The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is obnoxiously overpriced, small, and pretty gimmicky. And yet it is a much better experience for a Harry Potter fan than Fantastic Beasts, Cursed Child, or any of J.K. Rowling’s endless Pottermore essays.
It’s been hard to recapture—or even remember—what it was that made me love Harry Potter in the first place over these last few years. Cursed Child has a plot that is deeply frustrating in many ways, especially given a villain who is obnoxiously once again angling to raise Voldemort to power. Fantastic Beasts is proof that whatever else Rowling is good at, maybe “screenwriter” is not one of them. The Pottermore essays, at their worst, are downright offensive.
It is fatiguing to have a universe you love overrun with crap. While a lot of the “George Lucas raped my childhood” thing was overdramatic, it’s also true that, from the special editions through the prequels, fans were seeing a flood of awfulness by and approved of by the creator of that universe. It’s not even that fans should have a say in that as much as waging through that much BS makes it very, very hard to keep in mind the good things that made the journey so worthwhile originally.
And that is where I found myself before sort of begrudgingly agreeing to meet some of my family members at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Look, it’s a theme park. That means admission is staggeringly expensive and that pretty much everything available for purchase in the park is marked up in the name of “memories.” And, at least the one at Universal Studios Hollywood, is pretty small, consisting of two rides, a restaurant, and an assortment of stores.
But there is something about the uncomplicated joy of the place that will remind you why you loved Harry Potter. It’s meticulously designed to completely immerse you in Hogsmead that it fulfills that childhood itch to get a Hogwarts letter. Making the wands they sell there interactive with the park is ingenious, because it makes it even easier to buy into this world.
Hogwarts Castle, which you visit while waiting in line for the ride, does the double-duty of being interesting enough to distract you from the wait and being so full of details for fans to notice that I was actually minorly disappointed when I went back to the ride and got to go right ahead because no one was there. I wanted to stop at the Sorting Hat again, or take a closer look at the Mandrakes in the greenhouse, or pose next to the crashed flying car.
Then there are the visitors. People of all ages showing up in costumes, or buying costumes and putting them on right there in the park. Talking about what they’ve noticed or what they loved. It’s all the best parts of a con, but with a location infinitely superior to what any impermanent convention can build. All these things come together to make an experience that sent me right back to the books. And I realized, for the first time in my life, that I needed to visit Universal Studios in Orlando to see the larger version.
Where Fantastic Beasts failed by failing to create a magical USA that felt believable, this stupid park does it perfectly. Even if the Butterbeer tastes like oversweet ass.