Universal Studios was a larger than life experience. Although similar to Disneyland and California Adventure, in that they’re all theme parks – the similarities end there and the experience we had was entirely different again. Pre-purchasing our tickets online enabled us to gain early entry to the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter segment of the park, for one hour access pre-park opening. But boy, did it make for a long day.
Arriving to the park for early admission meant getting a 7.30 subway train up to Universal City, and then a shuttle up the winding hill to the theme park gates – which also meant an early morning where we had to do all in our power not to wake our four other roommates in the dorm (safe to say, we absolutely nail this!). The people were slowly streaming in, all wanting to see what the fuss was regarding the new Hary Potter World section of the park.
Stepping through the entryway was like a portal straight into a J.K. Rowling dream. You were instantly transported to rows of shops that resembled those from Diagonal Alley or Hogsmeade featuring snow capped rooves, cobblestoned streets lined with carts primed to sell Butterbeer as the day went on, a real steaming Hogwarts Express train and of course, Hogwarts castle itself in the flesh. Although this section only boasts two rides, patrons will often spend all day perusing these shopfronts and performing ‘magic spells’ at key interactive points within the park – there were tonnes of full-blown adults and parents dressed in $100+ Hogwarts robes and school attire, carrying around their expensive wands! I had not expected this much fandom before arriving and I think neither did Blake; Harry Potter truly seems to be a worldwide icon and loved by people from all demographics.
We walked straight up and into Hogwarts to see what all the hype was regarding the number one Harry Potter themed ride in the park – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. For a ride that usually gathers an up to three hour wait, early entry provided the goods and meant we were able to walk up the line and straight onto the ride with literally zero wait. And boy, was I glad we got this one out of the way early. It was literally the most incredible ride we have ever been on – Hermione casts a ‘spell’ on your ‘broomstick’ (aka. four person long row of chairs) and off you go, flying around the entire castle and Hogwarts school grounds, thanks to a clever combination of 4D animations and real life motion and interaction with moving sets. We soon learned this was not one for the faint-hearted though, or the motion sick prone as I spent the next thirty minutes feeling green, sick in the stomach but so totally happy we’d just witnessed that magic. It is worth the usual queues, there is nothing else like it and the closest thing to real life magic.
In an attempt to settle my stomach down, we decided to take it easy, complete the kids ‘Flight of the Hippogriff’ roller coaster (spoiler alert: this one’s incredibly boring) and head on into the main park which had just opened. Another must do attraction whilst in this park is the Studio Tour that makes this Universal so unique to the others in the franchise. Although Blake has visited other Universal parks in his time, he was truly looking forward to this the most and seeing as there was no line, we hopped right on the first studio cart of the day and delved deep into the backlots and behind the scenes. It truly is incredible to see right where some of your favourite or at least, most well known movies have been brought to life, right in front of your eyes. Also slightly odd to see one strip of street and how they can turn it into literally any major city in the world with some cleverly placed props and neat video editing. Nothing is as it seems – a flash flood or an earthquake can be cooked up on demand and it really makes you think twice as to what goes on behind closed doors to make your favourite film believeable and realistic, knowing most of what you see is fake. One super cool new addition is the Fast and Furious 4D segment. Similar to the King Kong interactive movie, the tour cart is taken into an empty studio stage, which then transforms into a 360 degree movie screen and the experience commences. Not one to be missed, we’re both super fans of the Fast and Furious franchise – and to be immersed within the action of the films is truly exhilarating.
The rest of the day was a blur of line rides, velociraptors, The Simpsons, Minions, more packed lunches and watching live shows. It’s not a secret I’m a big Jurassic Park/World fan, so the Jurassic Park water ride and chance to meet a ‘real’ velociraptor are definite highlights for me. Blake enjoyed The Mummy rollercoaster and had to brave The Simpsons ride alone, as I was sure I’d reached my 4D movie ride quota for the day. The special effects show was intense – never before our eyes had we seen a man so casually set on fire for almost 1 minute. The animal actors show was also a huge hit, where we potentially found our next dream jobs training cute and cuddly, yet incredibly smart animals for film and TV.
Our final theme park day was done and dusted and between three of them, we’d conquered just about every ride thrown at us. The bags were packed once more and bus tickets purchased – next stop, Las Vegas!!