Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is about to unveil Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and with soft openings running sporadically of late, we decided to drop in last week to check out the Hogsmeade in Los Angeles. This post covers our review of “Wizarding World Hollywood” with a focus primarily on the differences between this version of Hogsmeade and the ones in Florida and Japan. The post also includes photos I took of the Wizarding World during our visit (fortunately, we were able to straggle into the evening, so I got some dusk and night shots with my tripod).
While there are a lot of entertainment options in Southern California, we expect to see a huge interest surge for Universal Studios Hollywood, particularly among those planning trips to Disneyland. Before we do a full-bore guide to Universal Studios Hollywood, we thought it might be worthwhile to post a review of the new Hogsmeade to see if any Disneyland visitors were also interested in heading to the nearby park in Hollywood.
Well, perhaps “nearby” is a bit of an overstatement. Thanks to Los Angeles’ lovely traffic situation, Universal Studios Hollywood can be anywhere from 45 minutes to ??? hours away from Disneyland. From our location in Orange County, Universal Studios Hollywood can be 2 hours or more away. Suffice to say, we don’t get nearly as much mileage out of our Universal Annual Passes as we do our Disneyland APs. Still, we have found Universal Studios Hollywood to be a great park that compliments Disneyland and Disney California Adventure nicely.
Let’s take a look around Hogsmeade to see how Wizarding World Hollywood compares to its predecessors…
In terms of general design, the layout feels very similar to the versions of Hogsmeade in Orlando and Osaka. This one is definitely the most cramped, with other lands immediately outside the perimeter of the land. Other changes for the better have been made, such as tweaks to Ollivanders Wand Shop, which has a large queue behind the building for what has become a surprisingly long wait in the Florida version. Surprisingly enough, it felt like Universal Studios Japan’s incarnation of Hogsmeade had been iterated upon more than this one.
It is a bit of a disappointment that Wizarding World West does not really bring anything substantively new to the table with Hogsmeade. Even minor new areas to explore and added details would be appreciated. However, the practical reality is that outside of those obsessed with theme parks, direct clones don’t matter. A good 90%+ of Hollywood’s guests will never visit Orlando or Osaka’s versions. Still, something new would be nice, and I hope that arrives when the rumored demise of Shrek 4D occurs.
There is a new Hogwarts Express photo op, but you aren’t allowed to take photos of it with your own camera. File that decision under “super lame cash grab.”
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the star of the show, so let’s start with it. Forbidden Journey is arguably one of the top 10 theme park attractions of all time, and easily one of the best of the last decade. Universal Creative wisely left well enough alone in terms of the layout and substance of the experience here.
They did, however, add 3D. I’ve heard rumors that this is specially-designed 3D and the glasses for the ride have yet to arrive, so generic glasses are presently being used. I sure hope this is the case, as the 3D was a tremendous disappointment. The screen and scenes were too dark, and I found myself cycling between wearing the glasses for screen scenes and removing them for show scenes.
Among theme park fans, Universal Creative has developed a reputation as being screen-obsessed. The same could be said for 3D. I would argue that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey perfectly balances screens and physical sets, and only uses screens when the constraints of physical sets require it. I can think of no such argument for what 3D brings to the table here. If anything, the prevalence of 3D at Universal attractions is an annoyance for the decent chunk of the population that already wears glasses or is made nauseous by 3D.
Even so, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey remains one of the best theme park attractions of all time, and is an absolute must do regardless of the wait time (thankfully, there’s single rider). I just worry that come 2013 when 3D is passé, all of these 3D attractions will be a bit much.
Flight of the Hippogriff is the land’s kiddie coaster, and it’s cute for what it is. The total ride duration is 1 minute, tops, but I could see this offering enjoyable views at sunset or night when Hogwarts is looking dopest. There’s also an Audio Animatronics Hippogriff that is pretty cute. For those non-Potter fans, from what I can ascertain, a Hippogriff is basically a slightly modified griffin. Not a hybrid of a hippopotamus and griffin, as I was hoping. (How badass would that be?!)
With no wait, we also stopped in Ollivanders for a demonstration. Honestly, I’m not sure why this has become so popular. There is some charm to it and decent effects, but if I waited more than 20 minutes for this, I’d feel like I wasted my time. Maybe it’s because I’m overly-cynical, but it ultimately feels like a dressed up sales pitch for the wands they sell.
