Two boys get caught up in the fun at Universal Studios Hollywood's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Of the three Wizarding World of Harry Potter locations around the globe, the one at Universal Studios Hollywood is the closest to Seattle. Lucky for us, sunny SoCal is just a 2.5-hour direct flight away — a short hop to the land of butterbeer and chocolate frogs.
Universal Studios in California is sometimes maligned when compared to that neighboring iconic theme park in Anaheim (cough cough). But we think a visit to Universal Studios is 100-percent worth the money if your kids are Potterheads. It’s the ultimate experience for people who love all things Harry Potter.
On our last visit, Hogwarts Castle and the village of Hogsmeade were dressed up for winter, complete with a dusting of snow on the peaked roofs. Just like third-year Hogwarts students who have their permission slips signed, you can visit Honeydukes Sweet Shop, Zonko’s Joke Shop, the Owl Post and more.
Make the most of your visit with our top tips:
1. Get there early.
The general parking garage ($30) is a-hike-through-a-shopping-mall away from the theme park entrance. Preferred parking is $50. Plan on extra time to get through security. (Another arrival option: Some area hotels offer a free shuttle.)
2. Get your bearings.
This is important: Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app before you arrive. The park is no longer handing out paper maps. Also, the app lists wait times, making it easy to figure out your ride strategy.
3. Go in expecting to bleed galleons.
No big surprise here, everything is expensive. Set a budget, then double it.
There’s a reason J.K. Rowling is a bazillionaire. Universal Studios admission starts at a nonnegotiable $109 per person, and once you enter, it’ll take all of your willpower to not buy everything in sight. The cute little shops of Hogsmeade are filled with souvenirs for purchase, sweatshirts, stuffies, marauder maps, you name it.
That mug of butterbeer will set you back a ridiculous $15.33 — it’s basically super-sweet soda in a plastic cup. But, when in Hogsmeade …
If you want to dress up, you’ll be in good company. You’ll see lots of wizards and witches walking around in school robes. Robes at Universal run $140 apiece; we pre-purchased a knockoff on Amazon for a fraction of that price.
Universal Studios allows you to bring in your own snacks, just not a full-on four-course meal. Not as fun as ordering English pub food at the Three Broomsticks, but probably healthier and definitely more budget-friendly.
5. Conjure up a good geographic game plan.
The Wizarding World isn’t the only thing in Universal Studios! Hit the two Harry Potter rides first (see below), then take the escalators down to the lower lot. Save exploring Hogsmeade for the afternoon when wait times for rides will be much longer.
Do the three rides on the lower lot together (the Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic World), so you don’t waste time making multiple trips up and down the long flights of escalators. There’s also a cute dinosaur-themed playground for younger kids who may not be up for the rides.
The studio tour is a must; it’s a 60-minute tram ride through the buildings and sets where the movie-making happens. There are a few motion simulator stops as well as close encounters with dinosaurs and sharks.
6. Ride the two Harry Potter rides.
Curious — or worried — about the rides? Look up point-of-view videos on YouTube for spoilers.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a 4D motion simulator, meaning you sit in a chair that tips you on your back and twists around while you watch a big screen and get sprayed a bit. You’re not physically careening through space, but it is dizzying. Flying on a broom looks so much easier when Harry does it. There are also dementors to watch out for, giant spiders, a dragon and the Whomping Willow.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a family-friendly roller coaster with no inversions. It’s a tame and short ride as far as roller coasters go. When you pass by Hagrid’s hut, you’ll hear Fang barking inside.
Team members are serious about height requirements (minimum 48 inches for the Forbidden Journey). There’s a chair outside the ride that you can try out to check if you’ll fit with the safety harness on.
7. Buy the wand
The interactive wands are a must.
Go to Ollivanders Wand Shop for the wand ceremony. Afterward, you can browse the shop and let the wand choose the wizard.
Interactive wands cost $60 apiece. To save money, you could buy a secondhand wand off eBay. But you’ll miss the experience of picking out your wand at Ollivanders. Use your wand to cast spells at 13 spots around Hogsmeade. You will have to practice your wand work to get the spell just right. This was easily our family’s favorite part of our whole Wizarding World experience.
Note: If your wand gets broken, you can take it back to Ollivanders and they’ll “fix” it for free (a.k.a. replace it with a new wand).
8. Make a pit stop.
Don’t miss the restrooms in Hogsmeade featuring a certain gurgling ghost.
9. It’s all about attitude.
Long lines? It’s hot? Don’t let the muggles get you down. Your visit is as magical as you make it.
10. For visitors with disabilities
Guests with special needs can go to guest services and ask for an Attraction Assistance Pass. It’s a paper pass that lets you go through the express lane, or get a return time if the current wait is more than 45 minutes. The guest services team members don’t ask for a diagnosis; they ask why queuing is difficult. You need to explain what could happen if you stand in line for long periods of time.
You can call ahead to request an AAP or just get it at the park when you arrive. The pass allows six people on the pass, so your whole family can ride together.
11. Note this travel tip.
Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) is the closest in the area to Universal Studios, but you’ll find more flights and more rental car options at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), roughly 45 minutes away from the park.
Bonus: Did you know there is a dragon in Renton?
Unlike Orlando, the Wizarding World at Universal Hollywood does not have Diagon Alley with a fire-breathing dragon. But we do have a local dragon curled up atop a business building in downtown Renton (826 South Third St.). This dragon, named Erasmus, lights up at night and can even change colors. The art installation is a nod to Dungeons & Dragons, a game created in Renton.
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Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2022 and updated for 2023.