It’s really exciting as a writer, reviewer, blogger, critic, etc, when the movie event or thing you get to write about is something you’ve been obsessed with for almost 20 years. A couple of days ago, I woke up my roommate, best friend, and brother Floyd. It took 10 minutes to clean up, get in the car in our pajamas, and blindfold him until we arrived as a double birthday surprise at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. After the surprise was revealed you would think at some point his jaw would have come up off the floor. Instead of this happening, once we walked right into Hogsmeade, 14 hours later, my jaw, his jaw, and our friends’ jaws were still on the floor. I was given four tickets from NBC/Universal to experience every single thing the Wizarding World had to offer, more than a month in advance. I feel like I’m still hopped up and having a sugar rush hangover from all the butterbeer. But now that a couple days have passed, I’m going to try to tell you everything I can because it truly was one of the absolute best experiences I’ve ever had. It was simply magical.
Hogsmeade – Harry Potter Hollywood
Upon entering the park you could see everything from the Hogwarts Express to the mini-village of Hogsmeade, and of course the Hogwarts Castle itself. The other parts of the park are completely excluded and it truly was like ‘holy freakin heck’ I’m in the world of Harry Potter. Living here in LA this has been one of the most talked about things to do for about two years now and I was so in awe I couldn’t believe that I was there. I as well as my group couldn’t help but smile in awe before we actually even took a step into the world of Harry Potter. It must be noted that the Harry Potter films were made by Warner Brothers, but Universal upheld the standard that was set so high by them. We looked around upon entering the park and we saw all the shops, places to eat, butterbeer carts, wand shops, and rides. After walking through Hogsmeade we made it to Hogwarts knowing we needed to ride the ride immediately before the line had a two-hour wait. After once again stopping in awe at Hogwarts, my friends and I were in complete disbelief at how massive and elaborate the castle was. Before heading in to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 3D, it was amazing how we weren’t so quick to jump to our phones and really understand that especially for Floyd and I the 10-year-old versions of ourselves were back. The first thing to talk about must be the major attraction, the ride itself.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 3D Ride
Only in Hollywood is this ride in its full 3D glory, when you enter the castle, it’s really like you’re entering Hogwarts. You get to experience part of the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, walls filled with moving portraits that talked, and countless little things from the world of Harry Potter while you go through the castle to get to the ride. You even get a special introduction from Ron, Hermione, and Harry himself. The ride is much like a flight simulator with only a group of 4 going at a time with another group going about 30 seconds after that. I have to say that even after riding the ride around 15 times, sometimes 3-4 times back to back, I don’t know if it makes much sense, but it was the coolest simulator I’ve ever been on. When you do ride make sure you sit on the first or last seat for optimal viewing.
The ride shifts between giant 3D screens bringing you to quidditch games, dragons, and an elaborate chase from the dementors. After one 30 second video you always go through a practical part of the ride where giant spiders, giant snakes, and my favorite, even the Whomping Willow can pack a mean punch. My favorite thing had to be the dementors that were actually giant huge props that moved towards you as you moved along. I honestly got the biggest eye rolls from my friends, because with different seats they come at you differently and continued to scare me even on my eighth or ninth ride. I don’t want to spoil all of the rides, but as a super fan of this franchise, I am 100% satisfied as a fan. Before a line started we immediately rode again without taking a breath and running as fast as we could. We then quickly moved over to the other ride which was a mini coaster called The Flight of the Hippogryph.
The Flight of the Hippogryph
After riding the main ride we got really excited for the mini coaster that was based on the third Harry Potter story. I must say don’t expect the coaster ride of your life. It does last a mere 36 seconds, and doesn’t go very high or very fast, but in the world of Harry Potter, I wasn’t looking for a ride with loops as I was already loopy enough to where I needed to be pinched to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It’s a fun little coaster but it’s best attribute is its slow way up, as you get to see the castle and look down on the village of Hogsmeade. We rode the ride one more time at night and it made it on a totally different level of amazing, because if you go to Hogwarts, it’s a totally different world at night.
