This piece was previously published on the The Daily Telegraph for Escape.
HARRY, I’m home! I have arrived at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It may be my first time here, but this place is strangely familiar. Somewhere I’ve been before, in my mind, my bedroom, chapter seven of The Philosopher’s Stone.
In front of me Hogwarts Castle looms, a grand reality and satisfyingly intimidating. I’m overwhelmed and full of wonder. Professor McGonagall waits inside to greet me. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin? The beat of a wing as Hedwig flies overhead. The faint swishes of robes as wizards move from class to class. There’s something in the air, which I guess, must be magic.
Well, we are in Hollywood. Welcome to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As Dumbledore says to Harry. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” So here is the dream we’ve all been wishing would come true. It’s time to live it.
1. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened last month at the back of Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California.
2. Entry is $US95 a day for those 10 and over, and $US89 for ages 3-9. Prices increase by $US10 at weekends.
3. Hogsmeade Village exists. LA climate aside, you will be convinced you’re in England with all those snow-capped roofs. The Hogwarts Express is stationed at the entrance, but a cautionary word of advice — do not run into the wall to see if it is Platform Nine and Three-Quarters …
4. Zonko’s Joke Shop brings the tricks; and Honeydukes is filled with everything that comes on the Hogwarts Express trolley. There are Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans and chocolate frogs with wizard trading cards inside. Just see for yourself if the frog jumps out of the box.
5. The Three Broomsticks tavern is filled with the best English pub food (we’ll come back to that later) and of course Butterbeer. Now I understand why Harry was always so eager to get to Hogsmeade.
6. There’s nothing quite like getting a first wand. Remember, the wand chooses the wizard. And so with a flick of the wrist, I was presented with a wand with the wood of vine and the core of dragon heartstring — identical to Hermione’s. Apparently I, too, am loyal, wise and overly stubborn. The wand does not lie.
7. Where would Harry be without Hedwig? Probably still in his room at Privet Drive but minus the window. Visit the Owl Post to see the owls ready to send off your Howlers.
8. If you’re just enrolling at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or simply never want to wear muggle clothes again, Dervish and Banges have all the supplies you need. Do not stick your hand in the cage where The Monster Book of Monsters is on display.
9. Nothing compares to the magic of Hogwarts Castle. Epic at 60m high, it inhabits the most enchanting parts of the Wizarding World. Walk through the dungeon corridors and experience the first mystical moment in front of the Mirror of Erised. You can almost see Lily and James in the reflection, and you will now understand why Harry spent so many nights here alone.
10. The Fat Lady’s portrait is as sassy as you might expect and will lead you through the Gryffindor Common Room, where the various paintings are arguing about something that really doesn’t matter and, hello, the paintings are actually talking. Amazing.
11. The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom is eerie; you can feel Tom Riddle’s curse. But have no fear — a holographic Harry, Hermione and Ron are here, to talk you through the rest of your visit. It’s like seeing old friends.
12. A walk past Dumbledore’s office will leave you feeling wiser.
13. The walk through the castle leads to the queue for the main ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is probably the most entertaining “queue” you will ever find yourself in. Forget the fast pass.
14. Inside is the Sorting Hat. I whisper “Gryffindor, Gryffindor” over and over but a part of me knows I may be Slytherin. Harry, I feel you.
15. This ride needs co-ordination, which is something I lack. The floor moves with the seats and the wizards usher you to “jump on” – while the floor is still moving. Good luck.
16. Welcome to the best part. Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles on and a good luck message from Hermione appears before being thrown full throttle behind Harry in a Quidditch match. I won’t spoil it but watch out for the dragon, Dementors and the Whomping Willow. Absolutely thrilling. After doing this ride three times it only gets better.
17. The Flight of the Hippogriff family rollercoaster is the second ride at The Wizarding World, and also Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor coaster.
18. On the way up to the rollercoaster, you will see the Care of Magical Creatures grounds, passing Hagrid’s Hut. You can almost hear him saying the immortal words, “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Fang’s booming barks confirm.
19. They aren’t lying when they say “family” rollercoaster. It’s short and sweet but exhilarating. Definitely Buckbeak-approved.
20. All you will drink is Butterbeer. Traditional or frozen. Try both. I had four of each to try determine which is better. At the end of the day I realised I had two hands and it didn’t matter that I couldn’t choose.
21. If you’re not into the Butterbeer please leave. Just kidding. There’s Gilly Water, pumpkin juice and pumpkin fizz for the haters.
22. Food, glorious food. It’s not the Great Hall banquet but the Three Broomsticks has the best of the best. English classics including bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. Don’t forget the Butterbeer potted cream and sticky toffee pudding. Delicious.
23. You must do EVERYTHING. Just walking around Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle is an experience in itself. Completely, literally, spellbinding.
24. Do not try to get through both the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the rest of Universal Studios Hollywood in one day. It’s not fair to your feet. It’s also not fair to your inner wizard who will want to spend the day at The Wizarding World. Also, you will definitely want to go back more than once.
25. The Sheraton Universal Hotel is known as the “Hotel of the Stars”, and is on Universal Hollywood Drive. Perfect walking distance – eight minutes to be exact. Rooms start at $300 a night.
The writer travelled as a guest of Universal Studios Hollywood and Virgin Australia.
Virgin Australia operates flights to Los Angeles every day, from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Fares from Australia to LAX start from $1017. Selected travel dates and days apply. See virginaustralia.com/au/en