Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood: Tips & Guide
Disclosure: I received complimentary park tickets to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. All opinions, photos, travel, lodging, meals and tips are honest and my own!
When “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in April I was across the country in Orlando, at the other “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”. I couldn’t wait to get back home to California to experience our shiny new Hogsmead first-hand. I was able to visit as a guest of Universal a couple of weeks ago - just in time to kick off my month-long birthday celebration!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood is a Potterhead’s dream come true. As a first time visitor to Universal Studios Hollywood, I was easily distracted by everything as soon as we walked into the park and almost didn’t notice Hogwarts Castle to my right. Almost. Once I stopped staring at Donkey and hugging on Shrek I ran towards it. It was glorious.
I visited Universal Studios Hollywood with my friend Beth of My Adventures in Disneyland and her son. We were all so excited that as soon as we stepped foot into Hogsmeade village we were transported into our favorite story and completely captivated. We lost each other for a few seconds because it was time for pictures and Butterbeer and shopping and magic wanding and riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey!
If you're easily distracted like me, you'll need a guide to make sure you don't miss a thing! I've put together a photo guide with tips to help you stay calm while you nerd-out at Hogsmeade.
Buy Tickets in Advance and Arrive Really Early
When I say really early, I mean like before the park opens. (Hogsmeade was crowded less than an hour after it opened.) Buy your tickets in advance online and have them ready. From the parking garage you will walk through Universal CityWalk and security before reaching the park entrance. (It's about 10 minutes total.) As soon as you enter the park, walk straight ahead towards Shrek and look for Hogwarts Castle to guide you into the Hogsmeade entrance.
The Hogwarts Express is located at the entry of Hogsmeade. You can find real Hogwarts Express luggage from the films inside the train stations photo booth.
The Hogwarts Express conductor happily welcomed me to Hogsmeade.
Stay Focused and Head Straight to Hogwarts Castle to Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This part is tricky. When you walk in you've got the conductor waving to you, and all the shops and details are screaming for you to look and touch them. But you have to stay focused and get on the ride before the lines are too long. Or, you can ride Single Rider, utilize Child Switch, or purchase a Front of Line Ticket. Either way, I think this needs to be stop #1 because it's awesome.
Hogwarts Castle is beyond gorgeous. The details were expertly captured and brought to life. The queue is insane - inside and out - but especially inside where it's dark and perfect.
Take ALL the pictures! Remember: the earlier you get there, the less random people in your photos.
Keep your eyes on the Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardry sign. (The one I'm leaning on in the pic above.) It does magic!
Once inside Hogwarts castle, you will see so many familiar places in the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, including:
Mirror of Erised
Professor Sprout’s Herbology class and a selection of baby Mandrakes
The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom
Fat Lady portrait
- Gryffindor Common Room
Look at everything! There are so many amazing details! The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom is my favorite. It features the actual desks from the movie!
The ride itself is one of the best dark rides I've ever been on. It's a bit different than the one in Orlando. This one is in 3D-HD (you get to wear Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles) and it felt like it had an extra dip. Maybe I'm crazy - but it felt different to me and my stomach and I loved it!
The Forbidden Journey features a groundbreaking robotic ride system that takes you through memorable movie scenes that include a Quidditch match, a dragon attack, Dementors and the Whomping Willow. It's rad.
Visit Hagrid at Flight of the Hippogriff
Ok, you won't really see Hagrid, but you will see a Hippogriff animatronic. On your way to a Hippogriff training flight, you'll see and hear the Care of Magical Creatures grounds and walk by Hagrid’s pumpkin patch and Hut. You'll hear Fang bark and see the actual motorbike from the movie.
This is a very short, family-friendly coaster. Perfect for the kids who were patient in the Child Switch room while you were on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
After the Rides, Go Buy an Interactive Wand at Ollivanders
The "wand chooses the wizard" interactive show at Ollivanders has a line that grows fast. It was 90 minutes the morning I was there. Having done it once, I can tell you that I didn't need to wait in line to do it again. It is worth seeing at least once if you're interested in witnessing the Wandkeepers magic, or if you have a child that really hopes to be chosen. Only one person from the audience is chosen, however, so keep that in mind. Skip the line and go into the actual store via the side door by the Buterbeer cart. It will be crowded. It's so cool you won't care.
Traditional and interactive wands are available for purchase inside Ollivanders and outside at a wand cart. (The wand cart has a limited supply.) Have fun wand shopping! Choose a unique one or one modeled after your favorite character. I LOVE this store and couldn't decide on a wand because there are so many pretty ones. I wanted about 5.
The $50.00 interactive wands that operate the many magical windows throughout the land come with a map that leads to those enchanted spots where actual spells (explained via brass plates in the cobblestones) can be used to perform magic.
