Today we take a break from Disneyland‘s off-season refurbishments and construction and take you back up to Universal Studios Hollywood for a closer look at the park’s spectacular new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Today we go in-depth on what you can expect when visiting — taking a look at the good, bad and everything in-between. We don’t skip Disneyland entirely, however, updating you on the park’s newly-implemented demand pricing for single-day park tickets as well as an updated look at Star Wars construction. So are you ready for a whole lot of Butterbeer? If you aren’t, you will be soon!

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Don’t miss your weekly Disneyland Resort crowd forecast — provided by our friends at Mouseaddict — in the Weekly News and Information Roundup at the end of today’s update!

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We’ve got a lot of magic to uncover at Universal today, so let’s get started!

Welcome to Universal!

Last week we took a quick look at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. We got feedback asking for more photos and thoughts on Universal’s newest addition, so today we’re taking an in-depth look at the Harry Potter’s newest home out here in California.

The addition of Harry Potter at Universal Hollywood has come alongside various place-making and enhancement projects elsewhere in the park, most notably in the entry area. The new facades along the left side of the park’s entrance corridor were recently revealed, showing off recreations of historic facades from the golden age of Hollywood in wonderful texture and stunning detail.

Behind the facades, a newly expanded Universal Studios Store will be open — think of it as an equivalent to Disneyland’s Main Street Emporium.

The end of the new street will be home to a Starbucks Coffee shop.




The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As you enter Hogsmeade Village, the Hogwarts Express and its conductor greets you on your right hand side.

In Florida, the station structure next to the Hogwarts Express houses lockers for the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster attraction. Since that attraction is not present here in Hollywood, the space has been re-imagined as a great Hogwarts Express-themed photo-op. Unfortunately, the only way you can go in and take photos in or of the photo-op is to pay $25 for Universal’s photographers to take the picture and give you a print.

This is an unfortunate cash-grab. Instead of offering an opportunity to just have something nice for guests to enjoy, Universal has opted to offer the meet-and-greet only for those willing to pay the pricey up-charge. Over my several visits to Wizarding World during technical rehearsals, I haven’t seen much demand for this. People want to take photos here but not for $25. I wonder if demand will pick up when the land officially opens. If not, will Universal eventually open it up to those who just want a quick cell phone snapshot?

Shops

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter only features two attractions but shopping is as much an attraction in this land as the rides are. With imaginative and immersive recreations of shops from the books and films, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter makes real the places Harry Potter fans dreamed of going when they read the books and watched the movies. As you enter the land, Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes Homemade Sweets greet you on your left hand side.

Zonko’s and Honeydukes are one large shop, with the space divided up by themeing inside. One of the biggest disappointments with Hollywood’s Wizarding World is the interior of Zonko’s Joke Shop.

In Florida, Zonko’s opened with a fully-realized interior. It was cramped but packed floor-to-ceiling with unique merchandise and wonderful thematic details. Zonko’s in Florida ceased to exist when Diagon Alley opened and the Zonko’s portion of the retail space became expansion for the wildly popular candy shop. Here, Zonko’s isn’t a fully-realized shop, despite there being no Diagon Alley. Instead, Zonko’s has been reduced to the back wall of Zonko’s, with some nice but ultimately underwhelming thematic details.

Perhaps Universal Hollywood is just planning in advance — after all, Diagon Alley is already rumored to be coming soon and if it does, Zonko’s will likely be removed entirely, as the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shop in Diagon Alley fills the need for a joke shop.

Despite encroaching on Zonko’s floorspace, Honeydukes is a menagerie of sweet treats in a bright retail space that features fun little magical details.

Lots of unique Wizarding World-exclusive candies and treats can be found here

Don’t miss the Cauldron Cakes and Butterbeer fudge!

Further into Hogsmeade, on the right side of the street, you’ll the Owl Post complex – home of the large covered Owl Post seating area, the Owl Post shop, Dervish and Banges and Gladrags Wizard Wear.

