(Do yourself a favor and listen to this music as you read the review. I promise, it’ll be worth it.)
Immediately upon entering, you feel it—the magic, the thrill, the familiar pull of the wizarding world, beckoning you closer.
I had the opportunity to visit the brand new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in California. While it is much smaller than the park in Orlando, it lacks none of the imagination and attention to detail that makes the first park so magnificent.
Upon passing through the archway from Universal Studios, the change in atmosphere is palpable. On the right is the bright red engine of the Hogwarts Express, and stretching out before you is the street of Hogsmeade, complete with shops, butterbeer carts, and throngs of would-be witches and wizards. Children and adults alike are wearing Hogwarts robes trimmed in their house colors—red for Gryffindor, green for Slytherin, blue for Ravenclaw, and yellow for Hufflepuff.
As a lifelong Potterhead, I admit that I was apprehensive about the park’s opening. I was afraid that they would take this thing that I loved (the wizarding world and the beloved stories that take place there) and ruin it. I guess, in the end, I just feared that the park creators didn’t take their jobs seriously.
All of my fears were assuaged when I saw how much effort the park creators put into making the entire experience magical –not just for lifelong fans, but for the everyday muggles who stumbled into our world.
Honeydukes contains almost every kind of candy that was promised in Prisoner of Azkaban: Chocolate Frogs, Jelly Slugs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, “shimmering pink squares of coconut ice,” “peppermint creams shaped like toads,” “fragile sugar-spun quills,” and “exploding bonbons.”
The Three Broomsticks boasts some truly spectacular food, ESPECIALLY for theme park food (maybe the best chicken I’ve had in my life—sorry Mom)!
Ollivander’s is a must-see as well; one lucky visitor gets a wand fitting, complete with special effects and subtle thrills, after which you can buy your own wand (which can interact with the various displays in the park!).
The shops (Dervish & Banges, the Owl Post shop, Gladrags’ Wizard Wear) host an impressive variety of Potter-related items, their selection only outmatched by the variety of T-shirts the park-goers already wear to show their Potter Pride.
But of course, no review of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be complete without mentioning the crown jewel: Hogwarts, the shining pinnacle of wizarding landmarks. It stands majestically at the end of Hogsmeade, a shining beacon of magical light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, the excuse for entering Hogwarts is that there’s a ride within the castle (“Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”—which is very enjoyable, I might add), but most of us wouldn’t need an excuse. Like the first years, you enter the castle at the bottom and work your way upwards. The line for the ride takes you through the greenhouses, into Dumbledore’s office, up and down the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, through the Gryffindor common room, past the Sorting Hat, and ultimately into the Room of Requirement.
Needless to say, it’s almost easy to forget that you’re in line for a ride. The line through Hogwarts is an experience every Potter fan should experience if they get the chance.
In short, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is a must-see for any diehard Potterhead. There are a couple rides that are pretty fun—“Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” and “Flight of the Hippogriff”—but are those really the point?
Just sitting on that street and looking up at Hogwarts, I could have produced the world’s best Patronus.
(And yes, the butterbeer is delicious.)