Buy a Butterbeer and Walk Around the Land Soaking it All In
Now that you've been on the rides and performed magic, you've earned a Butterbeer. Butterbeer is sold at two outdoor carts, Three Broomsticks and Hog's Head pub. I prefer the frozen version, which tastes creamier and is the perfect texture.
Buy the Butterbeer souvenir stein once with regular (not frozen) Butterbeer for $11.99 and refill to your heart's content at $5.99. (Regular Butterbeer is $1 less than frozen. Buy regular first, refill with frozen later.)
Then begin your walking tour of Hogsmeade, stopping for photos and soaking in every little bit of the atmosphere. If you pay close attention you'll even hear Moaning Myrtle in the restroom.
If you're looking for something a little stronger to drink step into Hogs Head pub to chase down the non-alcoholic Butterbeer with a wizard cocktail, wine or craft beer. I had the Pear Dazzle (pear cider and vodka) which was delicious. The pub features original beers and spirits created specifically for the land. Grab a drink and head back out to look at the window displays and snow covered roofs.
Eat at Three Broomsticks
First of all, this is the ONLY place on Earth that I know of where you can get Butterbeer cream pudding. Second of all, the theming is outrageous. You will feel like you're really in a rustic tavern. The English fare (tasted and approved by JKR herself) includes breakfast and traditional items such as Bangers & Mash. I had the Fish & Chips meal which was delicious. By now you too should be ready for lunch, so enjoy your meal either inside (a server will help you find a table) or outside in the covered area. The wait for breakfast was exceptionally long, so if you plan to have breakfast there know that the land might be pretty crowded by the time you're done.
Shop Like a Wizard
Time to walk off your meal by doing a little shopping. By now you've already been in Ollivanders wand shop, but there are so many more Harry Potter themed things to buy! There are 8 shops total in the land, each with unique gifts and items you'll definitely want to take home.
Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods – Pick up a Golden Snitch, Hogwarts house clothing, scarves, leather journals, etc.
Wizeacre’s Wizarding Equipment – Hogwarts house robes, telescopes, binoculars, armillary spheres, compasses, magnifying glasses and hourglasses. House clothes and accessories and the iconic Platform Nine andThree-Quarters and Hogwarts Express train inspired items.
Gladrags Wizardwear – Apparel, hats, accessories and jewelry, as well as house Robes, ties and jumpers. Prop replicas from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are on display here. This is where I bough the classic striped scarf style.
There are also carts in the village with chips, Pumpkin Juice, Gilly Water, beer and fruit cups.
The Owl Post - This is where you can mail postcards and letters with a “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” stamp, postmarked from Hogsmeade! The perfect and most affordable surprise "souvenir" you can send someone. Perched above are awaiting owls, while the window displays a Howler – a magical letter that can be heard shrieking its message before shredding itself into pieces. I love this area! It's perfect for taking a rest and the fans really help cool you down. My friend Beth mentioned that this is a fantastic spot for special needs kids who need space, rest and time to relax away from the crowd.
Zonko’s Joke Shop – Sheer craziness and joy! Features novelty items, jokes and toys for the Malfoys in your life.
Honeydukes - The best candy shop ever! I wanted to taste all the pastries and treats. Filled with sweets including Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs (which contain a wizard trading card in each box), Honeydukes is beyond cute. It's bright, colorful and smells like heaven.
Dervish and Banges – General store that offers school supplies for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry students. Watch out for The Monster Book of Monsters!
Look up! The details are EVERYWHERE. I'm claustrophobic so I look up at the ceilings often and these are the most elaborately decorated ceilings I've ever seen!
Watch a Performance
Just in front of Hogwarts Castle there's a stage where shows take place throughout the day. My favorite was the Triwizard Spirit Rally performed by Durmstrang and Beauxbaton students. There's also a Frogs' Choir that performs daily.
You Have to Come Back to Hogsmeade at Night Before You Leave
After enjoying the rest of your day at Universal Studios Hollywood (there is SO much to see, do and eat!) come back to Hogsmeade. The recreated village looks absolutely magical in the evening. Also, it tends to be a little less crowded near park closing.
Hogwarts Castle during the blue hour is a sight to behold. It is as if more details come to life once you can see the twinkle of the lights. I fell in love with Hogwarts all over again. This is the perfect opportunity to hop on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey one more time. Use that single rider line!
Just in front of Three Broomsticks restaurant you'll find Harry Potter's Godfather, Sirius Black, in his Azkaban mugshot photo. The photo is animated but can be hard to see during the day because of the sun. Cruise by again in the evening for a good look and a clear photo/video.
Our visit to Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood was outstanding. I can't wait to go back! If you're a fan of Harry Potter, theme parks, awesomeness, magic or fun - you have to add this to your bucket list. I look forward to (hopefully) watching this land expand over time. You can never have too much magic.