"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." Bilbo Baggins

Universal Studios: SoCal Part 1

Where does a family full of Potterheads go for family vacation? To Harry Potter World of course!  We have already explored the Florida park, so we thought it high time to try the California version.  It was awesome.  Best of all was spending a long weekend with both sons and their wives. We wanted to do another family vacation with the six of us and after discussing a bunch of places, it was decided to try the LA area and go to Universal Studios.  We saw several other attractions in the LA area as well, but for this article, we will concentrate on Universal Studios.

Our hotel was within walking distance, so no need for a car.  Craig did get to do his first Uber during the visit though and says he is now a pro!  It seemed to us that Universal Hollywood is more about the actual studio than the amusement park.  There are certainly the standard amusement park areas like The Simpsons, Transformers, and Jurassic Park.  Unfortunately for us Jurassic Park was closed while it was being updated.IMG_6282IMG_6520IMG_6283However, the real reason to come to Universal is Harry Potter World.  Here in the California park, it is all about Hogsmeade, the small village outside Hogwarts Castle. Of course, we got there as early as we could and headed straight for Hogsmeade.  It did not disappoint!  All the stores, shops and pubs from the books and movies are there; Honeydukes, Three Broomsticks, Olivanders, the Owlery and Florish and Blots.  Even the Hogsmeade train station and Hogwarts express were there. The entire village is dwarfed by the Hogwarts Castle.IMG_6350IMG_3548IMG_6464IMG_6325IMG_6319IMG_6470IMG_6449IMG_3552Now we are a family of serious Potterheads, so much so one of our couples even dressed the part.IMG_0728The Fantastic Voyage ride is all about a virtual ride on a broomstick around the Hogwarts grounds.  Wait times can be up to an hour.  But they have done a great job with keeping those in line occupied. The line weaves through the Hogwarts grounds and Professor Sprout’s greenhouses.  It goes into the castle and through the Gryffindor common room, the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom and even Dumbledore’s office.  By the time you get on the ride, you have no idea you have been in line for 60 minutes.  For us, one of our traditions while waiting in line, is to get a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and take turns pulling one out of the box to try. The rule is you must eat what you pull out. Always fun when one of us gets a weird flavor like earwax, pepper, sausage, or even soap.IMG_6293IMG_6306IMG_6455IMG_6461IMG_3556IMG_6364IMG_6359IMG_6353However, rides and stores are not all Hogsmeade has to offer.  There are windows with magical dioramas.  Simply use your wand, execute the motion and say the spell and plates spin, doors open, plants grow, fire lights and things levitate.IMG_6312IMG_6367But who can go to Hogsmeade without eating and drinking?  Butterbeer is an all-time favorite.  Cold, frozen and hot.  Hot and Frozen were the two favorites.  We had a pumpkin juice but the butterbeer was by far the more popular.  Lunch was in the Two Broomsticks with traditional meals like shepherds pie, fish and chips and of course, beer! We also made the mandatory stop in Honeydukes for magical candies and sweets.IMG_6328IMG_6465IMG_3663IMG_0773To say we spent most of our time there is an understatement, but we did get to other areas of the park.  We did the Transformers ride, the Mummy ride and walked around general areas of the park.  We even did the studio tour.  While good, I do not recommend going on a weekend, as there was nothing happening, no taping or movie shooting.  In fact, the sets were deserted.  Still though, the tour did have some good stops and was interesting to see how they do things.IMG_6522IMG_6496IMG_6478IMG_6477Eating was a big part of our trip, and we found some great places there in CityWalk.  Margaritaville lived up to its name, Voodoo Donuts was more a novelty than a repeat, Sparky’s Chocolates were to die for, and of course we stopped at Bubba Gump Shrimp for a birthday dinner and cupcake.IMG_6280IMG_3666In all, the visit lived up to all our expectations.  We are so glad our letter came inviting us to attend Hogwarts and we cannot wait to get back.


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