Witches, wands and wizards — oh my! Get an inside look at the brand new Harry Potter theme park from one of our editors.
Welcome to Hogsmeade
It may be 90 degrees outside, but the Hogsmeade village sure does look the wintry cool part. One step into Harry & Co.’s favorite hangout and you’re transported into a new world, with narrow, crooked pathways, lots of shopping and a ton of sweet treats.
Known as the drink of choice for young wizards, J. K. Rowling once told Bon App¿tit magazine that she imagined it “to taste a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch.” Whether made frozen or cold, the actual drink is very reminiscent of cream soda — with a frothy vanilla topping. And while we Muggles may not become intoxicated like the house elves do in the books, butterbeer can still be rather addicting.
There’s only one way to Hogwarts and that’s via the much beloved Hogwarts Express train. The train is stationary at the theme park, but a cheery conductor (complete with authentic British accent) and rising smoke help make the experience feel real.
Few movie images are as iconic as the first view of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Fortunately, this dramatic replica does not disappoint. As you walk toward the castle, you can feel the giddy excitement building.
Once inside the castle, one of the first stops is the door marked “Potions Classroom.” We imagined eerie Professor Snape lurking behind the door, concocting things like the Forgetfulness Potion, Shrinking Solution or Amortentia — the most potent love potion in the world.
As you turn another corner in Hogwarts castle, you come upon a gallery of talking portraits. Featuring former headmasters and headmistresses of the school, the opinionated royal ancestors say things that are both sweet and snarky. The commentary helps make the long stroll to the Forbidden Journey roller coaster highly entertaining.
There is a special place in my heart for Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. And judging by the furious photo snapping in this office, I’m not alone. Designed to look exactly like his office from the movies, visitors are greeted by a virtual Dumbledore, who welcomes guests to the castle and gives us some fun facts about Hogwarts history.
Defense Against the Dark Arts
It’s just a blackboard and a few desks, but something about seeing a sample lesson plan from a Defense Against The Dark Arts class made me want to shout “Expecto Patronum!” After a visit from the virtual trio of Harry, Ron and Hermoine, I was left wondering why none of my classrooms ever looked so enticing.
Wave that Wand
A hushed silence came upon the crowd as we were ushered into Ollivander’s wand shop. Lined with floor-to-ceiling wands of every size and shape, a costume-clad Mr. Ollivander picked a lucky child from the crowd and subjected him to the same wand-waving tests young Harry did in the first film. Walking away with your own magic stick will run you $30 and up.
Let’s face it: you can’t ever really go wrong with a candy shop. But pair sweets with magic, and it’s a total win-win. Honeydukes Sweetshop is a must-stop shop for all souvenir seekers, where you will find non-jumping chocolate frogs (complete with holographed trading cards), Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, licorice, pumpkin juice and more.
Whether it’s a simple Accio charm to summon an object or a more complicated Expelliarmus spell to disarm your opponent, it’s easy to imagine the crooked streets of Hogsmeade filled with unintentional magic. These clever reminders seek to reinforce the rules, which is always a good thing when kids are around.
Just outside the Flight of the Hippogriff, the only tot-appropriate coaster at the park, is a replica of Reubus Hagrid’s house. Much like the character himself, the model is disheveled yet charming, and exactly the type of place where dangerously lovable pets Fang, Buckbeak and Fluffy would call home.
Get Your Fix On
In the book, Dervish & Banges is a repair shop where every piece of magical equipment can be fixed. At the park, this store might do some damage to your wallet. The shop sells goodies like wand replicas, Griffindor gear, sneakoscopes, school capes, Hogwarts journals, Quidditch toy sets and more.
As you leave Hogwarts castle, you will enter Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods-a shopper’s paradise filled with Harry Potter paraphernalia. Some things that I saw fly off the shelves were stuffed Hedwig owls (seen here), “Potter” Quidditch jerseys and the trademark red-and-gold Griffindor scarves.
The Harry Potter Crew
Film series stars from Tom Felton (right), who plays Potter nemesis Draco Malfoy, to Daniel Radcliffe (Harry, of course!), came to celebrate the park’s opening. Radcliffe recently told MTV, “What’s amazing about this place in general is that it is actually more complete than the film sets.”