Fall 2014 update
Starting July 9, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure began to offer Early Park Admission. Open to qualifying guests are all the attractions and experiences inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (USF) and Hogsmeade (IOA), as well as the Hogwarts Express (for those with park-to-park admission). Please note that a reservation may be required to eat breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks, which is only available as part of Universal’s Harry Potter vacation package – learn more.
Then, starting August 1 and going through August 16, Universal’s parks will no longer open at the same time. Instead, IOA will open at 8:00am to the general public, meaning 7:00am for Early Park Admission, while USF will open at 9:00am to the general public and 8:00am for Early Park Admission (an hour later than IOA).
Because of the offset opening times, the Hogwarts Express will not begin operations until 8:00am, and when they do, it will only be for guests with Early Park Admission (and park-to-park access as always). Guests inside IOA who do not have Early Park Admission will not be able to board the Hogwarts Express at 8:00am, since USF doesn’t open to the general public until 9:00am. Finally, at 9:00am, all guests with park-to-park access will be able to ride the Hogwarts Express in either direction.
Keep in mind these offset hours only last through August 16. From August 17 through September 1, both parks again open at the same time – 8:00am for Early Park Admission, 9:00am for the general public.
Finally, starting September 2, Universal will only offer Early Park Admission at USF for Diagon Alley. Guests with Early Park Admission who wish to visit IOA and ride the Hogwarts Express will need to wait until 9:00am when both USF and IOA open for general admission.
UPDATE: We wanted to clarify that, since the beginning of this summer, Universal has only ever “guaranteed” that one park would be open during Early Park Admission. Here’s the language: Requires theme park admission. Early Park Admission begins one (1) hour prior to regular scheduled park opening to one (1) Universal Orlando theme park as determined by Universal Orlando. Valid at select attractions at each park. Universal Orlando Resort reserves the right to open alternative attractions in the event that a technical problem arises or an attraction opening is delayed.
To see this yourself, visit this page on UniversalOrlandoVacations.com and click the small, blue Disclaimer link toward the bottom. Keep in mind, everything is subject to change, and the September 2nd change is still unofficial info.
To discuss these matters are more, we encourage you to join us in the OI Forums.
Getting early access to the adventure
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is by far the most exciting thing to happen to Orlando’s theme parks over the last decade. Its tremendous attention to detail, and the one-of-a-kind experiences it offers Central Florida visitors, has made Universal Orlando Resort more popular than ever.
If you’re planning a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade during a time when there are moderate to busy crowds (see our free 12-month Universal Orlando crowd calendar) – and the Wizarding World is one of your top priorities at Universal – then we strongly recommend that you get Early Park Admission.
This page offers a complete guide to Universal’s Early Park Admission, from an explanation of the basics to every detail you need to know to maximize its effectiveness. Let’s begin, well, at the beginning…
Why do I need Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World?
I can quickly answer this question with the following video:
While the video above may present a stronger contrast than you will likely see on an “average” day, the crowds you saw at the end of that video do occur quite often. The truth is, the Wizarding World is the most electrifying thing to happen in Orlando in years, and its popularity only seems to grow – especially with the opening of Diagon Alley in July of 2014. When the parks are slow, the Wizarding World is usually busy. When the parks are busy, the Wizarding World is crushed.
VERY IMPORTANT Speaking of Diagon Alley, I haven’t had a chance to make a video highlighting its Early Park Admission, but I can tell you without a doubt that EPA is the only way to experience all of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (the signature attraction inside Diagon Alley) without waiting over an hour. In fact, the daytime wait for Escape from Gringotts has routinely been more than two hours and sometimes over three hours.
How does Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World work?
Guests with Early Park Admission have the benefit of entering Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure an hour before the park opens to the general public. For most of the year, this means 8:00am, and the park opens to everyone else at 9:00am. During busier seasons, it shifts up an hour, and guests with EPA get in at 7:00am while everyone else gets in at 8:00am.