The Food and the Employees/Characters
Perhaps the coolest touch to the overall experience would be the butterbeer and the employees that would never break character. Employees at rides wore a cloak of a house that they got to choose, and at the restaurants and shops, they were dressed up as house elves or students. It really got interesting as every single character and employee that we met went above and beyond being incredibly welcoming, funny, and joyful that you were there. I had a couple things of butterbeer (as if I needed the sugar) and before you know it I found it incredibly fun to interact with all the characters whether it was at the restaurants, the shops, or waiting for the rides. Upon getting my first butterbeer I did inquire where I could get a soda, and the character played it off as if he’d never heard of it. Things like that happened constantly through the day. In fact I was so interested in talking wizard language, they kept spotting my friends and checking on us to see how much fun we were still having. To me, it was free high fives all around. Although I wish the restaurant was designed after the Great Hall, they still made it magical with the best theme park food I’ve ever had.
It was during the meal that the real magic happened. Her name was Sidney, and she came to check on us during our meal. I said to her, “Didn’t your boyfriend try to kill you?” I was making a movie reference to one of my favorite films of all time, “Scream.” Floyd and I were having so much fun and this was only 3 hours in. Keep in mind Floyd and I were both decked out in Gryffindor and Slytherin that we totally stood out as hardcore fans. Here is the biggest secret to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is a secret password to allow you to the back of the castle to skip the line for the Forbidden Journey. It is only given to a few at random, and upon my scream quote Sidney said, “Oh, I know what you did there!” She then asked how our day was going in small chatter, and then she leaned in and said, “The secret password to skip the line and enter the castle is @@@@@.” Another tip is right next to the restaurant is a bar that also sells butterbeer. Most stands had a 30-45 minute wait while the bar only had a 5-10. I think 8 butterbeers were good for the trip. I really want to tip my hat to all the employees who were in character, because in a way they made the experience. One perfect example of this is that my friend Heather knit us handmade scarfs for Gryffindor, while Floyd is dressed pro-Slytherin. Almost every employee had to stop us and have something sarcastic, funny, and/or witty to say, and it lasted the entire day. Also check out the bathrooms, because Moaning Myrtle is waiting for you.
The Ollivander’s Experience
You can enter any shop whether it’s for your every flavor beans, your new wand, or to keep up with the latest Hogwarts fashion trend, but there is a very special way you can enter Ollivander’s. About 30 people are put into a room with walls filled sky high with wands. After a few moments in the dark, a magical door opens to lead you into another room filled with wands with a host ready to pick one lucky person and to have a wand choose them. Now while this might feel a little bit like I’m back in 5th grade hoping I’d be picked first for dodgeball, but I really wanted to be the one picked to interact with the host and have a wand choose me. I guess my wishing worked because out of everyone I was chosen to come up to the table and have a wand select me. I totally geeked out and turned to my friends and said, “Somebody film this.” Basically, I was given one wand that didn’t work, and another wand that caused a bunch of wands from the ceiling to fall, but was given a third wand which was the Elder Wand and when I cast a spell it illuminated the room. I looked like I had won the lottery. I really was on cloud 9 here guys and I’m glad I have the video because I was so happy I barely remember it. It then led out into the wand shop itself, where we pretended to have a wand dual and they surprisingly let me take photos.
There are two shows that run on from the beginning of the day to the end, on a stage at the entrance. The cool thing about the shows is that they rotate in 30-minute intervals, letting each show perform once every hour. While my mom said to me growing up, “If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything,” if there was one thing I could change would be one of these shows. One which was exhilarating was based on the fourth story. It focused on two teams, one being the ladies of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic with acrobatics and dancing and the men of Durmstrang Institute showing off some insane martial arts work.
The ladies came out first and danced this high energy, quite impressive routine, then the men came out, and then merged into this 15-minute show which I liked and got me even more engaged in the world. My favorite photo from the entire day was when the cast offered to take pictures with anyone who liked the show, so Floyd and I got our picture taken with the entire cast. Now the other show, on the other hand, I just didn’t get because it didn’t feel Harry Potter. It featured a maestro leading a quartet of singers each representing a house. They were each holding that famous frog we’ve grown to love from Prisoner of Azkaban. However, they sang four or five all new songs that were I guess written for the show and were quite boring or confusing. Every aspect of the world had been spot on that it did manage to make me wonder, “Wait where was this in the books or the movies?” Obviously acapella is very in now due to “Pitch Perfect” but I almost wish they’d have sung popular songs, or really anything other than what they sang. They were talented and great singers, it just wasn’t working for me, but in a world that created a million amazing things, one little thing did not hinder the experience or my birthday, and Floyd and I got a picture with them, too. And even though the songs weren’t my jam, I was still dancing like I was front row.
