The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is Pure Magic
When the Harry Potter series first came out, the hype was so relentless that I shied away and soon I felt hopelessly behind. But this summer I was in the mood for a good read and gave them a shot. A few months later, I had read all seven books and watched every available movie.
And last week, my Muggle wish was granted when I visited Universal Studios’ new “park within a park,” The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was there for a private event so the park was closed to other guests. This meant that in addition to strolling the streets of Hogsmeade sans-crowds, I could ride the rides again and again and again without waiting in line.
The experience was nothing short of incredible.
Rumored to have cost $265 million, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a perfect reproduction of a very elaborate world and felt worth every penny Universal invested. Absolutely no cherished detail was left out, from Moaning Myrtle haunting the girls’ bathroom to the moving portraits inside Hogwarts Castle, the school Harry, Ron, and Hermione attend.
The park has three rides total–Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Dragon Challenge, and Flight of the Hippogriff–but only one is new. Both the Dragon Challenge (a death-defying coaster) and the Flight of the Hippogriff (a “family” coaster) are old rides that have been “re-themed.”
Only Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was built from scratch and is a state-of-the-art simulator ride, combining coaster-like twists and turns with 3D footage, special effects, and robotics. And it is housed in Hogwarts Castle, with the queue twisting through its hallowed and spooky halls, passing likenesses of famous characters like Dumbledore and Hermione. Though an avid coaster enthusiast, it was The Forbidden Journey I rode again and again, loving how it told the story of a seven-book series with hair-raising fun.
But the real reason to visit the park is to experience Hogsmeade. For the uninitiated, Hogsmeade is the closest town to Hogwarts, where the children go on weekend excursions to buy candy, drink buttterbeer and pumpkin juice, and stock up on magical jokes and pranks.
Here, Universal has taken a page from the Walt Disney playbook and created a perfect world, complete with costumed actors who refuse to break character. In fact in the shot above you can see the Hogwarts Express train conductor. In addition to being a true Briton, he plays his part to the hilt. At one point, I challenged him to a Harry Potter trivia match, which I lost handily and within seconds. The conductor is a walking encyclopedia who cannot be stumped.
While in Hogsmeade, you can buy extendable ears at Zonko’s joke shop, let a wand choose you at Ollivander’s, purchase a Gryffindor patch at Dervish and Banges, grab a frosty mug of butterbeer (non-alcoholic butterscotch flavored soda), or try a vomit-flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean at Honeyduke’s. (Side note: The taste is uncanny and will make you question your intelligence.)
My name: Alison Presley
Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.
How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!
What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannelés, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.
Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.