A few weeks ago, something glorious transpired in my ordinary little muggle realm: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Universal Studios, Hollywood. As an avid fan of the Harry Potter books and films, I was thrilled. Finally, a muggle like myself could get a taste of the wizarding world without flying across the country (which would require a plane, as I’m not trained to fly a broom…though I’ve tried).
My birthday was yesterday, and my boyfriend’s (EZ) gift to me was a trip to the Wizarding World. He was like my own personal Hagrid, whisking me away to a place of magic and wonder on my birthday…although instead of turning 11, I was turning 11 + 20. So yesterday, we took the day off work and headed out around 7:00 a.m., since we had early admission tickets (which meant we could enter the Wizarding World at 8:00, an hour before the park officially opened, thus avoiding the crowds). I donned muggle attire, with wizard accents like the scarlet-and-gold Gryffindor scarf from EZ and the golden snitch charm necklace from my friend. I was ready.
If you have not yet visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in either Orlando or Hollywood, and wish to be surprised by all of its little quirks and revelations when you do visit, then stop reading here. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who want an unfiltered experience.
The Wizarding World encompasses the village of Hogsmeade and the castle of Hogwarts. The entrance is a stone archway with an iron-wrought sign for Hogsmeade, which warns “Please respect the spell limits.” Just beyond the archway is the quaint, snow-capped village in all its whimsical, wintry splendor.
Once EZ and I passed through the archway, we were greeted by the train conductor of the Hogwarts Express, which was stopped at the Hogsmeade Station.
The village itself is comprised of beloved shops and spots like Zonko’s Joke Shop, Honeyduke’s, Ollivanders, The Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head Pub, Owl Post, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Dervish and Banges, and Gladrags Wizardwear, all of which are open to the public, along with closed facades such as Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, The Magic Neep, Spintwitches, and Tomes and Scrolls.
The whimsical details are well executed. Zonko’s boasts an array of quirky, nostalgic joke products, novelty items, and toys – with random products whirring and buzzing willy nilly for an authentic splash of pandemonium. Honeyduke’s is a candy lover’s dream, with gorgeous displays of sweets in every color of the rainbow, not to mention wizard favorites like Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and exploding bonbons, among others. Galloping gargoyles!
The Owl Post is stocked with plush owl toys, some of which hoot and turn as you walk in, along with stationary, quills, and other owlish goodies. Tourists can send letters from here with a Hogsmeade postmark (although muggle laws likely prohibit the use of owl messengers to deliver them).
Dervish and Banges purveys quidditch and Hogwarts uniforms, Gladrags offers fine wizarding garments, and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment sells wizarding wares such as hourglasses, crystal balls, and other trinkets and treasures.
But of course I’ve saved the best shop for last: Ollivanders. The line for the “Wand Experience” was negligible, so EZ and I were clustered together with a small group of people and ushered into the dusky foyer of the wand shop. Then, a trick panel of shelving opened up to reveal an inner chamber. We moved into this inner chamber, where the wandkeeper (Ollivander’s assistant, ostensibly) stood behind a desk, surrounded by shelves of wand boxes. The room was lit only by a dim lantern.
Our wandkeeper was a young lady with a British accent. She edified us with a summary of wandlore. Then she surveyed our group and selected from among us the one whom she felt had the most magical energy (to my dismay, the “chosen one” was an 11-year-old girl…why don’t 31-year-old girls get any love?). The wandkeeper proceeded to help the girl choose a wand…or rather, help the wand choose her. The first few wands the girl tried wreaked havoc, spurring boxes to pop out of their shelving and creating a general raucous. “Hmm…I wonder…” the wandkeeper murmured as she selected a certain wand box and blew the dust off its cover. The girl waved the wand, and the lights glowed brightly, accompanied by an enchanted breeze and magical sounds. The wand had chosen her.
It was a charming experience, and the wandkeeper played her role superbly. She described each wand by its wood, core, and pliability, just like in the books/movies. The wandkeeper even improvised when a giant moth found its way into the chamber…after trying to shoo the moth away, she declared that animals had an affinity for the girl, and this sentiment was incorporated into the reasons why the final wand had chosen her. The girl was then given the opportunity to buy this special wand…what a sales pitch! How could her parents say no after such a magical experience?
Another door opened on the other side of the dim chamber, leading into the bright main area of the wand shop. Others could freely enter this area through Wiseacre’s. I was in wand heaven…I examined the different wands used by each character – from Harry’s trio to the Death Eaters – then perused all the other wand possibilities…birch, rowan, holly, elder, ash, etc. A sign indicated the different personality traits typically associated with each wood type. EZ claimed that I should be paired with a rowan wand. I looked up at the description: “ROWAN – The wood is revered for its powers of protection. Rowan people are full of healing energy and they delight in helping others. Rowan people should use their powerful imagination and resourceful nature to make their dreams come true.”
While the other Hogsmeade shops are just facades that don’t allow for entry, these facades are still beautifully and thoughtfully detailed. The lace-trimmed window displays at Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop are a pastel profusion of dainty tea cups and flowery confections promising the potential for awkward first dates. The Magic Neep greengrocer window reveals a bountiful harvest of colorful vegetables. Spintwitches exhibits sporting equipment, including a box of quidditch balls where the bludgers are jumping, striving to escape their restraints so they can bludgeon the nearest passerby. Tomes and Scrolls showcases best-selling books, including volumes by the “dreamy” Gilderoy Lockheart with animated photographs. There are also several other window displays.
