Alohamora! The long-anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter made its debut at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 7, 2016 to the delight of sold-out crowds.
Hogwarts in Hollywood is now a reality as the entertainment capital of Los Angeles shares in the Harry Potter magic.
A labor of love more than five years in the making, I was privileged to speak with Alan Gilmore last year at the “Celebration of Harry Potter” event in Orlando.
He continues to wield his magic as Art Director of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.
It is one thing to build a movie facade that lasts a month for filming. It was quite a different challenge to construct true-to-film sets as structurally sound buildings that withstand the rigors of daily theme park use.
Structures that lean at impossible angles. Chimneys that curve as they reach skyward. Storefront windows that awaken magically with guests casting enchantment spells. The Hogwarts Express train. Gilmore’s team has learned from each new addition.
Film sets are built only for what is needed ‘on camera’. Movie magic fills in the rest. Recreating an entrancing Wizarding World true to J.K. Rowling’s vision in fully three dimensions — this has impressed even the film talent.
James and Oliver Wood (Fred and George Weasley) loved the flow of the fully built Hogsmeade (from previous interviews at A Celebration of Harry Potter). Even though they lived on the sets during filming, the world was never assembled fully as it is at Universal Studios.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter becomes real as you walk through the gates…now, in Hollywood.
Alan Gilmore talks more about the development of the Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood in several interviews leading up to the opening. “This really is the film set come alive.”
From concept to reality, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is most impressive with its attention to details. The design quality is yet to be matched in any theme park experience.
As you walk through, scrutinize the details in each of the storefront windows. There are screen-used ‘hero’ props from the Potter films sprinkled throughout the land.
MinaLima, the graphic arts team responsible for all the book props and Daily Prophet newspapers in the films, creates the classic look for all signage in the Wizarding World.
Miraphora Mina also designed Hermione’s Time Turner necklace. Remember the “Undesireable No. 1” poster? MinaLima created that too.
Don’t miss Ollivanders Wand Shop. You experience the magic as ‘the wand chooses the wizard,’ just as Harry was matched with his wand of Phoenix feather core.
For a few Galleons, you may procure your own interactive Ollivanders wand ($47.95 plus tax). These wands arm each witch or wizard with powers to cast spells on store front windows throughout the Wizarding World.
Wands are sold individually, or as a set (see the Dumbledore’s Army set below). Lucius Malfoy’s wand features a serpent head that inserts into a walking stick. Character wands available include those of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Luna, Bellatrix, Sirius Black, and many more.
There are shops to meet all your magical needs. Quidditch supplies, the Golden Snitch, house Robes (priced at $109.99), even new brooms: find them all here in Hogsmeade.
Featured shops include Dervish and Banges for your school supply needs, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Gladrags Wizardwear for Robes and apparel, Honeydukes sweets shop, Ollivanders wand shop, and the Owl Post to send your mail.
Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood in the films) loves animals and small creatures. Here she is having fun with a pygmy puff at Zonko’s Joke shop.
The featured attraction in the Wizarding World is housed in the iconic Hogwarts Castle: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Alan Gilmore was clearly excited about his upgrades for Hogsmeade at Universal Studios Hollywood. He spoke about creating the 3D experience for the Forbidden Journey attraction.
His team created Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles to provide an even more captivating experience.
The queue is as much of an attraction as the actual ride, as guests re-live key scenes from the films.
Harry sees his parents in the Mirror of Erised in the Sorcerer’s Stone film. Legend says this mirror shows each person not as they are, but as they most want to be. (What is DESIRE spelled backwards?)
The Griffin Statue (a stone elevator in the films) guards the entrance to Professor Dumbledore’s office.
Fascinating props pack every inch of Dumbledore’s office. Fun fact: the design team has an explanation for the proper use of each magical item. Make sure you admire all the details here, including the Pensieve.
Talking portraits are a key magical feature in Hogwarts castle. Here is Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) in the portrait gallery of the Forbidden Journey ride. Witness witty banter between portraits (the heads of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin House) as you continue through the queue.
Many key film scenes happened in the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Our heroes Harry, Ron, and Hermione will guide you through this important room.
There is more than one dragon at Hogwarts. Look up as you walk through the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.
At the end, you are treated to a dynamic 3D ride in a kuka arm-mounted vehicle that pivots 360 degrees. Wearing Quidditch-inspired 3D goggles, you instantly become part of the action.
Forbidden Journey features elaborate action scenes and dark moments from the Harry Potter films, creating an immersive 3D-HD adventure that is not to be missed!
After such an adventure, you’ll be needing a drink. Butterbeer to the rescue!
Butterbeer was enjoyed by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Hogsmeade from the films. The sweet concoction resembles a cream soda with butterscotch topping. You can savor your (nonalcoholic) Butterbeer chilled, or frozen. Try them both to see which you like best!
This souvenir Butterbeer stein is available for purchase. It is similar to the stein at Hogsmeade, Universal Orlando. Both are larger than the Butterbeer stein available at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London.
Fancy a bit of a stronger drink? Meet at the Hog Head Pub. Choose from original draught beers exclusive to the Wizarding World, including Hog’s Head Brew, Dragon’s Scale, Wizard’s Brew and Fire Whisky.
When you’re ready for a bite, the Three Broomsticks serves up pub-inspired fare. Try the Bangers & Mash, Shepherd’s Pie (pictured), or traditional Fish & Chips.
Don’t forget dessert! Sticky toffee pudding and potted creams are sure to delight at the Three Broomsticks.
Craving a sugar rush? Honeyduke’s is your place to find Chocolate Frogs, Cauldron Cakes, and Bertie Bot’s Every-Flavour Beans.
Enjoy glowing sunsets from the Flight of the Hippogriff, Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor roller coaster.
Indulge your inner Harry Potter fan at Universal Studios Hollywood. With live entertainment, rides, food, and shopping: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has something for everyone in the family to love.
What are you waiting for? Wingardium Leviosa! I’ll meet you there.
Cover Photo Credit David Sprague/Universal Studios Hollywood. HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s16) ©2016 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.