you wait. As you make your way through Hogwarts castle, you'll see familiar objects like the Mirror of Erised, the gargoyle statue guarding Dumbeldore's office and even the Sorting Hat. Each waiting area has something going on that's relevant to the story of the ride. Unfortunately, sometimes you're forced to rush through the line, making you miss a lot of the content, which is a big part of the whole experience.
However, there's still a way to enjoy the various rooms on the way to the ride without actually riding it. At the front of the castle, you can ask one of the line attendants, who are directing people where to go, for a castle tour. These are subject to availability depending on how busy the ride is during that time, but if you happen upon a slow time, you're in luck! This is an especially great option for families with small children who can't ride the ride anyway.
14 You can get sorted by the Sorting Hat
Sure, you could always take one of those online quizzes that tells you what house you're probably in, or go the official route and do Pottermore's Sorting Ceremony quiz, but don't you want to have the real Hogwarts experience? Next time you ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, stick around in the gift shop that you have to walk through to exit. It's called Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods and it's there you'll find the Sorting Hat.
You see, Universal sells an Animated Sorting Hat that actually talks to you and will sort you into a house when you put it on. You might see the hat sitting out on display, but if not, you can ask an employee for it since it's basically a tester. Take turns placing it on your friends and then go nuts buying ALL THE THINGS with your house emblazoned on it. You're welcome.
13 There's a Pygmy Puff naming ceremony
If you were as mesmerized by those fat little balls of fur in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince as we were, you're in luck! You can actually adopt a Pygmy Puff of your own at the Universal park. They come in different shades of pink or purple and you have your choice of three different sizes. However, the real fun begins after you've picked out your new friend and have taken it to the register.
Upon purchasing a Pygmy Puff, you'll be treated to a short Adoption Ceremony where you get to name your pet. After the cashier asks for your name, your puff's name and if you've adopted one before, a bell is rung and all that information is then shouted across the store to whomever's listening. Everyone applauds as you hand over your hard-earned cash and you're praised for giving a fluffy stuffed animal a forever home.
12 You can cut your wait time by half or more as a single rider
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter parts of the Universal parks have become more popular than any of their other areas—by a lot. Therefore, that's where all the people end up, making wait times climb to astronomical heights during busy days and peak season. Sure there's lots to look at while you're waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Escape From Gringotts, but after about an hour, you'll get tired of watching everything on a loop over and over again.
However, there are ways to skip the main line, aside from buying a special pass. If you don't mind the possibility of getting split up from your group and riding in different cars, take the single rider line. You'll speed past all those suckers waiting for hours at a time, cutting your time by half or even more. Sometimes, you may even get lucky and get sat together anyway. Either way, you'll all still get to experience the ride, which is way more important than getting a cheesy souvenir photo.
11 There's an entire secret drink menu at the The Hog's Head
If you're of age and feel like imbibing in some alcoholic beverages, take a stroll to the Hog's Head Pub where you can find a variety of on-tap beers and ciders in addition to the non-alcoholic Butterbeers and pumpkin flavored drinks. There are even three specialty beers brewed exclusively for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The Wizard's Brew (Stout), Hog's Head (Medium Lager) and Dragon's Scale (Pale Ale).
But, in addition to these fabulously named drinks, there's an entire secret menu of mixed drinks that aren't readily advertised. You can get beer cocktails like a Black Hog (Black & Tan), Hog's Bite (Snakebite) or Triple (three kinds of beer). There are even cocktails like the Hog's Tea (Long Island Iced Tea), Pear Dazzle (Pear cider, lemonade, vodka) and Apple Jack (Apple cider, Jack Daniels, soda water). Plus, if you like spicy drinks with a kick, Hog's Head now offers Firewhisky shots and a variety of cocktails using the cinnamon flavored liquor.
