Wizarding World of Harry Potter: 7 Insider Tips to the New Universal Studios Hollywood Attraction
The attraction's supervising art director takes THR on a tour of the facility.
One of the creative minds behind the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter — supervising art director Alan Gilmore — waits atop the steps of Hogsmeade Station, enveloped in misty smoke from the Hogwarts Express, ready to deliver a behind-the-scenes tour of the new Universal Studios Hollywood attraction.
The park, which officially opens today following a soft opening, is the third destination to come to life from J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster Harry Potter universe, following openings in Japan and Florida. And this, like the others, is a deep dive into Potter’s surroundings from the books and subsequent films, and no detail was spared.
“It's what the next layer of theme park entertainment should be — an absolute immersion into any type of storyline, where every detail is so perfect that you want to know more about it, you want to explore it,” Gilmore says.
Speaking of exploration, THR got an exclusive look inside Harry’s Wizarding World to offer these seven tips that shed more light on L.A.'s latest entertainment destination:
1) New park, familiar talent: In creating the world, Gilmore says the Universal Studios team drafted the original team from the Warner Bros. franchise. “Many attractions have a sense of their origins, they’re very like the film they come from, but none are as like the film as this. We’ve involved all of the same people, the same costume designers, the same set designers, the same artisans, the director, the story writer, J.K. Rowling, they’re all involved.” Their independent designs in the films have been “brought together as a stronger storytelling experience,” Gilmore adds.
2) The Hogwarts Express carriage: As guests walk beyond the steaming Hogwarts Express that is a replica of an English GWR Hall Class train, notice one of its train carriages which is unique to Hollywood. The seats are upholstered with the same fabric as those from the film set, and "when people find this out, they’re like, 'I've got to touch that because that’s where Daniel Radcliffe sat,'" says Gilmore.
3) J.K. Rowling-approved treats: Travel along the cobbled paths of Wizarding World where guests can enjoy British-and-Scottish-inspired confections in Honeydukes, all brought to life from film props to real, edible merchandise. From Butterbeer, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs, everything had to be “tasted and brought to J.K. Rowling. It was a huge amount of effort to get everything exactly right,” explains Gilmore. “The chefs at Universal flew to Scotland and brought the food to her. Butterbeer was brought to her in Scotland, really amazing. This is the special, magic Butterbeer.”
View of the Butterbeer cart at the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 5, 2016. (Photo by Mike Windle/Universal Studios/NBC via Getty Images)
4) More J.K. Rowling particularities: In addition to eateries, J.K. Rowling was also very specific about her visions for the Forbidden Journey experience through Hogwarts Castle, the illustration of the ancient art of astronomy in Wiseacres, the wands chosen for Ollivanders (some retail for $47) and interactive spells performable at 11 locations throughout Hogsmeade. Pay special attention to these areas or ask a staff member for guidance.
5) Sip Firewhiskey at Hog’s Head: While it’s not available just yet, Gilmore says that Universal Studios Hollywood will soon be the first location to experience "Firewhiskey," another concoction that will likely be summoned by Rowling for approval. Currently at Hog’s Head, guests can experience a life-like animatronic hog’s head and shrunken heads. But be careful “or your head might end up there,” jokes Gilmore.
6) It’s all in the details: As you’re navigating through intimate little archways and doorways on your journey through Wizarding World, with Butterbeer in hand, look for the following details: hidden owls, elves, floating broomsticks an enchantments in store windows. Observe a “Hippogriff-sized” bird landing on Hogwarts Castle, investigate buildings that look old, weathered and leaning into one another after decades of housing Muggles, Squibs, witches and wizards alike.
7) Inside the crystal ball: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is officially complete … for now. Gilmore assures that the park may be done but it will "always transform. It’s enchanted. After this, I’d love to see the Ministry of Magic, or maybe the Shrieking Shack. There are many amazing places, like the Quidditch World Cup stage, that would be quite cool."
A young Gryffindor student learns how to use a wand at the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 5, 2016. (Photo by: Mike Windle/Universal Studios/NBCU Photo Bank)