Two days before the official opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, I watched John Williams conduct the L.A. Philharmonic with fireworks soaring over a makeshift Hogwarts Castle on a makeshift rocky cliff. Spotlights shone skyward, and a serpent was projected onto the stone walls. The whole scene overlooked the electric lights down in Muggle Los Angeles.
The next day, I spent six hours walking around Hogsmeade. The glittery painted-on snow made for a nice touch of irony in the 90-degree weather. I roamed the Harry Potter universe along with reporters from local broadcast stations, other online outlets, and probably some teen Vine stars, all without ever having to wait in line.
Tickets may have sold out for day one of the park’s opening, but if you plan to go soon, here’s what to make a beeline for and what to walk past. In truth, you could probably do it all — with a handful of Hogsmeade shops, and two rides, the theme park is manageable in size — but if you want to hear from one humble Harry Potter fanatic about what’s worth your energy, read on:
WORTH THE WAIT
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
While meandering your way through a maze of hallways inside Hogwarts to get to this ride, there’s a sign posted on one of the walls warning you not to get on if you have severe motion sickness. Attendants also warn that you not keep your phone in your pocket. Because this ride soars, drops, and jerks you around various Harry Potter settings, switching from a 3D rendering of a Quidditch field, to a cave where a mechanical Voldemort-like figure menaces you. Surprisingly scary.
Just like Harry’s experience with the eccentric character in The Sorcerer’s Stone, visitors get their own wand-matching session with Universal Studios Hollywood’s wandmakers. While trying the wands that Ollivander chooses for you, you get to pretend to kill some tulips in the magic way via sound effects and clever mechanical trickery. It’s all pretty darn thrilling. The Wizarding World even simulates that enchanting moment when you find the right wand, just like in the books/movies.
Worth noting: the wand that chooses you does cost almost $50. If you buy it, it’s interactive within the park. Look for bronze medallions on the cobblestones in front of certain stores, and follow the instructions for how to cast your own spells. If you don’t partake, there are people in wizard robes walking around who will lend you theirs.
Honeydukes/Zonko’s Joke Shop
Chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Cauldrons, all the HP favorites are here, in a green-and-white striped wonderland. You could probably spend an hour or two poring over all the candy. Zonko’s joke shop is smaller, and sells a lot of parlor games, instead of many replicas of the prank toys mentioned in the Harry Potter series. It’s attached to Honeydukes, though, so it’s still worth a look.
WALK ON BY
Flight of the Hippogriff
This baby rollercoaster ride literally lasts for 10 seconds.
You probably won’t skip the butterbeer. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to try the butterbeer. I’m just warning you that it’s just like drinking liquid sugar, with a thick buttery topping. There’s a frozen version and a regular soda one. Go with the frozen one.
And let me know if the food at the Three Broomsticks is worth it, or if any of the specially made alcoholic drinks are, because they didn’t let us try those.