This past weekend, Colby and I got back from our second trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California, so I figured it’s high time I wrote a blog post about it. Even though this version of Harry Potter World isn’t as big or as detailed as the one in Florida (so I hear), it’s still amazing in its own right and I would still rather visit Hogwarts than Disneyland. It’s true.
The first time we went, in May 2016, it was just a month after the Hollywood Wizarding World had opened, and our second visit was just a few days ago (in February 2017). Our February trip was less crowded, but honestly, not by much. Both times we had an amazing experience and just like last time, I can’t wait to go back! So, let’s dive in!
Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Hollywood
Before you go, you should know that the California version is much smaller than the Orlando version. You can only visit Hogsmeade and Hogwarts – not Diagon Alley – and there are only two rides instead of four. You also cannot ride the Hogwarts Express, but you can climb aboard for a fun photo op! Like I mentioned above, though, it’s quaint and magical just the same!
Where to Get Tickets
INSIDER TIP #1: Check your local Costco for discount tickets! The whole reason we were able to go twice in one year is because we scored annual passes at Costco that were the same price as one-day tickets! We went last May while on a family vacation, and then we had an excuse to plan another trip to California to use our tickets again before they expire! Even if you don’t think you’ll go twice, you might as well just get the annual passes since they’re the same price – you have nothing to lose! Just be aware that there are blackout dates associated with the annual passes. The first time you use it, you can go any day, but the second time, pay attention to the blackout dates.
If you can’t find an annual pass for cheap, another great option is buying a ticket on Universal’s website instead of at the door. When you buy online, you get into HP World an hour earlier than everyone else! You’ll also have the option to upgrade to a front-of-line pass or VIP pass – although I don’t recommend it, because the lines have not been long either time we’ve visited.
Where to Stay
Last year, we were on a family vacation in Newport Beach, so we didn’t stay anywhere near the park (which is in North Hollywood in Los Angeles). This worked for us, since we were only going to be spending one day at the park and were spending the rest of our week vacation at the beach and Disneyland. If you plan on staying in Orange County, just be prepared to leave early or go on a Sunday, since as we all know, LA traffic is horrendous.
This time, we stayed in an Airbnb about 10 minutes from the park, which was perfect! We just took a $3 Uber to and from, which meant we didn’t have to pay the $20-$40 for parking. There are a couple hotels nearby that partner with Universal Studios, which means you can get early park admission if you stay there, but we didn’t want to spend the money. Plus, like I said, there weren’t ever long lines for anything so I didn’t feel like we were missing out by not having early admission.
Entering the Park
As soon as you step through the gates of Hogsmeade, you are transported into another world – the Wizarding World, that is. You’ll find yourself standing on cobblestone streets, surrounded by looming, crooked buildings; bustling butterbeer carts; witches and wizards teaching muggles how to use their wands; and Hogwarts towering in the distance. You’ll be swept up in the sounds of the horn of the Hogwarts Express, the hooting of owls, and the HP theme playing softly in the background. At once, you’ll feel at home.
INSIDER TIP #2: If you get to the park as it opens, head straight for either Ollivanders or the Hogwarts castle. Both of these lines are the ones that probably get the longest in the morning and middle of the day, so I recommend going there first so you don’t have to wait too long.
Rides & Attractions
Ollivanders Makers of Fine Wands
The wand chooses the wizard – not the other way around. At Ollivanders, you go in as a group and one person is selected to shop for a wand. The witch or wizard tending the shop will help him or her to try out several wands – making mischief happen around the shop – until finally finding one that works. It’s a cute little show that I recommend doing once, but it’s definitely designed more for kids and this line is usually the longest one in the park, so I would head there first if it’s something you really want to do.
Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
This is by far the best ride in the entire Universal Studios Hollywood park and probably my favorite ride I have ever been on in my life. It’s located inside Hogwarts and is kind of a 3D/virtual reality rollercoaster and it’s incredible. But, before you get to the ride, make sure to take your time walking through the line! It starts in the Hogwarts greenhouses and winds its way through the castle: past the house points hourglasses; through Dumbledore’s office, where Dumbledore himself is making a speech; into the Gryffindor common room (Fat Lady included); in and out of a classroom where you’ll see Harry, Ron, and Hermione; by the Sorting Hat; and so much more.
