By Charly SHELTON
A few weeks ago, we gave you an inside look at the design and creation of the new Universal Studios Hollywood expansion, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you missed it, check the Feb 25 issue of CV Weekly; it’s worth a read. But that is all the behind the scenes stuff. Let’s talk about what you, the park guest, will experience when you go visit the magical land.
The Wizarding World is built in the heart of the upper lot, on the former site of the Gibson Amphitheater, between Universal Plaza and Springfield. Based on the Harry Potter books and films, this new area transports guests to Hogsmeade, the little Scottish village just outside the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The roofs are all slanted and the doors aren’t straight, evidence of many a long century serving the magical inhabitants of the school, and nestled under a gentle layer of snow. The town eatery, and only restaurant in the new land, is The Three Broomsticks. This beautiful pub serves not only classic pub food but also has the innate charm of a well-loved public house in the highlands of Scotland: burn marks from decades of soot over the fireplace, deep, wooden booths in the back for private conversations, low beams and a high vaulted ceiling that shows shadows of other guests of the inn as they fly in on broomsticks or have mail delivered by owl. The attention to detail and the authentic feeling of this restaurant sweep you away making you believe you are in a magical world.
And to top it off, the food is great. I personally sampled the bangers and mash with minted peas, classic pub food, and the beef, lamb and Guinness stew. The bangers were pretty good, but the stew was amazing. Not sure I wanted to eat all this and then go on a ride, but if you eat first you’ll be fine.
I was not that smart. I got a glass of the land’s signature drink, butterbeer, right before I went on a ride. The butterbeer is really good but really sweet. It’s like a dozen Peeps marshmallows and one Werther’s Original butterscotch candy dissolved in soda water and topped with sweetened whipped cream. That sounds weird but it all works out well, and limiting yourself to only one glass is a challenge. But in my infinite wisdom, I got a glass right before getting on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the new “E” ticket attraction in the Wizarding World.
So I got to experience the butterbeer twice. I didn’t fully throw up but I came close. The ride is a lot of fun and I ended up going on it twice, and it made me sick both times. The technology it employs is amazing and the blending of projected video screens (like the Simpsons ride) with real sets and animatronics (like the Jurassic Park ride) gives you a unique feeling of being actually in the world and experiencing things that you wouldn’t expect.
Flying on an enchanted bench from the Great Hall, guests are whisked off on a magical journey following Harry Potter and the other characters from the films as they battle a dragon, the Whomping Willow, giant spiders, Dementors and more. It’s one of the most technically sophisticated rides in the world and it is guaranteed to impress any guest. Unfortunately one of the ride types they employ – the video motion simulator, like The Simpsons ride, its predecessor the Back to the Future ride, and the Disney motion simulators Soarin’ Over California and Star Tours – always gets me. Transformers the Ride is easier to handle so if you are like me and unsure of your ability, start on Transformers and, if you can handle that, move to the bigger guns at Forbidden Journey.
If you’re good to go or borderline able to handle it, go for it. It’s worth it. If you are afraid you might expecto your Patronum all over your wizard robes, the Flight of the Hippogriff is a family-friendly coaster with an awesome Hippogriff animatronic. This is good for kids … and people like me.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is something that many of my friends and colleagues grew up dreaming about: getting a letter to attend Hogwarts and commanding magic to save the day. This is deeply meaningful for a lot of people. You don’t see too many people walking through Universal Plaza clutching a wand and openly weeping with joy, but you do in Wizarding World. Being able to buy a wand in Ollivander’s and then interacting with parts of the land by doing magic spells with a specialty wand can bring out the child in any fan of the series.
Universal Studios Hollywood’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opens on April 7.