Fantasy + Fantasy = Reality. Here’s how the math works; first you start with the fantastical Harry Potter including his spells, transfigurations, flying cars and magical creatures. Then you add in the Universal Studios Los Angeles theme park with its movie sets, crazy characters and 3-D wizardry. What results is the fantasy world of Harry Potter so meticulously constructed that it brings the reality of JK Rawling’s master-work to life.
Harry Potter fantasy + Universal Studios Fantasy = A surprisingly real Wizarding World. Reason enough for you to consider a visit to the Universal Studios Los Angeles Harry Potter park.
A Visit to the Universal Studios Los Angeles- Harry Potter and the Wizarding World
I am a rabid fan of Harry Potter in all of his various media incarnations. I love the world created by the books and also love how the series turned so many middle school kids into readers. And, as you may recall, I’m also a Ravenclaw. This means that I’m smart, observant, a little weird and an authority on the subject of Harry Potter. So if the Universal Studios Los Angeles Harry Potter park had not been real…I would have known it. Fortunately the park really delivers.
What follows are a few of my favorite experiences from the Harry Potter park at Universal Studios and some observations on how they brought the fantasy to life.
The Flight of the Hipppogriff
From the book: Buckbeak the Hippogriff appears in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Hippogriffs are touchy creatures and must be approached cautiously. They demand courtesy but can be buttered up with some recently deceased poultry. Once making Buckbeak’s acquaintance, he will take you on a glorious ride around the castle.
The attraction: The Flight of the Hippogriff is a fun, but mild roller coaster ride that soars near, but not around Hogwarts castle. It’s suitable for everyone including smaller kids and queasily fearful adults. Hagrid is on hand to introduce you to Buckbeak. But the ride doesn’t require you to blow politely before getting on. Nor does the ride require the payment of a dead chicken. Bummer… ’cause I had one in my bag just in case.
From the book: Available for purchase from the Three Broomsticks Pub in Hogsmead. The books are unclear on the ingredients or flavor profile for the butter beer. But it’s safe to assume that it’s alcohol free. I mean, Hogsmead isn’t in France!
The attraction: Butterbeer is offered from a kiosk on the main thoroughfare. It’s a carbonated butterscotchy concoction that you can purchase cold or frozen. They don’t drink it frozen in the books but on a hot day at the theme park, it would be refreshing. Even though it’s not a ride, there is often a line for it so belly up to the bar early.
Getting a Wand at Olivanders
From the book: Harry and friends visit Olivander’s shop in Diagon Alley. He very carefully pulls a selection of wands from his toppling stacks. The Wizards-in-training swish them this way and that until Olivander is satisfied that a proper match has been made. Olivander is a good salesman, but in the end, it’s the wand that chooses its master.
The attraction: You can wait in line for the “interactive wand selection experience” where you go through a process of the swish and flick. Or you can skip the line, enter Olivanders directly and start perusing the toppling stacks yourself. In LA, Olivanders has been transplanted from Diagon Alley to Hogsmead. And this version of Olivanders allows the shoppers to choose their own wands. Sounds to me like a recipe for some bad magic.
From the book: Poor Moaning Myrtle. She was killed because of the evil machinations of the Hogwards student who would become Valdemort. She’s been haunting the girls bathroom ever since, moaning and complaining and splashing the toilet water.
The attraction: Fortunately, the bathrooms are quite clean and toilet water is largely kept inside the toilet. But Moaning Myrte does inhabit the bathroom and she will keep you company as you do your business.
The Hogwarts Express
From the book: The train leaves from Kings Cross station platform 9-3/4 and shuttles the students to Hogwarts through the deceivingly calm countryside.
The attraction: Universal Orlando has a functioning train that shuttles passengers between Diagon alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmead in Islands of Adventure. At Universal Studios Los Angeles, the train is more of a prop and sadly it doesn’t go anywhere. However, you should take the opportunity to get a photo opp with the conductor. I learned that he is Squibb. That is, he’s a non magical person from a magical family. I felt bad for him but he was a chipper sort. His mum works in the transportation department of the Ministry of Magic so she helped him get the conductor gig. Nepotism in the government bureaucracy? That seemed real enough to me.
From the book: Hogsmead is a snow-capped little medieval market town with narrow cobbled lanes and cute stores. Second year students are allowed to go into town on special Saturdays. That is, all but Harry. His Aunt and Uncle refused to sign his permission slip because they are child abusing magicphobes.
The attraction: This is where the set designers got to have a lot of fun. Hogsmead truly captures the look of the Cotswalds. You can hit up Honeydukes candy store to pick up some chocolate frogs and visit the Three Broomsticks for pub food. Check out the little side alleys where you can window shop and practice using your wand skills in certain magical ‘spots’.
Hogwarts Castle- The Forbidden Journey
From the book: The AirBnB listing for Howarts would say something like: “Magestic castle offering shared rooms and three squares a day. Our guests are encouraged to explore the secret passageways, astronomy tower, herbarium, Quiddich stadium, and lovely grounds. However please beware the lake full of creepy mermaids, the angry willow tree, prankish ghosts, spider infested forest and the homicidal snake living in the basement. Medical staff on site. We are here to serve you, so should you forget anything, please visit our Room of Requirements.”
The attraction: The attractions that I’ve listed above are fun, but Hogwarts Castle is the jewel of the Universal’s Harry Potter park. The gloomy detail of castle truly transported me to Hogwarts. Particularly entrancing are the wall-o-talking pictures, the statue of Fawkes and Dumbledore’s office.
The ride itself is necessitated by the rampage of a dragon loose in the castle. Harry, Ron and Hermoine give you a broom and help guide you to safely. You zip through the castle in 3-D, visiting the sites from the AirBnb listing while dodging the angry dragon. I am astonished at how the combination of high definition graphics and a bit of tram-car motion can trick the brain into thinking that you are flying a a broom. This is where the fantasy delivers the reality. I came off the ride a wee bit queasy, adrenalized and ready to do it again.
Tips for Your Visit to Universal Studios Los Angeles
These tips come from my own experience visiting the park but also those of Debra, a long time resident of LA and Universal Studios expert.
- Buy Tickets: Buy your tickets online. This not only saves time on the day of, but it also allows you to enter the park an hour before the official opening.
- Where to Stay: Stay nearby but don’t pay too much. We chose the BLVD Hotel and Suites. It’s a 5 minute drive to the park and cheaper than the on-site hotels. You can check out the reviews here or book here.
- Scam a Fast Pass: If they offer to give you a fast pass in exchange for taking a survey, do it. Only one person in your party has to take the survey but you each get a Fast Pass. Debra recommends using it for the studio tour.
- How to Navigate the Park:
- Once inside the park, march over to the Wizarding World and do Hogwarts Castle first. Lines get really long for this ride and if you go early, or go on an off day, maybe you can ride it twice.
- After Hogsmead, head downstairs. You’ll find the Transformers, Jurassic Park and other adventure rides down there. Mid morning is a good time as many visitors don’t think to go down there until after lunch.
- Take a break in the mid-afternoon and grab a Duff beer in Moe’s Tavern. And don’t miss the Simpsons ride. It’s hilarious.
- End the day back in Hogsmead. Get a wand. Buy some Berttie Botts Every Flavor Beans (and take your chances). Pick up some Harry Potter swag
- Then go home a most contented wizard.
More fun places for the bookish traveler
- Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando
- Check out these cool bookstores, libraries and literary sites in Los Angeles
- Follow in the footsteps of Keraouc in Denver
- The best bookshops in Dublin and this literary Dublin tour.
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