There’s also a stage where shows are performed throughout the day, all of which are fine diversions.
On an unequivocally positive note, there’s the food. We had lunch at Three Broomsticks with Guy Selga (who has done his own excellent review of Wizarding World West), who had already dined at Three Broomsticks once. While some options are the same as the Orlando menu, they have upped the ante on quality across the board. Several menu items are exclusive to Universal Studios Hollywood, and these are the best of the bunch.
Our meals last year in the Springfield (The Simpsons) area made us suspect the food was better at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Three Broomsticks confirmed that suspicion. Our ribs, chicken, and stew were all excellent and high quality (I really wanted to try the “Beef Sunday Roast” but the $21 price tag scared me away), but those pale in comparison to the desserts.
For dessert, we all shared the Butterbeer Potted Cream and Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was a huge mistake. These desserts were so mind-blowingly awesome that sharing here is an atrocious idea. The Sticky Toffee Pudding was decadent, moist, and thick, and one of the best theme park desserts I’ve ever tried.
Much like gluten, I don’t even know what “potted cream” is, but I know I need it in my life. As I write this post, I find myself craving both desserts, and much like Butterbeer originally, I think these treats are going to be surprise hits of Wizarding World Hollywood. Of course, they also have the various varieties of Butterbeer (which I’ve compared and contrasted in The Wizarding World of Butterbeer post), but these two desserts should also rank as must-dos. Make sure to wear pants with an elastic waistband (after all, this is L.A., so only the flyest style will do) to Universal Studios Hollywood, because the dessert scene is excellent.
Let’s wash down dessert with a bit of the ugly: sightlines. Without powerful zoom lenses or viewing Hogsmeade from odd angles, the real world and other areas of the park intrude upon Hogsmeade with regularity. We are talking hotels, office buildings, show buildings, and other lands of the park. In fact, there is seldom a view in Hogsmeade that is not interrupted by something that does not belong. This is wholly unacceptable. I understand that Universal Studios Hollywood has a small plot of land in one of the largest metropolitan areas on earth. That doesn’t excuse this complete and utter disregard for show.
It’s one thing when we are talking regional amusement parks and their slipshod attention to detail, but Universal deserves to be held to a higher standard. Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley have raised the bar on themed lands. Ironically enough, it would be a disservice to Universal to hold them to a lower standard when they themselves are clearly aspiring to more. Universal is now a viable pretender to the throne previously held by Disney alone, and it deserves to be judged as such.
While there is no way to totally quarantine Hogsmeade from the outside world, we aren’t talking about building the land in a bubble or anything impractical. Most of this could have been fixed by planting adult trees at the edge of the land to obscure office and show buildings (likewise, there should be trees between the wooden fence and security fence around the Flight of Hippogriff coaster). J.K. Rowling has a reputation as a bit of a perfectionist, and I wonder whether she has seen this version of the finished land yet and given it her seal of approval.
For a land with an undoubtedly lavish budget, it’s mind-boggling to me that a few hundred-thousand dollars (drops in a bucket) more wasn’t spent ensuring that the illusion of Hogsmeade was maintained to the greatest extent possible. Ever been to an opulent home that is devoid of furniture and decor inside because its owners are “house poor”? Well, it feels as if Universal is “Hogwarts poor” when viewing the sparse and undersized trees around the perimeter of the land. They get no pass because the trees will grow in 5+ years from now. Time to fully shed that bush league image, Universal.
The easy retort to this is that Disneyland is far from perfect when it comes to sightlines. You can see the Matterhorn from multiple lands, Big Thunder Mountain from New Orleans Square, and so on. One of my favorite blogs, Passport 2 Dreams, recently covered the sightlines topic, with the ultimate crux of the issue being whether it really matters to the casual guest, or if this is all academic fodder. Definitely worth a read if you’re intrigued by this.
I think that it does matter to average guests, even if only subconsciously, and it’s more an issue of plausibility and suspension of disbelief than anything else. In the generic lands of fantasy, adventure, frontier, future, etc., otherwise-themed visual intrusions are easier to process and accept. Seeing a castle and Swiss mountain from Frontierland isn’t visually jarring, for me at least, because (among other reasons) the concepts are vague and somewhat blurry.
