The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Though it doesn't officially open for another month, Los Angeles-based nerds have learned that the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood has been having "technical rehearsals" starting a few weeks ago, which means, if you don't mind a couple magical glitches or some witches and wizards still learning the ropes, you can get an early look at Hogsmeade and Hogwarts and all the fun that goes with it.

And so, my friends and I kept a close look at the #potterwatch hashtag on twitter, and when word was good that the Potter park was open this Sunday, we jumped in the car and hopped down to Universal to get in line.  

Of course, as a food blogger, my main interest was in the different sweets and drinks and feasts that the Wizarding World has to offer.  The books are full of fanciful foods - cauldron cakes, chocolate frogs, butterbeer and more.  So, first stop was at the Three Broomsticks, where we grabbed lunch (note: this was probably the biggest line we waited in all day - magical meals are exciting for everyone!).  I ordered the Shepherd's Pie, which comes with a side salad, as well as some Pumpkin Juice and a Butterbeer Potted Cream.  My roommate got the Bangers and Mash with a corn on the cob, and my boyfriend the Fish and Chips.

We all agreed that our meals were good, though the Fish and Chips was pretty light on chips, so if you've got an appetite I'd definitely recommend one of the others.  I was a big fan of the Pumpkin Juice, which was lightly sweet and refreshing.  The potted cream was decadent and smooth, but you've got to have one heck of a sweet tooth to finish the whole thing.  It may be a little jar, but I'd still recommend splitting it with someone.

Done with lunch, we moved on to the big ride - Harry Potter and the Unexpected Journey.  The line was bit of a wait for this one, but we found we didn't mind at all, as it takes you through the halls of Hogwarts, with moving portraits and appearances from Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione.  There was so much to see, I almost found myself wishing the line would move a little slower.  The ride itself is a blast - part 3D and part practical effects, giving you the feeling of flying around the castle, encountering dragons, dementors and Malfoys along the way.  

The other ride in this part of the park - the Flight of the Hippogriff, is marketed as a family-friendly outdoor coaster.  It's fun, but very brief.  The whole ride seems to take less than a minute.  If the wait is long, I'd move on and come back later.  Lines are usually much shorter in the evening, and it'll give you a great view of the castle lit up for the night.

If you're in the market for some magical wares, stop by Ollivander's early for a small show and to pick up an interactive wand.  Small tiles that are set up in front of Hogsmeade's shop windows will tell you which spells to perform to make magic happen.  While I didn't get my own wand, it was fun to see the younger visitors casting spells all over the park.  

Inside the shops, you'll find robes, broomsticks, quills, even pets (albeit stuffed ones).  Of course, I had my eye on Honeydukes, and was happy to see so many of the fictional candies written about in the books on display, from Chocolate Frogs to Pepper Imps, and, of course, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.  

As the evening wound down, we picked up drinks at the Hog's Head.  The Pear Dazzle, an alcoholic drink for adult muggles, is quite tasty - light and not too sweet.  And here I finally tried a butterbeer.  I've seen many recipes concocted by Harry Potter fans over the years, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.  The one at the Wizarding World is non-alcoholic, essentially a butterscotch soda with marshmallow-y foam on top.  They had cold and frozen varieties available, and word is they'll have hot ones when the park officially opens.  

We caught the frog choir just before we left, performing hits from the Weird Sisters and their signature "Double Double Toil and Trouble" from Prisoner of Azkaban.

As I left the park with my new Gryffindor scarf and a million and a half pictures, I was sad to be leaving the world of magic behind.  But as the announcement that J.K.Rowling would be releasing new stories about the History of Magic in North America reminded me, this world is all too easy to revisit, even without a park ticket.  All you have to do is pick up a book.