Outside, you can mail postcards, complete with the Hogsmeade postmark.

Inside, you can buy your very own owl.

Dervish and Banges is also here, where you can find a wide variety of wizard wear, including brooms and Quidditch merchandise.

With Ollivanders relocated here in Hollywood, the space that’s home to the wand shop in Florida is now Gladrags Wizard Wear where you can find robes, jewelry, hats and other items.

Gladrags is a charming new space for Hogsmeade and a welcome addition to Hollywood’s Wizarding World. It’s small but nicely themed and full of great prop work.

It’s not labeled, but Potter fans might spot Cho Chang’s Yule Ball gown, as seen in the “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” film.

Behind the Owl Post complex is an alley way, which in Florida, is used as an exit path from the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster attraction as well as overflow queue for Ollivanders. Here, with no Dragon Challenge and Ollivanders relocated, the alley has been enhanced with new details including additional interactive wand windows and faux storefronts. It provides great opportunity for some additional discovery when exploring the Wizarding World, which helps make the land feel bigger than it really is.

We’ve mentioned a couple times that the popular Ollivanders wand shop has been relocated here at the Hollywood version of Wizarding World. Ollivander’s is now across the street from the Owl Post. In Florida, this block of storefronts doesn’t lead to any actual shops and is just facades for a large restroom facility. Here in Hollywood, the restrooms are still available (complete with Moaning Myrtle haunting your bathroom break) but an expanded Ollivanders is also here along with Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment.

The new home for Ollivanders includes ample outdoor queue space, two rooms for the popular wand pairing experience, and an expanded wand retail space. The Ollivanders experience brings you into a odd holding room, where you’ll be led into one of two identical wand pairing rooms. The holding area is strange, poorly laid out and offers no pre-show elements. It really feels like an afterthought borne out of the need to expand the capacity for the wand pairing experience. It’s a shame because something really nice besides just walls of fake wand boxes could have been done here… but that didn’t happen and you’re led in and told that we’re waiting for the wand master to call us in before we wait in silence before being led into the wand pairing room.

The holding room does a wand pairing room is done a disservice because the reveal of the interior being stacked floor-to-ceiling with wand boxes as it is in the books and films is spoiled in the holding room. Still, it’s a great little space, small and cramped, allowing for an magical and intimate experience for everybody.

The dimly-lit wand pairing room empties out into a large, well-lit wand shop that is similarly packed full of wand boxes. Here, you can buy wands from a large selection of Harry Potter characters as well as a small selection of wands designed exclusively for Wizarding World. Interactive wands that interact with props and window displays throughout Hogsmeade can also be purchased here.

A crooked staircase leads to a pile of wand boxes and a mysterious door in the middle of the shop…

You can exit Ollivanders or walk into the next shop, Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment. This shop first debuted in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando and Hollywood’s Hogsmeade version is a much smaller, much less impressive version of its Florida counterpart. There’s still some nice thematic touches in this shop, and the interior is far more compelling than the Ollivanders retail space but you’ll likely be disappointed with Hollywood’s version if you’ve been to Universal Orlando.

Dining

Wizarding World also features a fantastic dining location — the Three Broomsticks. This richly-themed restaurant serves delicious (even if it is Americanized) British pub fare and really raises the bar for Southern California theme park quick service dining.

I’ve visited Wizaridng World in both Orlando and here in Hollywood several times — the Hollywood menu is similar to Orlando’s but with expanded options. I’ve sampled a fair share of the menu here and whether you get the fish and chips, bangers and mash, BBQ rips, or shepherds pie, you’ll have a great meal — The Three Broomsticks’ menu is hit after delicious hit.

Bangers and mash

Shepherds pie

BBQ ribs

Lamb and Beef stew

Potato leek soup and salad

Unique drinks can be found here as well, including fizzy pumpkin juice.