Finally you’ll step onto a moving platform and be seated in a four-person cart which is traveling sideways. Hermione casts a spell to make the cart fly and you’re off on a Quidditch playing, dragon fighting adventure! I don’t want to give too much of it away, since the ride is such an amazing experience, but I will say I always almost cry the first time I see Harry and Ron in the ride. It feels so real and it’s just like being reunited with old friends.
Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a short rollercoaster made for kids, but we definitely rode it both times we were at the park and I actually love it! It’s tame but it still gives you that drop in your stomach that makes you laugh the whole time. Don’t forget to bow to Buckbeak before you take off, or you might get bucked!
You can send a Hogwarts postcard from here, to be delivered by owl, of course!
Zonko’s Joke Shop
This is connected to Honeydukes and has a few little wizarding gag gifts, but not as many as I would have liked. They do have pygmy puff slippers which I think are adorable.
If it’s mentioned in the Harry Potter books, you can probably find it here. Everything from chocolate frogs to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans to exploding bonbons are under this roof – and while it’s all very overpriced, it’s worth grabbing one or two things. I’ve heard the pumpkin pasties are amazing, although I didn’t try one. I got a chocolate frog on this past trip and was excited to find the Gilderoy Lockhart famous wizard card inside, which is the new one for 2017. I will say the chocolate frog is huge, possibly justifying the $11 price tag, but it’s pure milk chocolate and kind of waxy. Still probably going to spend my life collecting all those cards though.
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment
Your one stop shop for everything you need that relates to the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 3/4.
Here you can find Hogwarts robes and accessories. So tempting!
Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods
You exit through this shop when you get off the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts, and it has lots of Hogwarts paraphernalia – shirts, scarves, mugs, etc. You can also find some rare magical items here, though, like a working Maurader’s Map! I wanted it so bad. Next time.
Ollivanders Makers of Fine Wands
Of course you can buy a wand in the Wizarding World! Ollivanders sells replicas of every major character’s wand, or you can get a generic one if you want one that belongs to you and you alone. There is also an Ollivanders cart by Hogwarts castle that has all the wands out front on display that you can pick up and feel, so I recommend going there first to check them all out because the shop is always extremely crowded. Once you decide which one you want, you can either purchase it at the cart or head down to the shop. I have Hermione’s wand and it’s gorgeous.
INSIDER TIP #3: Pay attention to the wand you’re buying! You have the choice to buy either a regular wand or, for slightly more money, you can get one with a gold label that actually does magic throughout the park. The one that does magic is 100% worth it! It comes with a beautiful little map of Hogsmeade which shows all the spots you can use it and what spells to do there (these spots are also marked with bronze medallions on the ground around the streets). There are 11 shop windows where you can cast spells – just be sure to swish and flick correctly! It’s harder than it looks!
Dervish & Banges
Another clothing shop that has house crest apparel and more assorted accessories.
Food & Dining
If you don’t get a butterbeer in Harry Potter World, have you even been there? Hop in line at one of the carts and you can choose between the regular or frozen version. The regular is like a cream soda with a bit of butterscotch, with a butterscotch cream topping, and the frozen version is the same thing, but in slushie form. I actually prefer the regular version because I feel like the flavor comes out a little more and it pairs with the cream on top better. Plus, it’s more authentic, and I’m trying to become a wizard here. Honestly, they’re both delicious and you can’t go wrong! If you’re not in the butterbeer mood, you can grab a pumpkin juice or a gilly water at the carts as well.
INSIDER TIP #4: Don’t waste your money on gilly water (aka bottled water). The Three Broomsticks will give you a free cup of ice water if you ask.
