Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Down the Street, Around the Corner to....WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER at Universal Studios

In a way, this is a new "series" called "Down the street around the corner".  These blog posts are going to cover things that aren't directly Disneyland (or even Disney.  Scandalous, I know) but are also places and activities to enjoy in the Southern California area (and perhaps beyond).

And let's just start off with a bang....I went to Universal Studios Hollywood to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before its official opening on April 7th, 2016.

A little background, I LOVE Harry Potter.  I'm one of those people who grew up with it and it means a heck of a lot to me.  Please, no follow up questions or I'll cry.  Can anyone email me a hanky? I went to see the new addition with my mother, also a Harry Potter lover, and my sister, April, who is newly converted to the faith.  So with any hope, we can give you an idea of what's up before you brave the certain insanity that will ensue when the area officially opens.

That being said, we're not...Universal people.  This was only my 5th trip to the park, and my mother's first.  It was a similar feeling to the first time I entered the Magic Kingdom at WDW in 2007, familiar yet different.

Ta-da!  Yes, that's my Back to the Future shirt (yeah, I still protest the removal of the ride. Still.)

For the expedient shopper, there is a store near the entrance with a decent variety of Harry Potter merchandise.  It's not comprehensive, but there were a few things I didn't see in WWoHP itself.  Also, if you didn't dress for the occasion and panic, go grab something in there. 

Quick, someone play the theme to Harry Potter! Oh, I don't have the budget for that, never mind. 

The area is incredibly....perfect.  The details are expansive as well as minute.  Almost ridiculous.  A monument to the art of theme park design.  How it rivals Disney, I don't know that I can say.  It's a tough call.  A better comparison than Carsland will probably be Star Wars Land.  It's similar to Carsland in that feeling of stepping entirely into a different environment.  

One of the "criticisms" amongst theme park fans is that Carsland just isn't as beloved a franchise as, say, Harry Potter.  The level of detail is definitely similar, but it is that affection I feel sets WWoHP apart.  I could really go on at length for the emotions it created in us all.  The highest praise I can give is how WWoHP elicits the feeling that you are stepping physically into the books, heart and soul. 

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 

OK, here is where we have to have a more serious conversation (sprinkled with pictures so we all at least finish happy).  Warning #1, outside of the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you will be required to sit in an example ride vehicle to ensure you are fit to ride the attraction.  This is for your safety, don't complain.  And if you do not pass muster, I don't know that you should feel too bad.  Universal has put so much into the queue, that they certainly allow everyone to go through it.

And THEN, there is the ride itself.  Take a Dramamine before you ride it.  The premise is that Hermione (using fabulous projection technology) enchants your seats so that you can fly with your Hogwarts friends. Which is all well and good, 3-D screens and all, until you meet a few...challenges.

Let me just preface this with the confession that I'm kind of a wimp.  I also have rampant arachnophobia.  

See where this may be going?

As you're flying through Hogwarts, you encounter a dragon, and you transition from the screens to an "actual" dragon.  Kind of scary, but no more than the T-Rex in the Jurassic Park attraction.... But once you recover from that, then come the spiders.  I knew about these in advance, so I closed my eyes...and the attraction momentarily stopped right in that section.  Needless to say, some very adult language ensued between my sister and myself as we hoped to God we wouldn't have to be evacuated because I was going to have to do it blind! (Or literally die of fright...)

We were only stuck for a moment or two, then once you get away from the spiders (after it spits venom at you.  Thanks, Universal.) you are on the Quidditch pitch in the middle of a game...but then come the Dementors.  If you want an idea of my depth of love for the series, I started yelling at them to leave Harry alone.  I'm not sure if that counts as a psychotic break, but if it is, let's just keep it between us, ok?

But...of course.... then you get "real" Dementors.  Right in your face.  We were two grown adults screaming.  Why, Universal? Why? What did we do to you? 

Technologically, it's a fantastic ride.  But can't I just ride with my Harry Potter friends without being threatened with psychological torture? Wasn't reading the books depressing and terrifying enough? 

