Harry Potter fantasy + Universal Studios Fantasy = A surprisingly real Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in LA. The park recreates the fantasy world of Harry Potter so meticulously that it brings the books to life.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios LA
I am a rabid fan of Harry Potter in all of his various media incarnations. I’m also a self diagnosed Ravenclaw. This means that I’m 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 Wizarding World and some observations on how they brought the fantasy to life.
The Flight of the Hipppogriff
From the book: Buckbeak the Hippogriff is a touchy creature and must be approached cautiously. He demands 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. It’s suitable for all but the smallest kids. 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 the students seem to love it.
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. 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. The Wizards-in-training swish the wands 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 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 Tom Riddle. 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 pastoral England.
The attraction: Universal Orlando has a functioning train that shuttles passengers between Diagon alley and Hogsmead. At Universal Studios LA, 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. Poor guy, he’s a Squib. 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, Quiddich stadium, and lovely grounds. However please beware the lake full of creepy mermaids, 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 and its magical furnishings will truly transported you to Hogwarts.
The ride itself has you dodging a dragon let loose in the castle. Ron and Hermoine give you a broom and zip you through the castle in 3-D, visiting the sites from the AirBnb listing while avoiding 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 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.
Conclusion: Feels Pretty Real
Even if you have never read the books, you can have a great time at the Universal Studios Los Angeles Harry Potter park. But if you are a fan of the books, you will be rewarded with a realistic replica of the fantasy world of Harry Potter. Have a great time. Mischief managed.
(a version of this post originally appeared in Wayfaring Views)