“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” has been open for almost two weeks and I have been listening to the different opinions of it from friends and reviewers alike. Some compare it to the Orlando location with sadness of missing attractions, but love some of the new details in Hollywood. Most people I have talked to loved it and wish they could afford to go there more often. The addictive Butterbeer alone is some folks reason for going there. (I admit I had two on my visit and they definitely had me on a sugar rush!). Of course, the favorite destination from everyone is the the gorgeously detailed Hogwarts Castle and the attraction inside, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” At the media day panel, the twins James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) said it was their favorite ride. I have to say it is the most innovative ride I’ve personally ever been on! After walking through an amazingly detailed queue area full of fanciful rooms right out of the book, you go on a ride you will never forget. “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” incorporates impressive storytelling, exquisitely detailed and immersive scenery, and cutting edge technology that together creates a believable world that visitors can lose themselves in. The attraction features HD 3D, animatronics, precisely timed effects, expertly choreographed vehicle movements, and realistic 3D sound. With their Quidditch style goggles on, guests spiral and pivot 360-degrees along an elevated ride track on a whirlwind adventure right out of the J.K. Rowling books, joining all their favorite characters from the books on their journey.
At the media panel all the cast members present said similar things about their experience at this “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” attraction. The first question they were asked was; Since they’ve seen 4 Wizarding Worlds open now, what did you feel when you walked into this one? The general feeling from James and Oliver Phelps, Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick) was that it’s a much more magical experience for them because it’s so much fun for the guests. When they all worked on the movies, each set was separate. Here there are no sets held up by scaffolding, huge spotlights or green screens. It’s amazing just walking in and seeing the whole world in front of your eyes. For example, walking into the Three Broomsticks from Hogsmeade, and seeing there is something real behind the wall is truly magical, as if you are stepping into the pages of the books. When you first enter the gates of Hogsmeade, see the steam puffing out of the Hogwarts Express train and look up to the snow-capped rooftops of Hogwarts it is impossible not to be impressed and become immersed in the creative world. The cast agreed that the most magical moment in The Wizarding World is seeing the guests experiencing the land for the first time. They also felt that regardless of whether or not you have read the books or even seen the movies, the new land can be enjoyed on multiple levels. “Having read the books certainly enhances your experience,” said Davis, “But it’s hardly necessary.” Lynch added, “It’s funny, I have friends that haven’t read them, I mean I even have a sister that hasn’t read them. But they visit the land and they all get really excited. My sister has totally embraced her Slytherin side. There are a lot of ways you can approach and enter this world and that’s what is so wonderful about it.” she said. “If you don’t know anything about the world you are pretty much entering it like Harry did.” added Oliver Phelps.
There are many great store fronts along the way. Some are real and some are facades, but all are beautifully detailed down to the tiniest details. If you have a special wand from Olivanders wand shop – you can cast spells at designated areas all over the wizarding world, which delights the young and even old jaded folks like me when the wand performs correctly, (or when I finally got the movements right.) The wand experience begins as you enter the store filled to the ceiling with wand boxes and then are introduced to one of Olivander’s wizard helpers in a darkened room. One lucky person is picked from the crowd and is asked to try their hand at wand magic. Once a wand picks it’s owner, the guests are led out into the store where they can choose their own wand or purchase the one that chose them. I loved my wand and had a fun day trying it out!
Other real places you can visit are: The Three Broomsticks, where your can get authentic and very delicious meals, in a very rustic and warm atmosphere. Just outside is the cart where you can get the famous Butterbeer (which, by the way we heard was just orange juice and whipped cream on the movie sets, and is much better here). Honeydukes Sweet shop, where you can get things right out of the stories like Chocolate Frogs. Zonko’s Magic Shop is attached to Honeyduke’s Sweet shop. Here you can pick up your favorite toys and tricks. At Dervish and Banges you can get just about anything you need for your semester at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. On display, carefully secured within a protected cage, (so watch your fingers) is The Monster Book of Monsters, used in Care of Magical Creatures. The particularly vicious book snarls and growls at anyone who attempts to get too close. Floating above, are the three broomsticks featured in the films: Nimbus Two Thousand, Nimbus Two Thousand and One, and Firebolt. The Owl Post, next to the Owlery, is a fully functioning post office where visitors can mail postcards and letters with a “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” stamp, postmarked from Hogsmeade. Perched above are awaiting owls, while the window displays a Howler – a magical letter that can be heard shrieking its message before shredding itself into pieces. Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods and Gladrags Wizardwear are like Harry Potter museums, with items like the Marauder’s Map, props from different movies and even Hermione’s Yule Ball gown. In these stores you can buy your house robes, and almost anything you can think of from the movies, even your very own Golden Snitch. The “Flight of the Hippogriff” ride is a family friendly ride (even Warwick Davis commented that he is tall enough to go on the ride, even though he hates rollercoasters) where you can get instructions from Hagrid on the care and feeding of your Hippogriff.
After the sound that was a problem during the first group panel was fixed (The joke was that the Dementors were on the way when the microphones fed back) we got to meet the creative team behind the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” Hollywood. We met Mark Woodbury (President, Universal Creative Universal Parks & Resorts), Thierry Coup (film director of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore (production designers on the Harry Potter movies.) “Bringing Hogwarts to life the first time, we really set a high bar for ourselves in terms of achievement and detail.” remarked Woodbury. On any creative endeavor there is always room for improvement and new ways to enhance a project. “A lot like how movies are released in 2D and in 3D,” Woodbury continued, “We kind of like the idea that we have two different versions. It gives you a reason to go to both parks.” Noting the differences between the Orlando and Hollywood versions of the land, Coup explained, “With this Hollywood version, we added more detail to the practical sets and, of course, the 3D.” He continued, “We also wanted you to feel the snitch in the Quidditch match in your face or the breath of the dementors, so we added that to those scenes as well.” The differences go further than just the ride. Coup pointed out that there are new shops such as Gladrag’s and the new interactive windows. It stands to reason that Hollywood, the movie capital of the world, would be the place to bring even more details to life in the land. Art Director, Alan Gilmore, noted that in California the natural lighting is much brighter, with the added advantage of being up on a hill. “It’s very bright and we were able to play with new colors and textures. It’s almost like seeing it in high definition here in Hollywood.” Pointing out the surrounding mountains, Gilmore continued, “We even borrowed the mountains in Burbank to act as the Scottish Highlands, so we’ve adopted some of the surrounding elements to enhance the experience.” Gilmore also noted that visitors will be able to spot props from the actual film hidden throughout the land and attractions. One example is the suitcase racks in the photo area by the Hogwarts Express, they are real props from the movies.
The “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is enchanting, creative and beautiful. Once you walk through the gates, you immediately are taken into another place and time, even with the lights and setting of a theme park, it is very immersive and you easily fall into the world of Harry Potter and his friends. I can’t wait to go back and see it at night. All the night photos I have seen are fabulous. Please look over the photos I took, here in the slideshow. I give “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” a big thumbs up! For more info you can check out all the Universal Studios Hollywood sites: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Website #WizardingWorldHollywood