As fans of the Harry Potter books and movies, I knew my daughter and I would enjoy visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potterat Universal Studios in Hollywood. What I didn't know was how utterly impressed we would be. The whole experience is truly magical and immersive, from th rides, to the detail in the streetscapes, the staff all dressed in costume and the themed food and beverages. It is interesting to learn that every detail, every meal and every experience in the park has been given the seal of approval from JK Rowling herself to ensure its authenticity. While the whole experience is fantastic, here are the top reasons to visit and the things you won't want to miss.
Feel like part of the action on the Forbidden Journey Ride (Image Credit: Universal Studios website)
Fans and thrill seekers alike will love this fast paced ride where you join Harry, Ron and Hermione on a broomstick ride around Hogwarts Castle. Featuring 3D imagery and seats attached to robotic arms that swivel you in every direction, it really does feel like you are a part of the action. On this incredible "dark ride" you will encounter giant spiders, snakes, the dreaded Dementors, the Whomping Willow, a fire-breathing dragon plus enjoy the thrill of a game of Quidditch.
While some people may experience motion-sickness on this ride (myself included), I think the ride itself is so well done that it is definitely worth the discomfort.
Don't miss the cool props, like the Sorting Hat, while in the queue
Make sure you look out for all the cool props while you are in the queue for this ride, as it winds through Hogwarts castle and you pass through Dumbledore's office, the Gryffindor common room and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Items to look out for along the way include the Sorting Hat, talking portraits and the Mirror of Erised.
⚡ Shop at Ollivanders - Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC
Every Harry Potter fan knows that the wand chooses the wizard (not the other way around) so a visit to Ollivanders famous wand shop is an absolute must for any young wizard.
Visit Ollivanders to find your own special wand (Image credit: Universal Studios website)
In a secret back room of the shop, you have the opportunity to witness a wand-pairing ceremony, where one very lucky person from the group will be chosen at random to participate in the ceremony. As in the books and movies, it may take a few attempts, and a few mishaps, before the correct wand is found, but when it happens it is a truly magical moment.
Of course, even if you don't get chosen for the ceremony you can still purchase a wand of your own. It is also possible to skip the ceremony and go straight to the shop, where there are hundreds of wands to choose from - interactive wands (see "Wand Magic" below for more information) or decorative (non-interactive) resin wands, character wands or non-character wands. Wand prices start from around US $46 for the non-interactive variety.
⚡ Cast your own spells with interactive Wand Magic
Who hasn't wanted to swish their replica wand and recite the magic words "Alohomora" or "Wingardium Leviosa" every once in a while and not be disappointed with the result? Well, for those who do purchase an interactive wand there are eleven locations within Hogsmeade where you can practice casting some spells and, most importantly, experience some wand magic as a result.
With interactive wand and map you are ready to cast some spells
When you purchase an interactive wand you will be given a map of Hogsmeade showing the location for the different spells. You then look for the bronze medallion, in the cobblestones beneath your feet at the location, raise your wand, trace the correct symbol and recite the corresponding spell and watch as something magical happens before your eyes.
Revelio - something magical will happen when you cast this spell with your interactive wand
This delicious, non-alcoholic, creaming soda flavoured beverage topped with a heavenly butterscotch foam can be found at the Three Broomsticks or Hog's Head Pub or at a number of striking red Butterbeer carts throughout Hogsmeade. It comes in a few different forms, served cold or frozen during summer and served warm during winter. You can choose to buy in a disposable cup or in a cool collectors stein (pictured).
⚡ Collect a Chocolate Frog
A visit to Hogsmeade would not be complete without the purchase of a chocolate frog. Packaged beautifully in the distinctive purple and gold pentagon shaped box, of course, it also comes with the added bonus of a collectible hologram wizard trading card inside.
The frog itself is quite large, around 150 grams (5.3 oz) of solid milk chocolate which was not possible to eat in one sitting. Although I have seen mixed reviews regarding the quality of the chocolate I was personally pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it.
⚡ Have a themed meal at the Three Broomsticks
For hungry wizards, I would suggest a visit to the Three Broomsticks restaurant. This iconic Hogsmeade pub is filled with plenty of decorative Harry Potter detail and includes themed food such as "The Great Feast" platter for four.
The Three Broomsticks serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as alcoholic beverages in the Hog's Head Pub which is attached to the restaurant. Themed beer varieties include Dragon's Scale (a pale ale), Hog's Head Ale (a Scottish ale) and Wizard's Brew (a black stout).
Enjoy all the decorative details at the Three Broomsticks
While we didn't sample the beers on our visit, we did enjoy a family dinner here where we chose meals such as Bangers & Mash, Lemon Roasted Chicken and Fish and Chips which were all of a good size and quality and much better than your standard theme park food.
⚡ Explore and Indulge at Honeydukes
For a taste of both the weird and wonderful sweets from the Harry Potter books and movies the only place to visit is Honeydukes. The store is as bright and colourful as the sweets themselves.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Honeydukes (image Credit: Universal Studios website)
From Chocolate Frogs or Peppermint Toads to Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans (cross your fingers that you don't get the vomit, earwax or dirt flavoured beans), every sweet tooth will be satisfied. As well as packaged sweets there are also freshly baked goodies on offer such as Cauldron and Pumpkin Cakes, fudge and chocolate-coated Pretzel Wands, to name just a few. The only problem you will have in this store is deciding what to buy.
Other experiences you can have at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter include:
⚡ have your photo taken with the Hogwarts Express and conductor
⚡ enjoy a ride on the Flight of the Hippogriff mini roller coaster
⚡ shop for house robes, a new broomstick, Quidditch supplies and souvenirs at a number of shops within Hogsmeade such as Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Zonko's Joke Shop, Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, Dervish and Banges
⚡ visit the Owl Post, where you can buy stationery or if you pop your postcards and letters in the post box they will be delivered with a Hogsmeade postmark
⚡ even a visit to the restrooms is fun as you listen for the distinctive sounds of Moaning Myrtle
Don't forget to get a photo with the Hogwarts Express
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter certainly exceeded our expectations. We found the experience was totally immersive and we loved every minute of it. We definitely hope to return again for more magical fun in the future.