Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Hollywood’s Universal Studios

Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Hollywood's Universal Studios pin

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Many young people grew up with J KRowlings’ Harry Potter, and the next generation is quickly getting to know this fantastical world of magic and wizardry. The main series spans seven books, eight movies, and a recently welcomed prequel titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Hence it was only a matter of time until theme parks based on this world would be created. After its successful launch in Orlando, Universal  Studios finally created a Harry Potter World in its Hollywood Park.

 

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History

The Wizarding World was first built in Universal Orlando in the summer of 2010. Due to its popularity, Universal developed a version of the park in Universal Hollywood in the summer of 2016. Since, Universal Hollywood has access to much less land than Orlando, the park section in Hollywood more compact but still, includes all Orlando park highlights.

Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Hollywood's Universal Studios gate

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What You Will See

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When we first got there, we got to pay at an automated kiosk since we purchased our tickets by credit card. Unfortunately, the kiosk malfunctioned and didn’t print us our tickets. Luckily, we were directed to the service area where the customer service agents not only gave us our tickets but handed us two front of the line passes as compensation for our time.

Hogsmeade

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We made a beeline for the Harry Potter World as soon as we got in the park. Guests enter this section of the park through a stone gate. The first thing we saw was a recreation of Hogsmeade, the small shopping town where Hogwarts students go to have fun. This area was an almost perfect recreation of the one seen in the movies, complete with off-kilter chimneys and magical window dressings. Needless to mention, the rooftops were covered in fake snow, which looked perfect during our Christmas visit.

The Three Broomsticks

We headed to The Three Broomsticks restaurant first. As we had arrived near lunch time, we did encounter a bit of a line. The other half of our party arrived before us, and apparently, people are not allowed to save seats inside, so we sat separately.

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Appropriate for Christmas, the Three Broomsticks offered a Holiday Feast. The Holiday Feast included  Turkey, Beef Wellington along with various vegetables, delicious stuffing and cranberry sauce.The portions were large and could easily feed a family of four, maybe more. WE were told that during the rest of the year, diners can still try the Great Feast, which includes chicken, spare ribs, corn, roasted potatoes, and salad.

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Along with the holiday platter, we also tried the Spare Ribs and the Fish and Chips. The Three Broomsticks venue offers many different British-based food items, such as Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s Pie, and Beef Lamb and Guinness Stew.
For breakfast, patrons can try Eggy Bread, a traditional English Breakfast, an American Breakfast or a Continental Breakfast. They do have a children’s menu which offers smaller versions of most of the adult meals.

Butterbeer

While at The Three Broomsticks, we, of course, had to have our first taste of butterbeer!
Butterbeer is a signature drink of the Harry Potter franchise that fans all over the world wish to sample. Butterbeer in the park came in three types-frozen, regular, and hot.
We tried the regular in a specialty mug. It tasted much like a cream soda mixed with butterscotch and was delicious yet incredibly sugary. The Three Broomsticks also serves a Butterbeer Potted Cream, and adults can enjoy Butterbeer with a shot of whiskey.

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Buying a Wand

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After dining at The Three Broomsticks, the Harry Potter area got exceptionally crowded, so we decided to check out the rest of Universal until the crowds died down. After going on the Studio Tour and checking out the Simpsons area, we returned to the Harry Potter area to buy ourselves a wand at Ollivander’s.

Just like at the Orlando Park, Ollivander’s does offer a wand choosing event. However, we only recommend this for the patrons willing to wait in long lines for the chance to be chosen for the ceremony. Word of warning-only one child is selected per event. Those wishing to skip the ceremony can just go straight into Ollivander’s shop and just buy a wand directly.

Ollivander’s turned out to be a small shop. The staff at the door limit those coming in and out, but even then we still moved through crowds. The store stocks all the wands in long boxes on shelves. One one side of the room featured all the “celebrity” wands, aka wands based off those owned by the characters. On the other end of the room we saw wands sorted by “wood type,” and along this side, patrons could read little descriptions of the various wand woods, how they looked, and how they matched up to distinct personalities.

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Interactive Wands

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One of the most interesting aspects of Harry Potter world is getting an interactive wand. These are a little more pricey but well worth it for its ‘magic ‘ capabilities. We bought one of these interactive wands, which came with a map to show us where we could use them. One of the first places we went was to a decorative flower in the window of a shop. By standing on a point and waving the wand in a particular pattern, we got the flower to bloom. There’s plenty of other places where one can cast spells throughout the park to various effects.

