This week my wife and I were able to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. Although this attraction has been around for about 6 years in Orlando, Florida, it just opened at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California back in April. Since the Cinema Files is based on Arizona, the trek was a n0-brainer for this die hard Ravenclaw. I had been looking forward to this experience ever since they announced the Hollywood location, and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. In fact, it exceeded expectations in almost every way.
The park has several activities and it split into three different main attractions: Hogwarts, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade. All of them offer a different experience and all are pretty great.
Hogwarts is at the far end of the park and offers two different ‘attractions.’ The first is what they call Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and it’s a hybrid motion-based dark ride that alternates between a 3D motion experience and real life sets that act as a sort of haunted house. You start with Hermione performing a spell on you that makes you ‘float’ and you end up following Harry on his broom over and through several locations at Hogwarts. These include Aragog’s lair in the Forbidden Forest, the Chamber of Secrets, and the Great Hall.
Although the Forbidden Journey ride is brilliant, the line to get into the ride is enough to make any Potter fan giddy with joy. As you enter the castle to queue up, you are taken through the Herbology greenhouse, the Great Hall, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Dumbledore’s office, and a few other fun places. They are almost exact replicas of the sets they use in the films and have characters from the films talk to you and explain a few things. One of the more ingenious things is that they have several paintings (that look like paintings, not LED screens) move just like they do in the film. And these paintings include the four founders of Hogwarts, which was a special treat for Potter Puppet Pals like myself.
As you exit the Forbidden Journey ride you are taken to Mr. Filch’s Emporium for Confiscated Magical Objects. It’s just a store that has almost everything Hogwarts related. I wanted to get a replica of Tom Riddle’s Diary but it was over $50, so I passed.
Flight of the Hippogriff
This is just a roller coaster for kids. I guess I can’t be shocked at how busy it was, but it doesn’t offer much to older potter fans. Right outside this ride is a little stage that showcases a choir made up of either a Hogwarts frog a capella group (complete with a beat boxer) or group of students from the visiting schools from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. You can stay and get your picture taken with them or just listen.
This would probably be a good time to point out that J.K. Rowling (the author of the Harry Potter books) actually planned the park herself. Apparently she approved every detail, from the design to the taste of the food and drinks. And in the wizarding villages it really shows. It’s an epic recreation and an utter delight to walk through.
Although Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are in different locations in the story, they decided to combine them here (or at least they added a few of Diagon Alley’s shops to Hogsmeade). There are several shops from the series that show up, the most prominent being Honeydukes and Olivander’s Wands. There is a wand choosing ceremony that happens in Olivander’s but it’s not worth if there’s a huge line. You can sneak into the back of the shop if you want to buy a wand or there is a cart outside of Hogwarts that sells wands as well. However be warned: just like everything in the park, wands cost A LOT.
After leaving Hogwarts we went to have lunch in the Three Broomsticks. Again, it looked almost exactly like the film set. It served supposedly authentic British dishes, including something called Bangers and Mash. I was limited in what I could eat because of an allergy, so I had lemon herb chicken with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob. It was fine, although I probably would have preferred the food elsewhere in the park, like Krusty Burger over at Springfield (yes, there is a Springfield at Universal Studios Hollywood and it was amazing).
We then moseyed over to Honeydukes, the sweet shop that it introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This was probably my favorite shop because it has all the candies that are mentioned in the book, including Fizzing Whizbees, Sherbet Lemon, Sugar Quills, Chocolate Frogs, Chocolate Cauldrons, and almost endless others. It was really a blast just to go around the store. Even the store workers kept in character and apologized that the chocolate frogs didn’t jump anymore because of a recent regulation issued by the Ministry of Magic.
One thing you will notice in the park is that there are a number Butterbeer stations. I think there are two, not including the Three Broomsticks which serves it with meals. Butterbeer can be purchased frozen or regular, in a commemorative mug or not. It is great, however it tastes uncannily like Red Cream Soda mixed with butterscotch with heavy whipping cream on top of it. I didn’t try the frozen version, mostly because it’s a few dollars more. Instead of getting a second Butterbeer, I would really recommend getting Butterbeer Fudge in Honeydukes. It was the best fudge I’ve ever had in my entire life.
There are several other beverages you can purchase like Pumpkin Juice and Gily Water. Pumpkin Juice is among the most unique flavors I have ever tasted. The best way to describe it is that it tastes like Christmas and Thanksgiving had a baby. It’s a mix of pumpkin pie and a dash of cinnamon and a few other Christmasy flavors. I never got used to the flavor of it and am not sure I will ever get it again. Alas, Gily Water, which was ordered by many of the characters in the books, is just bottled water. This is one of the few disappointments that I had in the park.
I absolutely adored The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was brilliant beyond any of my expectations. It was immersive and detailed and well worth the price of admission. I enjoyed it more than any time I’ve ever visited Disneyland or any other theme park.