Magic experiences to be had at Harry Potter World in Universal
Snow-covered pubs and a grand, towering castle aren’t sights you’d expect to see in sunny Los Angeles.
But then, Universal Studios has been delivering the unexpected for decades - and turning fantasy into reality. Now, after more than five years in the making, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood has opened its enchanted gates to record-breaking success.
J.K. Rowling’s books and the wildly successful movies have been brought to life in an immersive experience that’ll place the global legion of Potter fans into the heart of the magical stories that have become an iconic cornerstone in entertainment culture - and a worldwide phenomenon.
To be part of Potter’s world, you will first pass the magnificent Hogwarts Express train (a perfect photo opportunity) as you enter the picturesque village of Hogsmeade, the hub of wizard life.
The Hogwarts Express train
Pick up a chocolate frog at Honeydukes sweet shop, or gruesome tools for mischief at Zonko’s Joke Shop (or an inflatable tongue...or even a pygmy puff).
You don’t need to know the books inside out to enjoy this place, but if you are a Potter expert who knows your horcrux from your howler, you’ll never want to leave. The attention to detail here is mind-blowing. Nothing is overlooked.
The rides are nothing short of magical. There’s two thrilling ones for adrenaline junkies to experience.
First off, join Harry, Ron and Hermione on The Forbidden Journey, a ride featuring groundbreaking 3D technology. You’ll take to the skies on your broomstick and venture across the grounds of Hogwarts Castle, through the forbidden forest - and even battle terrifying dementors. The ride is suitable for most ages, but I was terrified at several parts. This is one heck of a thrill - you’ll be desperate to ride it again and again, though it will get no less fearful, even after numerous attempts.
Those who’ve been to the Wizarding World in Orlando will notice a few differences with The Forbidden Journey, including extra scenes and the move into 3D.
Here, the queue is part of the ride experience as you wind your way through Hogwarts Castle towards the ride. Passing through classrooms and corridors filled with real props from the movie franchise, there’s plenty of interactive elements to keep the kids entertained. It’s a credit to Universal Studios that it turns even the most tedious part of a theme park into a fascinating Hollywood experience.
Secondly, there’s The Flight of the Hippogriff (below), the first outdoor rollercoaster within Universal Studios Hollywood.
It’s a family-friendly ride that picks up some speed as you soar through the air, and takes in some of the best views of the Hollywood hills. So try your best not to close your eyes.
I try to avoid using the cliche of saying something will be suitable for anyone aged from 1 to 100, but it’s hard to imagine there being anybody who wouldn’t be spellbound by the Wizarding World, regardless of age or their knowledge of the Potter universe.
You could easily get lost within Hogsmeade for the whole day, but be sure to leave time to explore the rest of Universal Studios Hollywood.
Our man takes a well-earned break
Since opening in 1912, some of the biggest films and TV series of all time have been filmed here, including Dracula, Desperate Housewives and Indiana Jones. The studios are still functioning today and visitors can take a fascinating tour of the sets and dive into Hollywood history.
Then of course there’s the pulse-pounding thrill rides; venture to Ancient Egypt in Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, where you escape Imhotep at whirlwind speeds in almost complete darkness. It’s a personal favourite of mine.
It’s easy to see why Universal Studios Hollywood has been rightfully dubbed ‘the entertainment capital of L.A’, though I’d struggle to think of anywhere on the planet that would thrill film fantatics, adrenaline junkies and sun worshippers so equally.
After a day of travelling through Hogwarts, Springfield (home to The Simpsons), Ancient Egypt and Jurassic Park, you’ll be exhausted. And there is plenty of luxury and affordable accommodation near Universal Studios. Sheraton Universal offers spacious rooms with all the luxuries and amenities you could conjure up to make your stay as perfect as possible. The hotel pool is a great place to grab a drink and unwind after a full day of thrill-seeking.
Outside of Universal, L.A. has plenty to offer. It’s a vibrant place full of unique characters and a landscape that ticks all boxes; there’s mountains, beaches and a bustling city.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Los Angeles is the city that gets its beauty sleep in order to wake up the next day even more stunning, glamorous and utterly bizarre than the day before.
And now it’s got that touch of extra magic thanks to Mr Potter, the biggest star in all of Hollywood.
- I travelled to L.A. with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin flies twice daily from London Heathrow to L.A. with return economy flights starting from €730pp. See www.virginatlantic.com.
- I stayed at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, www.sheratonuniversal.com. Rooms from $249.
- A one-day Universal Studios Hollywood ticket is €84 (adult) and €79 (child). Skip-the-lines to go behind the scenes with a VIP experience for €356pp. To book visit www.attractionticketsdirect.ie. For further information: www.universalstudioshollywood.com.
By Jon Hornbuckle