NAVIGATING THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
Whether you're a Muggle excited to shop in Hogsmeade, or you're a wizard hopping off the Hogswarts Express for the first time, these tips & tricks navigating through Universal Studios Hollywood's Wizarding World of Harry Potter will come in very handy.
I've lived in Burbank, CA for almost two years, so I've literally watched the castle being built right outside my house — I'd go for morning runs and see it, I'd walk to the supermarket and see it, and when it finally opened its doors, I have been waiting for a family member or a friend to visit who's equally obsessed with Harry Potter as I am. Until today, when I couldn't stand it anymore.
1. Enter The Park Early
When you purchase your tickets online, Universal Studios not only takes off several dollars vs buying the ticket at the front of the gate, you also receive Early Park Admission, to enter The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter an hour earlier than the usual opening time. Early Park Admission is however, subject to availability, cancellation and change.
2. Go Straight To Ollivanders
I started researching about what there is at the park months ago, and whatever people tell you about going to Ollivanders' first is right. We (meaning, I made John) made a beeline for the wand store. We didn't have to wait long – probably under ten minutes and we were in a group of about 20 ushered into the wand shop.
As you know, the wand picks the wizard, a very lucky wizard gets to experience the presentation. Because there were so many kids in our party, I expected the presentation to go to one of them, but to my delirium, he picked me.
(My husband asked if I had flashed him when we came in. I did not.)
The wand maker measured my arm, handed me one wand, swished and flicked, and chanted "alohomora" and some locked drawers shot out from their cubicles. Books were strewn second time. The third wand, when placed in my hand, felt like magic – complete with sound effects, wind blowing in my hair, and light from heavens shining down on me. Much like a Beyonce music video.
Of course, once the wand picks you, you'd still have to fork out seven Galleons – or in Muggle terms, $47.95 for an interactive wand that comes with a map of places in Hogsmeade that you can cast spells! The non-interactive ones are $40.
Ollivanders can get crazy crowded, so you can simply purchase them at the carts outside or in the gift shop!
3. Cast Your Spells Soon
Cast your spells as soon as you have your interactive wands because the park will fill up over the course of the day and your 'alohomora' and 'expelliarmus' spells will be drowned out by other wizards and witches trying to give you advice. The map, which comes with the interactive wand tells you how to cast the spell, how to move your wand and where you should stand!
Remember, swish and flick!
4. Thrill Rides... or meh?
If you have been to Six Flags Magic Mountain and you know of John and my favorite ride X2 (which we went on 8 times the last time we were there because NO LINES), you'd know my tolerance for thrill rides. Which at the current state of time, is basically, no limits.
So admittedly, when it came to rides at a theme park, as opposed to amusement parks, I didn't have that heart-in-throat feeling that I love so much. However, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a 3D ride that takes you on a figurative broomstick journey through scenes and environments in and around Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter series of books and films - including a Quidditch match, facing dementors... and even Aragog and his many children.
The ride made me weep, for the love I have for the books and movies, and being taken through it is basically being taken through my childhood, teenage years, all the way till the very last movie was released.
What made it even better is that once you enter to queue, the whole area is made to look like Hogwarts – you'll spot Mirror of Erised, Potions Storeroom, you'll be taken through the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, and even Dumbledore's office, with special appearances by Harry, Hermoine, Ron and even Dumbledore himself!
The other ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, as they say, a "family-friendly" rollercoaster, meaning kids who are five years old, and seniors who are 65 can still go on it. Honestly, it's worth going on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey for a second time vs. going on Flight of the Hippogriff.
5. Package Pickup
Utilize a service that Universal offers – because you're probably going to buy your year's worth of rent on Hogswarts merch, Universal lets you pick all your purchases up at the end of the day at the very front of the park. This way, you don't have to rent lockers, and you can walk around the park empty handed – save for your wand in your cloak pocket, of course.
6. Locker Rental
Locker rental is available throughout the park, and it's free up to two hours even if you switch from one locker in one ride, to the next. If there are more people in your party, utilize one at a time so you don't have to pay for locker rentals the entire day. Honestly though, I had a purse in my hoodie pocket for all the rides except The Mummy. The rides are so low key that you probably wouldn't lose anything.
7. Don't leave without Butterbeer
Butterbeer is a frothy, ice cream soda-y, butterscotch-y glass of perfection and it comes both regular, or frozen like a slushie. It contains zero alcohol in the park, (but we know it's the houseelves booze of choice when they wanna party it up!) and worth devouring twice.
We tried to eat at the Three Broomsticks - come before, or after 12p which is when there is a snaking line just to go in - but we had such a frustrating time. The girl behind the cash register was clueless and told us that grapes couldn't be removed from the salad we wanted to purchase because it's a serious food allergy for my husband. Why can't the grapes not be included in the salad?! Beats me.
8. Talk to the cast about the books and film
Ask questions about characters you love, and loathe and see what they say! They've been trained to act the part, and it's amazing how they stay in character - even the ones you least expect to.
Even if you don't go into the rest of the park, The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is worth every single penny of that $100 you've spent on admission, if you love the books and films as much as I do, and I have.
Make sure you chant, 'I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good.' as you enter! ;o)