I’ve been eager to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ever since it was first announced in Orlando, FL. In previous years I wondered if I could tack on a visit while seeing my grandparents in Florida. I never made it, but the pressure eased up when Universal announced that Universal City, CA — literally a 10 minute walk from where I stay when I’m in LA — would open in 2016. Done and done! I could WALK to visit Harry Potter. I’m surprised it took me nearly a year to visit, but it finally happened this past February… and all my Harry Potter dreams came true.
I had two goals for the day:
1) To soak up the fact that such an approximation of this fantasy world exists. The fact that I could walk into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts — literary locations that have lived in my head for over a decade since I started reading the series — and see them come to life before my eyes? That is absurdly cool. (Makes me wish I’d had more of a connection to Lord of the Rings when I visited Hobbiton in New Zealand four years ago…)
2) To capture the atmosphere of this magical environment through photos. I had my DSLR camera with me and reveled in taking photos at my own pace for hours while wandering throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is such a keen attention to detail throughout the park and it was a joy to appreciate all the ways Universal makes this experience special.
(For the record, I paid for my ticket. This is not a sponsored post.)
First glimpse of Hogsmeade, with Hogwarts in the distance. The scale of this is really impressive in person; I hope that translates in the photos.
That is Three Broomsticks below — I’ll return later for lunch.
There is an option to purchase a wand at Olivanders (the shop where all young wizards buy their first wand — the wand chooses the wizard!). I think they cost like $30? Then as you wander around the park, there are places marked by with plaques on the ground where you can practice spells with your wand.
It was really sweet to watch kids get into it:
In the above photo, the lanterns are dark. But after this kid steps near the plaque and waves his wand (while of course chanting the incantation from the plaque), the lanterns illuminate in the photo below:
And at this storefront, the kids wave their wands as plants grow larger in the windows.
I was really excited to try butterbeer, a sweet treat described in the Harry Potter novels (there’s no alcohol so kids can enjoy them too). They come in three different varieties: frozen (like a slushie), cold (like a fizzy soda topped with cream), and hot (like a latte without the espresso). All of them are very sweet with sort of a butterscotch flavor. This cart in the photo below only sells the cold and frozen varieties, and I wanted a hot one, so I got it later in the day when ordering my lunch at Three Broomsticks. It was SO good. My only complaint is that they don’t offer a butterbeer flight — individually, they cost around $7. But I wish they had a flight of all three (each one like a third of the usual size) for like $10. If I had been there with friends we could’ve ordered different ones to share, but since I was there solo I had to pick just one variety to try. Next time I’ll sample one of the colder options.
Images from the various shops at Hogsmeade…
Time to go to Hogwarts…!
The main ride attraction of Harry Potter World is located inside Hogwarts. It’s ingeniously designed because visitors get a tour of the castle while waiting in line for the ride (it took around 45 minutes on the weekday I went) — in fact, the first time I went through with my camera just to take photos, knowing I’d have to go back to the lockers to leave my backpack / camera before I could get on the ride. It was worth it. Especially because at the end, the ride attendants let me sneak downstairs to deposit my bag and then return for the ride, similar to what they do for parents with really young children who swap out so that both parents can go on the ride without having to wait in line all over again. But turns out that didn’t really matter, because they have a Single Rider Lane where the wait was only like 2 minutes to get back on the ride. (However that Single Ride Lane cuts out most of the route throughout the castle, so if you want to see the whole castle then wait in the main line.) The ride is a 3-D journey where you’re strapped in to a seat that swings up, down, around, etc. as you watch a story unfold on the screen in front of you. You soar over Hogwarts, play in a Quidditch game, and fight dragons and evil Dementors (occasionally smoke blows in your face to simulate something like a fire-breathing dragon — neat tricks like that to make the ride more real). I ended up going on the ride three times, picking up on new details each time. On the last one I got a little motion sick from the visuals / movement and decided not to push my luck with a fourth trip.
Here are my photos from walking through Hogwarts…
Portraits in which the subjects talk and move!
The sorting hat:
About to get on the ride…
Exit through the gift shop:
It’s free to leave your bags in the lockers (each visitor gets one locker per visit for a certain window of time) — they are located between the ride entrance and the gift shop where everyone exits. While my bag was in the locker, I went across the castle to the only other ride in Harry Potter World, which is a simple roller coaster that is very kid-friendly called Flight of the Hippograff. When I returned to pick up my bag, I noticed a very tall women in front of me at the lockers. In my head I thought, “She’s tall enough to play for UConn” and then she turned around and I realized it was Breanna Stewart, star of the UConn Women’s Basketball team for the previous four years. WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?!?
I grew up in Connecticut, both of my parents went to UConn, and I spent my childhood idolizing UConn’s great players. I geeked out in a way that I don’t normally do around famous people. For example, a few days before I went to a screening of Manchester by the Sea and Matt Damon & Casey Affleck were there for a Q&A afterwards. No big deal. But 4-time NCAA champion BREANNA STEWART?! As soon as I retrieved my backpack, I ran out of Hogwarts and called my dad to excitedly tell him who I just saw. In retrospect I wish I’d said hello to her! I was too surprised at the time.
By this time in the afternoon, I was famished, and the lines had died down at Three Broomsticks. I went in for lunch.
The photo doesn’t show off my lunch very well, but it was delicious — for around $15 I got a large chicken leg, ear of corn grilled in its husk, and potatoes. Hearty and not too unhealthy.
And I finally got to try the hot butterbeer!! I tasted just like a butterscotch latte, but without the espresso. (Actually, if they made a true latte version of this, I would’ve ordered it in a heartbeat.) It was very smooth.
Next I explored the rest of Universal, the highlight of which was the backlot studio tour — I’ll write a separate post about that in the next few days.
I returned to Hogwarts at dusk shortly before the park closed for the day at 6pm. That seems really early. Turns out that like two weeks after my visit they switched to their spring hours where the park is open several hours later each night. I was disappointed because I planned to wait until after dark to photograph Hogwarts castle at night, glowing against the dark sky. I’ll have to settle for these dusk photos.
Thanks for the magic, Harry Potter! So glad to spend a few hours exploring this world.