I’m sure there’s an analytical way to judge this, but for me it comes down to the smell test. The sightlines at Disneyland that might be problematic on paper or in isolation don’t raise any cognitive red flags or interrupt my suspension of disbelief. Perhaps it’s the deft mastery of Walt’s original Imagineers or maybe personal bias and familiarity, but most things that could be dubbed sightline issues at Disneyland pass muster for me. About the only thing I find troubling is the view of Splash Mountain from New Orleans Square.
On the other hand, when you have a narrow thematic concept, such as the world of Hogsmeade or a planet in the Star Wars universe, the bounds on that are clear and viewers are far less forgiving. Narrowly-defined lands that succeed based upon their ability to allow visitors to step into a very specific story and experience those environments necessarily require more. No first-timer walks into Adventureland with a preconceived mental notion of what the land should and should not entail, but you better believe they do with Hogsmeade. The bar is likewise high with Star Wars Land, and I hope Wizarding World West serves as a cautionary tale for Disney.
Neither these sightline issues nor anything else in this review should dissuade anyone from making a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood. While the sightlines do put an asterisk on an otherwise impeccable land, the emphasis should be on the impeccable land not on the asterisk. Along with Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade is one of the most exceptional theme park lands ever created. It rivals the best of Tokyo DisneySea, and of its United States contemporaries, only Cars Land gives the Wizarding Worlds a run for their money. It’s important to remember that this review is largely a compare and contrast exercise to other versions of Hogsmeade, which is why there’s an (admittedly) undertone of disappointment. Were this the first and only Hogsmeade, the prevailing tone here would be, “OMFG, THIS IS $%&$ AWESOME!”
Consequentially, the ultimate take-away here should be that if you’re heading to California and have never visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Hollywood is a must-do. Even if you have been to the Orlando version, USH is worth considering for the true star of the park: the iconic Studio Tour. While the park has a reputation as being small with a short list of attractions, the Studio Tour (even with the laughably bad Fast & Furious segment) alone almost justifies the cost of admission. That, plus a solid slate of attractions and shows (including a great version of Springfield from The Simpsons) makes Universal Studios a full day park that is worth the cost and effort of braving Los Angeles’ traffic. Just be sure to arrive early if you’re coming this spring or summer, as it’s sure to be busy.
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What is your take on Wizarding World Hollywood? Is the sightline thing a big deal or non-issue for you? Thinking of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood on your next visit to Disneyland? Would you like to see a complete guide to the park from us? Share any other questions or thoughts in the comments below!
I’m disappointed to hear about the sight line issues in Hollywood. Hopefully they’ll get that fixed.
I just recently returned from a trip to Universal Orlando and while based on last June’s trip to Disneyland I think it’s very possible that the food at Universal Hollywood might be a little better in general, I don’t think comparing the food in Springfield to that in the Three Broomsticks is apples to oranges. Three Broomsticks is far superior in Orlando too.
The screens and 3-D are mild annoyances at Universal, but I’d also say that new guests should be warned that both Forbidden Journey and Shrek 4D feature large spiders that are right in your face. This may not be an issue for most guests, but considering that arachnophobia is the #1 phobia worldwide, a simple mention would be good for those who could end up ruining the attraction for those around them if surprised by a huge spider. Forbidden Journey already has warnings for those with fear of heights and enclosed spaces, phobias lower on the list.
Thanks for the review. Starting to plan a trip to DL for Spring 2017 & have been considering adding in a day at Universal. I have not been to HP in Orlando yet, but I am planning a trip in the future. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the Hollywood version first or not.
My husband is red green color blind & has difficulty even seeing 3-D. We both got migraines after riding the old Star Tours in WDW. I just can do simulator types rides at all, except for Soarin’. Don’t know about attempting the HP ride.
I will probably on go to CA once in my life since I live on the east coast. Would like to do Universal while I am there. You think it is truly worth it? I have been to Universal Orlando, but not often. Our last trip was before the first HP area was built there.
Is there any way to get advance notification of the soft openings, and are they happening pretty frequently? I’m a LA resident, but not a passholder, so I’d like to check out the Wizarding World, but would hate to go on a day when there wasn’t a soft opening. Of course, I’m also trying to get in before the official opening on April 5 because I anticipate lots of crowds!
Great place to
Very fun! But I think going just once is enough for me.
Regarding the sightlines, I totally agree. However, when the trees when grown up it should take care of a lot of those distractedly views. I think they planted the largest sized trees they could for those species so well just have to be patient.
As far as plans go, I’ve heard rumors that a version of Diagon Alley is being seriously considered for USH.