Three Broomsticks

So, once we recovered (BTW, no soda in the area.  JK Rowling's orders.  There is a small shop just outside the land that sells bottled sodas.  Go grab one before you ride Forbidden Journey), it was time to sample the pub fare of Three Broomsticks.

 Here is the beef stew, with a salad (and a great raspberry vinaigrette).

The chicken which came with potatoes and corn. 

The Sunday Roast with Yorkshire pudding. 

Dessert: Sticky toffee

Butterbeer potted cream (with my sister as the lovely hand model!)

Strawberry and chocolate trifle got short changed mainly because ALL the food was so good, and it was the third dessert we tried.  

Honestly, there wasn't a bad piece of food here.  Not your usual theme park food, a plus, but still so good, tasted bold and freshly prepared. 

And the promised land...BUTTERBEER.  Now, I thought I was going to lose my mind and cry when I entered WWoHP.  Nope, I was relatively calm.  It was the butterbeer that brought a tear to my eye. It's one of those things that is so tied to the series, in such a day-to-day fashion, I think the added sense of taste was more than my mind could handle.  It was exactly what I imagined all those years ago when I first read the books over 15 years ago.

The Three Broomsticks as a building is just a continued triumph of theme park design (I keep almost saying Imagineering!).  Every detail was just beautiful and perfect.  I'm almost afraid of overstating its perfection. 


The shopping itself is varied, of course.  There are just shops ALL over.  Honeydukes for candy, Ollivanders for wands (give me a second and I'll elaborate), the Owl Post, it's all there.  Much of it functions like the Main Street Emporium, with open doorways between shops, but different (accurate) themes within each individual "shop".  Or would it be Ye Old Shoppes, in this case? Hmm..

OK, Ollivanders.  Now, it wasn't really possible to take pictures inside, and I don't want to spoil it anyway, but go ahead and get in line for the experience.  It's part of the Harry Potter baggage and entirely worth it.  I was going to say if you're less than familiar, don't bother...but if you aren't familiar with the material, please...just get out. Or I'll use the wand I bought on you.
Yes, I bought a wand.  You have the option of regular and interactive (though the "regular" wand is only as interactive as your imagination, kids).  The interactive wands, when waved at certain windows through WWoHP, makes magic happen. Also, you have the option of wands specific to a character (I got Hermione), or general wands not connected to a specific character.  The wands are of a fantastic quality, but $39.99 for regular, a little more for interactive.  You can tell I didn't pay much mind to the interactive, right?

If your kid is interested in getting a wand, hold out and do it here.  I'm glad I did.  It comes in a great box and a bag that SAYS Ollivander's on it.  It brings that part of the experience to life.  Again, it's the side experiences you can't underestimate.

Flight of the Hippogriff

And, the second attraction in the land, Flight of the Hippogriff.  If Disney wants to up their game, they need to look at this attraction and Gadget's Go Coaster, which could certainly use some love.  THIS ride is the goal.  It is just a simple mini-coaster, but your vehicle is a woven basket-like hippogriff and as you pull out of the station, you bow to Buckbeak the Hippogriff himself, an impressive animatronic if I ever saw one.  I was truly blown away.  

Miscellaneous and Conclusions

One thing I didn't get pictures of but saw often enough were the performers right near Hogwarts.  Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students as well as a Hogwarts choir (complete with frogs) could be found quite regularly. I know in Orlando, they have a puppet version of The Tale of the Three Brothers from Deathly Hallows, but perhaps that's soon to come.  I certainly hope so. 

Overall, I'm impressed.  Wizarding World is truly the place my little wizarding heart has yearned for since my grandmother first lent me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I could do without the terror of Forbidden Journey, and the crowds sure to come, but I would certainly go again...once my sister finishes the books and movies.  

We didn't explore the rest of the park much, but we DID go into Springfield and take the tram tour.  If I get enough comments....any comments as a matter of fact, I can cover those for you all, as well.

Have a Happy Week! 

*waves wand* Mischief managed.....

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