The Shopping and the Night Life
Pretty much anything you can ever imagine that can be physically made in the muggle world can be found inside Hogsmeade. From a Hedwig puppet with a moveable head (thanks to your hand), to a time turner which can’t bring you to the past but looks pretty, and even Tom Riddle’s diary can be obtained. It’s almost borderline crazy to see some of the things they actually have at these shops, and even the most die-hard fans will be downright shocked they have a keychain that represents just about anything in the world of Harry Potter. You could find them outside the rides, in town, or just outside Hogsmeade. Don’t expect pay $100 for a hoodie, as they ranged around $60-70 and wands were $40-50. I got hooked up the other day with an employee discount, but that didn’t stop me from spending too much so be warned to watch your wallets. Honeyduke’s was by far my favorite shop, which was the candy shop. There is a tiny room filled with toys and games form the world of Harry Potter. I had to go rewatch the beginning of Half-Blood Prince just to remember all the toys that were given a second of screen time were now a real thing, and that was another jaw-dropping sight. It was fun being able to wear toy hats and more, like the wands, and seeing the characters so welcoming of interacting with items for photos as long as you were respectful of items, making the experience that much better.
The candy shop called Honeyduke’s was perhaps the only frustrating thing of the day, because this is LA, and you can’t just stuff your face with chocolate although I still do. The candy shop makes for a very double-edged sword situation. For example, Floyd always wanted a chocolate frog from the movies to keep, but ended up eating it, so you can’t have your cake and eat it too. They had dozens of ribboned or boxed candies that lose their collector value when opened, so that’s why we bought two. While my friends preferred getting Lemon Drops, I couldn’t resist getting a few pounds of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans. To be totally honest some flavors are unbelievably amazing, and others are so bad you almost want to spit them out, but it’s so funny that you might have eaten a booger or some earwax that you don’t mind. My supply isn’t running low yet but I don’t expect them to be around all day.
I was secretly informed that for next year they do plan on adding Diagon Alley and possibly Gringotts and getting rid of Water World here in Hollywood. Personally, Water World is an amazing show but an incredibly bad movie that is now outdated. I obviously wouldn’t mind if there was more Wizarding World. In my opinion, the limit does not exist. Hogsmeade is set in the winter with snow covering the tops of buildings, which I thought was interesting, but it did give a nice kind of home feeling, which was good cause here in LA it was like 68 degrees. Even though wearing heavy clothing during the day pretty warm, it made perfect for the nightlife offered at the Wizarding World. Almost everything I mentioned above is better at night. It was truly breathtaking. It gave me a sense of “What is this world and who am I?” In all seriousness, when I stared at the castle from afar, it gave me a brief feeling that if this was possible, if this was made, then anything is possible, and isn’t that in itself the essence of magic? The entire town was incredibly well lit without being too bright or too dark. The difference was literally, no pun intended, night and day.
At the end of the day, after 14 hours, we had ridden the Forbidden Journey about 15 times. We took turns secretly entering the castle with the password, and while others waited in line for two hours, we kept riding until we couldn’t ride anymore. It was kinda hard seeing the clock strike 11, knowing it was almost over. My friends walked ahead as we were leaving, and I stared at the castle reliving every happy moment, happy birthday, smile, and laugh. This was the perfect day. If you’re thinking of coming, take it from me, who grew up with Harry Potter, to make it happen. In a world that’s run by computers and phones and ruled by social media and networking it’s incredibly refreshing and truly magical to be able to walk into a place where there was no cell service and spend the day in a magical place that is truly out of this world.
It was among one of my best birthdays with my best friends and honestly, when I got home I wasn’t sad, because I realized that no matter what the occasion, good or bad, this little place of magic is only 30 minutes away. It’s honestly been exhilarating just posting all my photos and typing up this story. Please check out my twitter @moviedude18 and tweet me for any questions that you might have about the park, experience, or anything at all. I look forward to doing more events like this as well as continuing my movie reviews. Till next time…
Written by Kory Davis