VERY IMPORTANT With the opening of Diagon Alley this summer, Universal is attempting to help with morning crowds by letting guests in up to a half hour before Early Park Admission technically begins. So, if you want to be at the front of the EPA crowd to ensure the lowest wait time for Escape from Gringotts, we recommend you arrive at the USF turnstiles by 6:00am for 7:00am Early Park Admission or, in August, 7:00am for 8:00am Early Park Admission.
For the days when you’re not interested in getting to the front of the line for Gringotts, it’s satisfactory to arrive 30 minutes before Early Park Admission begins.
How do I get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World?
There are two methods for getting Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World. Since there is quite a bit of confusion about this, I’ll explain all of the details. The first method is to stay on-site at one of Universal’s four on-site hotels: Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, or Cabana Bay Beach Resort. All guests staying on-site, regardless of how they booked their rooms or which hotel they choose, get Early Park Admission as a on-site benefit (among other benefits).
The second method to secure Early Park Admission is to book a Universal Orlando vacation package. A vacation package must include at least accommodations and theme park admission tickets. As far as accommodations go, you can choose from over 40 Universal Orlando Partner Hotels. These Partner Hotels range from economical (Best Western) to luxury (JW Marriot). Villas, or family-suites, are also available at some properties (Floridays). With such a broad selection, you should definitely be able to find something to match your budget and style. Visit our guide to Universal vacation packages for more information.
IMPORTANT: Please note that booking a Universal Orlando Partner Hotel on your own is not enough to get Early Park Admission. You have to book a Universal vacation package including accommodations at a Partner Hotel to get the Early Park Admission benefit.
Another note: Booking a Universal Orlando vacation package does not necessarily mean that you have to book it directly through Universal Orlando. Many third-party sellers and travel agents can sell a qualifying package to you. If you’re using a third-party, just be sure you get your E-Travel Document before you travel that states your Early Park Admission benefit.
Final note for clarification: You can also book a Universal vacation package including accommodations at one of Universal’s on-site hotels, and if you do so you will receive Early Park Admission. However, if you are staying on-site, you are not required to book a vacation package to get the benefit. You could book your room directly through Loews, through a third-party like Hotels.com, or any other number of ways. As I mentioned above, Early Park Admission is a benefit that all on-site guests receive, regardless of how they booked their rooms.
During my stay, when can I use Early Park Admission?
The Early Park Admission benefit is available seven days a week. In addition, you can use it each day you are checked in to your hotel, including your check-in and check-out days. So, if you book one night at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, you actually receive two days of Early Park Admission: the morning you check in and the morning you check out. I have helped many guests book one night at a hotel – even an economy Partner Hotel – just for the two days worth of Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World.
How do I go about using Early Park Admission on my check-in day?
There are two somewhat different answers to this question, depending on whether you are staying on-site or off-site. First, we will address the question for guests staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels.
On-site at Universal
Guests checking into one of Universal’s on-site hotels are able to check in as early as they please. Now, it’s good to know that rooms are generally not available until after 1:00pm. However, you can check in as early as you’d like. When you do so, each member of your party will be given a room key, which serves several functions: it’s your proof for Early Park Admission, it can be used for resort-wide charging, it opens the security gate when exiting the hotel’s parking area, and of course it’s a room key.
Since your exact room may not be able to be assigned to you until later in the day, the Front Desk Team Member will ask for your cell phone number. Later in the day, when your room is ready, you will receive a text like the one below and your keys are automatically activated.
But what about your luggage? That’s no problem either. Each of Universal’s on-site hotels have a Luggage Service Desk, and they will gladly hold your bags in a secure area free of charge while you head out to see Harry. (Note: Cabana Bay just uses their Front Desk for this.)
