Wizarding World hits west coast

Amy Miyahara, Contributing Writer

Millions of fans worldwide have read J.K. Rowling’s series, watched the franchise’s eight motion pictures, and spent billions of dollars on merchandise, making Harry Potter one of the most well-known fictional heroes of this generation. Now fans in Southern California can experience the magic of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts for themselves. After Universal Studios first created “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in its Florida theme park in 2014, they have finally opened one at their Hollywood location.

I had been dying to visit “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” ever since it opened in Florida, so I was thrilled when I heard that one was coming to California. Everyone in my family is obsessed with Harry Potter, so we had high expectations for our visit. We walked through the entrance and into Hogsmeade, the town shopping center and hang out for student wizards, just outside the gates of Hogwarts. The stores were beautifully decorated with stonewalls, adorable window displays, and fake snow covering the roofs to create the perfect ambiance.

I was impressed that the stores stayed loyal to the descriptions and characters in the books. The famous wizard candy shop, Honeyduke’s was not to be missed, boasting a display of candies such as chocolate frogs and Bernie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans. Zonko’s joke shop was also present, as well as a cauldron shop, a Quidditch shop, and even an owl post where guests can send letters and buy their own stuffed owls.

One complaint that I did have was that the stores were much too small. While they were all decorated nicely, and the coziness was certainly in character with the spirit of Hogsmeade, it was difficult to move around. The aisles were crowded with people, making it hard to browse through the merchandise or figure out where the lines started.

Of course, a trip to Hogsmeade would not be complete without trying some of the legendary Butterbeer. Vendors sell the drink from multiple red carts located throughout Hogsmeade. The carts sell two types of butterbeer: frozen and regular. I preferred the frozen drink, as it was refreshing and had more of a butterscotch flavor. The regular drink was carbonated, and tasted like a lukewarm root beer float.

The final verdict was that it was sweet and high priced, but not to be missed for the overall Harry Potter experience.

One of the things I had been looking forward to the most was visiting Ollivander’s, the wand shop. The store sells wands identical to those of the characters in the books, as well as more personalized wands that match certain character descriptions. I was really impressed with how authentic the wands looked, although they were on the pricy end, at $40.

For $50, the shop sells interactive wands, which have a sensor on them that allows owners to activate different spells throughout the park. If a person has an interactive wand, they would be able to go to the window of designated stores and cast a spell using the wand’s sensor, which activates a detector in the store window that causes the lights to go on and off in the window’s display.  Personally, I found that the sensors didn’t work well, and the spells weren’t anything spectacular. I would have rather spent the additional $10 elsewhere. For younger children, though, it’s worth the price to have them believe their wand gives them magical abilities.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” features two attractions. The major ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” takes riders on an adventure alongside the cast of Harry Potter. Above the ride’s entrance is a replica of Hogwarts Castle, which was absolutely stunning. The high walls and cone-shaped turrets looked like something directly out of the books. I was impressed that the ride’s line moved through rooms decorated as locations featured in the books, such as the Hall of Talking Pictures and the Headmaster’s office.

The ride itself was enjoyable, with Harry Potter leading guests through the Forbidden Forest, flying through a Quidditch game, and fighting off a gang of dementors. Like many of the rides at Universal Studios, the ride uses 3-dimentional holographic technology, which I thought made the scenes exciting and realistic. However, this feature might also cause sensitive guests to get motion sickness, as the ride is fast-paced, and the computer generated images might make a person nauseous.

The other ride, “Flight of the Hippogriff,” is a small, mild roller coaster. A cart shaped like a hippogriff takes riders through a series of twists, turns, and drops. Although this ride was fun, it was nothing spectacular, and was similar to a ride that might be found at any other amusement park. I would recommend this ride for young children over “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” as it lacks the intensity and frightening images that are present in the other ride.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and was impressed with the detail that went into creating an atmosphere identical to what one would imagine the real Wizarding World to feel like. Ultimately, I loved experiencing that nostalgic feeling, taking me back to when I was first introduced to the magic of Harry Potter as a little kid. “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” was a success, and I hope to return soon.