I've read the first book, the fourth book and the last book and seen most of the movies -- though one of the movies I'm pretty sure was just Harry and Hermione dancing in a tent for two hours. Anyway, when I attended the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood this week -- it opens to the public today -- I was quickly admonished for not knowing what a patronus is.
(A patronus is like a magical spirit animal that is made of light spells and can cast away ghouls, but they aren't called ghouls, they are called dementors. I think.)
From there, it was a downhill spiral of being uncertain of what house I'd be sorted into -- I'm Slytherin to the core, apparently -- to not knowing Hogsmeade from Hog's Head Inn from Hagrid. Still, I had a truly, ahem, magical time.
There's plenty for non-Harry Potter fans to appreciate, even if we don't quite "get it." Like...
1. The Hogwarts Castle: The centerpiece of the Wizarding World theme park, towering over the "snow"-capped town below, Hogwarts is awe-inspiring, whether you know all the shenanigans that went down inside or not. More importantly: Yo, we have a castle in L.A.! (No offense to the Magic Castle.) This one you can probably see from an airplane flying overhead! And it really is beautiful lit up at night, cast in a subtle, warm glow.
2. The Hogwarts Lights: When it's not looking all classy and majestic illuminated by candlelight, there's a freaking light show that turns the entire castle into a backdrop for house-themed animation! During the opening night celebration, iconic composer John Williams performed score from the films -- that won't be a regular attraction, sorry for bragging -- and it concluded with fireworks lighting up the sky above Hogwarts. Very "oooo!" Very "ahhhh!" Hopefully the latter will become a regular addition, à la Disneyland's nightly show.
3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: It's one of two rides at the park and it is SO COOL. (The other, the Flight of the Hippogriff mini-coaster, you can skip.) The 3-D ride that is part Soarin' Over California, minus the nauseating feeling of vertigo, with elements of the Jurassic Park ride -- spoiler alert: a dragon pops out to breathes "fire" on you -- and Indiana Jones ride. It's actually quite scary too, if the grown man next to me full-on screaming was any indication.
4. The Gryffindor Common Room: The line for the Forbidden Journey is a sort of third ride in itself, as it queues through various rooms of Hogwarts. There's plenty to see -- Dumbledore's office and a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, talking paintings that manage to be not corny at all -- but the best part is the common room. As a proud Slytherin (#SlythLife), it pains me to say that, but the talking paintings in the common room feature new characters created by J.K. Rowling and one quidditch player is a regulation HOTTIE. Keep your eyes peeled -- and if anyone has a link to his IMDb page, let me know!
5. The Ollivander Experience: This probably only gets better the more you know about the mythology behind wand selection, but the gist is you step through a secret door in the shop and a wizard helps you find your wand -- or help your wand find you. And it's the showmanship that sells it. The actor who presided over my visit was committed to his craft. I won't spoil what happens when the right wand finds you, but I will tell you that I got genuinely emotional.
Also, if you're an immature adult, the Ollivander experience provides plenty of opportunities for dirty jokes.
6. Honeydukes Candy Store: Everything is overpriced, but it's all so cute that it's worth it, right? There are peppermint frogs and every flavor of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and jelly slugs and fudge flies and no-melt ice cream (which is a mix between frosting and custard -- I asked). There's also butterbeer-flavored fudge, which I did not try, but certainly would go back for now.
7. The Food in General: This is some top notch theme park food. We're not talking corn dogs and pizza slices. There's bubble and squeak (which is a potato crab cake, or something) and English soda bread (I dipped mine in the ale and cheddar soup and I regretted nothing). The desserts speak for themselves. And there's a bar! With booze! Look alive, parents! If this is what the kids at Hogwarts actually ate like, I'd have gained the freshman 15 hard.
8. Butterbeer: Butterbeer transcends the Harry Potter fandom. It tastes like a root beer float, but made with cream soda. Pro tip: There are two versions available; opt for the frozen butter beer. Butterbeer responsibly -- I overserved myself and am just coming down from the sugar high now.
And I'd do it again.
If you can't make it to the theme park, you'll be able to return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Check out the trailer below.