A Magical Experience

A Magical Experience

After spending a few days with Keao in Los Angeles, the very next week I headed in the opposite direction. My brother was meeting up with his friend Bryan in Japan and they were staying with our friend Gabe so I decided to crash their little party and visit the motherland.

To be completely honest, one of the biggest reasons I had for going was the opportunity to hit up Universal Studios Japan, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

We wanted to make sure we got there on time so upon leaving Gabe’s place we arrived about 15 minutes before the park opened. Of course by that time a considerable line had formed and we made it into the park at about 9:20am (20 minutes after the open). What we didn’t understand (because of the language barrier I suppose) is that to be admission to Harry Potterland required a separate reservation ticket. So by the time we ran to Harry Potterland, figured out we needed a special ticket, and stood in line for that ticket with an entry time we were disappointed to discover that we would not be allowed into Harry Potterland until 10:40am.

Our entrance to the magic
Our entrance to the magic

Feeling a little bummed and with an hour to kill, we hit up the Jaws attraction. Unfortunately for us, the guide spoke Japanese so I some parts of the ride went a little over our heads. She did make it quite clear that we weren’t allowed to take pictures though. The big X she made with her arms when I took out my camera made it loud and clear. I did manage to snap a few pics though just none of Jaws.

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Da-dum, da-dum…
Right before our guide flashed me the big X
Right before our guide flashed me the big X

After Jaws we were finally able to get into Harry Potterland. I don’t know how to describe my feelings. As we walked along, the air was nice and crisp. The light snow falling only added to the incredible ambiance. I was super excited and I couldn’t wait to see everything there! But by 10:40am I think half the crowd was also there feeling the exact same thing.

We passed the gates into Hogsmeade it looked almost exactly how I imagined it. The Hogwarts Express greeted us to the right and Zonko’s Joke Shop stood at the left. Our first stop was to Hog’s Head Tavern to get a cup of hot Butterbeer. Having read about Butterbeer I often wished I had a cup to drink. Here was my chance! Butterbeer is served hot or cold and since it was freezing, I opted for the hot option. It tasted like hot butterscotch soda with a cinnamon aftertaste. It was a little too sweet for my liking but maybe it’s better cold.

Hogsmeade!
Hogsmeade!
The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express
It was so cold (and snowing) that I wasn't sure if that was real snow or not on the rooftoops
It was so cold (and snowing) that I wasn’t sure if that was real snow or not on the rooftoops
Inside the Hog's Head Tavern
Inside the Hog’s Head Tavern

After the Butterbeer we headed up to Hogwarts to hopefully ride one of the two rides in Harry Potterland. When we reached the castle (which looked amazing), the estimated wait time for the ride had already stretched to 240 minutes! At first we thought it said 2 hours and 40 minutes, but the nice lady at the front politely informed us that it wasn’t 2 hours and 40 minutes, it was really 4 hours (it got up to 5 hours at one point)! After a little hesitation, we decided that we didn’t want to spend half our day in line so we took option 2: the castle tour.

Basically, the castle tour is like standing in the line except it moves a lot quicker and when you get close to the ride vehicles you make a quick exit into the gift shop. So you see the ride queue without the thrill of the actual ride. It was still very cool though (and only a 20 minute wait).

The Hogwarts Castle
The Hogwarts Castle
The wait from here is 240 minutes!
The wait from here is 240 minutes!
Poor Ravenclaw, always in last place
Poor Ravenclaw, always in last place
The majestic Phoenix
The majestic Phoenix

Since we had to walk out through Hogsmeade again, we paused to go into Ollivander’s Wand Shop, the Owl Post and some other magical shops.

Inside Ollivander's wand shop
Inside Ollivander’s wand shop
The Owl Post
The Owl Post
The Monster Book of Monsters safely locked up
The Monster Book of Monsters safely locked up
Some of the finest flying brooms
Some of the finest flying brooms
Hedwig!
Hedwig!

For whatever reason, we discovered that Japanese people really don’t mind standing in lines. There were lines everywhere! The line to enter Honeyduke’s Sweet Shop (and the connecting Zonko’s Joke Shop) were too long so we skipped those altogether thinking we would come back at the end of the day and visit them later (we did not).

Overall, the Harry Potter experience was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Universal did an incredible job keeping with the theme and feel that I read about, but with just two attractions in the area there wasn’t a lot to do except shop in a very well themed shopping center. The stores, however, did sell almost anything you could think of with Harry Potter’s name plastered on it.

If you visit, check out the Universal Studios Japan website for specials, tips and more information.

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