Those looking for a magical place to visit won’t have to board a plane to travel into the world of Harry Potter. Universal Studios Hollywood will officially open its latest addition – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – on April 7.
Hogsmeade features a collection of shops, rides and performances based on the Harry Potter tales. The attractions blend the work of the film productions with input from the Universal Studios creative team.
It was supervising art director Alan Gilmore’s job to keep an eye on every detail of the five-year construction – a job he’s well suited for, having worked on the two previous Wizarding Worlds in Orlando, Fla., and Osaka, Japan. He was also the art director on the films “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
Gilmore says the three Harry Potter attractions around the world are “brothers and sisters” to each other.
“Each Hogsmeade is tailored to its location a little bit so there are a few little changes. But in a magical world we are allowed to do some magic and the buildings can jump around a little bit,” Gilmore says. “This one is very close to the one in Orlando. There are a few changes dotted around, but that’s for people to find out when they explore it. We have been doing this for many, many years and I feel like we are enhancing the experience all the time. For me, this is the best Hogwarts because it is the best location, I love the light. I love California. It was important for those of us from London to bring this to Hollywood.”
One reason for changes at the latest attraction is that this Wizarding World is located in the smallest space of the three. One thing the small space does is create a feeling of being away from all the other attractions at the theme park once visitors pass through the massive gates, move past the Hogwarts Express and make their way into the cobbled lanes of Hogsmeade.
Under the wise gaze of mechanical owls sits the Owl Post, a small post office where visitors can send mail that will feature an official postmark from Hogsmeade Village.
Gilmore takes great pride in pointing out details in the construction that others might think of as flaws or mistakes. Paint on many of the display cabinets in the sweet shop Honeydukes – where you can buy Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans – is chipped. That was planned to give the feel of having been around hundreds of years.
That’s why all the structures appear to be made from giant wooden beams and detailed stonework to match construction materials from years ago. Gilmore admits he’s a “devil for the details,” which is why if something looks like it was made of stone, it will feel like it is made of stone.
“If an ancient builder were to walk into one of the buildings, they would say it looked absolutely correct,” Gilmore says. “I think the average parkgoer will recognize that there is something very different about this world, even if they don’t quite really know what they are seeing. A lot of people probably haven’t seen a lot of this kind of architecture.”
Such details are found throughout the attraction. Under the mechanical owls, there are owl droppings.
Even the numerous gift shops aren’t designed like most theme park stores.
“You will notice that all of the shops are very small. They are designed that way to make the whole area feel like they are Scottish in scale,” Gilmore says.
To be able to handle the crowds expected to visit the attraction, several of the shops are linked together. This helps create a flow that will accommodate more visitors. Plus, there are bits of entertainment in many of the shop windows, to encourage browsing and magical exploration.
One fun interactive feature is marked on the ground with gold medallions in front of 13 windows. They mark where would-be wizards can perform magic, providing the spell and the correct way to move the wand. Interactive wands are available for purchase at Ollivanders.
Cast members are there to help novice wizards cast a spell. One tip is to make your wand movements small, using only your wrist and not your full arm. If done correctly, items in the store windows come to life.
Another difference between the California and Florida attractions is the number of rides. Both have the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Flight of the Hippogriff rides, but there is no Dragon Challenge in Hollywood. And Hollywood’s Forbidden Journey ride is in 3-D.
Because there are only two rides, the lines are expected to be long, especially for the Forbidden Journey. The path leading to the ride is filled with magical displays like moving portraits to make the wait less boring. At one spot, Harry, Hermione and Ron chat (via film magic) with the visitors.
The Forbidden Journey ride is under the most visible part of the attraction. Looming over the entire land is what looks like the massive Hogwarts castle. There was a little bit of movie-making magic used to create the structure, which is only built to a one-fourth scale. But the forced perspective makes it look life-size and reaching far into the heavens.
All of the work has been done under the watchful eye of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who gave input on everything from the lay of the magical land to items on the menu.
“She helped us create the whole place and was very clear that all the food had to be authentic. That’s why you won’t find any sodas, hamburgers or chicken nuggets on the menu,” Gilmore says.
What you can order at the Three Broomsticks restaurant or Hog’s Head pub are items from prime rib to shepherd’s pie. Along with Butterbeer, there is a large selection of beers and a full bar.
From the snow-covered buildings to the very specific menu, the newest Wizarding World of Harry Potter is designed to let Harry Potter fans feel as if they have stepped into the books or films.
“It’s a world in a park,” Gilmore says.
There is no additional admission charge for visiting the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is part of the theme park experience that also includes the recently expanded “Simpsons” area, the Minions ride and other attractions now in the shadow of Hogwarts.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Opens April 7
- Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
- Park hours: 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. weekdays
- Tickets: Prices vary, but average $85, http://m.universalstudioshollywood.com/tickets