Universal Studios Trip Report: HELLO HOGSMEDE!

Soft Open Prep: it took about 2 hours after open to get Hogsmede running. 

So, I was up to something special this Saturday. I decided to go to Universal Studios, and see how Hogsmede and Hogwarts were doing. And they were open. So, I, as your loyal... whatever I am, decided to share the information, as well as provide a quick difference between the two coasts I've visited.
So let's get started after the break!

Before discussing Hogsmede in any detail, it's probably best to get some basic facts out of the way in regards to the park itself and the costs. Universal Hollywood is a LOT smaller and more space-conscious than its sister parks out east. There aren't as many attractions, and there is just one park. In all honesty, you probably can do every ride at least once in a day if that is your goal, even though the park's hours of operation may be fairly short the day you go(9am-6pm in February).  Rides are commonly open an hour past park "closing."  Rather, that was the case when I went, your experience may vary). There aren't many lands, and to be honest, the bane of your existence will not be locals but tour groups from outside the U.S. (tour groups=congestion. Congestion=BAD TIMES). While it's a problem at other parks-I'm looking at you Disneyland- it's not as pronounced as it is at Universal.

The second thing that bears mentioning is how Universal Hollywood is a functioning movie studio. You can sign up for VIP tours of the Backlot (with unlimited line-cutting privileges) and while it's costly, at $229 the day I had gone, it's not a terrible cost for what it gets you (a private tour where you can walk through sets and get a meal cooked by Universal's executive chef).  You don't need to get the VIP tour if you want to see the backlot though, as the backlot is open and has times posted for tours in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.

The Amex Lounge... VERY comfy.
The third note-I promise I'll get to Hogsmede soon-but if you are BUYING tickets for universal, this is likely your best option. Buy tickets ONLINE to get a discount. Discounts may be 15 dollars cheaper than gate price, and perhaps 20 dollars cheaper factoring in additional bonuses like the front of the line pass. Front of the line functions differently to express pass out east. It is a one use per ride function, which during the summer, makes massive amounts of sense (curse you tour groups). However, during off seasons, it is a little less so, but at an additional cost of 54 dollars at gate for upgrade, it's not terrible. Though they DO sell out if you buy later in the day, so if you plan on upgrading, it's likely best to do so by noon. Of course, this is all factoring in crowds PRIOR to the Hogwarts influx. An added note is for AMEX card holders. If you buy at the gate, or upgrade to a front of the line pass (if you have an annual pass or bought tickets earlier) you can go to the private AMEX lounge, with free water, AC, snacks, and WiFi. You only need ONE person in your party to do this. So if you're a pass holder and want to treat family and friends, this is a great way, especially over the summer.

Ollivander's Do NOT lean against the wall.
There are 3 hidden doors there. 
Now, on to Hogsmede. Really, Hogsmede looks just like it does in Orlando. The only (major) difference is the lack of Dueling Dragons (AKA Dragon Challenge). It's not much that I can complain about, though, I suppose if you wanted a more thrilling ride in Hollywood, it will be rather tough to find. Additionally, weather is bound to be better (it's 100 degrees out but it's a dry heat) than it's eastern cousins but luckily Hogsmede west learned one other lesson from the eastern set. Ollivanders is larger, and the walkways are generally wider as well. There are multiple carts for butterbeer, and Hogsmede has plenty of space. It also opened with the interactive spell casting medallions (you may go to certain spots after having bought a wand from Ollivander's and cast spells to make effects go off in the land). In addition, the wand carts are often out in full force. There is also the Toad choir, which sounded magnificent (if not confusing when they broke into an acapella number... I admit I scratched my head at that one).

The Front of the Line Portrait Room
Hogwarts itself is a splendor, if but a bit dark in certain parts. I admit I nearly ran into things a bit too often, though my night vision is a bit poor. The ride itself however, I think was a massive improvement from Orlando. I'm uncertain if the benches were different exactly, but they felt more comfortable, so some adjustment may have been made. The addition of the 3d was an immense help, as the action felt a bit more real, and immersive as a result (yes I tried to catch that snitch, THANK ME FOR MY WORK MALFOY). And more credit is earned regarding the flight goggles, the 3D glasses that miraculously managed to stay on my face. Though perhaps an even better advantage to it's eastern sibling is in the immensely shortened wait time. While I recommend going through the entire queue once, in stand by, the ride also has front of the line, and single rider. I had the luck of running into a lovely gentleman when the ride time was 35 minutes (earlier in the day it was a mere 10, and it capped out at 55 minutes) that had ridden the ride a mere 2 minutes prior to boarding on single rider. It took me approximately 15 minutes going through standby, and 5 minutes in Front of the Line. I basically walked right on to my bench. Given this, the only reason I recommend going standby at least once is so you can make sure to see everything. The full queue takes you through the greenhouse, statues, by Snape's classroom and statues, portraits, and the point hour glasses. While Front of the Line will take you through a separate (but similar) portrait room, it won't take you by the rest of it. Another reason to go with the full queue is for an opportunity to get a drink in line, though I HIGHLY suggest finishing it.

The ride is rough. When they say no loose objects, and indeed they encourage people to place all loose objects in the lockers provided before getting in line, or to leave it with someone that won't be riding, they do mean it. My brother got queasy after one go round, and when I did ride with cellphone in pocket, I could feel it shifting a wee bit. Thus I may suggest, if you do wish to take pictures while in line, consider getting a small bag (Dobby may suggest a sock) that you may tie up and attach to your belt or a belt loop and slip into your pocket. Either that, or stuff your pocket so securely that it is bulging and nothing will slip out.

Yet, I will say the best feature of the land, oddly enough, is the cast that Universal has in the land. I cannot state how much I enjoyed the gentle prods of "ah... Slytherin" I got. Needless to say, I went in, wearing the house emblem large and proud. It seems like they will comment on your house, and I have to say I enjoyed that as much as going through Hogwarts and it's quite fun to play along. Likewise, they will happily break character to help you if you need it, to explain the mundane, muggle parts of the land. I honestly had a few fun back and forths between myself and staff, with one notable one during my trip to the Owl Post (HI PUPPY, CAT, ASPHODEL, RUNA, MG, and NEWT).

With all that being said, if you are in the Southern California area PRIOR to April 7. Go to Universal Studios Hollywood. This may be your best chance to enjoy everything at the park, with minimal wait times.

Hope to see you soon!

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