The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has finally opened at Universal Studios Hollywood. No longer will the taste of butterbeer and chocolate frogs be relegated to the guests of Universal Studios Orlando. We got the chance to attend the park’s big media event on April 5th, 2016 – not only getting to see legendary John Williams conduct but, also, to hang out in Hogsmeade and give it the full review treatment.
The event began with us on the red carpet, getting to take shots of various celebrity guests. From the Harry Potter films were Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley), and Warwick Davis (Griphook). Of course, there were plenty of other celebrities walking around, including Steven Spielberg and Billy Bob Thornton!
After the red carpet was concluded, we were ushered into the pit area of the stage setup near Hogwarts Castle. We were lucky to get a spot on the risers that had been setup to get a great view of the event. The opening ceremony featured speeches from numerous Universal and Warner Bros executives as well as L.A. Mayor, Eric Garcetti. Finally, some of the cast was brought on stage as was legendary, iconic composer John Williams. Williams then proceeded to conduct the L.A. Philharmonic as Hogwarts Castle became the canvas for some seriously awesome projection effects – topping the whole thing off with some great fireworks/pyrotechnics. The technicians behind the opening ceremony need to be commended for what was a great experience.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is very similar to its Orlando sister – with some exceptions. The footprint of the Hollywood Wizarding World is only 6 acres, much smaller than that of the Florida attraction. This will not be visible to most guests, however, as much of that extra space in Florida was taken up by an additional roller coaster ride. Our Wizarding World of Harry Potter actually has an additional street not seen in Orlando, containing the wand shop. Overall, I actually like the flow of Hogsmeade in the Universal Studios Hollywood park a bit better. As expected, the architecture of the various Hogsmeade buildings and other minor details are all extremely well designed, and stepping into the area immerses you into the world created by author J.K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s signature attraction, taking guests on a trip through Hogwarts Castle and a flight alongside the likes of Harry Potter and more. The attraction is similar to the Universal Studios Florida version with one HUGE exception: Our ride features 3D video. This was somewhat of a controversial move, as during the area’s soft opening phase, it was reported that certain people were getting motion sickness because of the 3D video. Park engineers added fans in the ride cars that blow cool air onto the riders faces, which seems to have helped greatly. Personally, I could have done without the 3D video gimmick. The glasses/goggles given to riders that allow you to see the projection effects in 3D limit your field of vision and the 3D seems up-converted from 2D video with that slightly blurry look. Still, the overall ride experience is a lot of fun and I had a great time when I removed the glasses and took in as much of the physical, practical set pieces as much as possible. The ride designers did a spectacular job on this one. My biggest concern about Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is one that also plagues the Florida version of the ride: Its small seats. Be sure to utilize the test seats they have in front of the attraction to see if you will fit on the ride. Also, take time to enjoy the various set pieces located throughout the ride’s queue area. Along your walking route, you will see Harry Potter, Professor Dumbledore, and more in hologram form – the actors returning to their roles to film these small segments for the ride. I especially dug the moving portraits, made famous in the film.
Outside of the Forbidden Journey attraction, we had a terrific time taking in the sights around Hogsmeade. My favorite location was the Hogs Head Pub, where Universal Studios Hollywood set designers have recreated the watering hole and inn from the books with outstanding detail. A hog’s head (hence the name) mounted on the wall is an animatronic character and will randomly survey the room and snort. Be sure to listen at the base of the stairs leading to the Hogs Head Pub’s second floor. You are not permitted up there but, maybe you can overhear the people who are…
Also worth mentioning are the three special, Harry Potter themed beers that Universal Studios has ordered to serve at the pub. They have three themed offerings: a stout, a red, and a lager. I got the chance to taste each and they were all very good – each with their own taste offerings. Speaking of the previously-mentioned butterbeer. If you haven’t had the opportunity, I highly suggest you try it when you visit the park. Just be warned: You WILL become addicted to its sweet, sweet goodness. I prefer the frozen butterbeer but they also offer a more beer-like version. From what I hear, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando also has butterbeer ice cream and hot butterbeer! Those will, hopefully, be coming to our park at some point soon. If butterbeer or regular beer are not your favorites, you will also find pumpkin juice in Hogsmeade.
On the food front, the Three Broomsticks restaurant will provide some very good eats – way better than most theme park fare I have encountered. My favorite offerings are the bangers and mash plate, but you will also find shepard’s pie and a whole lot more. If your sweet tooth needs satiating, you should checkout Honeydukes candy shop. They have candy… LOTs of candy. I also discovered that they have butterbeer fudge. JUST. DO. IT!
A big part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that the fun comes from exploration. Designers have installed actual props from the films throughout the area while not drawing undue attention to them. It all feels like it comes from the world of the books and films. There are so many easter eggs littering the area, it is a Harry Potter overload of information. For instance, I was personally surprised when entering the men’s restroom that park designers have built decorative, European style water tanks above each urinal and stall. Of course, they don’t do anything, but you find them in the area of Britain in which Harry Potter is based, so you find them here. I have also heard that there are some strange, ghostly moaning sounds coming from the girls restrooms. If you are female, you should probably go investigate.
Also, be sure to stop by Ollivanders Shop to purchase your own wand. A cool thing to do in Hogsmeade is to use your wand to interact with the various displays and store fronts with magic. The catch is that only certain wands will interact with them – look for the wand boxes with gold labels foil labels. I personally picked up the wand style wielded by Sirius Black (portrayed in the films by Gary Oldman). After getting your wand, look inside for the map of Hogsmeade with the various spells you have to cast at each interactive location. Be very specific, though, as you don’t want to have a negligent spell discharge!
Overall, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is an outrageously-excellent addition to the venerable movie studio and theme park. You could spend the entire day just wandering around and taking in the ambiance – not to mention taking turns on the rides. With the opening day being officially sold out on Universal Studios website, its success seems guaranteed – now we just need to find out when Diagon Alley will be constructed!
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