Taking a Trip To Hogwarts

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

If you have a young (or old) Harry Potter fan in the house and you’re wondering whether to visit Universal Studios’ version of Hogwarts, my 11-year-old son would yell such a resounding “yes” that your wiz- ard’s hat would be blown off your head.

His parents also gave it two thumbs up. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a relatively small part of the park, but for fans, it offers a chance to throw off your Muggle ways and revel in J.K. Rowling’s magical world.

The Portrait Gallery located inside Hogwarts castle. Photo courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood
The Portrait Gallery located inside Hogwarts castle. Photo courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood

Unlike the books, where Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are in different locations, in the amusement park they butt up against each other. Yet my husband, son and I were not perturbed by this mashed-up aspect of the attraction. We went wan- dering through the various businesses.

My son, a candy addict, desperately want- ed to go to Honeyduke’s first. At my insistence, we bought a chocolate frog ($11.94 including tax), a frog-shaped chunk of very ordinary chocolate with a holographic wizard’s card inside. We were warned to eat the frog’s legs first so it wouldn’t hop away, and we of course did so.

My son also had to have some butter beer, and the frozen version (the only version we tried) is tasty and unique. Like everything in the park, it’s pricey ($6.53 in a throw-away cup or $14.16 in a souvenir mug).

In fact, the biggest downside of the park is how enticing and expensive all of the items in the stores are. My son, who had never before been to Universal Studios and was previously only a mild Potter fan, would have happily spent the day skipping the rest of the park and purchasing everything in the Wizarding World that we could carry.

Instead, we started and ended our day with Potter and checked out the rest of the park, which he enjoyed, but not nearly to the extent of the Wizarding World section, even though this area offers only two rides. I was also surprised by how entranced he was considering that he had never seen the movies and had only read the first five books. One of the rides, the Flight of the Hippogriff, which we actually got stuck on and had to be led off as they inspected the ride, is a fairly basic kiddie rollercoaster that wouldn’t be worth much more than a short wait in line.

However, the other ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is well worth the wait and was my son’s favorite part of the park. The ride combines 3D video with motion from the car to provide a fast tour through the world of Hogwarts, including a dragon encounter, a lightning-fast game of quidditch, and a drop into the world of the Dementors. The line moves fast and is part of the fun.

We had front-of-the-line passes that steered us by wizard portraits that talked and moved and argued with each other. One room has a three-dimensional Head of Hogwarts Albus Dumbledore welcom- ing you to his office and chatting for a bit, while Harry, Ron and Hermione entertain you in another waiting area.

Motion sickness was a bit of an issue for my husband and me, but my son was delighted with every aspect of the ride. Before we left the park, my son also desperately wanted to visit Ollivander’s to get a wand. The wands are interactive, and there are spots where kids and adults use their wands to activate displays in store windows. My son intensely wanted to do that.

So we visited Ollivander’s, which had the slowest line of any attraction in the park. My son wasn’t chosen to have the proprietor select his wand, but it was fun to watch the girl who lucked out. Still, my son enjoyed choosing his own wand. Like everything else, they are pricey—$52.27 after taxes for an interactive wand—but he was so delighted run- ning around to the 11 spots where he could “cast a spell” that it was worth it.

For people who aren’t particularly inter- ested in Harry Potter, the Universal Studios attraction probably won’t change that, but if his magical world excites you even a little, then you’ll get a kick out of seeing the owl post and eating lunch in the Three Broomsticks. The lines were incredibly short, too, on the spring weekday we attended just a few weeks after opening, but I imagine that it would probably still be fun on a busy day. For fans of the books in particular, the area offers the chance to literally step into a novel, which is almost unheard of magic.

A side benefit was that my son started re-reading the books before our visit. He had stopped reading after the fifth one in a previous Harry Potter jaunt a couple of years ago, because he was loath to witness Dumbledore’s death. However, upon our return home he felt driven to keep reading, finishing the fifth, the dreaded sixth book and zipping through the seventh. What other amusement park attraction could inspire a kid to dive into so many hours of reading with such obvious glee?

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