With all the attention to detail involved in the magical creation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, it is only fitting that the weather fittingly added to the atmosphere for today’s opening. However, the rainy, overcast day, that was more English countryside than sunny Southern California, merely added to the ambience, creating a more authentic experience for the sold-out opening day throngs.
A generation raised on Harry Potter books and movies (and their parents) in the vicinity or with plans to apparate to Los Angeles have been waiting for the opening since the plans to build the new section of the theme park were announced five years before. Since the opening date was announced this January, April 7 was on fans’ radar, much like July 31 and Nov. 18 undoubtedly are.*
The West Coast arrival of the Universal Studios addition contains many of the features, shops and dining sites inspired by J.K. Rowling’s engrossingly imaginative stories and characters as the Florida location. There are the Hogwarts Express, Hogwarts castle, Hogsmeade, and many of the Diagon Alley shops, faithfully recreated from the books and the movies. For Harry Potter fans, it immerses them in the world they have loved and longed to see in person.
Besides the wonder of the views and attention to detail throughout (including fake bird poop near The Owl Post), highlights for most visitors will be the two rides:
- The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 3D-HD Ride – Using a pioneering robotics ride system, special effects and filmed action scenes, this ride allows visitors to don special 3D versions of Quidditch goggles and soar through Hogwarts, get the thrill of a Quidditch match, escape from a dragon and whizz by the Whomping Willow and a group of Dementors.
- The Flight of the Hippogriff Roller Coaster – Visitors go by Hagrid’s pumpkin patch to climb aboard wicker baskets strung together to create a simulated Hippogriff for a training flight on the theme park’s first outdoor coaster.
Except for the rides, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter may seem to nonfans like a English-themed outdoor shopping mall. There certainly are a lot of places to spend money. There are the stores mentioned in the books like Gladrags Wizardwear; Zonko’s Joke Shop; Dervish and Banges for Hogwarts school supplies; Ollivanders’ wand shop; and other emporiums selling souvenirs. Food, candy and drinks can be had at Honeydukes (Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, Fizzing Whizzbees, Chocolate Frogs and more); Madam Puddifoot’s tearoom; The Three Broomsticks offering British cuisine like bangers & mash, shepherd’s pie and fish & chips, and butterbeer; and the Hog’s Head for butterbeer, pumpkin juice and appropriate spirits (There is reportedly no Firewhiskey yet, but it is coming!)
Universal Studios has spent years (and millions) moving away from offering just a studio tour toward a theme park people will want to visit over and over. Rides like the 3D Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey one will help build on ones they have added in recent years. For those muggles who are not into the magical atmosphere surrounding The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening, other movie-themes turned into attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood include rides based on Fast & Furious, Jurassic Park, Despicable Me, Transformers, the Simpsons, the Revenge of the Mummy, and more. Just be sure to get tickets in advance (The prices vary by time of year.) The whole Harry Potter addition is expected to draw huge crowds for the foreseeable future, much like the park in Florida experienced when it opened there.
* July 31 is the release date for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the script in book form of the new play continuing the saga in the period where the seventh book ended. Nov. 18 is the opening date of the movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, about America’s magical and non-maj world.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Universal Studios Hollywood
The Harry Potter books
Reuters: Owl post, sweets and spells: Universal’s ‘Harry Potter’ world highlights
Photo of Flight of the Hippogriff and Hogwarts castle by David Sprague/Universal Studios Hollywood