Dessert here is not to be missed — the Butterbeer potted cream (almost like a thick butterscotch pudding) is sweet but irresistible. The sticky toffee pudding is also very good.

Not only is the food great here, but the interior is one of Wizarding World’s best, with criss-crossing staircases reaching dizzying heights above you, towering fireplaces, hidden magical projections and effects, and more.

Connected to the Three Broomsticks, the Hog’s Head Pub serves up a selection of Wizarding World-exclusive beers as well as the true hit of the Wizarding World — Butterbeer. Butterbeer is currently offered in cold and frozen varieties during technical rehearsals but the wonderful warm Butterbeer will be available in the Hog’s Head when Wizarding World officially opens in April.

If the Hog’s Head is too busy, you can find Butterbeer at two carts outside in Hogsmeade. The carts will only serve cold and frozen versions of the drink, with the warm version expected to only be available inside at the Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head.

Whatever you do, be sure to try all three versions — everybody favors one version over the other so don’t give up on Butterbeer if you only try one version and don’t like it!

Flight of the Hippogriff
and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter features two attractions. First up is Flight of the Hippogriff, a mild rollercoaster for families that takes place around Hagrid’s Hut and gardens. The ride itself is fairly unremarkable but is worth checking out for a lovely queue that takes you past Hagrid’s Hut. The ride features an encounter with an animatronic hippogriff (Buckbeak!) and great aerial views of Hogwarts Castle.

The crown jewel of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, of course, the incredible, revolutionary Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction. Winding through Hogwarts Castle, Forbidden Journey’s queue is an attraction in its own right — an incredibly detailed and immersive themed experience that will make any Harry Potter fan burst with excitement. Full of magical special effects, appearances from some of your favorite characters, and more — no photos or text can do it justice – you have to walk through Hogwarts Castle to truly experience just how wonderful it is.

Encounter Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in his office

Meet Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom

…and pass through the Gryffindor common room before meeting the sorting hat and boarding your enchanted bench, which will take you through the Castle to the Quidditch pitch and a number of other exciting and scary locations and encounters with dragons, spiders and dementors!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is truly an incredible experience — one of the best theme park attractions ever designed, ranking alongside Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones Adventure. Unlike its Orlando cousin, the Hollywood version of the attraction unfortunately presents its filmed segments in 3D. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey features more physical sets than it does filmed segments and I strongly believe that adding 3D does nothing to better the overall experience. The 3D conversion itself is not very good and due to the incredibly dynamic motion of the ride system, it can contribute to motion sickness that far exceeds the motion sickness many already experience on tamer 3D attractions like Disney’s Star Tours. Still, despite the unnecessary 3D, the ride is still an unbelievably rich experience — a remarkable, unmatched achievement in themed entertainment despite the original version of the ride being nearly 6 years old. Forbidden Journey is full of incredibly-detailed immersive sets and animatronics that you encounter from a flying “bench” that comes to life with KUKA arm technology that truly elevates this attraction in indescribable ways.

Thoughts

While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is truly great, it isn’t without its flaws. From a couple of underwhelming shop interiors to the awkward Ollivander’s holding room and the addition of 3D to the land’s marquee attraction, we’ve already mentioned a couple here. Perhaps the new land’s biggest flaws are its sightlines – which, in some cases, appeared to have been completely ignored.

While it’s difficult to see the outside world in many parts of Hogsmeade, it quickly starts pouring in as you approach Hogwarts Castle. As you reach the end of Hogsmeade Village, the large office building looming in the distance is hard to miss.

Meanwhile, the Shrek 4D theater is in plain view from areas in Hogsmeade and is absolutely unmissable when you watch the live entertainment at the stage between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. This might be the land’s worst sightline offender — it’s huge and totally unthemed. Hopefully this is a temporary situation while Universal waits to demolish Shrek altogether, hopefully opening that space up for Hogsmeade expansion. Wouldn’t a Shrieking Shack (rumored to be Britain’s most haunted building) walk-through be amazing here?