10 You can send real mail from the Owl Post
One of the most magical parts of the Harry Potter books and films was when Harry received his Hogwarts letters by owl. It's safe to say that most Harry Potter fans wish they could send messages by owl much like Harry did with Hedwig. While there are no actual owls flying around the park (just perched, animatronic ones), both the Orlando and Hollywood locations have an Owl Post.
Essentially, you can pick up a stationary kit or postcard nearby, write a letter and mail it off right there in the park. You can also bring in outside letters to get mailed, too. While in and of itself the Owl Post is a fun novelty, there's more to it than just mailing letters from inside the Wizarding World. You can buy Harry Potter-themed stamps and every letter mailed gets stamped with a special Hogsmeade postmark. Mail one to yourself as a souvenir or send one to a Harry Potter-loving friend for a fun surprise!
9 You can learn your house's secret handshake
One of the least well-known hacks inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are the secret handshakes for each of the four houses. While you could easily make up your own, how awesome would it be to just walk up to a stranger wearing the same house colors as you and instantly bust out the handshake?
After you've been sorted into your house via the Sorting Hat, find anyone dressed in a house robe (mainly around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade) and ask them to teach you your house's dank way of showing camaraderie. Even some of the train conductors know the handshakes, particularly Ravenclaw's.
Each shake is different and incorporates elements from that house's traits. For example, Hufflepuff's incorporates mashing your hands together like potatoes since they love to eat and their common room is near the kitchens. Anyone who's watching will instantly become jealous of your awesomeness and want to learn it, too.
8 The phone booths are functional... if you know the magic word
If you've ever been to England, you may have seen their iconic red phone booths all over the place. Keeping with the blurred realism of the magical world infiltrating the Muggle world, there's also an English phone booth outside King's Cross station in the Diagon Alley section of Universal Orlando. You can go inside it and pretend to talk on the phone, or you can actually get connected to the Ministry of Magic. In the books, the visitors entrance to the Ministry is through one of these phone booths. And, just like in the books, if you dial "magic" (62442), you'll gain access to a special Easter egg.
Although you won't actually descend through the ground to the atrium, you will hear a recorded message from the Ministry played through the phone. We won't spoil the fun for you, but it's just a quick little detail that would otherwise get overlooked if you didn't know what the phone booth's significance was or that the theme park designers put that much thought into hiding an extra experience in plain sight.
7 There are secret spells you can perform
Most people are aware of the interactive wands introduced to the parks in 2014. For about $50, you can obtain one and feel like a real wizard, casting spells at specific locations in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Most are marked on the ground with a gold medallion that includes the name of the spell, the wand motion to cast it and what direction you should be facing. However, at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, there are a few secret spells not listed on the provided map (or remain hidden except under certain lighting.)
Two known secret spell locations in Diagon Alley are at Slug and Jiggers Apothecary and Scribbulus Writing Implements. If you point your wand at certain objects in the windows, you can make things happen just like you do with marked spell locations. Basically, use your common sense based on the spells you've learned with the interactive wand. If there's a blank piece of parchment, try the Revelio spell to see if there's anything written on it in invisible ink. Speaking of invisible ink, don't forget to take your spell casting skills to Knockturn Alley. You may find some additional secrets hidden there under the glow of the black lights.
6 If you want to be chosen by Ollivander, stand out from the crowd
One of the most exciting experiences at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (especially for first time visitors) is the wand ceremony at Ollivander's. Dozens of hopeful tourists cram into his tiny shop with the hope they'll get chosen by a wand and get to perform a little theme park magic. But only one person per group gets a chance to be chosen, so how exactly can you increase the odds that it'll be you?
According to a former Ollivander we talked to, it varies from person to person, but most Ollivanders choose someone who stands out in some way and catches their eye. Some are chosen for cosplaying or showing their Harry Potter pride, others because they have an interesting (or extremely attractive face). Some like to choose small children because they're the most into the experience, others choose adults who are just as excited if not more so than the kids. If all else fails, don't be afraid to turn on the water works or freak out a bit, if it gets Ollivander's attention. Ultimately, it's a performance, and if they think you will contribute to making that performance better in some way, they'll pick you!
