My journey to Hogwarts

Though I’ve been to Universal Studios in Hollywood several times, thanks to a summer job I have working with students who come to the U.S. from other countries, my daughter has not. After several offers to take my daughter to Harry Potter World in place of a birthday party, my daughter told me she wanted to go. It helped that she’s been sucked into Harry Potter mania—she’s now halfway through reading the entire series for the third time.

The girl with her new wand and map of where she can do spells, while we wait in line at Three Broomsticks.

Universal Studios. So many of us want to enjoy Universal Studios and being prepared with what things actually cost helps for better planning. I’m a thrifty traveler, but I don’t want to sacrifice the experience because of money. So I find ways to get the most of my buck. Below you’ll see how much I spent, what I spent it on and any deals I got. Keep reading to the end for my tips and tricks for making the most out of Universal Studios/Harry Potter World.

This video is of the girl trying out a spell in Hogsmeade, and succeding.
  • Round trip Amtrak tickets between San Luis Obispo and Burbank/Hollywood $110.70 (children are half price and we got 10% off with AAA by purchasing the tickets at least three days in advance)
  • Two season tickets to Universal Studios $218 (Costco currently has three-day tickets for $119 each, we were able to beat that by my mom buying the tickets through her union.
Day 1
  • L
    The girl with a cold butterbeer in a souvenir cup in the Hogshead with the Three Broomsticks in the background.

    ocker to keep our things since we arrived directly from the train station $12 (I got a medium locker, I almost thought I should have gotten a bigger one, but it was JUST big enough for my backpack, my daughter’s small one, two small lunch bags and our two sweaters. You can go in and out of the locker all day, so it’s worth it if you have to bring more than a small bag.)

  • Snacks on the train $4.75
  • Interactive wand $54.75 from Ollivander’s Wand Shop (I considered buying one from eBay, but thought that the wand ceremony would be special for my girl)
  • Our first meal at the Three Broomsticks, the plate on the top is a kids meal of a quarter of a chicken with potato wedges and grapes, and the one on the bottom is bangers and mash without the gravy

    Lyft (click on the link to get a code for $10-$20 off your first ride) from the train station to Universal Studios $6.39(it just so happens that I have 50% off rides through Sunday for being a 5-star customer, so many of the trips were only a few dollars more than taking public transit and much faster)

  • Butterbeer in a souvenir cup $14.77
  • Late lunch at Three Broomsticks $23.30 (we got a kids meal and an adult meal, no drinks)
  • Lyft from Universal Studios to hotel in Hollywood $7.13
  • Dinner at In n Out $4.65
  • Hotel two blocks from the Chinese Theatre for two nights $72.26 (I used $220.53 worth of points from one of my credit cards. I wanted to stay near-ish Universal Studios since we wouldn’t have a card while here.)
Bangers and mash again on the right, with potatos and corn on the cob and a cold butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks.
Day 2
  • The girl “feeding” Hedwig a chip while wearing the new hat she bought at The Grove.

    One-way subway fare for two $7.50 (this cost includes the $1 Tap card fee times 2–it doesn’t appear that there are reduced fares for children. The fare was $2.75 one-way)

  • Sweatshirt (I didn’t bring warm enough sweaters), water and chips from La La Land on Hollywood Boulevard $24.73
  • Small locker rental $8
  • Postcard set (10) and 10 Hogwarts castle stamps $30.55 (the stamps were $14.95 for 10–almost $1.50/each. The cashier stamped each postcard and some envelopes I brought with the Hogsmeade postmark. We were able to mail the letters just outside the Owl Post)
  • You are here mugs and cups at Starbucks–they’re $14.99 each.

    Hedwig Puppet $38.27 (my girl used her own money for it)

  • Hot butterbeer & a fire whiskey $16.96 (5.99 for the butterbeer & $9.50 for the fire whiskey)
  • Lunch at Jurassic Café $31.72 (we got two burgers with gluten-free buns, which were $12.99 and there was no extra cost for the GF buns; and a small Caesar salad for $2.99)
  • Pumpkin juice $7.65
  • Lyft from Universal Studios to The Grove Farmers Market $9.22
  • Cupcake from Sprinkles $3.95
  • Ice cream $4.75
  • Wine at The Grove Farmers Market $7 (I think it was happy hour)
  • Dinner at Deanos Gourmet Pizza at The Grove Farmers Market $19.12 (we got a medium gluten-free pizza)
  • Hollywood hat $7.61 (we got this from a vendor at The Grove Farmers Market—the girl used her own money for it)
  • Dried tea $13.66 (I got this last year when I was at The Grove and it’s a favorite with both of us)
  • Lyft from The Grove to the hotel $5.63 (we used Lyft Line this time, so there was one person already in the car when we got in and one person got in right before we reached our destination)
Day 3
Grand Total = $856.44
  • Transportation $159.21
  • Lodging $72.26
  • Universal Studios tickets $218
  • Food $202.40
  • Souvenirs $131.18
  • Misc. $73.39

