We strolled through the massive stone gates into Hogsmeade, the smell of butterbeer in the air. The cobblestone streets were crowded with young and old, all wearing their finest dress robes. A meticulously uniformed train driver beckoned us towards the Hogwarts Express for a photo. In the distance, the Hogwarts Castle loomed above us.
Harry Potter has made it to LA… Finally.
Everyone who grew up reading, re-reading, memorising and reciting the Harry Potter books and movies has imagined themselves in the exact situation I found myself in as I arrived at the opening weekend of Universal Studios Hollywood‘s The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. As a long-time Potterhead, I can confirm the real-life experience lives up to the dream in so, so many ways.
Every serious tourist knows the most important thing about themed attractions is merchandise, merchandise, merchandise. Fans visiting Harry Potter World should be prepared to ransack their Gringott’s vaults, because there’s plenty to ogle at here.
First up there’s Honeyduke’s. The shelves are lined with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and chocolate frogs practically croaking to be eaten. For the impish of heart, toys from Zonko’s promise fun in the shape of fake fireworks and fart candies.
Travellers wanting to rub their incredible good luck in the face of friends and family back home can line up to send owl mail at Hogsmeade’s post office. We decided to wander the well-stocked aisles of Wanda’s Witch And Wizard Wear, admiring swish broomsticks, biting books, house robes, house mugs, and your choice of Weasley jumper.
While that was all good, we knew the most important purchase for prospective witches and wizards is a wand. After witnessing a real wand-choosing, we faced a dilemma. While Voldemort’s white-bone wand was by far the coolest, the Elder Wand was obviously the most powerful. On the other hand, we had the chance to buy unique wands that no witch or wizard (or muggle) had ever waved before. In the end, for the sake of our wallets, we chose to settle for our some less-famous wands, but not before engaging in some pretty serious fantasising.
Being vegetarians, we feared for our options as we entered the Three Broomsticks and saw platters piled high with roast chicken, beef, and turkey legs so big they must have been magically fattened. But we were able to get a genuinely, heartily British potato and leek soup with a side of greens, and of course, to wash it down, sweet, foaming mugs of butterbeer. The more of it we drank, the more it foamed up, to the great amusement of the house-elf staff.
Feeling somewhat giddy we made our way to the Hog’s Head where we drank real beer while ignoring the cowl-wearing man in the corner who kept trying to sell us a huge and mysterious egg.
We had seen Hogwarts Castle from a distance. We had boarded the Flight Of The Hippogriff rollercoaster and eyed those glistening turrets until we were too busy screaming and begging Hagrid to bring us safely back to the ground.
But lining up to enter the castle, we were nervous. The rest of the World had been better than we could have hoped, but could the geniuses at Universal Studios really recreate the magic of Hogwarts? We soon found out the answer was yes, yes they could.
Golden statues of the Hogwarts founders greeted us at the door. Inside the atmosphere was mysterious and stately. Candelabras loomed above us, talking paintings aimed sassy remarks at us, shelves and shelves of instructional tomes lined the stone walls. After passing through Dumbledore’s office, complete with a wisdom-dispensing Headmaster and a pensieve you can reach out and touch (not sure if you’re supposed to, but you can). We then entered a gloomy Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom to discover the greatest feature of the park yet.
A holographic Harry, Ron and Hermione gave us the good news: they had bewitched a bench for us to fly around on, and they were going to take us on a tour of the grounds. Even better, a Gryffindor-Slytherin quidditch showdown was underway, and the castle was under attack from dementors, Death Eaters, and flame-spewing dragons. Merlin’s pants!
The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter exceeded all our expectations. A self-inclusive world where you can eat, drink, fly and buy all things Harry Potter, the only thing this park is missing is a Hogwarts dormitory to sleep in, though that too can be arranged. Potter fans can party on knowing that J.K. Rowling’s vision has been brought magically and realistically to life once again.
(Images: Universal Studios Hollywood/Facebook)
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Mathew Drogemuller is a South Australian journalist with a penchant for travelling to his financial limit. He writes regularly for VICE and Transgression and tweets @matdrogemuller.