5 You can exchange Muggle money for Gringotts bank notes
Across from the actual Gringotts bank where the Escape From Gringotts ride is, there's also something called Gringotts Money Exchange. Just like a real money exchange place, you can actually take your Muggle money and trade it in for some wizarding cash. While you won't be getting any Galleons, Sickles or Knuts, what you do get are Gringotts bank notes. They come in different denominations just like real money and even have a unique serial number and the year on them.
You could definitely just pay your money and keep one as a souvenir, but if you want to feel like a real wizard, you have to use them like they were intended to be used. Gringotts bank notes are considered the same as real money in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and you can pay for purchases with them. Imagine how amazing it would feel to pick out a set of robes plus a wand and be able to pay for it with wizard cash. That's something to cross off your Harry Potter bucket list for sure.
4 You can celebrate Christmas at Hogsmeade & Diagon Alley
Unless you get Universal Studios' online newsletter, you may not have heard about their special Christmas celebration this year. From mid-November through January 6th, both the Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley sections of the park will be completely decked out for the holiday season. Universal Hollywood also announced recently that they'll be getting a festive facelift as well. It's about time they did something for Christmas, when it was so frequently mentioned in the books (and looked so magical in the first film).
Prepare for delicious holiday treats to devour, themed drinks and even special entertainment programming. And aside from decorations on all the shops and restaurants, Hogwarts castle will also have a special projected holiday light display during the Christmas season. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London does a Christmas dinner in the Great Hall every year that sells out instantly, so there's no doubt this festive transformation to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will attract huge crowds for the holidays. Our suggestion? Book a hotel now to make sure you don't miss out on all the magic.
3 If you stay at an onsite hotel, you get early access
Theme parks love to try and get every cent out of you possible by booking directly with them and offering you special deals and benefits. One such perk exists by staying at one of their six onsite hotels. Anyone staying at these hotels is granted Early Park Admission to either Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure or both depending, on the time of year. Typically, EPA means you'll be let in an hour to an hour and a half before everyone else is.
That also means you can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter parts of the parks before the masses flood in. Depending on which park you're allowed to enter through on that day, it's best to hit up the Harry Potter rides first since they've become the most popular sections of the parks. Escape From Gringotts is especially notorious for multi-hour wait times during peak season, so if you have a chance to ride it before the park opens—do it!
2 Stay after dark for the the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts (Hollywood only)
A little over a year ago, Universal Studios Hollywood opened their own Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park with just the Hogsmeade section. Since then, west coast Harry Potter fans have been dying for something exclusive to their park. This past month it was announced that they'll finally get their wish.
Starting June 23rd, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood will have a special projection show called The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts. During the show, the normal lights that illuminate Hogwarts will get turned off and replaced with projections, as music from the films play in the background.
Like they did during the opening ceremony at the park last year, projections will feature the four Hogwarts houses and their corresponding traits and symbolism. Basically it'll be like one big Sorting Ceremony where you can cheer for your house and make new friends before bustling off to the Hog's Head for a Butterbeer or two.
1 You can explore the parks before you go
Big Brother is watching, or rather Big Google. Although it's a little creepy how they manage to get imagery of almost everywhere in the world, when it comes to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it's to your benefit. Google Maps has actual 360 imagery inside both the Orlando and Hollywood parks. Once you find the park on the map, switch to Satellite View and then drag the little yellow guy in the bottom right to wherever you want to look around.
You can see what it's actually like to walk down the street in Hogsmeade. You get to peek inside King's Cross where the Hogwarts Express is waiting for travelers to board. You can look up in awe at the dragon on top of Gringott's Bank. Best of all, you can even see inside some of the shops like Ollivander's and Honeydukes.
While some people may not want to get spoiled on the way everything looks inside the parks, once you're actually there, the experience itself is a lot different. Nevertheless, Google Maps imagery makes it super easy to see where everything is in relation to each other, which is helpful when planning your day at the park.