In honor of dear Harry's birthday yesterday, I whipped out a brand new Self-Writing Quill, turned up Celestina Warbeck (okay fine the movie soundtrack, click here for some mood music), and fiiiinally, finally AT LONG LAST wrote up the Los Angeles edition of my Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips & Tricks Guide. I've been meaning to do this since I Apparated over to Hogwarts in April for my birthday!
No more beating around the Quidditch Pitch, let's get right to it.
(For more Harry Potter, check out the Orlando version, the London Studios tour, and the birthplace of Harry Potter.)
Buying Tickets, Getting There, and Parking
// For entrance into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you purchase tickets to the Universal Studios Hollywood park. This means that not only will you experience the magical Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, but also you'll be able to venture over to the Universal Studios Lot Tour and go on rides such as Transformers, Shrek 4D or Jurassic Park!
// Purchase your tickets online, in advance. This guarantees your visit date, and also allows you enter one hour early. I highly recommend the 1-Day General Admission - one day is more than enough time to see everything as the Hollywood park is not huge. However, if you can see yourself visiting Universal Hollywood more than once this year and are a California resident, the season pass is only $20 more. An amazing deal! Pro tip: you can also upgrade to a season pass once you're at the park / before you leave.
// If Harry Potter is your first stop from the airport, fly into Burbank instead of LAX.
// If you can limit your visit to under 2 hours, valet parking is only $2.
// If not, don't fret. Research restaurant or cafe parking lots close by and walk over. You can meet the tram at the bottom of the hill leading up to Universal Studios. This'll save you about $15-40.
// Wear Potter gear! The witches and wizards who work at the park will welcome you back with open arms, and perhaps even stir up some trouble with those from a rival house.
Things To See and Do
// The Hogwarts Castle (Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey) ride is hands-down the coolest attraction OF ALL TIME. But beware, it's also going to be the busiest. Head over to the castle first thing (though it's tempting to stop and peruse the stores that you'll be walking by, or take a gajillion photos) and if the wait time is under 45 minutes, go stand in line. If the line's over 90 minutes, I'd come back later–we noticed that the wait time would spontaneously change throughout the day, so you might want to try again at lunchtime or in the evening. But again, if you pop back every so often, you'll catch a 10 or 30 minute wait.
// Know that before lining up for the castle, you'll have to store your cameras and bags into lockers. If you don't have any bags, they'll direct you away from the line for the lockers (which is often the longest part of the line) and you'll have a bit of a head start.
// Half the fun of the castle ride is the line (totally not being sarcastic!) – I won't spoil too many of the surprises, but you walk through the dungeons, Dumbledore's office, the greenhouses, and more! Take your time here–slow down, and let the people around you pass. Pay close attention to detail because it's really where the Harry Potter theme parks shine. Look out for: moving / talking portraits, Mandrakes, house elves in the kitchen, the Sorting Hat, and more. Report back if you find anything cool! The line tends to move really quickly, so I would advise against a Front of the Line pass.
// One of my favorite pro tips: if you're up for a thrill, claim the seat to the farthest left if you're facing the seats. I'm a bit of a wuss so went in knowing this trick from my Orlando experience, and then laughed as the others got majorly spooked. Kelly also says: you'll see the Great Hall at the beginning of the ride–take pictures of it now rather than later. Right after, I suggest putting your phone away, lest it falls during the bumpy ride!
// Ollivander's Experience is the second most popular attraction, and the lines will be just as long as the castle ride. I do think it's worth seeing if it's your first visit, but know that you're still able to buy wands from stores and kiosks if you don't want to wait.
// Across from the Three Broomsticks, you'll see an open area with picnic tables. Go over, and look up! It's the Owlery! If you head inside the store next to it, you'll be able to mail a letter by owl post which I thought was really cool.
// Next to the Three Broomsticks, you'll see an ATM for Gringott's and bathrooms. This is likely my strangest tip, but check out the bathrooms and say hello to Moaning Myrtle.
// If you splurge on an interactive wand, you'll be able to literally make magic by standing in front of store windows and giving your best WinGARdium LeviOsa (but careful, it's not wingardium leviosaaaa).
// Also be on the lookout for performances by a Harry Potter acapella group and Durmstrang and Beauxbatons visitors!
// Without a doubt, my greatest Harry Potter World tip is to take it slow, look up, and peer into all the store windows. Again, what I find to be most impressive of all is the park's close attention to detail. Longtime fans will recognize SO many small but significant touches.
// For shopping, I preferred the selection at Filch's Emporium (under the castle), although I did love popping into other stores in Hogsmeade just for fun. For wands, note that they do offer them for sale at kiosks in addition to Ollivander's. For candy, well, Honeydukes of course! For a much less crowded souvenir experience, there are general stores outside of Harry Potter World around Universal that sell Potter items as well, but of course, the most unique selection will be in Harry Potter World itself.
Things To Eat and Drink:
// So, let's start with the obvious. Butterbeer! It's just as amazing as you've imagined, I'll tell you that much! Depending on the season, your options are: regular, frozen, hot, and rumor has it there's an ice cream option as well. I'm team regular, although I the frozen is not far behind.
// I wouldn't go for the pumpkin juice.
// For adult beverages, check out the Hog's Head. They have a couple of Potter-themed beers on tap along with some Muggle options, and this is also where you'll find Firewhiskey. We loved sitting outside in the Three Broomsticks area–the picnic tables are mostly labeled as reserved for those with food, but if you're there during non-mealtime hours, they won't shoo you away.
// Speaking of the Three Broomsticks, eat here! The food was all really good, albeit pricey (but it'll be just as pricey anywhere in the park)–we loved the caramelized corn on the cob and the potatoes. A tip from my vegan coworker- it's absolutely possible to eat with dietary restrictions here, you'll just have to order a medley of sides and get creative. One piece of advice–eat a big breakfast, and then have a late lunch. The crowds empty out of Three Broomsticks by mid-afternoon, so you'll have no wait.
General Universal Studios Tips:
// The most popular attraction outside of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be the Studio Tour (it's also the furthest away), so I would head over to this at your earliest convenience. Definitely a fun experience, especially if you're a first-timer! Note that if you're a thrill-seeker, pick the right-most seat in the last row. Beware!
// Our FAVORITE ride outside of Potter was the Minions ride. Soooo sweet and well done, and quite the tearjerker.
// All of those who work at the park are hilarious–they remain in character no matter what, and it's really such a hoot.
// We found a quiet little spot around the corner from the Irish pub that was an oasis in the midst of all the chaos. Seriously felt like we were in a courtyard in the middle of Paris, and it made for a great place to take a breather.
// Spend the afternoon venturing outside of Harry Potter World, as that's when it tends to be the most crowded. Return around dusk for shorter lines and beautiful views.
One Last Thing:
// Get a Harry Potter tattoo for the ultimate Instagram. I'M JUST KIDDING.
For real though:
// Catcher In The Rye is the cutest restaurant / bar down the block from Universal Studios. Not only do they have literature-themed cocktails (that are all lip-smackingly amazing) (I think the Harry Potter one is called the Goblet of Fire), but also the food is truly fantastic–don't pass up the grilled cheese sandwich or the hummus. ALSO. BONUS. You'll find the Ministry of Magic in the bathroom.
I really had the most magical day. Thanks to my sister for the best birthday present of all, and thank you to Kelly, Joan, and Cassandra for accompanying me. Harry Potter World is great by itself, but these wonderful ladies made it 3000% more fun–from riding Forbidden Journey three times to geeking out over every tiny detail to getting our stuff stuck in the lockers and reminiscing about it all over Salt & Straw, it was amazing amazing amazing. Till next time!!