Literary Tourism: LA's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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.

 [image description: A large stone archway that serves as the entrance to Harry Potter World, aka a replica of Hogsmeade. There are tall, (fake) snow-covered shops in the background and a bunch of tourists gathering around the entrance.]

[image description: A large stone archway that serves as the entrance to Harry Potter World, aka a replica of Hogsmeade. There are tall, (fake) snow-covered shops in the background and a bunch of tourists gathering around the entrance.]

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.

 [image description: Me and my best friend Ethan standing in the archway to Hogsmeade. I’m a white female in a white t-shirt and he’s a tall white male in a black t-shirt. We’re hugging and have our arms wrapped around each other and smiling at the camera.]

[image description: Me and my best friend Ethan standing in the archway to Hogsmeade. I’m a white female in a white t-shirt and he’s a tall white male in a black t-shirt. We’re hugging and have our arms wrapped around each other and smiling at the camera.]

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.

 [image description: My best friend, Ethan, and his partner, Kyle, in front of the archway to Hogsmeade. Kyle is a white man wearing white shorts and a blue Jurassic Park shirt and he and Ethan have their arms around each other and are smiling at the camera. The sun is above them and the rays, which are visible in the photo, are shining down on them.]

[image description: My best friend, Ethan, and his partner, Kyle, in front of the archway to Hogsmeade. Kyle is a white man wearing white shorts and a blue Jurassic Park shirt and he and Ethan have their arms around each other and are smiling at the camera. The sun is above them and the rays, which are visible in the photo, are shining down on them.]

Alllllll abooooooard!

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.

 [image description: a photo of me and the conductor of the Hogwarts Express (an actor, though I wish it were so!). He’s a tall white man in a brown suit and red vest with a brown boxy hat. He has one arm around my shoulder and the other is saluting the camera. I’m standing beside him wearing jeans and a white shirt that says “Hogwarts Alumni” and sandals. We’re standing in front of the train and smiling at the camera.]

[image description: a photo of me and the conductor of the Hogwarts Express (an actor, though I wish it were so!). He’s a tall white man in a brown suit and red vest with a brown boxy hat. He has one arm around my shoulder and the other is saluting the camera. I’m standing beside him wearing jeans and a white shirt that says “Hogwarts Alumni” and sandals. We’re standing in front of the train and smiling at the camera.]

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.

 [image description: The huge, stately Hogwarts castle in all its glory––turrets, bridges, spires, and all––with the morning sun shining large in the background.]

[image description: The huge, stately Hogwarts castle in all its glory––turrets, bridges, spires, and all––with the morning sun shining large in the background.]

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.

 [image description: Inside Ollivander’s Wand Shop, there are several walls that are packed floor to ceiling with wand boxes. The wand boxes are long and thin and the boxes are red, yellow, blue, gray, and brown. They all have labels and stickers to seal them, though they’re too small for me to read, so I don’t know what they say. Sorry!]

[image description: Inside Ollivander’s Wand Shop, there are several walls that are packed floor to ceiling with wand boxes. The wand boxes are long and thin and the boxes are red, yellow, blue, gray, and brown. They all have labels and stickers to seal them, though they’re too small for me to read, so I don’t know what they say. Sorry!]

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.

 [image description: A life-size replica of Hagrid’s Hut. It’s a circular stone dwelling with stained glass windows and a large stone entrance with stone steps. The roof slopes upward steeply and has a long spire.]

[image description: A life-size replica of Hagrid’s Hut. It’s a circular stone dwelling with stained glass windows and a large stone entrance with stone steps. The roof slopes upward steeply and has a long spire.]

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.

 [image description: Me standing in front of the gates of the Hogwarts castle. There are tall black gates with large columns on either side, each with a statue of a boar with massive outstretched wings. The castle looms large in the background. I’m smiling at the camera and have one hand on my hip.]

[image description: Me standing in front of the gates of the Hogwarts castle. There are tall black gates with large columns on either side, each with a statue of a boar with massive outstretched wings. The castle looms large in the background. I’m smiling at the camera and have one hand on my hip.]

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.

