Yesterday, guests at Universal Studios Hollywood were in for a surprise treat. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park was opened to guests for a technical rehearsal, or soft opening. According to people within the park, it had been announced on a Los Angeles radio station beforehand. Even so, park employees standing guard outside the entrance were not giving away the secret, and said it might only be a possibility for a few guests, and people were welcome to line up if they wanted to wait. Just before 3:00 in the afternoon, the patient Muggles were allowed to enter the wizarding realm.  Some loyal Potter fans had camped out near the entrance to the themed-land since Universal Studios opened at 9:00 AM that morning.

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Guests are welcomed by the Hogwarts Express resting on the platform at Hogsmeade.

For anyone not familiar with the Orlando version, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is set in Hogsmeade, which is the small village outside Hogwarts. Upon entering the park, visitors can see the Hogwarts Express parked at the platform, billowing steam. Attention to detail doesn’t even begin to describe the level of care that has gone into the design and construction of the park. Signs look aged and weathered, shop displays are whimsical and animated, and several Harry Potter references can be found throughout (one reference is neither in the books or films, but is canon according to J.K. Rowling herself – see if you can spot it on your visit). There is something magical to see everywhere you look.

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The sun sets on Hogwarts castle, and a beautiful day in Southern California.

I was alerted to the possibility that the Wizarding World might be open simply to go and look in the shops. My friend and I already have season passes to Universal Studios, so we were willing to take a chance. That paid off in spades when not only were we part of the first 100 guests ever to set foot inside the park, but we were able to see every attraction and ride available. The two rides, ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ and ‘Flight of the Hippogriff’ were both fully operational, giving guests a chance to experience them both. The attraction of Ollivanders, where a young witch or wizard selects a wand, was also open. My personal favorite being the Forbidden Journey ride, which I don’t want to spoil by giving away the details. But let it be known even walking through the castle as part of the queue for the ride made my jaw actually drop open more than once in surprise.

The shops and eateries were all open to the public as well. Some of the merchandise was only available inside this section of the park. We bought candy at Honeydukes (which was an exercise in self-restraint), sampled Butterbeer, and had dinner at The Three Broomsticks. For someone who is as much of an Anglophile as I am, just seeing ‘Bangers and Mash’ on the menu was enough to make me giddy. And if you’re ever there for breakfast when the park opens they will have a Traditional Full English breakfast, which one park attendant assured us is enough for two guests (or one Hagrid).

This opening was only a technical rehearsal, and we told even more detail and fun would be added when the park opens fully in the spring. Of course, I would want to go back again regardless. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood will have its Grand Opening for all on April 7, 2016.

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