Something that I noticed was that I sometimes had difficulty making the wand work. We figured out it was because I am left-handed, and therefore making the wand movements with my left hand, with my arm likely blocking whatever mechanism the item uses to communicate with the scenery.

Honeydukes/Zonko’s

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We wandered around for awhile casting spells in various places before going into Honeydukes.
In the Harry Potter books, Honeydukes is a sweet shop that sells all sorts of magical candies. We bought a chocolate frog, which came in a box that looked exactly like the ones in the movies.
We also purchased a bottle of pumpkin juice. The store had stacks of Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans on sale, specialty jelly beans that come in interesting (and disgusting) flavors. Other items we found interesting were chocolate wands and cauldron cake pastries. The shop was very crowded and filled with merchandise, so it was sometimes difficult to move around.

Honeydukes in Universal is in the same building as Zonko’s Joke Shop (Universal Orlando has Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes instead.)In the Zonko’s area, guests can buy all sorts of nonfood merchandise, such as old fashion joke and prank items, many of which have some magical theme.

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Flight of the Hippogriff/Frog Choir

We decided to go ahead and check out Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride now that we could wait in a reasonable line. On our way, we passed Flight of the Hippogriff, a more traditional roller coaster suitable for younger kids. We also saw the stage on which the Hogwarts Frog Choir was performing, and we stopped to watch. Four Hogwarts students sang magic themed acapella songs accompanied by the croaking frogs they held aloft on pillows. Those who observe the show for awhile can see the students interact as they sing, part of which includes three of the students getting terrified in various ways by the fourth Slytherin student.

The Castle

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They don’t allow guests to take bags or even their wands on the ride, but they do provide lockers at the ride’s entrance. It was crowded, so it took us some time to find a free locker, but once we did it was a breeze to store our items. Guests get the first two hours free for lockers.

 

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The line itself is worth walking through, and we highly recommend it even for those who don’t want to go on the final ride, since there are plenty of exit doors along the way. We first walked through a greenhouse area which was calming and got to see Mandrakes in pots.
Once we got inside the castle, we saw lots of moving paintings which communicated with each other. In one room, they had portraits of the four Hogwarts founders which all bickered with each other as we passed. In a nearby classroom, a screen replicated Harry, Ron, and Hermione appearing above us from under their Invisibility Cloak to talk to guests. There were lots of interesting little details that any Potter fan will enjoy.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

To get on the ride itself, guests walk on a moving platform similar to Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Overhead bars straps guests in the seats, but visitors should be prepared that their feet will be dangling in the air.

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This version of the ride is different from the Orlando version in that the 3D elements were excluded to alleviate headaches and motion sickness for riders. However, the ride itself can still cause plenty of motion sickness. Riders move through simulated environments, partially on a 360 view screen, occasionally through constructed environments with animatronics. Though no one is entirely upside down or moving down or up at fast speeds the seats do tilt back and forth to simulate movement.

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Filch’s Emporium

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Once we got off, we walked right into Filch’s Emporium, another merchandise shop. There’s plenty of items here for guests to show off their house in mugs and plates as well as cute stuffed animal toys and puppets. We got a plush Fawkes the Phoenix as a gift.There are plenty of other great shops throughout the park, such as the Owl Post. These stores sell items like house robes, perfect badges, and other great things to get for oneself or as a gift.

Ending the Day

We decided to end our day at the Three Broomsticks again. Most people had cleared out, so we could freely walk in and sit wherever we wanted. We decided to get the warm butterbeer this time. After trying it, we think they use a different recipe for each type of Butterbeer, as it tasted distinct. Either way, it was still delicious and the perfect way to end our time at Harry Potter World.

Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Hollywood's Universal Studios MUGS

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Location, Cost, and Hours

Universal Studios is located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
Prices vary depending on the season and day, but typically sit at around $105 for adults, with discounts for kids. We highly recommend ordering tickets online for the best discounts.
Universal is usually open from nine AM to ten PM.

