Greetings Peeps of All Persuasions. I’m taking a bit of a detour from my usual subject matter to post a theme park review. Actually, it’s not really a departure from my usual in that I love to write about and connect with people about things that matter. Harry Potter matters immensely to some, so HP fans, this one’s for you to give you a heads up on how to get the most out of your visit to the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Hollywood.
Skip the Summer Months
This is theme park 101 stuff here, but for those anxious to get to see TWWoHP, my best advice is to wait.
Just like Disneyland, the best time to go is during the non-peak months on a weekday. If you’re going to drop that kind of cash on fun, wait until summer is over, pull the kids out of school on a Wednesday and savor the experience.
Hit It Early
My college kids and I bought our tickets online the last week before the summer schedule begins, which got us in the park an hour earlier than general opening, and what a magical hour that was! We walked on everything with NO wait. The morning was a bit chilly and overcast – perfect weather to complement the snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade. When we came back later in the day it was hot and packed with people and not nearly as magical.
Leave the Muggles at Home (or in non-wizarding sections of the park)
The Wizarding World will really only be appreciated by those who truly love the books and movies. If you know which house you belong to (Ravenclaw) and your Patronus (moose), have ever uttered the phrase “accio toilet paper” when in need of a fresh roll, and tasting butterbeer is in the top 5 on your bucket list, you need to bliss out in the company of fellow HP dorks.
I asked my husband to stay home with our 2 youngest because I knew they wouldn’t appreciate it at the same level I and my oldest ones would. As such, we were free to squeal, happy dance, speak in really lame British accents, and even tear up a little (which I’ll freely admit I did upon first entering the gates and hearing the HP theme music) and not have to explain ourselves or anything to anyone.
The Must Do List
Ollivanders Wand Shop
I recommend doing the Ollivanders experience first, especially if you want to purchase a wand. We waited until the afternoon to come back and the shop was uncomfortably packed with people. In retrospect, I wish we’d taken advantage of our “magical hour” to do that.
If you do splurge for a wand, make sure it is interactive (not all of them are). These will have a gold label on the box and contain a map of all the places you’ll be able to try out spells. Once your wand has chosen you, you’re ready to head to Hogwarts!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This is the main attraction 3D ride within Hogwarts castle and the one ride worth doing. (Flight of the Hippogriff is a super short generic roller coaster that I wouldn’t bother with unless there is no line).
For The Forbidden Journey, take advantage of the FREE lockers to the right when you first enter. You’ll want to stow your phones and backpacks, and the biometric fingerprint locking system is super convenient and way cool!
The line itself is very entertaining. Since we did this first and there was no wait, we found ourselves pausing along the way to take in as many details and character interactions as we could. If you have to wait, this is the place to do it…again, why I recommend Ollivanders first.
I won’t spoil it for you, just be sure to pop in to a Wizarding World loo.
Tons of HP house swag to browse through. I couldn’t resist getting a chocolate frog at Honeydukes complete with collectible holographic wizard card (Godric Gryffindor). The chocolate itself was a bit meh and the frog, unfortunately, did not jump even a little…but no regrets.
Have your wand and map handy to recognize the symbols outside each storefront where you can cast a spell on the display windows.
Food and Drink
One word – BUTTERBEER
We were a wee bit excited with the pictoral evidence to prove it.
There are several carts throughout Hogsmeade selling this classic wizarding world beverage either cold or frozen (slushy). I highly recommend the regular cold version as it comes with a rich creamy layer of foam. The drink itself tastes like the best cream soda you’ve ever had in your life, but it’s the velvety, buttery foam that is the real kicker. For anyone who ever drooled simply at J.K. Rowling’s description of butterbeer, you will not be disappointed.
Three Broomsticks is classic English pub fare, and it’s delicious. Considering we were there at the height of the lunch rush, the line moved at a decent pace and we were seated quickly. Shepherd’s pie, roasted chicken, bangers and mash, roast beef, lamb stew (my vegan daughter had soup and salad), all soooooo gooooood.
Having the time to peruse and take in all the details without having to battle too much of a crowd will make all the difference in a Wizarding World experience. From what I hear, there’s more to do at the Orlando park with a Hogwarts Express train that takes you to Diagon Alley and an Escape from Gringotts ride. Hopefully, Universal Hollywood will add those eventually. (Waterworld stunt show is right next door and has had a good run. Nobody would miss it, would they?)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will only take up a couple hours at most and the rest of the park is a whole lot of fun and has changed quite a bit since we were last there over 10 years ago. The Minions have taken over the little kid arcade portion. We forced my son (who despises them) to pose for a picture and go on the Minion 4D ride which was super cute and well done.
The classic studio tram tour has been updated with a lot more 3D intensity (King Kong has come a long way from his banana breath days). Our guide Garrett and driver Yohan were very entertaining (all Yohan did was silently drive the tram and have the best freakin’ name EVER). Jurassic Park still holds up. Revenge of the Mummy is my pick for best intense ride. I regret not buying the picture from that one. I had a legit hilariously terrified scream face. Definitely use the free lockers to stow your things before that one.
I’ve hit the big 3 So.Cal theme parks (Disneyland, Legoland, and now US Hollywood) in the last few months before I leave for Tennessee. I’d have to say getting my Harry Potter fix with my young adult kids was my favorite. Hope this information is useful for any of my fellow Potterheads who will be visiting soon. It was a pleasure to serve. Mischief managed.