All right, I cried. I cried a lot.
Let me start this off by saying I tried to keep my expectations of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Universal Studios Hollywood relatively low. I’ve seen countless photos of the park in Florida, heard various praises over the attention to detail and the wonder of it all. I even read the same praises for the newly opened expansion in Hollywood.
But still. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I have two cousins who each remarked that the sheer size of it was disappointing (one of these cousins is a Harry Potter die hard, like me). Needless to say, I didn’t want to experience the same feeling of disappointment. I was extremely jazzed and anxious about seeing my favorite fictional world brought to life; however, I was fully ready to accept that it might not be what I dreamed of every night leading up to it. And I was okay with this.
Right before our visit, back in April, we purchased the cheapest annual pass option available (discounted at Costco, so if you can take advantage of this deal do it. It makes more sense financially than buying a one-day ticket, if you can visit once more in the next year). Then, I prepared myself for disappointment. I did not prepare myself to be completely blown away.
And blown away I was! My fiance and I got to the park right when it opened, at 9 am, and headed straight for The Wizarding World. I heard about how insanely packed it was during opening week (and the soft opening weeks before), so we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss a single second of getting to ogle the place. I think I spent at least a half hour of the day staring at Hogwarts Castle. Pictures can never do the sight justice, but believe me when I say the structure is truly breathtaking.
After heading straight for the castle in order to admire the view, we rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey–a terrifying motion-based ride that travels through various scenes from the series. I’m not kidding when I say it’s terrifying. Let’s just keep it at this: those dementors alone have me thankful that my Hogwarts letter never came many moons ago. If you’re looking for something uplifting afterwards, I highly suggest riding Flight of the Hippogriff. This experience was much happier! And Buckbeak was incredibly life-like.
Next, we spent time wandering throughout all the shops and restaurants in Hogsmeade. This activity alone consumed several hours of our day. People are not kidding around when they talk about the attention to detail throughout the entire area. Not only is it very consistent with book and movie descriptions, but it never looks cheap. Hell, I think The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is better than anything I’ve seen at Disneyland. They sure give them a run for their money! It’s hard to pick favorites, but I was especially glad to see that Madam Pudifoot’s made an appearance, and The Three Broomsticks was definitely a win as far as surpassing my expectations for a real-life adaptation.
Tip: buy the frozen butterbeer over the traditional drink, if you can only afford one option. Butterbeer is extremely sweet (and delicious), but the frozen version was much easier to drink. While the plastic souvenir cup is a nice keepsake, save your money for the nicer butterbeer glasses available in the shops.They’re pricier, but more durable!
We spent the majority of the morning taking in the sights and watching a performance of the school choir, then my fiance and I decided to take a break to explore the rest of the theme park. I’ve always been a Disneyland kind of gal, so I was actually pretty bored of Universal Studios outside of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Since we visited on a weekday, there were no lines for the attractions and we finished up everything there is to do in a matter of a few hours. How did we occupy the next couple hours of our day? We took a second tour of Hogsmeade, of course!
It’s seems like no matter how many times you explore the area, you’ll always find something new that you didn’t notice before. There was so much to be seen, which I truly cannot stress enough. I think it’s important to visit on a weekday, versus weekend, and preferably in the off-season. While I highly doubt Universal Studios will be facing crowds similar to Disney Theme Parks, it did get congested in The Wizarding World later in the day; I can only imagine how it will be when students are out of school and ready to immerse themselves in Harry’s world. Give yourself plenty of time to wander throughout the wizard shops and restaurants, do wait in line for Ollivander’s for the chance to be chosen by the wandmaker, and definitely bring money for the endless souvenirs you’ll be dying to take home with you. The quality and quantity of souvenirs is top notch, and you will be paying for it.
Most importantly, have fun! If you’re like me and your childhood was Harry Potter, then you’re going to feel right at home here. And that feeling? Well, it’s overwhelming. It’s heartwarming. It’ll most likely bring you to tears. As J.K. Rowling once said, “Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”