Meanwhile, the show building for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is largely un-themed and exposed. This isn’t a huge issue, as trees could eventually cover this up quite well.

More trees would help.

More trees are also needed on the other side of the Castle, where thousands of guests will see the fully exposed Forbidden Journey show building from the overflow outdoor queue for the attraction. This queue will likely be full all summer, and not only will guests see parts of the nearby Simpsons land from the queue, but they’ll also see the massive show building attached the backside of Hogwarts.

Some of this is simply an side effect of building immersive attractions in Southern California’s small theme parks — attractions are built close together because they have to be as California parks don’t benefit from the breathing room afforded by Florida’s large park footprints. Even at Disney California Adventure, you can see the Tower of Terror looming over parts of Cars Land but while Universal Hollywood is extremely tight on space, seeing things like office buildings next to Hogwarts just seems kind of lazy. Universal is a park with a long history of letting the real world slip in — after all, the park is perched high on a hill, overlooking a real working movie studio, but Wizarding World is a big departure from Universal’s past work and exposed show buildings is second-rate work for a park that’s trying desperately to create the fully-immersive environments that Disney has long been known for.

Despite some problems, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still an exceptional experience worth visiting. Hogsmeade, now built at three theme parks across the world, is a new classic theme park experience — along the likes of Disney’s Main Street, U.S.A. or Fantasyland. It’s arguably on-par on many levels with Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, featuring jaw-dropping attractions, fantastic themed shopping, and great land-appropriate dining.

Will the Wizarding World help elevate Universal Studios Hollywood as on of Southern California’s must-do entertainment offerings? The spell has seemed to work in Florida and will likely do the same here in California, which has the added bonus of developing fiercely loyal locals demographics. Disneyland is perpetually busy thanks to tourists and a loyal Annual Passholder population and Universal Studios Hollywood is after that same success.

Time will tell if the recent (and great) Simpsons-themed Springfield land and the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter will help Universal Hollywood steal away some of Disneyland’s booming business — but if the rumors are true, Universal is already banking on it, with work for the incredible Diagon Alley-themed expansion already underway as well as other non-Harry Potter themed attractions in the pipeline as well.

Whatever happens, it’s sure to be exciting to watch unfold as Disney’s massive new Star Wars-themed expansion is well underway and has the potential to blow Wizarding World out of the water in terms of scale, innovation, and popularity.

If you plan to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I highly recommend visiting now. The land has been in technical rehearsals (Universal speak for soft openings) almost every day since Valentine’s Day weekend and is expected to continue technical rehearsals through March. Now is a perfect time to visit the land with minimal wait times and crowds, while the general public remains unaware that Hogsmeade is open for business. Keep in mind that while the land is in technical rehearsals, Universal can simply not open it, open it late, or close it at any time. Even if the land is open, attractions may be closed for long portions of the day, or simply not open at all. So far, the land and its attractions have pretty consistently been open but some elements still aren’t totally functional and complex attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey have gone down for long periods due to technical hiccups. If you want to make sure the park is opening before visiting, folks on Twitter have been using the hashtag #PotterWatch daily to notify others if the land is open and what may or may not be working. We recommend checking out that hashtag in the days and morning leading up to your visit.

Congratulations to Universal Creative for a job well done. Hopefully some of the rough edges are addressed in the future but even still, the land is a stunning success and the crowd flow and retail changes seen here at Hollywood are largely positive and worth celebrating. Bravo! I’m thrilled to see what’s next for Universal Studios Hollywood!

Price Wars & Star Wars

Meanwhile, as Universal gets ready to cast a spell on Southern California with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disneyland’s new Star Wars is now getting underway in Anaheim. Of course, before both parks can unveil their latest and greatest admission prices have to be adjusted. Universal Hollywood recently adopted demand pricing, in which its single-day park tickets are priced at a discount for days expected to be less busy. Universal’s one-day $95 ticket became its highest-priced ticket for days expected to be the most busy, with tickets receiving discounts of $5-20 for days expected to be less busy. There’s one caveat for the lower-priced tickets, however — in order to get the price break, you have to buy your ticket in advance otherwise you pay the full $95 price with you arrive at the front gate. Below, the break down of Universal Studios Hollywood’s new demand pricing for one-day admission.

