Though it's been 18 years since the first Harry Potter book was published (we know, we feel old, too), J.K. Rowling's magical franchise has not slowed down since its debut—if anything, it's gained even more momentum through the years. And now, after the successful launch of Universal Orlando Resort's Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, the west coast has decided to follow suit, by opening a Potter-themed park of its own at Universal Studios Hollywood.
We were lucky enough to score tickets to the park before its April 7 grand opening—here's what you need to know before you plan your visit.
1. Got a coat? Because there is snow EVERYWHERE.
The second you step through the park's gates, it's easy to forget that you're in sunny California, most likely wearing shorts and a tank top. The shops lining the cobblestoned streets all feature snow-capped roofs, hanging icicles, and awnings with snow mounds on top of them. The overall effect genuinely makes you feel as if you've stepped into the village of Hogsmeade on a blustery winter day. (That said, wear sunscreen, because you're still in California and it's still really hot.)
2. Watch out for owl droppings.
Just like in Hogwarts Castle, there is a full-fledged Owlery that has taken form as an open air, covered barn. Look up, and you'll see Great Horned and Scops "owls" looming overhead, as they hoo-hoo down at you. Below your feet and on the nearby beams, however, watch out for owl "droppings." (You'll know them when you see them.) Because clearly no Owlery would be complete without some owl poop, right? Full effect, guys. Full effect.
3. Yes, there is Butterbeer, and yes, it's amazing.
Although I put on my best reporting hat to try and get the Wizarding World staffers to divulge just what is in those famous mugs of Butterbeer, I was unsuccessful. What I can tell you, though, is that it tastes a whole lot like a chocolate-slash-butterscotch milkshake, except about 10 times sweeter. Though my park companion managed to drink his Butterbeer in its entirety (in about 15 seconds flat, no less), I found that it was a tad too sweet for my tastes and had to nurse it for much longer. Part of me wishes there was an alcoholic component to this drink (hey, I'm curious!), but the drink is incredibly well-suited for kids who are anxious to get their hands on the famed Hogsmeade beverage.
4. Hogwarts Castle is EXACTLY like you pictured it.
The pinnacle of the park, obviously, is Hogwarts Castle, a massive multi-tiered structure that looms over the park (and the rest of Universal Studios, for that matter). The castle serves two purposes, really: to house the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride (more on that below), and to allow visitors to "wander" the halls of Hogwarts. Here's a preview of what you can expect while waiting in line for the ride:
- A talking Fat Lady portrait who is super sassy and will most likely not let you into the Gryffindor common room.
- A room full of talking portraits who bark at each other.
- The Mirror of Erised
- A truly magical model of Dumbledore's office
- An array of baby Mandrakes
- The sorting hat, that, with much snark, dictates the rules of the ride.
Cool, right? I have to say: Waiting in line at a theme park had never been quite that fun.
5. And then there's the ride itself.
Somehow, the masterminds behind the park managed to incorporate all the key elements of the seven books into one thrilling ride. I went on this ride twice and could have done it more, because there's no way to catch all the details in just one go. You spend the entire 3-D ride witnessing a lot of classic Potter elements: a Quidditch match, spiders, fire-breathing dragons, and most horrifyingly, dementors. (I'm not joking, I literally almost wet my pants they were so lifelike.) Word of warning: this ride is not for the faint of heart. After two back-to-back rounds, I felt pretty queasy and needed to take a breather in the Owlery.
6. Ollivanders is so. insanely. cool.
As a neat freak, I get heart palpitations when things aren't orderly and in their place, but somehow the mish-mosh of wand boxes in Ollivanders Wand Shop didn't faze me. Filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves of wand boxes, you can literally choose a replica of almost every character's wand. Though I'm partial to Ron's elder wood and unicorn tail hair wand, there are 36 others available, from Mad-Eye Moody's (may he rest in peace) to Neville Longbottom's.
7. But so are the other shops.
Going through all the other shops that you can visit would be worthy of another article, but trust me when I say that stepping in and out of the array of stores the park offers was probably my favorite part. For your perusal, here's a list of some of the other stores the park offers:
- Dervish and Banges
- Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods
- Gladrags Wizardwear
- Wizeacre's Wizarding Equipment
- Zonko's Joke Shop
8. Fancy some Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans?
Honeydukes Candy Shop is a certifiable feast for the eyes. There are Cauldron Cakes, Fizzing Whizzbees, and the ever elusive Chocolate Frogs. When I went to purchase by $10 box of Every-Flavor Beans (I know, pretty steep for some jelly beans), I was told that there were, in fact, vomit-flavored jelly beans lurking inside my colorful box. Which probably explains why my purchase, which I brought back to share with my co-workers, has gone untouched. (Where's your sense of adventure, guys?!)
9. It's time to talk about the food.
If I'm being totally honest, I could have spent my entire visit in The Three Broomsticks. It's an enormous tavern that genuinely feels like an oversized English pub. (And this is coming from someone who used to live in London.) There are cozy corners, long tables, and medieval-like chandeliers hanging overhead. The menu features traditional British fare, like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and Sunday roast. So, in short: come hungry and get ready to stay a while.
10. Got a letter to send? Bring it with you.
Not only is there a fully functioning post office in the park, but if you send a letter from it, it will be mailed with a "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" stamp and it will be postmarked from Hogsmeade. I mean ... can you imagine how cool it would be to send your kids, or a relative, or a friend a letter with a Harry Potter stamp? I sadly didn't know this when I went to the park, so if someone could send one to me when they next go, that would be great.
Overall, a trip to the park is truly worth it and an experience your entire family will enjoy—it was apparent that parents were having equally as much fun as their kids. All I can say is that I really wish I could get my hands on some Floo powder, so I could make a return visit ASAP.
To learn more about the park, visit .