The Three Broomsticks
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Hogsmeade and sit down at a table at the Three Broomsticks! As expected, you can order several traditional English dishes here such as fish & chips or even a full feast for four people. I ordered the lemon herb roasted chicken and Colby got the shepherd’s pie and we were very impressed by both! The chicken was an entire half roast chicken along with potatoes and corn on the cob – so much food I couldn’t even finish it! The shepherd’s pie came with a really yummy salad and we thought both were a great value for the price, considering it’s a theme park restaurant.
In the back of the Three Broomsticks, you can also visit the Hog’s Head, which serves drinks for 21+ – but even if you don’t want to order anything there, it’s a cool place to check out before you head back into the street.
More Tips, Tricks, & Secrets
Visit the bathroom: I know it sounds weird, but once you go inside, you’ll hear Moaning Myrtle giggling from the stall next to you! It’s such a perfect detail I’m so happy was included in the park. Colby and I had to laugh about some of the older people there who might not have known what on earth the sounds were about.
Hop onto the Hogwarts Express for a photo op: They make you pay for the pictures if you want them, but just doing the little photoshoot is pretty fun. The witch or wizard running the booth gives you props and you take multiple photos, and they change the scenery out the window of the train with a green screen. You can also take a photo with the train conductor for free at certain times of the day when he’s there.
The Frog Choir & Triwizard Spirit Rally: If you’re hanging around on the streets, every now and then you’ll see witches and wizards appear on the platform and perform either the Triwizard pep rally or some frog choir numbers. Both of them are so fun to watch and honestly just make you so happy because they’re identical to what happens in the movies.
Don’t be afraid to wear HP gear: You’ll see tons of people there wearing robes, Harry Potter quote t-shirts, or Gryffindor scarves. You better believe I wore my Hogwarts hat all day. Flaunt it.
Listen closely to what the employees say: I was tickled when the cashier asked me “Muggle cash or muggle card?” Also, I love that the workers who enforce the more difficult rules in the park (like how you have to put your things in a locker before riding the Forbidden Journey) all wear Prefect badges.
Other Favorite Attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood
Since Harry Potter World is relatively small, you might have a hard time spending all day there. But never fear, because there are a lot of other fun things to do at Universal Studios! Here are some of my favorites.
Transformers: The Ride 3D
This is my second favorite ride in the park, after the Forbidden Journey. It’s another virtual reality ride in which you’re in a car (aka a Transformer) and you have to return the AllSpark somewhere, all while battling the other Transformers. It feels so real and I can’t stop flinching the entire ride, but it’s so fun!
The Walking Dead Attraction
I was so excited to do this since I am a huge Walking Dead fan and it is brand new as of October 2016! It’s basically like a little walkthrough haunted house. Personally, I liked waiting in line the best, because the building is done with classic scenes from the show such as the “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” door. The walkthrough itself is pretty short and not very scary, but still cool since they use live actors as the zombies.
Jurassic Park the Ride
If you get sick of doing 3D virtual reality rides (they make me sick after a while), this is the one for you. It’s a water ride in a boat that takes you on a tour of Jurassic Park, ending in a huge drop. I’ve never gotten very wet on it, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that – this last time I even took my camera on the ride and it was totally fine.
Revenge of the Mummy
I’ve never seen the Mummy movies so the story of this ride doesn’t mean much to me, but it’s a really fun, fast roller coaster that goes backward down the track once it reaches the end.
Colby and I checked out this cute little show on this past trip because we had done everything else, and we were pleasantly surprised! Most of the dogs, cats, and birds in this performance are actual animal actors in movies – we saw Draco Malfoy’s owl from the Harry Potter movies and the dog from The Proposal – and they are so well trained! It’s the cutest show with the cutest animals.
Go on a tour of Hollywood! You’ll see the studios where they film shows like The Mindy Project and the real sets from things like Jaws and Desperate Housewives. I’m not a fan of the 3D experiences they try to incorporate into this to make it more exciting, but it’s cool to see all the behind-the-scenes movie making stuff. Just be aware that the line for this is usually pretty long and the tour takes about an hour, so it will eat into your time in the park.
If you made it to the end of this, congratulations and thanks for reading! Have you ever been to Harry Potter World or Universal Studios? What were your favorite parts?