Hold on to Your Horcruxes and Take a Sneak Peek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Before It Opens This Week

The Universal Studios Hollywood attraction is going to shake up the power balance among Southern California theme parks

Walk through the gate at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it’s not difficult to think that you’ve apparated into a wintry Hogsmeade, the village outside of a certain school for the magically inclined in J.K. Rowling’s books. Stone buildings lean into one another from the weight of time while wisps of smoke drift above spindly chimneys protruding from snow-quilted rooftops. “We had to design beyond the set,” says creative consultant Alan Gilmore, who also worked on three Harry Potter films, twice as art director, under production designer Stuart Craig. “Every side, top, bottom, the thickness of the walls—everything has to make sense. You have to believe it’s a real old stone building.” You also have to believe you’re in a forever wintry part of the Scottish Highlands. To that end, the team needed to adjust the palette from Orlando’s Wizarding World, which opened six years ago (a park in Osaka debuted in 2014). “The light’s much cooler here,” he notes. “So we’ve actually colored everything specifically for Los Angeles.”

Just above Hogsmeade is the Flight of the Hippogriff, but the junior coaster is dwarfed by Hogwarts Castle, which rises from the rock outcropping across the way. Before you don your 3-D Quidditch glasses for the ride inside, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you’ll have more than enough time to sponge up details as the line wends through dim chambers and corridors. For now, at least, Orlando has more attractions than L.A. (Universal is mum on our prospects for an Escape from Gringotts ride), but it’s clear that with the April 7 opening, there’ll be more than one magic kingdom enchanting millions of visitors in Southern California.

Photographs by Noah Webb

Keep’s sake

Before boarding the Forbidden Journey, which begins as a Quidditch match, guests can expect to see animated portraits, the Dark Arts classroom, and this, the office of Dumbledore, which features exact replicas from the films as well as a convincing projection of the headmaster himself.

Harry2From the outside, the castle (seen here with the Weasleys’ Ford Anglia in the foreground) is intended to be hewn from rock. “The castle’s actually designed to be maybe several miles away, and the scale is meant to be much larger,” says Gilmore.

Harry3The thoroughness extends to the Three Broomsticks, where a trio of mobile devices have been parked by wizards while they fetch some butterbeer and pub grub.

Harry4The town wall, created with faux architectural stone, seals off the rest of the park for a self-contained experience.

Time travel

Harry5The Hogwarts Express lets off steam at the Wizarding World’s entrance to set the mood and provide photo ops. “Every view is like a little vignette—it’s that extra level of detail,” says Gilmore. “People feel they’re in a real place if everything seems absolutely authentic.”

Harry6There’s merch at the Owl Post, naturally, including official stamps kids can use to mail letters, but the retail in Hogsmeade is saturated with enough props and set decoration to double as an attraction. “There’s dust on the windows and there are water stains,” says Gilmore. “The plasterwork is very detailed, where you want that texturing.”

Town haul

Harry7A narrow alley lends some verisimilitude to the medieval architecture, as do the cramped spaces and small doorways. “We keep that intimacy and that lovely scale,” says Gilmore.

Harry8Magnifying glasses adorn the window at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. Several shop windows feature animatronic elements that can be activated with a few hand motions from the possessor of an Interactive Wand.

Harry9The beverage of choice in Hogsmeade is a little like dark magic: ubiquitous, tempting, and unadvisable in large doses.