As EZ and I strolled down a side alley in Hogsmeade, we spotted a child wizard with a wand, standing in front of a window displaying cauldrons. He was holding a map and standing on a metal circle with an inscription. With a wave of his wand, he uttered an incantation. Suddenly, a cauldron began to make bubbling sounds. It seems he was using one of the premium “interactive wands” for sale at Ollivanders (I believe these are the wands offered to the “chosen ones” during Ollivander’s Wand Experience). These wands can be used at designated spots throughout Hogsmeade, as indicated on the map, to cast spells and make magical things happen. Wicked.
The streets of Hogsmeade offered other treats as well. I partook in my first butterbeer, which was available in both ice-blended and original varieties. I opted for the sweeter ice-blended butterbeer and reveled in the caramely-buttery goodness, topped with whipped cream reminiscent of beer froth.
The Magic Neep cart also offers Gillyweed Water, Pumpkin Juice, and others snacks and beverages. As I sipped at my delightful butterbeer, a flash of motion caught my eye. It was an animated wanted poster for Sirius Black.
After consuming my butterbeer, my bladder was quite full. I popped into the ladies’ room to relieve myself, and was met with the wailing, gurgling sounds of Moaning Myrtle, the quirky ghost that haunts the toilets.
Finally, having exhausted the marvels of the village, EZ and I made our way towards Hogwarts: an impressive, majestic castle bordered by trees hinting at a forest. In the middle of a roped-off section where the lines were supposed to queue (once the masses arrived) perched the battered remains of the Weasleys’ flying Ford Anglia…presumably after having crashed from a particularly wonky flight.
EZ and I admired the castle from different angles, then found ourselves in a corner of Hogwarts that housed Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. We explored this dim cavern of magical creatures, Marauder’s maps, Wizard’s Chess, and other wizarding novelties. My heart nearly broke when I noticed a group of sad Dobbys, all in a row. I immediately took one into my arms. We were also besieged by a hoard of pesky pixies. Pixies are the worst.
After we’d had our fill, EZ and I left the magical creatures behind and strode through Hogwarts’ main entrance to experience the Forbidden Journey ride. The line was only about 5 to 10 minutes long, but I didn’t mind the wait; all of the waiting areas of the castle had been programmed with magical detailing so that our movement through the lines was more like a tour through the castle. Certain rooms housed paintings that spoke and moved; their banter was actually quite amusing. Some of the paintings made fun of us muggles. Another room looked into Dumbledore’s office with all of its curiosities, complete with a projection of Dumbledore speaking to us from his balcony. In what appeared to be a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Harry, Hermione, and Ron appeared and attempted to prepare us for what lay ahead. One chamber displayed The Daily Prophet with headlines about quidditch matches and animated photographs. The room closest to the ride held paintings of witches and wizards who attempted to further prepare us muggles.
As we approached the ride itself, an employee saw EZ checking his phone. “What’s that?” the employee asked with a befuddled expression. It took me a second to realize that he didn’t mean anything specific on the phone; he meant the phone itself.
“A smartphone…muggle technology,” I answered.
“Can I have it?” the wizard employee asked.
“We’ll trade you for your wand,” I offered, though EZ didn’t seem pleased with this arrangement.
“Definitely!” the wizard employee said. But we moved along in the line, past his post, before the trade could take place.
Finally, EZ and I were secured into the seats of the ride, 3D glasses perched on our noses. And then the ride was off, jerking this way and that like a cluster of faulty brooms, following Harry Potter himself as he and his friends directed us up into the air and around the grounds. The ride was a wonderful combination of physical figures and 3D visions coordinated with the movements of the seats for a life-like experience. We encountered dragons, dementors, and deranged quidditch players. We swooped and spun and juddered and turned. After our wild romp, Harry Potter guided us back into the safety of the castle. As some muggles say, it was a rollicking good time.
After the thrill of the Forbidden Journey, EZ and I hopped on the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was a fairly tame and short ride intended for small children. But it did feature a cool-looking life-sized animatronic hippogriff. And again, no line.
We decided to cap our visit to Hogsmeade with a drink. First we popped into The Three Broomsticks, but it was crowded with families ordering a traditional English breakfast (which didn’t sound appealing). So instead, we headed inside Hog’s Head Pub.
“IDs, please,” said the bartender, a witch. As she examined our IDs, a puzzled expression crossed her face. “That’s sooo weird…”
“What?” we asked.
“The pictures don’t move!” she said, shaking her head and returning the IDs to us. “Muggles.”
As the bartender poured our drinks, a giant hog’s head mounted on the wall behind her grunted and looked from side to side.
“Does it do that all day?” EZ asked.
“Oh yeah,” replied the bartender. “He snorts, he grunts, he sings, he steals my drinks. So annoying.”
We cast one last look at the hog’s head, along with the shrunken heads next to it, then made our way to the outdoor patio, which was empty and sundrenched. By now, we could see a long line queued around the back of Ollivander’s waiting for the Wand Experience. Sipping our beers, we recapped and judged our time at the Wizarding World. All in all, it had been a truly magical morning, and the short lines made it stress-free to boot. My only wish would be….more. Not that the Wizarding World had been lacking in anything particular; I just always want more when it comes to Harry Potter. More books, more movies, more magic. The end is always such a sorrow.
As we exited the pub, we were greeted by the sound of throaty music. Following our ears, we arrived at an outdoor stage in the middle of the village, where the Hogwarts student choir was performing with their toads. Merlin’s beard, those toads were ugly! But the music was divine.
It was a sweet sendoff from the magical realm.
EZ and I spent the afternoon enjoying most of the remaining rides and attractions at Universal Studios, since we were lucky enough to keep running into minimal lines. But the highlight had definitely been the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Perhaps someday I will return, not as a muggle, but as a witch. I may be 31, but I’m still holding out for my Hogwarts admission letter.