I received some complimentary tickets to visit to Universal Studios Hollywood and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The first thing you need to know is that the amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter is entirely contained in the existing Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Harry and his wizard village take up one magical but smallish section. After visiting with my family of children aged four through eleven, I strongly feel that the experience is best for children older than age nine who love intense action adventure films and rides. If you have a family that fits that description, drive on down to Los Angeles for a fun-filled visit! If your children are younger, more timid, or less interested in movies, I would send you some place else!
What to expect: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Harry Potter portion of the Universal Studios park includes attractions, restaurants, and shops themed around a recreation of Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. The experience is phenomenal: walking among the shops and rides of Harry's world, you will feel transported into the magical places of the books and movies. J.K. Rowling has reportedly been very involved in all the little details, and I think it shows.
My sons' jaws dropped at the Ollivander's wand show where the “wand chooses the wizard” right up close. They picked their chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans carefully among many other treats at the Honeydukes Sweet Shoppe. We learned that while chocolate frogs are a total disaster in 105 degree heat, the disgusting jellybeans really passed the time in the car on the way home.
There are only two Harry Potter rides: a family-friendly roller coaster and a terrifying but thrilling adventure ride for people who can handle both Dementors and 3-D spinny rides.
Food carts and full-service dining halls serve up butterbeer, a frozen slushy carmel rootbeer drink with whipped cream, alongside specialty alcoholic wizard beverages and vaguely British pub food.
There are many entertainment experiences you can watch and participate in: see a frog choir, cast spells with a wand, choose replica clothing. But this cannot be overstated: just being there and walking around is incredible for true fans.
What's new at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Check the website for special limited-time shows.
Still trying to decide whether to go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios?
If your children are passionate about Harry Potter and mature enough to handle the movies up through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this will be a very special experience. Allow me to share my family's relative degree of fandom so you can place your own people on the scale to make your own call:
- Mom: I've read all the Harry Potter books and seen the movies twice. I would be delighted to come on my own. I bought a commemorative Dumbledore magic wand and treasure it. Yes, I've been Hermione for Halloween.
- Dad: My husband is slightly less rabid as a fan but still very interested. He's read all the books but maybe seen the movies just once.
- Big Bro: Our 11-year old son, Holden, has read the books several times and seen the movies up through #3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). He has been Harry Potter for Halloween; his best souvenir was a golden snitch. This theme park was made with him in mind.
- Middle Bro: Our nine-year old doesn't really care about Harry's stories. He enjoyed the rides, but the special magical touches were wasted on him.
- Little Bro: Our four-year old has listened to the first two books and seen none of the movies. If we only had our little guy to contend with, I'd have waited a few more years.
What we loved about Universal Studios & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Our 11-year-old son's favorite ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 3-D with lots of motion and scenes from the third movie. To approach the ride, weave your way through the corridors of Hogwarts for a tour of the famous wizard school.
Pro tip: Use the child switch room to allow parents to take turns riding and waiting with little ones. You might even save on waiting in line.
The 9-year old's favorite experience was the Universal Studio Tour. It combines a narrated bus ride through a working Hollywood backlot with a few interactive 3-D experiences from King Kong and Fast & Furious. After a day of walking, 60 minutes of sitting was welcome.
Our 4-year old kid liked the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem best closely followed by “everything else”. This motion simulator ride takes you through your own Minion training. The story is cute and the motion is exciting but manageable for smaller kids. (Not sure? Here's an 8-minute video of the whole ride so you can preview it from home. Note the 3-D effects will be blurry without the glasses)
I enjoyed watching and participating in the Special Effects Show. I joined the cast as “Screaming Lady Over Age 18” and made my children so proud. They did freak out a bit when the other performers tried to cut my arm off with a trick knife.
Plan your visit to Universal City
Ack, finding a hotel! The preferred hotel program does offer perks of early admission and possibly park discounts. But the website made it extremely difficult to compare locations and prices to make an informed decision. The Sheraton and Hilton are walkable; others offer free shuttles that run frequently though not reliably. You can also search our affiliate GetawayToday for discount hotels near Universal Studios Hollywood.
Where to eat? Immediately adjacent to the theme park is CityWalk, an outdoor mega-mall with all kinds of shops and restaurants. Food choices in CityWalk are abundant so you will almost definitely find food that is better and cheaper than the park or your hotel.
What we did: We stayed at an affiliated hotel, the Sheraton Universal; it was fine. While I found it to be horribly overpriced for the small room, we also enjoyed the proximity immeasurably when one member of our party had to be carried home in a tantrum. By paying $28 per night to park our car at the hotel, we avoided paying for parking at the park as well.
To figure it all out for yourself, start at their website >
Bottom Line on Universal Studios Hollywood & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Where LEGOLAND is amazing for 4 to 8 year-olds into LEGO and Disneyland makes for an amazing trip for most ages and stages, the crowd best suited for Universal Studios theme park are older kids who like intense rides and movies. Though my children (at age four, nine, and eleven) were tall enough for nearly all attractions, they were not mature enough for any of the movie references. Don't worry about the kids though, they loved it all anyway.
Big thanks to Universal Studios Hollywood for providing my family with complimentary tickets. All opinions and experiences are our own.