For Christmas this past year, my sister Jessica offered to fly out and watch the girls for us so we could do a quick getaway. So we decided to take her up on it and do a fast trip down to Southern California to see Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. We have wanted to go ever since it opened but heard it wasn't the kind of place where we could go with the girls very easily. And that's definitely true. I hadn't been to Universal Studios since I was a kid but it's not very family friendly and most of the rides have height requirements that even Clara doesn't meet yet. And they were just too intense anyway.
We picked Jessica up on Thursday night from the airport and had fun chatting and hanging out at the house Thursday night and Friday morning. Then in the afternoon, Paul and I headed out. It was a fast drive and nice to have some one on one time in the car to talk to each other without the Moana soundtrack playing or being peppered with questions the entire time, lol.
We did dinner at Bubba Gump's at the Universal city walk area and then went to our hotel. The next morning we were up bright and early to be in line at the park entrance by 7:30. If you buy your tickets online, you get a discount AND an extra hour before the park officially opens at 9:00. We were probably 20th in line for the 8:00 opening, which was awesome. Of course everyone went straight to the Harry Potter attractions.
As far as the rides go, I don't think Harry Potter World is all that fantastic. The hippogriff ride is seriously less than 20 seconds long and the lines later in the day had a 2 hour wait. We were super glad that we just walked right on. The bigger attraction is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We actually LOVED walking through the ride staging/line areas. The decor was amazing and really well done. Except since there was no wait, we hustled right through and didn't get to really look at everything. That's the only plus for the 2 hour waits later in the day.
The ride itself made me super queasy. It's sort of a cross between the Haunted Mansion dune buggy and the Star Tours rides at Disneyland in that you are in small cart-type contraptions that moving along a track slowly, passing between screens and being jostled and jolted to simulate flying on a broomstick through spider dens and past dragons and around Hogwarts castle. It was definitely interesting, but honestly, not super Fun (with a capital "F") if that makes any sense.
But, disappointing rides aside, we still LOVED Harry Potter World and it was more for the immersive experience of it. They have done just a stunning job of making you feel a part of the wizarding world, from the costuming of the employees to the food to the shops and unique merchandise. We wandered for a long time, looking at things for sale, trying on a sorting hat (I'm Ravenclaw and Paul was told Hufflepuff although I would definitely say he is a Gryfindor), and going through Ollivander's Wand Shop.
We only had to wait 10 minutes for the wand selection demonstration, which apparently also has lengthy wait times later in the day. They take a group of maybe 40 people in a small, dim room with a master wandmaker who selects on person (a kid, always, I'm sure) to be fitted for a wand. Then there is a whole routine of trying out different wands and having them try out spells that cause the lights in the room to flicker, shelves to break, etc. until the "right" wand is found. When the kid is given the perfect wand a spotlight shines down on them, music starts playing, and a fan starts blowing on them creating this hilarious but cool "chosen" effect. The little girl in our group was obviously starstruck by the whole thing.
Afterwards, you go into the main wand shop where there are just hundreds and hundreds of wands stacked in boxes all the way from floor to ceiling. Each wand is a "replica" of a character from the books, but they don't just have the main characters - they have loads of very minor characters, which is really fascinating. If you loved the books, then you would love Ollivander's, I'm sure.
Other than the wand shop, we enjoyed the Owl Post and Wizarding Robes stores. Oh, and Honeydukes was incredible and I wish I could have tried some of everything. Instead we just opted for a couple of chocolate frogs to take home for Jessica and the girls.
One of my favorite parts of the day was lunch at the Three Broomsticks. It is absolutely fascinating inside with a sort of dark, moody, pub-ish feel. There are rickety looking staircases overhead leading nowhere, which feels just right. And the food served there is all very British. I ordered the bangers and mash with peas, and Paul got roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob. Both were delicious - like, really, honestly delicious - and the prices were very reasonable for theme-park fare. We could easily have shared one dish. The only thing that I found disappointing was their sticky toffee pudding, which was decidedly NOT authentic. It had butterscotch chips and basically just tasted sweet without any richness or depth or date-flavor at all and the texture was more dry and spongy than rich and sticky. If you want a seriously incredible sticky toffee pudding, definitely try this version that I posted on my food blog. It's the real deal, or as close as you are probably going to get without going to the UK.
But since we got so much done early in the morning we had literally done everything we wanted to in the park by 1:00, so we headed home and got back to Dublin before the girls were in bed, which was great since Jessica and I were heading out early the next morning to drive to Utah for our ski trip. It was a fantastic and fun date though, and we were so grateful to Jessica for coming out to watch the girls for us and they sure loved having the one-on-one time with her!