Universal Studios Hollywood
One-Day Theme Park Admission Demand Pricing
One-Day Admission Price Price Difference
Anytime & Front Gate Admission $95 No price increase
“EZ Rez” Advance Purchase
1-Day Ticket
$90 Save $5
off $95 base ticket
“EZ Rez” Advance Purchase
1-Day Ticket
$85 Save $10
off $95 base ticket
“EZ Rez” Advance Purchase
1-Day Ticket
$80 Save $15
off $95 base ticket
“EZ Rez” Advance Purchase
1-Day Ticket
$75 Save $20
off $95 base ticket

A look at how Universal’s advance purchase demand pricing will be spread out through March 2016, as seen on the official Universal Studios Hollywood web site.

Not to be outdone, Disneyland and Walt Disney World adopted demand pricing on Sunday for their single-day theme park tickets.

Disneyland’s standard $99 one-day park ticket is now gone altogether and instead there are now three price levels for one-day park tickets: Value ($94), Regular ($105), and Peak ($119). Only one of the new ticket levels (Value) gives a discount on the previous $99 ticket price, while the other two come with new price increases. Unlike Universal, you don’t have to book your ticket for a specific day, but if you buy a Value ticket, you will have to use it on a Value day or pay to upgrade your ticket. Peak-level tickets are good for any day of the year, Regular tickets are good for any “Regular” or “Value” day of the year, and Value-level tickets are good only on Value days. No refund or discount will be given if you use a higher-level ticket on a lower-level day. Disneyland’s new prices are also the same whether you buy your ticket in advance on on the day-of. For example, if you visit on a “Regular” day, you will pay the “Regular” price at the main entrance ticket booth.

Disneyland Resort
One-Day, One-Park Admission Demand Pricing
One-Day Admission Price Price Difference
Value
1-Day Ticket
$95 Save $4
off previous $99 ticket price
Regular
1-Day Ticket
$105 $6 increase
on previous $99 ticket price
Peak
1-Day Ticket
$119 $20 increase
on previous $99 ticket price

Below, a look at how the demand pricing’s new ticket levels will be spread out through March 2016, as seen on the official Disneyland web site.

Is Disneyland’s new price increase and demand pricing just business or greed? If recent history is any indication, the price hikes won’t thin any crowds. Disneyland is as popular as ever and this new seasonal pricing likely won’t change the park’s now-typical overcrowding. The pricing is likely just to remain competitive — Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are both bigger parks with more attractions and entertainment than Universal Studios Hollywood, even with Universal’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So, in that regard, pricing the Disney parks higher than Universal makes sense. Still, as Disney continues to report record profits year-after-year, quarter-after-quarter for its Parks and Resorts division, is yet another price increase really necessary, especially if the price increase won’t actually help manage crowds?

Despite price hikes, the crowds continue to come and construction on Disneyland’s new Star Wars expansion continues to move forward. The Star Wars project will be unprecedented in terms of scale for Disneyland, with 14 acres being dedicated to a single IP that will include with massive new facades, rock work, and two E-Ticket attractions that dwarf even Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones Adventure. Below, a map showing how the new land is expected to impact Disneyland’s landscape once completed in late 2018.

StarWarsExpansion-BeforeStarWarsExpansion-After

[ View Map Large ]

Disney recently gave a new sneak peek at the Star Wars project during the two-hour “Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60” TV special on ABC. Actor Harrison Ford spoke in broad-strokes terminology about the upcoming land as several pieces of new concept art was shown on-screen.

Below, high-resolution versions of three of the renderings shown during the special.