Tips and tricks for saving money at Universal Studios/Harry Potter World

  1. I purchased a set of three Harry Potter candies from Amazon before we went. I got Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, a crispy chocolate frog and jelly slugs. They are in much smaller packages and costs less than one of the items in Honeydukes. My daughter wants more chocolate frogs (for the trading cards inside) and is happy to order more from Amazon later on, instead of spending $10.95 + tax on one (rather large) chocolate frog that comes with one trading card.
  2. I considered purchasing an interactive wand on eBay or elsewhere in advance, but after reading about the wand choosing ceremony, I knew that would make it special for my daughter and if she weren’t chosen, she’d have fun picking out the one she wanted. If it were a wand for myself, I would have bought in advance at a cheaper price. While pricey at $50+tax, it was worth it for the experience.
  3. Purchase Harry Potter garb—T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, robes, ties, scarves, etc. before you go. The robes at the park are $125+tax, the scarves are around $50. My daughter wore a white collared shirt I bought on Amazon (I couldn’t find any her size in thrift shops) with a pleated black skirt, white tights and black witch’s hat she already had, along with a Gryffindor tie I own. Being dressed really added to the experience. I considered getting her a robe fromAmazon for $20, but I thought it may be too hot. Not so in the winter, but would be in the summer.
  4. Bring snacks and a bottle or two of water (which cost much more for the same thing inside the park or on the Universal City Walk than elsewhere.
  5. If you wish to send letters or postcards from Hogsmeade, it’s not necessary to purchase the postcards or stationery from the Owl Post, you can bring your own and have them stamped with the postmark either from inside the Owl Post or outside on the right side (which is less crowded). You can also buy stamps there, but the 49 cent stamps cost $14.95 for a set of 10 (which is nearly $1.50 per stamp). I did buy the stamps and postcards because I LOVE sending letters and postcards. I also brought some envelopes to be stamped. The cashier opened up my package of postcards and stamped all 10 with the postmark, which is something special for sending letters to friends and family, especially Harry Potter fans.
  • Sweet treats in Honeydukes

    If you’re staying near-ish to Universal Studios take public transit ($2.75 each way or $7 for a day pass—if you don’t have a Tap card, you can buy one for $1 and reload it, but each person
    will need his/her own card) or a Lyft/Uber rather than driving and paying for parking. You can get cheaper parking by parking at the further away parking lots, which is $25 per day, and taking the tram to the entrance. The most expensive (valet) parking is $50 per day.

  • Arm your kids with their own money. My daughter knew how much money she had and what else she wanted to spend her money on, so she was selective and didn’t bug me to buy her things (I bought her food, butterbeer, the wand and a few other things). It was glorious not being begged for thing after thing after thing and she was more than happy with she came home with.

While I could have certainly saved more money, I certainly could have spent more. Our next trip to Universal Studios (our season passes don’t expire until Feb. 24, 2019, so we’ll go again), we won’t spend as much on souvenirs, and we’ll certainly take the wand and Hedwig with us, and now that I’ve been with my daughter (which is different from going for a whole day with 100 foreign teenagers), I’ll be more prepared. For one thing, I’ll go with warmer clothes in the winter!

Hamburger and fries from Jurasic Café in the lower lot.

Other costs (the prices below do not include tax or CRV when appropriate)

  • Banana (from Starbucks) $1.99
  • Water (Starbucks) $4.49
  • Pellegrino (Starbucks) $3.99
  • Zinc Coconut Water (Starbucks) $4.29
  • Orange Juice (Starbucks) $4.99
  • Apple Juice (Starbucks) $3.59
  • Milk (Starbucks) $3.59
  • Tazo Bottle Tea (Starbucks) $2.99
  • Freshly Brewed Coffee (Starbucks) $3.29 for the largest size
  • Carmel Macchiato (Starbucks) $5.50 for the largest size
  • Frappuccino (Starbuck) $5.79 for the largest size
  • Pigmy Puff keychain (Zonkos) $10.95
  • Small Pigmy Puff (Zonkos) $18.95
  • Large Pigmy Puff (Zonkos) $34.95
  • Love Potion (Zonkos) $9.94
  • Milk Chocolate Fizzy Fruit, 6 oz. (Honeydukes) $9.95
  • Sweet and Sour Drops, 8 oz.(Honeydukes) $9.95
  • Jelly Slugs, 3.7 oz. (Honeydukes) $6.95
  • Milk Chocolate Frog, 5.3 oz. (Honeydukes) $10.95
  • Chocolate Wand (Honeydukes) $6.95
  • Fudge Flies, 4 oz. (Honeydukes) $8.95
  • Milk Chocolate Bar, 1.4 oz (Honeydukes) $5.95
  • Glass Honeydukes candy jar filled with candy (Honeydukes) $12.95
  • Empty Glass Honeydukes candy jar (Honeydukes) $9.95
  • Hogwarts robe (Gladrags) $125.00

Though the trip ended up being a bit more than I anticipated, seeing the joy on my daughter’s face as we walked around Harry Potter World, which was like walking into the pages of her favorite series, made it priceless and I would do it again. Share your tips below and let us know how you fared at Universal Studios. Your Harry Potter fan will LOVE this!

Me and the girl (and Hedwig) in front of Universal Studios as we exit the park at the end of our trip.