I hope so! Orlando was amazing.
I’ve only been to Universal Orlando and the Harry Potter park when it first opened (before the expansion over the two parks that now makes you pay twice as much). Maybe I’m too much of a Disney snob, but Universal always comes up short for me. It is just a theme park without all of the magic and experience you feel in any of the Disney parks. The workers never have that magic spark I crave. I love the way the Disney parks keep you from seeing other lands while you’re in them, that may be one of my favorite things Disney does. The subtly music change and landscape as you cross from Adventureland into Fantasyland, etc., which makes me feel like I’m on my own adventure for the day. Universal leaves me feeling like I could have just gone to a local theme park and had the same not so great experience. Although I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I love the look of the park area and of course the rides, I find the tight space kind of disappointing. I would have liked a Harry Potter area to be almost the size of Magic Kingdom….there is so much you could do, why cram it into such a small space that just creates long waits and discomfort. I’m not one for wanting to be shoulder to shoulder with other sweaty people in Orlando…I don’t even like my own sweat touching me! =)
I’ve done both of Hogsmeade and Diagonalley in Orlando. They were both impeccable, and I completely understand what you mean with sight lines. When you stand in Diagonalley you don’t see anything else, it is like you stepped on to the set of Harry Potter, or into that world. When another tourist asked a worker why there were no fans up on the ceiling above the stage area she simply replied, “What is the Muggle thing you are talking about? Fans? Those don’t exist in the Wizarding World.” The attention to detain is crazy. If you look though from I think around the Men in Black ride you can just barely see the Dragon on top of Gringotts. But you have to actually look for him. I am so excited to go back in October and see the parks. And see Diagonalley now that it is actually up and running (we went and got in for a soft opening)
Wait, the Orlando version of The Forbidden Journey isn’t 3D? For some reason I really thought they used glasses-free 3D screens in it to enhance the feeling of motion. That just makes the ride that much more impressive to me.
Really like Diagon Alley much better and think the Escape from Gringotts is a much better ride. Universal Hollywood picked the wrong area.
I think a high level overview of Universal Studios Hollywood would be awesome! I have only been to IOA and it was pre-Harry Potter and my mom and sister have never been to an Universal park so on our next trip west, we were going to fit it in. We are going to do Disneyland/California Adventure January 30-Feb 2 (Mon-Thur) 2017 then switching hotels to the Hollywood area for Fri/Sat and are going to do Universal on Friday then tourist stuff on Saturday. There is a quite a bit of information on DLR but I have not found much on Universal. Hoping going a slow time of year, avoiding holidays/major events and Harry Potter having been open 10 months it won’t be too busy.
I agree with everything really and I suppose i always will — anyone that believes an In -N-Out Burger is well, spiritual, can’t ever be wrong in my book!
Oh no it’s 3D which means a no can do for me. Sad! I do wear glasses, can’t wear contacts, and have motion sickness issues, can’t even ride the light rail sitting backwards! Worst ride for me at DW was the Finding Nemo with the 3D fishes, was so queasy by the end of it I had to lie/lay (ugh, never keep that one straight) down afterwards. Seriously disappointed!
Thanks for your thoughts on the sight lines. I think one other reason having bits of other lands be visible is acceptable in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom is the feeling I always get of these places of being a place of imagination. As you said, they aren’t meant to be “real” places, or sharply defined places like the Wizarding World. The different lands just represent an idea of a place. And I know when I was a kid, my play would happily incorporate just about anything that seemed fun at the time- I remember spending hours playing with my cousin’s toy cars, Dinosaurs, and GI Joes all at the same time. So when I climb up in the Tree House and see a castle off in the distance, or see a big mountain off in the distance from frontier land, it somehow works. It also helps that you’re mental prepped for this kind of disconnect from the very moment you step into the park to find yourself on a old time Main Street with a castle in the end. It makes it very clear that this is a place that plays by it’s own rules. With Wizarding world however, because everything is tied to such a specific place, everything is so detailed to look almost exactly how you see it in your head when you read the books or watch the movies, to suddenly see a hotel or an other ride is jarring and pulls you right out of the illusion.
As for why Ollivander’s has such an appeal- in the books Harry getting his wand is a magical experience. It serves as an introduction to the magic of the world, and a confirmation the Harry belongs to that world. For someone who’s a fan of the series, being “choosen” by a wand an incredible way of feeling connected the the world, like just maybe you could be a Hogwarts student too.