 [image description: The Mirror of Erised. It’s a floor length mirror in an ornate gold stand. There are cobwebs at the top.]

[image description: The Mirror of Erised. It’s a floor length mirror in an ornate gold stand. There are cobwebs at the top.]

I saw the Mirror of Erised!

 [image description: The Hogwarts house point counter. There are 4 large glass vials, each filed with stones in the color of each of the four Hogwarts houses. Gryffindor (red) has the most, followed by Slytherin (green), Hufflepuff (yellow/brown), and Ravenclaw (blue).

[image description: The Hogwarts house point counter. There are 4 large glass vials, each filed with stones in the color of each of the four Hogwarts houses. Gryffindor (red) has the most, followed by Slytherin (green), Hufflepuff (yellow/brown), and Ravenclaw (blue).

And the Hogwarts house point counter thingys!

 [image description: large, gold phoenix statue surrounded by a circular wall. It’s the famed entrance to Dumbledore’s office. The phoenix’s wings are curved around to mirror the curve of the wall and the bird stares straight ahead, beak slightly open.]

[image description: large, gold phoenix statue surrounded by a circular wall. It’s the famed entrance to Dumbledore’s office. The phoenix’s wings are curved around to mirror the curve of the wall and the bird stares straight ahead, beak slightly open.]

And the door to Dumbledore’s office!

 [image description: a massive wall filled from floor to ceiling with framed portraits, some of which move and talk! The portraits are various shapes, including oval and rectangle, and are a mix of men and women, mostly in old styles, like Victorian and before.]

[image description: a massive wall filled from floor to ceiling with framed portraits, some of which move and talk! The portraits are various shapes, including oval and rectangle, and are a mix of men and women, mostly in old styles, like Victorian and before.]

And the stairwell with all the living paintings!

 [image description: A portrait of The Fat Lady (JK Rowling’s words, not mine) who guards the Gryffindor common room. She asks for passwords for entrance. It’s a tall portrait of a woman in a white dress holding a glass of wine and with grapes in her hair. Her dress and the painting are Greek in style.]

[image description: A portrait of The Fat Lady (JK Rowling’s words, not mine) who guards the Gryffindor common room. She asks for passwords for entrance. It’s a tall portrait of a woman in a white dress holding a glass of wine and with grapes in her hair. Her dress and the painting are Greek in style.]

And the portrait of the Fat Lady that’s the entrance to the Gryffindor common room!

 [image description: A corner of the Gryffindor common room. It’s dark and difficult to see, but there are old looking paintings on the walls, including one of a unicorn. There’s also a mantle above the fireplace with a lamp, radio, and camera resting on top. Beside that, there are two small, low tables with piles of books and letters and another lantern.]

[image description: A corner of the Gryffindor common room. It’s dark and difficult to see, but there are old looking paintings on the walls, including one of a unicorn. There’s also a mantle above the fireplace with a lamp, radio, and camera resting on top. Beside that, there are two small, low tables with piles of books and letters and another lantern.]

And the inside of the Gryffindor common room!

 [image description: Three small alcoves with the sorting hat on a pedestal in the middle with lamps on either side illuminating it. The sorting hat is a brown, pointy “witch” hat with a scowling face made by the hat’s wrinkles.]

[image description: Three small alcoves with the sorting hat on a pedestal in the middle with lamps on either side illuminating it. The sorting hat is a brown, pointy “witch” hat with a scowling face made by the hat’s wrinkles.]

And the sorting hat! Which actually talked!

 [image description: The ceiling of the Hogwarts great hall with its floating candles glimmering overhead. This is the point where people actually get on the ride, so there aren’t any long tables here like there are in the great hall in the movies/books.]

[image description: The ceiling of the Hogwarts great hall with its floating candles glimmering overhead. This is the point where people actually get on the ride, so there aren’t any long tables here like there are in the great hall in the movies/books.]

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.

I'm Still Mad About the Ending of You've Got Mail

I'm Still Mad About the Ending of You've Got Mail

Writing Update: My Essay "Grape Leaves" was Published in The Rumpus!

Writing Update: My Essay "Grape Leaves" was Published in The Rumpus!