9 ¾ Tips for Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hollywood)
Spring is in the air and that means it's time to make plans for spring break or maybe even get a head start planning your summer vacation. If The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is on your to-do list, check out these 9 ¾ tips for making the most of your trip to Hogsmeade.
1. Arrive at the park as early as you can and make a beeline for the park's best ride . This is the most important tip of all. As soon as you get through the park gates, head straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride. Resist the temptation to start taking pictures in front of the Hogsmeade sign, shopping for a wand or buying a butter beer. There will be plenty of time for that later. Prioritize getting in line for the Forbidden Journey ride before an insanely long line forms (the wait time for this ride was about 90 minutes by late afternoon). One of the awesome things about the Forbidden Journey ride is that it's located within Hogwarts Castle, so if you've ever dreamed of being a student at Hogwarts, consider this your orientation.
2. Check your stuff into a locker and prepare for the greatest line you'll ever stand in for a ride. Once you enter the castle, you'll see a locker room to your right. Lockers are free for the first two hours, so go ahead and stow your bags. If you have secure pockets, hold on to your phones so that you can take pictures of the castle interior as you wait in line. Sadly, I don't have any pictures of the interior because I left my phone in the locker. Lucky for you, I'm giving you the heads up to take your phone with you! There will be two lines for the ride: one is for groups (i.e., for people who want to ride with their family/friends) and the other is for single riders (i.e., for people who don't mind filling empty seats and riding with strangers). The first time you go through the ride, regardless of whether you're with friends or alone, stand in the group line. The group line snakes through the hallways and classrooms of Hogwarts Castle. You'll see the Potions classroom, featuring the actual desks that were used in the films. You'll also see animated portraits of past headmasters talking with each other. I don't want to spoil the ride for you, so here's the only thing I'll say about the actual ride: take it all in and appreciate every amazing detail that went into designing this completely immersive ride.
3. Ride the Forbidden Journey twice in a row. After you ride Forbidden Journey the first time, ride it again! Yes, I'm serious. This time, hop into the single-rider line. You'll still go through the castle, but you'll bypass a lot of the rooms you went through the first time (that's why I recommend the group line for first-timers). If you follow tip #1, then don't be surprised if you just breeze through the single-rider line on your second trip through. My friends and I waited for about five minutes in the group line on our first ride, although that takes into account the long trek through the castle. The second time around, we had zero wait time in the single-rider line. We waltzed our way to the front of the line and were immediately allowed to get on.
4. Get sorted. After you exit the Forbidden Journey ride, you'll end up in Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods gift shop. Ask an employee if you can try on the Sorting Hat. You can find out what house you're in, then subsequently buy as much house gear as you want! In case you're wondering, I ended up in Ravenclaw and Grant was placed in Hufflepuff. My friend Karina was lucky enough to be sorted into Gryffindor.
5. Enjoy an English breakfast and dine among the stars (potentially). Good job making it this far. You woke up early, beat the crowds to the park and just rode the best ride in the park-- twice! You deserve a nice, hearty English breakfast. Mosey on down to the Three Broomsticks restaurant. Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m., so try to get there before then. A traditional English breakfast platter comes with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, country potatoes, black pudding, cooked mushrooms, beans and a buttery croissant. You also get a free non-alcoholic drink, which includes hot or cold (but not frozen) butter beer. Did I mention that all of this is only $12??? It's no doubt the best deal in the park. If you're not a breakfast person, equally delicious lunches are served after 10:30, but do not include a drink.
While Grant and I were ordering our breakfast at the Three Broomsticks counter, our friends (who decided to wait for the equally delectable lunch menu) grabbed a large circular table by the fireplace. Once we all had our meals, we noticed that staff members had begun placing "reserved" signs on the two tables that flanked ours. Eventually, one guy who may have been the manager, placed a reserved sign on our table. He politely asked us to take our time eating, but to leave the sign on the table after we leave. I asked him how much it costs to reserve a table. He said there's no cost, but that it comes as part of the park's VIP Experience package. Being in Hollywood (and channeling my inner Lucy Ricardo), I asked if any famous people had ever eaten at the Three Broomsticks. He pleasantly told us that Lady Gaga, whom he described as a very nice lady, once sat at the very same table we were occupying. He also said that Drew Barrymore and Steven Spielberg were also patrons of the Three Broomsticks. So there you go. If you can manage it, try to snag one of the tables near the fireplace. You'll never know which VIP might show up and sit down next to you!
6. Get a butter beer. You can't go to a real-life Hogsmeade and not get a pint of butter beer! The sweet concoction comes in hot, cold or frozen form. As I mentioned earlier, it's available at the Three Broomsticks, as well as butter beer carts outside. What does it taste like? Liquid butterscotch. It's very sweet and I loved it, but if you don't have as much of a sweet tooth, you'll probably be fine sharing it with a friend. If you buy it in a souvenir cup, refills are discounted.
7. Choose your own adventure with the wand show. Everyone should visit Ollivander's Wand Shop, but there are two ways to do it. One way is to wait in line for the group experience. Small groups are taken, one at a time, into the shop's back room. The wand maker picks someone from the audience (usually a child) and pairs him/her with a wand. Of course, in the magical world, the wand chooses the wizard. I've heard mixed reviews about this experience. Some people, especially those with small children, like the theatrics of it. Others, like my friends and I, decided to forgo the line because we admitted that if one of us were selected for the wand-choosing experience, the others would be forced to watch with envy. Truth. Instead, we snuck in through the other wand shop entrance. It's the storefront pictured below, called Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment. You'll still get to see the shop, but you get to skip the lines. If you're going to buy a wand and you don't feel like waiting in line for the cashier at Ollivander's, see if you can get the same wand at one of the park's outdoor wand carts. It looks like the selection at the carts are limited, but they carry the most popular ones.
8. Prepare to drop some serious money on souvenirs. You already know that amusement park gift shops are expensive, but here's a rundown of what you can expect to pay for Harry Potter swag in Hogsmeade. Keep in mind that these prices are approximations based on our trip this month and that prices will likely change. Disclaimer out of the way, you can expect to pay about $50 or more for a wand at Ollivander's or at any of the wand carts. Prices vary depending on whether you get the interactive ones (which can be used to make certain things move "magically" in some of the shop display windows) or not. Hogwarts house robes (i.e., Gyffindor, Slytherin, Hupplepuff and Ravenclaw) are $110, house ties are in the $30 range and the cute monogrammed woolen sweaters that Mrs. Weasley knitted for Ron and Harry are ($90).
9. Drum up some school spirit at the Tri-Wizard Spirit Rally. There's a performance stage adjacent to the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, where you can catch some pretty magical shows. My favorite was the Tri-Wizard Spirit Rally, where you can watch dance performances by students from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the Durmstrang Institute (remember those schools from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?). The guys from Durmstrang put on an impressive display of aggressive martial-arts-type moves and simulated hand-to-hand battles. The girls of Beauxbaton show off their gymnastic moves with a rhythmic dancing and ribbon performance.
9 ¾. Find something to write home about. If you're into old-school mail, you can send yourself a postcard postmarked from Hogsmeade. You can buy postage stamps at the Owl Post. A book of 10 stamps costs $15 and you can choose between the Hogwarts Castle or Hogwarts Express designs. These stamps also work in the Muggle world as Forever stamps.
There you go! As promised, 9 ¾ tips for your first visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Have your own tips? Share them with us!