Did you grow up reading the Harry Potter books? I was never allowed to as kid, so when the pandemic shutdown first began in early 2020, I ordered all seven HP books and took advantage of the quiet evenings by catching up on the childhood cultural phenomenon I’d missed. If figured all the craziness would blow over by the time I was done.
Two months later, after finishing the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I came up for air, looked around and realized, wait, is the pandemic still happening? I guess this “quick global quarantine” was a bigger deal than we all anticipated.
But by then, the match was lit. My mind was aflame with wizards and castles and candy that ribbits. I had fallen in love with the adventures of this scar-faced boy detective and his teenage crew. Their stories fascinated me, but I had no one to talk to about my new, imaginary friends. Brandon had never read the books either, and the rest of the world had moved on to Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray, leaving Harry behind in their early 2000’s memories.
That’s when I discovered Harry Potter World. A whole theme park dedicated to butterbeer, magic wands, and the boy who lived.
Brandon scheduled this special trip for me to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood as a surprise birthday present last year; our final hurrah in California before moving to Chicagoland on Halloween day.
People always ask me if I've seen the HP movies.
Back in 2020, as soon as I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (book #1), I sat down to strategize. I wondered, was it better to read all the books first, then watch all the movies? Or read a book, watch the corresponding movie, then read the next book and watch the next movie, et cetera?
At the time, it seemed clear; there would always be time to read all the books then watch all the movies, but I would never have the chance to go back and read book #1, then watch movie #1 for the first time, so that's where I started.
After finishing book #1, I curled up on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn and a sparkling glass of root beer to watch the first Harry Potter movie. The actors were young and adorable, the music swept me up with emotion, the fantasy set dressings were just as I'd imagined them, and the story...bored me.
I had just read this story. I knew exactly what was going to happen. Even the dialogue was the same. The visuals were stunning, but I yearned for the mystery of what came next. I found myself scrolling through Instagram instead of enjoying the long-awaited film with rapt attention.
It quickly became clear that reading the book and watching the movie back to back was a poor plan, so I abandoned it and turned to Plan B - reading all the books first.
For those of you who were also late the Harry Potter party, what was your strategy for reading the books and seeing the movies?
Pick up your school books from Tomes and Scrolls book shop; everything you'll need for classes like History of Magic, Potions, Transfiguration, and Care of Magical Creatures.
Then enter Hogwarts Castle for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey roller coaster ride!
Well, sort of a roller coaster.
Before riders get to the tummy-turning 3D experience, they must first stash their stuff in one of the free lockers and join the snaking queue in the rocky tunnels beneath Hogwarts. The tunnels open up to the lush herbology greenhouse, where they might catch a glimpse of professor Pomona Sprout tending to her screaming mandrakes.
Just past this vaulted hall of talking picture frames lies the beginning of the forbidden journey, a 3D ride that uses KUKA robocoaster technology. Instead of sitting in a typical coaster car and moving along a track attached to the floor, riders nestle into a tall, narrow seat suspended by a robotic arm that swings around to face the unfolding story. Seatbelt on and legs dangling, the adventures begins!
Alternating between 3D movie screens and physical set pieces, the robotic arm flings riders back and forth, up and down to follow Harry, Ron and Hermione on an adventure to escape their frightening enemies, including a dragon.
Be prepared to feel a bit queasy from the jerky movements and the disorienting immersive 3D screens. Don't worry, you can always settle your stomach with some butterbeer afterward...that will definitely work, right?
Get dressed up for the Yule Ball at Gladrags Wizardwear. They offer a wide selection of fabrics, colors and buttons to create the perfect outfit for the enchanted dance floor.
We enjoyed every moment of our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including the irony of "snow" capped shops in the 75°F southern California weather.
Click below to continue the magical tour of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios Hollywood:
And to keep the fun going, click below to see the rest of our Universal Studios theme park adventure: