I have a confession to make, I have not read any of J.K Rowling’s best selling Harry Potter books. Nor have I watched any of the blockbuster movies? I know it sounds crazy, but it is true.
When I was invited to tour the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Hollywood, I was excited to go, yet knew I wouldn’t understand many of the nuances of Rowling’s compelling stories and characters.
The good news is that I didn’t need to know any part of Harry Potter’s world to appreciate this new attraction. After my experience I was inspired to buy and read the first book and see one of the movies.
This place is super cool for a newbie to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, and must be a dream come true for the Harry Potter fandom.
Los Angeles is the third Universal Studios Harry Potter theme attraction. The first Hogwarts opened in Orlando, FL, and next Osaka, Japan. The official opening date in Hollywood is April 7, 2016.
It took five years for the one in California to finally open. Supervising Art Director Alan Gilmore worked closely with a team of talented craftsmen to help bring the Harry Potter authenticity into the theme park.
Walking into Hogsmeade Village, it looks exactly like a 1000 year old Scottish Village. The buildings look settled into their foundation, and there is moss and soot on the castle walls. The rooftops are snowcapped and icicles look as if they might drip from the eaves. Music from the movies streams out of hidden speakers, engaging guests into another world.
Steam rises from the replica of the Hogwarts Express train ready to transport visitors to the magical wizarding school just like Harry, however this train is just a facade and fun photo opportunity. It doesn’t move, you must use your imagination as you grab a scarf hanging on a hook to drape around your neck, before sitting in the train car. The fabric on the seats is made by the same manufacturer and the same color as in the movie. The luggage racks above the seats, are the same ones used in the movie too.
One ride that does whirl guests around is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey inside the Hogwarts Castle. Guests are secure in seats and experience the feeling of flying in the air on a broomstick with Harry Potter and his friends, Ron and Hermione. Before take-off, we were given Quidditch-inspired goggles to wear to enhance and protect our eye from water, heat and scary 3D effects. Riders escape fire breathing dragons, play a game of Quidditch, and have a close encounter with the Whomping Willow. This hyper-realistic 3D and HD journey is not only thrilling, but heart palpitating at times. Even if there is a long waiting line inside the castle, don’t despair, the designers created impeccable attention to detail in Dumbledore’s office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor™ common room, and the Room of Requirement.
For those weak in the knees about scary rides, across the way is an enchanting family coaster, “Flight of the Hippogriff,” located in a pumpkin patch. It’s Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor coaster ride. An animatronic Hippogriff greets guests while sitting in a large nest, before the cars swoop and swirl around.
Stacked on outside carts and inside stores are interactive wands for $47.95. I saw multiple wizards and witches holding these wands in front of 11 different interactive windows. The wands come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Selected guests can be personally fitted for a wand, inside a room with towering walls with thousands of wand boxes stacked from the floor to the ceiling. With a flick of the wrist, guests cast out, “Wingardium Leviosa,” while standing on a gold medallion and magically light up lanterns, create water to squirt from a frog’s mouth, and have a music box lid rise and have music play aloud.
Feeling hungry? Visitors can enjoy authentic Scottish food such as Beef Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding; bangers and mash; fish and chips; beef, lamb and Guinness stew at Three Broomsticks.™ Be sure to look up and around the room to see shadows of guests walking to their rooms in the Inn. On the wall are broom sweepers and antlers from the Scottish Highlands. Pumpkin juice, soda, water and other beverages are available.
Adults over 21 can enjoy a beverage or libation at Hog’s Head pub next to Three Broomsticks.™ Order a White Rat Whiskey, Ocky Rot and glass from kegs of Butterbeer.™ Next to the bar is a stairway where pub crawlers can hear the voices of house elves working upstairs.
Looking for a sweet souvenir? Honeydukes™ offers shelves stacked with colorful sweets that include Pink Coconut Ice creamy coconut confection, Jelly Slugs, Candy in a Can, Cocoballs, Clippy’s Clip Joint Clippings, Exploading BonBons, Peppermint Toads, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. I was told the Chocolate Frogs™, contain a wizard trading card in each box.
Inside the Dervish and Banges™ store are colorful school uniforms and Quidditch gear. There are T-shirts, robes, sweatshirts, Golden Snitches™ and brooms including the Nimbus Two Thousand and One™ and the Firebolt. Many of the clothing attire are high quality items made in Scotland.
Before leaving, I walked into the Owl Post and got a special Hogsmeade Owl Post postmark stamped on an envelope. Looking up, I noticed a variety of life-like animatronic owls hooting and turning their heads.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a visually stimulating destination. To get the most out of the experience, look up and take a 360 degree spin to appreciate all of the fascinating details into making this theme park attraction, one of the most innovative places in the world.
Even if you are like me, and have never read a Harry Potter book or watched one of the Warner Bros. movies, you will find this area inside Universal Studios appealing to all of your senses.