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Autism Travel Tips:

  • Guests need to empty their pockets of all metal items and go through a metal detector. If the metal detector beeps, a staff member wands the guest before they can continue walking.
  • We went right after Christmas, a particularly busy time for Universal. However, there are still crowds in this small part of the park. The shops are also smaller and filled with lots of merchandise, making for tight spaces. We recommend going to the park either early in the day or the evening.
  • Universal’s Front of the Line pass doesn’t work on any of the attractions in Harry Potter World.
  • Those visiting should stop at Guest Relations before entering the park. Universal Studios offers a special assistance card similar to the one in Disneyland. Parents just have to have staff scan the card at the ride to receive a return time to avoid lines.
  • At The Three Broomsticks, as guests walk through the line they can see a display of most dishes the restaurant offers. This display is an excellent way for parents and kids to look at the food and see portion sizes and what looks appetizing.
  • The Three Broomsticks does not allow patrons to save seats during busy times. However, those who get to the front of the line before the rest of their party can wait to the side.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey features some “4D” effects like heat and water sprays.
  • Those who want to cast spells with their interactive wands should know that the spells only work for one person at a time. Guests might sometimes have to stand in small lines to try out spells. The spells are also sometimes fickle, which can be frustrating, especially if there’s a line forming behind the spell caster.
  • The main bathroom in this part of the park is right next to The Three Broomsticks. Parents should be aware, however, that in the bathrooms a voiceover of the ghost “Moaning Myrtle” speaks to guests. This fact can be frightening for some kids – it was certainly a little unsettling for some of our adult party members.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism

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Originally opened at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida as a single theme park in June of 1990, the famous Universal Studios Orlando still flourishes. Islands of Adventure was added later, and together these movie-inspired theme parks draw almost 30 million visitors per year.For visitors who have autism, visiting a theme park can be fun but also quite challenging. To help families plan their visit here are our tips and suggestions.

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What You Will See

Rides

The rides in the park range from mild to extreme and may present some sensory challenges for visitors with autism.

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Children on the autism spectrum can range anywhere from thrill seekers that crave G-forces, and sharp roller coaster turns to being sensitive to even the slightest of motion. Many rides include moderate to high movement while others are tame. Furthermore, many of the rides are digitally simulated which involves being rocked in a seat.
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The park’s most extreme rides include Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. All of these rides feature sudden stops, spins, and turns. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a simulated coaster but still features extreme movements in all directions except upside down.

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More moderate rides include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers 3D, Pteranodon Flyers, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In Despicable Me Mayhem, guests can choose immovable chairs for a more surefooted experience.

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The feet of guests dangle on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which can prove a problem to some kids.  While Pteranodon Flyers is a smooth ride, it does suspend riders in flight over the Jurassic Park and is therefore not for those afraid of heights.

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The milder rides include Men in Black Alien Attack, Hogwarts Express, and The Simpsons Ride. The Simpsons Ride is another simulated roller coaster that’s mostly a mini Simpsons cartoon with a few ups and downs. The Hogwarts Express features mild train movement and can, in fact, be relaxing. For visitors who wish to experience very mild rides the Suess Landing area in Islands of Adventures is recommended.

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Effects

Many of the attractions at Universal feature loud noises. Some especially stand out with loud explosions, gunfire, and screams.  For example, Diagon Alley’s giant dragon often growls and spews real fire, while the train to Hogsmeade features whistles and screams.

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Though several rides at Universal are virtual they employ special lighting, darkness, and 3D glasses for their effects. The 3D glasses are not a requirement, so those sensitive to 3D effects can choose not the wear them during the ride or attraction. Those scared of the dark can wear a glow in the dark armband in attractions such as Revenge of the Mummy, Knockturn Alley, and Poseidon’s Fury.

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Other attractions involve water sprays, winds, and smoke effects, which can prove a challenge to some kids. Water based rides include Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
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Most rides have riders wear a helmet or seat belts which again might bother some kids.

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Shows

Macy’s Holiday Parade, the Mardi-Gras parade, and the Superstar Parade all run outdoors in the afternoon with spectators lined along the parade route. People can sit on the sidewalk or stand during the half hour ceremony. Parents of kids who can’t sit through the entire show can leave at any time.

 

 

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Families can also visit the Character Party Zone where they can find dancers from the parade performing and gsigning autographs in front of Mel’s Drive-In.

 

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Throughout the parks, there are also mini performances where spectators can stand and attend like the Blues Brothers concert stage in front of Rip Ride Rockit, and Hogwarts Frog Choir where performers sing songs from Harry Potter movies.

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There are plenty of character Meet and Greet opportunities in the parks. Though there are no accommodations for them, the lines are usually short.

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Finally, there’s Shrek 4D, a 3D movie with extra sensory effects like smells and water sprays. This show is an unusual attraction but can be scary or challenging for viewers with sensory issues.

