LOGO-WWoHP-horzAs a mere Muggle, I admittedly do not know all the intricacies of the world of Harry Potter. I know I’m in Ravenclaw thanks to J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore and that Harry has grown up to be a fox, but that’s about it. And like everyone in Hollywood these days, I’ve been swept up in Pottermania as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter gears up for its grand opening at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7th. It’s been 2 1/2 years in the making and I had the pleasure of getting a sneak peek before the big day. Now I’m sharing my thoughts with you as a movie fan, a theme-park fan, and a mom (fan!).

Hop aboard the Hogwarts Express!

Hop aboard the Hogwarts Express!

I should also mention for those who don’t know, that I used to be a studio tour guide at Universal in my pre-Channing days. More specifically, I was a big fancy VIP guide which basically means I got paid roughly the same amount as a regular tour guide but had to do twice as much work and got better snacks. I am very familiar with this theme park, in its pre-Potter years so I couldn’t wait to see the new addition. And seeing as how I still have a lot of friends (now in high places!) I got a super “inside scoop” perspective on the WWOHP. Some of which I’ll share with you here, and some I’ll keep to myself because I’m stingy like that. First tip: I highly recommend getting an annual pass if you plan to come back more than once. And if you can swing the $380 price tag, take the VIP tour. Ask for Babs.

 

 

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After hearing my friends talk about this for literally years and years, I couldn’t wait to get inside and see how the park had changed since my last tour. Walking up to the gates of  Hogsmeade is breathtaking. The snow-capped village transports you out of the churro stank of the theme park and into the world of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Immediately when you enter you see the Hogwarts Express on your right. It’s a great spot for photos with the conductor. You can also go inside and get a green screen picture that looks like you’re actually riding inside the train. Get your knuts ready though. Just about everything in Hogsmeade comes with a price.

Ollivanders Wand Shop is a definite must

Ollivanders Wand Shop is a definite must

Before you get too far inside the village you have to stop by Olilvanders Wand Shop. Do not skip this one, especially if you have a little Potter fan. The purists will notice that the shop is in Hogsmeade and not Diagon Alley, but just go with it. There’s a special presentation where “in a unique interactive experience, you can see a wand choose a wizard. You can buy your own Ollivanders wand, or choose from a selection including Harry Potter  film character wand replicas, Collectible wand sets and more.”  Sweet!  See? You don’t want to miss that. Some of my friends have described actually tearing up during the wand choosing ceremony. Granted they are huge nerds, but still. You can also buy an interactive wand for around $48 that lets you cast spells in several different window shops throughout Hogsmeade.

The quick but effective Flight of the Hippogriff

The quick but effective Flight of the Hippogriff

 

Let’s talk about the two rides shall we? The Flight of the Hippogriff is a cute outdoor roller coaster for everyone over 39″. It’s fun, but short. I really hope you don’t have to wait in line very long for this one. It literally lasts less than 15 seconds and just when you get going, it’s over. Also, it’s not scary so feel free to make even the wimpiest of Muggles try it.

 

 

 

Moments before you lose your lunch with Harry on The Forbidden Journey

Moments before you lose your lunch with Harry on The Forbidden Journey

I can’t say the same for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This virtual ride is terrifying, and is not for those with a weak stomach. Height limit is 48″ on this bad boy. It’s a 3-D ride that let’s you sort of play a game of Quidditch and go on a dark, Dementor-filled adventure with Harry. At one point I was praying to Jesus to let me live. Then the lady next to me got off the ride and barfed. Yes, it was that good/bad depending on how you look at it. But I’m glad I did it and felt totally badass once the room stopped spinning. HPFJ may be right up your alley, but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to go again. Even when my little daredevil is old enough and begs me to go, she can go with her dad. For me the best part of this ride, is the queue. The attention to detail is incredible. You are walking through the classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts castle, complete with a peek into Dumbledore’s office. There are magical portraits hanging on the walls, and items only the truest of HP fans will recognize. This part of the experience was by far my favorite, next to the Butterbeer.

The many faces of her first Butterbeer!

The many faces of her first Butterbeer!

Although I was bummed to find out Butterbeer is not actual beer, I was stoked to find out it is delicious! I’m not generally a fan of sweet drinks, but this truly does have a buttery, butterscotch creamy flavor that is instantly addictive. I have no doubt Universal will be slugging gallons and gallons of this cream sauce to every one who visits the village. Take note, you can only buy Butterbeer in Hogsmeade and not anywhere else in the park. But you can take whatever you buy with you into the park. I didn’t drink my BB until after I’d eaten at Three Broomsticks so it was kind of like a desert.  Three Broomsticks is the largest restaurant inside the village and although it’s pricey, the portions are huge. I had a turkey leg the size of my torso with corn on the cob, and potato wedges. It was just like what I imagine the people in Harry’s world would eat. The restaurant is beautifully designed to feel like an English countryside pub with food options like fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, and The Great Feast Platter which is good for family sharing. There’s also an actual pub next to Three Broomsticks where you can get your booze on like the Brits. Chan ate, what else, mac and cheese. The kids portion are enormous. If you have a petite eater like I do there is definitely enough for 2 or 3 people.  It also came with an orchard of grapes. So many grapes!

You should definitely make your way into the stores with their unique Harry Potter gifts. Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods has replicas from the movies, and definitely don’t miss Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment to pick up supplies for your little Harry or Hermione. The powers that be are expecting huge crowds after the opening and long into the Summer and Fall months so my advice is to go as early in the day as possible.  The entire experience took us just over an hour, but we also didn’t have to wait in any lines for rides (remember the VIP thing?). You will definitely have enough time to explore all of The Wizarding World and still visit other areas of the park. But really, why would you?  The only thing you need to see at Universal Studios right now is perfectly made for Muggles.

Oh ya know, just chillin outside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Oh ya know, just chillin outside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Special media preview orchestrated by John Williams

Special media preview orchestrated by John Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insider tip: The park is offering special discounts if you buy your tickets online and go on a low attendance day like Tuesday or Wednesday. You can save anywhere from $5-$20. And if you can swing it, park in valet parking at the Frankenstein parking lot. The $30 charge is worth it to be right next to the park entrance and save time hauling everyone up and down City Walk, especially if you have little ones. There’s also a brand new Starbucks right inside the park so no need to stop for a Tall Latte Machiatto on the way.

For more information on tickets and park hours go to

http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/harrypotter/

Did you go to the WWOHP?  Are you going? Share your experiences with me and any tips you might have!