The doors to Hogwarts’ LA campus were flung open last week at the grand unveiling of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests both magical and muggle-born graced the red carpet, which stretched from the park entrance to the gates of Hogsmeade. Steven Spielberg, Billy Bob Thornton, Mindy Kaling and The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero were all on hand to raise a flagon of butterbeer, while series stars Tom Felton, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch and James and Oliver Phelps were on hand to add a little Potter authenticity to the occasion. Empire experienced the grand Hollywood opening first hand and here are a few of the things we learned…
John Williams knows how to put on a show
Hollywood’s king of composers made an appearance at the event, conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in an impressive Potter performance. Set against the backdrop of Hogwarts Castle, the orchestra performed a selection of themes from the series’ score while Griffindor lions, Slytherin snakes and assorted other pyrotechnics were projected onto School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry’s walls. The whole display was so impressive that it seems a shame not to make it a regular part of the attraction, rather than a one-off for the launch. You can watch some highlights from the performance below.
It’s Hogsmeade, but not as you know it
If you’ve made it out to Universal Studios Florida then you’ll already be familiar with the park’s recreation of Hogsmeade, complete with Dervish and Bange’s wizarding supplies, Honeyduke’s sweet shop and Ollivander’s wand emporium. It’s been replicated almost brick-for-brick at the Hollywood site, but with a few noteworthy differences. Ollivander’s has its own building and a far larger stock of wands (including a few of the Draco Malfoy variety signed by Tom Felton and stashed amongst the shelves). Where the locker room sits in Orlando, Hollywood sports a Hogwarts Express photo experience, where you can pose for the camera in a booth aboard the famous train – on the very same fabric seats that Hermione, Harry and Ron sat on in the films. Other props from the films are also scattered about, including a trio of familiar sweeping implements mounted on the wall of The Three Broomsticks. A new side-street and a number of new shop facades, such as Gladrags Wizardwear, can also be spotted by the eagle-eyed, but the essential Hogsmeade experience, with interactive windows activated by specially designed wands, remains just as enchanting as the Florida incarnation.
Hippogriffs fly faster in California
Child-friendly ride Flight Of The Hippogriff makes a triumphant return and enjoys special status as Universal Hollywood’s only outdoor rollercoaster. Those turning their nose up at a kids’ ride would do well to try it first, however, as the LA Hippogriff seemed noticeably faster than its East coast variant. The sun clearly brings out the best in these feathered beasts.
The Forbidden Forest looks better in 3D
The Wizarding World’s main attraction is, without doubt, The Forbidden Journey, a flying ride that takes you through the heart of Hogwarts, into the Forbidden Forest, past dragons and dementors and even into the second half of a championship Quidditch match. Unlike Florida, however, Universal Hollywood’s ride has been overhauled with the addition of 3D footage (complete with Quidditch goggle-styled 3D glasses) making the aerial flight behind Harry and Ron’s broomsticks all the more elating. Arachnophobes take note, though, there are more spiders in the forest this time around. And dementors, too.
Queues aren’t just for waiting
The biggest drag of any theme park is standing in line to wait your turn and the queues at LA’s Wizarding World are epic indeed (Potter fans were camping outside the park two days prior to the attraction’s opening). But the lines that snake through Hogwarts’ passages provide more than just anticipatory agony. The paintings on the walls will engage you in conversation (Salazar Slytherin and Dawn French’s The Fat Lady are particular highlights), a holographic Dumbledore invites you into his study and even the Sorting Hat does its level best to keep you entertained while you file down the corridors (mainly by exhorting you to secure any loose items). Be sure to pause a moment in the classroom as well: Harry, Ron and Hermione appear to set the scene and lay the groundwork for the ride’s story.
It’s all about the little things…
Whether it’s pulling a pint of Dragonscale Lager at The Hog's Head or having fake owl poo fall on your head in the Owl Post Office, it’s the attention to detail that really sells the attraction. Use the facilities in Hogsmeade and you’ll find your ablutions interrupted by the sound of Moaning Myrtle being characteristically glum. You can see troupes from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang mingling with Hogwarts students (not to mention performing in the Triwizard Tournament), and spend a while in the Three Broomsticks and you might catch a glimpse of a certain house elf casting his shadow on the wall. Lastly, if you fancy some cheap entertainment at the expense of the park’s long-suffering employees, sidle up to one of the wizards on duty and whisper “Voldemort” into their ear. Fun for all the family.
Tickets A one-day Universal Studios Hollywood ticket is priced from £62 per adult and £56 per child. The queue-free VIP experience is priced from £227 per person. To book visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk.
Flights Virgin Atlantic flies twice daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles with return Economy flights starting from £586 per person including all taxes and surcharges. For more information or to book visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 209 7777.
Hotel Sheraton Universal Hotel www.sheratonuniversal.com – rooms start at $249.00 for traditional guestrooms.