Twenty years ago the United States was introduced to the Dursleys, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Hermione, the Weasleys, and the boy wizard, Harry Potter. I didn’t even have kids at the time, but I was captivated by the story.
Fast forward to now, and my children are just as obsessed as I am with all things Potter. We’ve visited Universal Orlando twice, most recently just a few weeks before they opened the addition of Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express — talk about bad timing! Last summer we did the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London which includes some of the original sets, props and costumes from the Harry Potter films. And this summer we made the pilgrimage to Universal Hollywood to see their version of Hogsmeade and of course, indulge in some butterbeer!
Universal Hollywood added the Harry Potter world in 2016, knocking down the old Universal Amphitheatre to make room. As someone who attended concerts there during college, I have to say that it seriously bummed me out that the amphitheater had to be sacrificed to include this popular attraction. But I guess that’s what happens when you have limited space to use and growing demands from visitors to include more of the popular rides from Universal’s larger theme parks in Florida.
It’s hard not to compare Hollywood’s version of the Wizarding World to the original in Orlando. After all, they have the same name, they’re created by the same company, so why wouldn’t they be the same? Trust me when I say they’re not. For starters, Universal Hollywood is an actual working movie studio. The backlot tours started in 1964, and it wasn’t until 1991 when E.T.’s Adventure opened, that visitors could ride something other than the tram. Universal Orlando is basically two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has portions in both parks, meaning that to see it all, you’ll need a multi-park ticket.
So let’s start with what Hollywood got right: Hogwarts Castle is just as awesome as the original, the butterbeer and pumpkin juice are just as delicious, and you still get that magical sense of anticipation as soon as you pass under the entrance to Hogsmeade. Honeydukes and Zonko’s share a condensed space, but still offer plenty of unique treats like Lemon Sherbets (Dumbledore’s favorite), Chocolate Frogs, Extendable Ears and Pygmy Puffs. The Three Broomsticks had good food (including tasty vegan options) and great service, and the center stage attracted a crowd as students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons performed.
On the down side, there are only two rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (inside the castle) and Flight of the Hippogriff (near Hagrid’s Hut). The Forbidden Journey is such an awesome ride. Part of the fun is walking through the castle and into Dumbledore’s office, seeing the talking, moving pictures on the walls, walking through the greenhouses, and all the other details from the books and movies that come to life. Flight of the Hippogriff kind of pales in comparison. Especially since the wait to get on is way longer than the two-minute ride. (Okay, I didn’t time it, but it has to be one of the shortest roller coaster rides I’ve ever been on!)
I was disappointed that they didn’t include the Dragon Challenge roller coaster which we had ridden in Orlando, but then I heard that it had been closed in Orlando to make way for a new ride. Either way, the Los Angeles version of Hogsmeade is smaller and doesn’t feel as immersive as the original. There are plenty of stores to spend your money in (Ollivander’s, Dervish & Banges, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Gladrags Wizard Wear), but that made it feel more like a themed shopping center than a theme park. Also, the butterbeer ice cream they served at the Three Broomsticks wasn’t nearly as good as what we had at Warner Brothers in London. Just sayin’…
Of course, with the limited space they have at Universal Hollywood, it will be hard to ever measure up to Universal Orlando. That being said, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a nice addition to this landmark theme park, and if you can’t get to Florida, at least now you can satisfy your butterbeer cravings on the west coast.
Accessibility: Universal has done a good job of making most of the attractions in their parks wheelchair friendly. For Flight of the Hippogriff we went in the ramped exit. For the Forbidden Journey, I could go through most of the castle until we got to Professor Sprout’s greenhouses. Then one of the Hogwarts “students” (can you say coolest summer job ever?!) took us on a series of elevators to get to the loading platform for the ride. Once we were on, they let us go twice in a row – score!! 🙂
If you plan to visit, here are some useful links:
Universal Hollywood | Accessibility at Universal Hollywood | Vegetarian and Vegan Food Guide for Universal Hollywood | Universal Orlando | Accessibility at Universal Orlando | Vegan Food Guide for Universal Orlando
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