After a year where it felt like Dolores Umbridge ruled the world and wanted to make it miserable for everyone, it’s really nice to be back in a place of hope. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, but with the help of vaccines and safe habits, we’re finally able to plan and get excited about things again – like visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
As you know, there are several Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter around the world: Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka. Since international travel still isn’t allowed, I won’t be discussing what Osaka is like right now. Instead, I’m going to focus in this post about what it’s like to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter right now at Orlando and Hollywood. I’ll also share whether I think it’s safe to do so; of course, you should make your own decision for your family and safety based on what you feel comfortable with.
If you’re wondering what a trip to the Wizarding World will be like, whether you have to wear a mask (YES!), and everything else you need to know, read on. You’re about to discover how magic can coexist with some decidedly muggle practicalities to keep everyone safe.
Pandemic Protocols at Universal Studios
I’ve taken the time to review the pages from both Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood to understand and summarize their COVID-19 rules right now. These will feel pretty familiar, but it doesn’t hurt to see them all in one place. (You can also click the links above to visit the page for each location directly to double-check!)
As of May 2021, here are the protocols and mandates you’ll encounter at either Universal location (and their associated Wizarding Worlds):
- Everyone has to wear a face covering.
- Hand washing is encouraged… It’s a good idea anyway!
- Social distancing is encouraged. There are also floor markers to help you stay distanced. (We all know what those look like after the past year!)
- You’ll have to use hand sanitizer at certain locations throughout the parks, like before boarding some rides.
- Universal Studios staff (called “Team Members”) may give you additional directions to ensure your or others’ safety; you’re expected to follow all directions from them.
- In Hollywood only, you will be required to have your temperature taken upon arrival at the park. This may result in long lines to enter, but they move quickly. (Team members are also required to do this daily.)
Additionally, there are some extra rules for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood. Specifically, you must fit into one of these two categories to visit right now:
- You must be a California resident
- You must be a non-resident/out-of-state adult with proof of vaccination
Non-California-resident kids are not allowed into Universal Studios Hollywood (including the Wizarding World) right now. This will likely change as children are approved for vaccination and can show proof of vaccination on arrival.
Additional Safety Measures at Universal Studios
In addition to the above COVID-19-specific protocols, Universal Studios has also made some other changes to help keep everyone healthy during (and happy after) their visit. These include:
- Limited capacity and following social distancing guidelines throughout all attractions, restaurants, and shops throughout the destination. This means queues may be longer than normal; with reduced attendance though, it may end up feeling the same if you’ve made a trip to Universal Studios before.
- Increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, and frequently cleaning all high-touch surfaces.
- All team members will participate in extensive training on our new procedures.
In short, Universal Studios has worked at both locations to help create the safest environment possible. That said, these precautions can’t guarantee you won’t be exposed; do your part to mask up and stay away from others so everyone has a good time.
What’s Different About the Wizarding World right now?
So given all of those rules – or should I say ministry decrees? – how is your experience different at the Wizarding World, other than wearing a mask and giving distance to others?
Rides & Attractions
First of all, lines for everything will be a little different. In an effort to space everyone out, you may discover lines for one ride/attraction stretching out into other parts of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Additionally, both Universal locations are encouraging everyone to use their apps (click here for Orlando and click here for Hollywood) to reserve a spot in the ‘Virtual Line.’
Virtual Lines help cut down on lines/crowding and help with distancing. Once you reserve your spot, you’ll get an alert when your entrance window begins and can go straight to the ride with far less waiting in line. Right now at least, the only way you can ride most rides is with the app in a Virtual Line. (This is actually a great idea and I hope it sticks around!)
Unfortunately, due to the Virtual Line system, it means you may end up not getting to ride a favorite ride because the Virtual Lines are full for that day. All this to say – plan ahead and reserve your spot in line as early as you can once you get into the park (and arrive early to help that!)!
One main other change is the Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando which only seats one family/party per cabin on the train. This can make the lines longer too.
Meals & Dining
Prior to the pandemic, restaurants in the Wizarding World offered counter service; you walked up and ordered your food, then received it a few minutes later.
Now, they are encouraging mobile ordering using the apps (linked above); you might as well just download the app you need right now! When you’re ready to eat, head to the restaurant of your choice (The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade or The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley). You may have to line up to get a table; you can then open the app to browse the menu and place your order. Your food will then be brought out when it is ready.
Shopping in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade is one of my favorite parts of visiting – I love stocking up on magical supplies each time I visit! But things (unsurprisingly) are a little different right now.
- Most shops are open, though team members are stationed outside each one to help with occupancy. You may have to wait a few minutes to enter a specific shop.
- Cash and card are still accepted at stores, though I’d personally encourage you to use credit or debit card as it’s a more sanitary way to pay.
- Ollivanders Wand Shop works a little differently – wandmakers no longer do the wand-choosing ceremony in a big group. Instead, you can book a slot (in the Universal Orlando app) to visit the Globus Mundi store (which is closed to shopping) to meet a wandmaker with your own party. (I’m not sure how it’s different for Hollywood yet!)
- To shop at Ollivanders, you’ll wait in a separate line to enter the store.
What to Pack for the Wizarding World Right Now
In addition to the normal awesome HP swag you can/should wear to the Wizarding World, I wanted to throw out two extra ideas:
- Harry Potter Masks – there are tons of amazing designs on Amazon, including ones specific to each house: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin
- Hand Sanitizer Carrier – So you can bring your own bottle and keep your hands nice and clean! I love this Hogwarts one and this Hedwig one.
With those two items, you’ll be totally set for a magical (and medically safe) day!
So is it Safe to Visit the Wizarding World Right Now?
As we’ve all learned, each person’s definition of “safe” varies – but I think that Universal has done the best they can to have the parks open and keep people as safe as possible. We can all agree that masks and distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the Ministry of Magic has made the right call with requirements for both of those.
Having read stories from fans who visited Universal Orlando as early as last summer, I think that park has improved its safety measures since then, and I feel more comfortable going there than I would have done a few months ago. As for Universal Studios Hollywood, that park only reopened on April 16th, and has more strict protocols (in line with California’s stricter rules in general compared to Florida). I would definitely feel comfortable going there, masking up, and having a great time – especially as I’m vaccinated!
For me, personally, yes, it’s safe to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both the Orlando and Hollywood locations. Your own comfort level may vary.
What if I don’t feel Safe Visiting the Wizarding World Yet?
If you’re not up for making the trip to Hogwarts yet, no worries! I have articles to help:
- Take a Virtual Trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando
- Take a 360º Tour of the Wizarding World in Hollywood
- Try these 10 Magically Virtual Harry Potter Experiences
Do you have other questions about visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments!