Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Harry Potter World - Universal Studios LA

Last long weekend of summer is just around the corner and even though kids are already back in school, it is hard not to take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend and make one more road trip before Fall weather sets in.
I think I’m still in Minnesota mind set where winter road trips were a major challenge and even though in California, travel is pretty much year round, summer season and summer vacation hold special place in our lives. At the beginning of the summer, we took a road trip to LA to see the new Harry Potter exhibit at Universal. I thought I’d share it here and inspire you to take a trip.
 If you are a Harry Potter fan or have read the books or watched all the movies then you would love this place. If you are on the fence about visiting the park, I’d say give it a try, it is totally worth it.
Here’s a short video of the whole experience to give you a glimpse.

At the entrance of the Harry Potter world is the Hogwarts’s Express locomotive, beautifully staged with loads of luggage, steam/smoke from the chimney and even a conductor/engineer/driver.
 
  video

The pathway or more appropriately the alley that leads us to the rides is a mixture of diagon alley and the streets of Hogsmeade. You can find everything from butter beer to chocolate frogs to Olivander’s wand shop and everything in between.

You can spend hours looking at the architecture, crooked chimneys, fake snow and cauldron tower but I’d suggest you find you way to the end of the Alley, where the huge grey castle, Hogwarts, stands. 

Hogwarts Castle
There is a small roller coaster in the yard of Hogwarts, which shows Hagrid’s cottage and the hippogriffs.    
The main ride of the exhibit, ‘the forbidden journey’ starts as you enter the actual grounds of Hogwarts. Our wait for the ride was about 60 minutes and about half of it was outside on the open grounds. During the wait outside one could observe and take pictures of the castle’s exterior, the whomping willow and even the muggle car that Harry and Ron drove to Hogwarts in their second year at Hogwarts. This was possibly the most boring part of the experience even though there huge fans and misters to keep it cool and bearable.
As soon as you enter the castle, the time seems to fly. There are dark corridors and herbology green houses and shrieking mandrakes. It seems the lines moves so fast that you don’t have time to observe the details.

As you get closer to the ride, there are simulations of Harry, Ron and Hermione rushing through corridors and moving stairs, Dumbledore addressing the students, instruments for astronomy and potions class. There was so much detail here to observe that I wanted people to pass me by so I can take it all in without feeling rushed. For once I felt Universal studios came at park with the details of a usual Disney Park.  

My absolute favorite section was the simulations of Dumbledore’s office with all the previous headmasters’ portraits talking to each other engrossed in a deep discussion. And the Fat Lade yelling for waking her up at the entrance of Gryffindor hall took me by surprise.

The ‘forbidden journey ride’ is a multimedia simulated ride with wonderful graphics, unexpected surprises and some last minute twists. I don’t want to give away all the details because it is totally worth it to be astonished by the ride. We took the ride twice just because once wasn’t enough to soak it all up. And after the long wait and wonderful ride, butter beer and chocolate frogs seemed totally rewarding.
p.s. If you are a Costco member check out the annual pass for Universal Studios, it works out to be the most cost effective way to buy tickets and of course an opportunity to visit multiple times on the same price.

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