Below, a look at how that last piece of concept art fits on the map of the new Star Wars land. The red star is the vantage point of the viewer in the painting, with the highlighted area roughly showing the space illustrated in the rendering.

On property, work is well underway backstage where facilities are being demolished and land is being cleared to make way for the new Star Wars attractions. Below, a look at the work, as seen on Friday.

The former Circle D Ranch is now completely gone and the land is being cleared for Star Wars construction, where the upcoming Millennium Falcon attraction’s show building will be constructed.

The existing berm is starting to be carved through as this boundary will see major changes in the coming months.


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Weekly News & Information Round-Up
Weekly Theme Park Hours
February 29-March 6, 2016
Disneyland Park California Adventure
Mon.-Tue.: 10 am – 9 pm
Wed.-Thu.: 10 am – 8 pm
Friday: 9 am – 12 am
Sat.-Sun.: 8 am – 12 am
Mon.-Thu.: 10 am – 8 pm
Friday: 9 am – 10 pm
Sat.-Sun.: 8 am – 10 pm
For a complete listing of theme park hours,
visit the Disneyland.com Theme Park Calendar
Closure and Refurbishment Schedule
Disneyland Park
  • Indiana Jones Adventure: Closed February 29-March 3 for refurbishment.
  • Disneyland Railroad: Closed for over a year starting January 11 while the Railroad path is rerouted for Star Wars Land.
  • Rivers of America: All River traffic and attractions are closed for over a year starting on January 11 while Star Wars Land construction reduces and reroutes the northern portion of the River. The extended closure includes:
    • Mark Twain Riverboat
    • Sailing Ship Columbia
    • Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
    • Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
    • Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
    • Fantasmic!
  • Jungle Cruise: Closed January 11-May 5 to remove holiday overlay and for extended refurbishment.
  • Autopia: Closed January 11-April 28 for refurbishment.
Disney California Adventure
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters: New attraction opens early 2016.
  • Grizzly River Run: Closed through March 13 for refurbishment.
  • Soarin’ Over California: Closed January 25-28, February 1-4 to install new Soarin’ Over the World attraction.
  • Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular: Closed permanently starting January 11. A “Frozen”-inspired musical stage show will take its place.
  • World of Color: Closed January 19-February 1 for refurbishment.
Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels
  • E-Ticket Pool, Disneyland Hotel: Closed for refurbishment.
Tomorrowplan Crowd Estimates for Disneyland Resort from Mouseaddict

February 29-March 6

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun

  • The new seasonal pricing has now taken effect. This week’s pricing is: Mon – Thu: Value Pricing, Fri-Sun: Regular Pricing.
  • Good Neighbor hotels still have some great deals with some offering as much as 30% off!
  • As Spring Break approaches, keep ahead of the crowds with Tomorrowplan, our crowd projection feature, only in Mouseaddict.

The free Mouseaddict app for iPhone and iPad features more than five dozen categories of searchable resort information, weather forecasts, park and show schedules, the latest news and articles from MiceChat, and more. Download free on the App Store or at mouseaddict.com.

Headline Roundup
A quick look at noteworthy Disney theme park headlines from around the web.
  • Disney Legend and the first President of Disneyland, Jack Lindquist, is dead at age 88. (OC Register)
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters officially opens March 7 at Disney California Adventure. (Disney Parks Blog)
  • Disneyland is donating 100% of special Ear Hat sales price to Make-A-Wish as part of #ShowYoursEars campaign. (Disney Parks Blog)
  • Anaheim residents, officials say Ku Klux Klan are not welcome in city following recent Klan rally that turned violent. (LA Times)
  • ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60” TV special topped ratings (Deadline)
  • Disneyland is saving at least 18 trees from Frontierland for relocation to Star Wars Land. (OC Register)
Alright, that wraps up this week’s edition of Dateline Disneyland. Are you planning on visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this spring? What do you think of Disneyland’s new demand pricing? Let us know in the comments below!

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