Literary Tourism: LA's Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I normally try to write from a cool, calm, intelligent place. But that’s not what you’re getting today.
Because when it comes to The Wizarding World, I have no chill.
IT WAS EVERY BIT AS FANTASTIC AS I’D ALWAYS HOPED IT WOULD BE!
And “always” here isn’t an exaggeration. One time, when I was 11 and I’d just finished reading Harry Potter for the first time, I broke down sobbing because I wanted so badly for Hogwarts to be real and it was like a sucker-punch to the heart to know it wasn’t.
Except, now, it kind of is.
And when I saw the gates of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios, I unleashed a stream of happy tears.
Tears not pictured. But my best friend, Ethan, is. We’ve been best friends since we were 5! I’m 28 now, so that’s about as long as I’ve been doing anything.
His partner/my friend, Kyle, was there with us. He actually works at Universal doing Halloween Horror Nights, so if you went to that, there’s a 99% chance he was one of the frights that jumped out to scare you.
The first stop is the Hogwarts Express. The conductor was adorable and even gave me some pointers on how to improve my north English accent. My London accent is pretty good––he even asked me what part of the motherland I was from, then looked surprised when I said Ohio.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep up the accent for the better part of the day.
The Hogwarts castle is all the way in the back of The Wizarding World, looming like a magnificent citadel. We got to the park early in the morning right when it opened (which I highly recommend) and I couldn’t help but swoon at seeing the sunrise over the alma mater of my heart.
After the Hogwarts Express, we went to Ollivander’s. Which I realize is in Diagon Alley, which the Hogwarts Express doesn’t travel to, but the park is kind of a hodgepodge of the Harry Potter world.
Ollivander’s isn’t a theme park ride, but rather an experience. Just look at all those wands waiting to choose wizards and witches.
Okay, so the actual experience part I couldn’t get a picture of because it was dark. BUT they take you into the shop for a wand fitting ceremony. They pull someone from the crowd and an actor––I mean, THE Mr. Ollivander himself––walks through a series of tests and spells to determine the perfect wand for that person.
It felt like opening Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you bow to the Queen) and falling right into the story.
When the wand fitting ceremony has concluded, you exit into the gift shop. I mean, Ollivander’s Wand Shop: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.
I went into it not knowing which wand I was going to get, but knowing I had to get one. They had various generic wands, such as ash wood, unicorn hair, fourteen inches. But they also had replicas of all the wands from the most popular characters in the book.
I decided to try the Ollivander’s approach and let the wand choose me. I picked up several character wands and the one that spoke to me was Professor Minerva McGonagall’s.
There are two actual rides at the LA Hogsmeade and one of them is Flight of the Hippogriff. Since Buckbeak the hippogriff was kept at Hagrid’s hut, you get to see it when you get in line. The ride itself includes an animatronic hippogriff, but I wasn’t about to film that and risk losing my phone on the coaster.
The other ride at the LA Hogsmeade is the Hogwarts ride. That was the real treat.
And the coolest thing is that the line to get on the Hogwarts ride was just as entertaining as the ride itself.
I saw the Mirror of Erised!
And the Hogwarts house point counter thingys!
And the door to Dumbledore’s office!
And the stairwell with all the living paintings!
And the portrait of the Fat Lady that’s the entrance to the Gryffindor common room!
And the inside of the Gryffindor common room!
And the sorting hat! Which actually talked!
And the last thing you see before the ride begins is the floating candles of the great hall.
The ride itself was, well, magical. Universal Studios being a movie studio meant that there were a lot of 3D/movie-like elements incorporated into the ride, including many of the favorite scenes from the books. Riders had an encounter with the Whomping Willow, got to chase the golden snitch, fight a death eater, escape a dragon, and more.
I will say, I was glad I visited the park on a day when very few people were there. Not just for the practical reason of not having to wait in line as long, but because out of the four times I rode the Hogwarts ride, it malfunctioned twice. It didn’t last long either time, but I would’ve been really disappointed if I’d waited in line for hours.
In addition to the wand, I bought several other souvenirs, including a Hogwarts snow globe, a time turner necklace, and a ceramic chocolate frog box.
And even though I normally have bad motion sickness, I was so high on adrenaline that I didn’t get sick. In short, it was the perfect day.