I saw you and your friend talking about this shit today. I was ten feet away. You sick for the most part but make good points. I hate you guys. Your camera man should get a better haircut. He looks like a 30 year old virgin.
I don’t know if this is spam or what, but you definitely didn’t see me. I haven’t left my house today, and I don’t have a camera man.
I too notice the various Disney landmarks like the Matterhorn and Big Thunder being seen from other lands but it’s never bothered me. To a certain extent, I think perhaps Walt Disney didn’t mind either. After all, that’s why he coined his term “weenies”, to describe visually impressive structures that called guests into the land and toward them. Kind of like when guests look across the river and see Big Thunder in the distance and they say, “wow what’s that one? Let’s go check it out!”
There’s a quote…I believe by John Hench…offering justification for the Matterhorn, and it essentially amounted to it working because it looked cool and felt right, and sometimes that’s the most important ‘rule’ of all.
I tried to find the quote for this article, but could not locate it.
We were just there on February 15 and 16th and by luck got to experience it on a soft opening on the 16th! It was awesome! The castle was only open for walk through, the Forbidden Journey wasn’t open. We rode the Flight of the Hippogriff with my 11 year old. I’ve been to Disney World once last year, but couldn’t fit in Universal. Neither my husband, nor my daughters had ever been to Universal and my daughter and I enjoyed The Wizarding World immensely, my husband liked the Studio Tour.
The sight lines did bother me, but I’m usually too critical to allow myself to be fully immersed anyway:)
We ate at The Three Broomsticks as well, but did not have dessert. My daughter and I shared the bangers and mash and a side salad, my husband had the lemon chicken platter. Good food, healthy portions at a reasonable price. My older daughter was in Washington D.C., so she missed our trip. We plan on coming back this summer ( we are Northern California people).
Surprised that Forbidden Journey wasn’t open either day. I know they’ve had the land open almost everyday for the past week, and I thought most of the time, FJ was also open with it.
I love the Studio Tour. Always a must do–different every time!
Thanks for the post. I’ve been twice to the one at Orlando and loved it. I’ll be in Japan in April, but we have decided to give Universal a miss. I am coming to see this new one in May, though I have been mentally preparing myself that it won’t come close to the Orlando one.
Not sure if you’re visiting Osaka/Kyoto, but if you are, you really might want to consider Universal Studios Japan. Totally different than Orlando, and the Cool Japan stuff looks pretty awesome: http://www.usj.co.jp/e/universal-cool-japan2016/
It’s on the list and then it’s not on the list…a friend was telling us how bad the crowds are at Universal in Japan when she visited. We are definitely going to Kyoto though, but we can’t make our minds up about Universal.
We did Universal in Oct., so sadly no Harry Potter for us. But thanks for bringing up the 3d thing. I get motion sick so was able to a grand total of 1 real ride. I did try Minions but had to close my eyes part way through or it would have gotten messy. This made Universal feel like a terrible value compare to Disneyland. where it is no teacups or Star Tours but other than that I am ok.
I wonder what percentage of the population gets sick from 3D. I hear this all the time, but I’m not sure whether it’s a vocal minority thing, or an issue that affects a significant portion of the population. In any case, a lot of people do wear glasses, and 3D is a PITA for them.
Hope you at least did the Studio Tour!
I have an astigmatism, and 3D can tend to set off a migraine for me. So add the motion of the ride and ill probably avoid it like the plague.
I am in the same boat as you, Jennifer. I have been quite disappointed in the Harry Potter attractions that seem would be the best, simply because riding them would certainly make me miserable. Like you, I cannot “stomach” Star Wars or Teacups, and Mission Space is out of the question at WDW. However, both Disneyland and WDW have more than enough attractions to keep be entertained. Universal, not so much. I understand the appeal for those who do not have this problem, but it doesn’t work so well for me.
Yes, please do a complete guide! Reading this review is making me excited for our trip there in the fall. 🙂
Good read, my BF and I went to Univesal Studios Hollywood this past December and although Hogsmeade was still boarded up, I could tell that “losing yourself” in Hogsmeade was not going to be easy…especially the entrance area. It’ll be hard not to compare it to the Orlando one when we go back to Anaheim later this year!
I think it’s not too late to fix the problems. I just hope J.K. hasn’t seen the finished product yet, and once she does, she throws a fit about the sightlines.