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Playgrounds

Universal boasts several playgrounds like Curious George ,If I Ran the Zoo and The Olive where antsy kids can let out steam. Many of these places feature water spray areas.

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For kids that are temperature-sensitive, the Camp Jurassic and Jurassic Park Discovery Center are recommended.
The former is a shady playground where children can explore secret caves, climb through nets, run across bridges and slide down slides. The latter features an air-conditioned educational area focusing on the prehistoric past.

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Food

Restaurants inside the parks as well as Universal City Walk feature several vegan, kosher, halal, dairy-free, gluten-free, or nut-free options for those with special diets.

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Guests can make reservations at most sit-down restaurants on the property. However, except during very busy times of the year, one can usually just walk into most restaurants. Diners can ask about the dietary options when they book online or by phone.
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Souvenirs

Like a so many other theme parks, Universal is a souvenir heaven.
Each area has unique merchandise so guests can get items ranging from favorites like Dr. Seuss, Despicable Me, Shrek, Marvel heroes like Spiderman and Hulk to Terminator, Transformers, and The Simpsons.

 

 

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But none can compare to the memento explosion of Harry Potter items to choose from: T-shirts, school uniforms, and even owl cages. Of course, most people want to get the new interactive wands. These devices interact with various locations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Guests can purchase these wands in several spots in the two parks, but by far the most popular place is Olivander’s Wand Shop.

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Location, Hours, and Admission

Families can buy tickets online or when they get to the park. Multiple day passes are the best deal. However, the park does offer three great options for children with autism.

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Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass, or UEP, is a paper pass with a printed bar code that can be used around most areas of the park (excluding some Harry Potter rides). Parents can get one for everyone in the family at no additional charge when staying at any USO properties (excluding Cabana Bay).

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They can also purchase the pass separately when arriving at the park. The UEP itself features two kinds of express passes. One offers a limit of one entry a day for each attraction. The other offers unlimited entries. Parents of children with autism who like to go on the same rides over and over again should get the unlimited pass.

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Attraction Assistance Pass

There is also Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass or AAP. This feature is a free pass given to accommodate guests who can’t wait in regular standby lines. One can use this pass for any ride or attraction, even one without a Universal Express Entrance. Parents can get their AAP card upon arriving at Guest Services and present identification while describing the accommodation needed. A doctor’s note explaining limitations can be useful but is not legally necessary.

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The card can accommodate up to six people. It also remains valid at both parks for the entire length of one’s stay. Families just need to show a cast member their card. If a ride’s wait time is less than half an hour, they will get in immediately through the express lane. Otherwise, the cast member will write on the AAP card the attraction name, time of day, wait time, and a return time.

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Guest Assistance Pass

Finally, there’s the Guest Assistance Pass or GAP. These passes are identical to a one day/two park unlimited UEP. They provide immediate entry to any attraction’s Universal Express queue, regardless of the standby wait. Guests can only get these on a strictly limited basis.

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Autism Travel Tips:

  • While the park features monthly events, summer and Christmas time are the most crowded times of the year.
  • The best way to dress is in layers since conditions vary from attraction to attraction and throughout the day.
  • Non-slip shoes are a must.
  • Parents should pack a change of clothes if anyone wants to do any water rides. The park does offer blow dryers for rent for five minutes at a time.
  • We recommend bringing a poncho to protect family members from getting soaking wet on some water rides along with flip flops.
  • The park can get crowded. Parents should snap a photo of their child to show authorities if they wander or get lost.
  • In addition, parents should get temporary tattoos or patches with their child’s name and the parent’s phone number in case they get lost.
  • Families should prepare children ahead of time that there are height restrictions on some rides.
  • Guests that can’t climb the two flights of stairs at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade can ask staff to use the elevator to take them straight to the train platform.
  • There are no accommodations for attending parades.
  • At night, some parades may have fireworks.
  • Parents can use available lockers for shoes, socks, and small backpacks.
  • While the pathways are all paved and accessible, there might be slippery or muddy areas due to water attractions.
  • Orlando can get hot during the summer. This fact can make it uncomfortable for those waiting in outdoor lines for extended periods of time. Thankfully, many attractions at Universal are indoors and have air conditioning.
  • Those who don’t want to go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride can go through the queue line and experience all the Harry Potter items and scenes from the films. Interested guests just need to tell the attendant they are not riding. The attendant will then show them the exit.
  • Though the park allows guests to wear noise canceling headphones, some roller coasters like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and other motion intense rides won’t allow it.

 

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