Finally, how do you get your theme park admission tickets? If you purchased your tickets directly from Universal Orlando, they will be waiting for you at an Electronic Will Call Kiosk. There is a kiosk located near the Front Desk at each of the hotels (see the image below). There are also electronic will call kiosks located at the front of each Universal theme park.
Please note that, if you are staying on-site, you must check in at your hotel before you go to the parks for Early Park Admission. If you do not go to your hotel first, you will not have your room keys, and that means you will not have your proof for early entry.
By the way, if you have a car, you are not charged any additional amount for parking so early in the morning – just the regular nightly fee for that night.
What time should you arrive at the hotel to get to the parks for Early Park Admission? If you’re staying at a deluxe property, give yourself 45 minutes to check in and get over to the parks (note, we’re being conservative because we really don’t want you to miss any EPA time!). If you’re staying at Cabana Bay, give yourself an hour.
Off-site at a Partner Hotel
If you have booked a Universal Orlando vacation package with accommodations at a Partner Hotel, you’ve got Early Park Admission! So how do you take advantage of it on your check-in day?
This is definitely a different procedure than I just described for on-site guests. If you are staying off-site, you do not need to check into your hotel room. Instead, you can proceed directly to the parks. You will pick up your tickets at the Electronic Will Call Kiosks located in front of Universal Studios Florida on your right-hand side as you approach the entrance (first photo below), or in front of Islands of Adventure to your right-hand side as you approach the the entrance (second photo below).
Once you have your admission tickets, you can proceed with them to the Early Park Admission entrance. It’s also a very good idea to carry your E-Travel Document with you – that’s the document Universal or your travel agent provides to you, which lists your package benefits. If there happens to be any confusion with your tickets, your E-Travel Document will show that you have paid for the Early Park Admission benefit.
What if I want to check-in at my off-site hotel before going to the parks?
If you want to check in at your off-site Universal Partner Hotel before you use Early Park Admission on your check-in day, you will need to verify directly with the hotel as to what their procedures are. Depending on the hotel, they may or may not be able to stow your bags, etc.
IMPORTANT: For off-site guests, there is one critical factor you need to know about the “complimentary transportation” that may be a part of your vacation package. In almost all cases, it will not get you to Universal early enough to take advantage of Early Park Admission. Here is the language directly from UniversalOrlandoVacations.com:
SCHEDULED THEME PARK TRANSPORTATION: Provided based on regular park operating hours* (does not run continuously) to UNIVERSAL ORLANDO® theme parks, SEAWORLD ORLANDO®, WET ‘N WILD® and AQUATICA via Super Star Shuttle. Seating/standing space is limited and on a first come, first served basis. Boarding passes required from the Attraction Ticket Center located in the hotel lobby one day in advance and up to 30 minutes prior to departure. *Not valid for Special Events, Groups or Early Park Admission.
If you are relying on the complimentary transportation provided as a package benefit, you need to verify exactly how it works with your hotel, travel agent, or with Universal’s vacation package department. (The good news is that most Partner Hotels are very close to the parks, so a cab ride will be inexpensive.)
If I use Early Park Admission, do I still have to get to the park early?
Yes! I can’t stress this enough. In the case of Diagon Alley and with the intention of riding Escape from Gringotts, I recommend that you get the turnstiles one hour before Early Park Admission begins. For the days when you’re not interested in getting to the front of the line for Gringotts, it’s satisfactory to arrive 30 minutes early, but no later.These times may sound very early, but it’s what you need to do to make the most of Early Park Admission.
And remember, Universal generally starts to let guests in 15 to 30 minutes before the scheduled opening time. So getting to the turnstiles “an hour early” may mean that you are only waiting for 30 minutes before you get into the park. But, don’t think that means you get an hour and 30 minutes inside the Wizarding World, because they do the same thing with the general public opening time.
What if I am not able to arrange Early Park Admission?
I recommend that you read through our How to ensure you trip to the Wizarding World is a success! page for more advice.
Early Park Admission at Hogsmeade – photo gallery
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