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Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening day: Merchandise works magic, and long lines abound

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood just debuted to the public.

After 2 1/2 years of construction, Wizarding World is having its grand opening today. Times staffers are there to bring you the details. Leading up to that, a red carpet event and celebration Tuesday included several actors from the “Harry Potter” films, plus fireworks and a performance by the L.A. Philharmonic.

Perhaps a mending charm is needed

Universal Studios Hollywood visitors are reporting a few opening day glitches at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which park officials had hoped to avoid by conducting weeks of technical rehearsals with random groups of customers.

The lines for everything, of course, have been Dementor-making.

The complex 3D-HD dark ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey broke down for a few minutes when Sarah Mahony was riding.

The projection in front of her froze and then went dark, but the seat kept moving as a recorded voice repeated: “Please stay in your seats, everything is all right.”

She said she was a little nervous at first, but the ride quickly started working again. She chalked it up to the park’s “first-day jitters.”

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Long wait times abound

Kayley Arreola, 16, along with with her sister Kayleah and cousin Cameron, followed the line for the Three Broomsticks eatery around a corner and to the back of the outdoor dining area. They took one look at the waiting crowd and turned around.

“We just had no idea where the line is going,” said Kayley, who lives in Sacramento. “It’s all over the place.” The lines blended together confusingly, and even though she was very hungry, she decided it wasn’t worth the wait. Meanwhile, she said, two of her sisters were holding spots in the line for the Ollivander’s wand shop.

Gearland Panelo, a nurse from Washington, and his friend Diana Lim arrived at Universal Studios at 7 a.m. and ended up riding the Minions ride elsewhere in the park while waiting to be allowed into the Harry Potter area. They got in about an hour later.

Lim, a stay-at-home mom from Panorama City, said the line for the Forbidden Journey ride moved at a pretty fast clip. “The other lines are pretty long, the Ollivander’s and all the food,” she said.

Panelo said he had been to the Wizarding World in Florida. ”I was kind of expecting this,” he said, nodding toward the snaking line in front of him for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. “It was the same in Orlando.”

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If crowds stay big, a Diagon Alley addition could be announced sooner

When the original Wizarding World opened in Florida in 2010, much was made of the fans who waited in eight-hour-long lines just to get into Hogsmeade. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds packed the themed land for days and weeks in the humid Orlando heat.

But Universal Studios Hollywood conducted technical rehearsals and a soft opening for several months. Several of the people at today’s opening day had already visited the West Coast Wizarding World; does that mean crowds will be smaller in the coming weeks? Or is this just the start of a flood?

We should know by Memorial Day. Big crowds could cause Universal to push up an expected announcement of a Diagon Alley addition in Hollywood that would take the place of the WaterWorld stunt show.

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Well, that’s one way to avoid the lines

Sara Brooder and her friend Danielle Orey, both 18, bemoaned the crazy lines everywhere. The wait to get into the room at the Ollivander’s wand shop where a kid is picked to try out spells was over an hour and a half, said Brooder, a high school senior who lives in Salt Lake City.

“The line, it was beautiful,” Brooder said sarcastically.

Still, she said she was legitimately happy to be at the park: “It’s so beautiful, I want to live here.”

Plus, she and Orey, a San Diego resident who has a Deathly Hallows tattoo on her wrist, didn’t have to wait long for the Forbidden Journey ride. They managed to sneak in via the gift shop.

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Merchandise casts its spell

(Shan Li / Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Dinh, a law enforcement officer from Riverside County, said he’s already spent about $500 on Harry Potter-related gear for himself and his 5-year-old daughter, Taytum. The haul included three wands, four shirts, temporary tattoos and a set of wee wizard robes for Taytum, not to mention mugs of Butterbeer.

“It’s both for her and me,” the 36-year-old said a little sheepishly.

The Garcia sisters — Elizabeth, 34, Janet, 26, and Brenda, 24 — said they had sunk even more money into their passion for all things Harry. Two years ago, they trekked to London to see the film sets. And by 8:30 a.m. Thursday, they had already dropped $300 on wands and a set of Ravenclaw robes for Janet, plus scarves in various house colors.

“We want to get everything,” said Brenda, a Macy’s sales associate.

Their mother, Cristina Garcia of Santa Ana, looked bemused holding their shopping bags. “I’m just here for my daughters,” she said.

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Other theme parks brace for impact

(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

The new Harry Potter attraction is expected to boost attendance at Universal Studios Hollywood, but by how much? Well, a similar Harry Potter attraction opened in 2010 at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla., and park attendance jumped 30% that year, according to the Themed Entertainment Assn.

Southern California theme parks are bracing to see how powerful a spell the boy wizard casts on the West Coast. Attendance at Disney’s Magic Kingdom near Orlando dropped 1.5% the year Florida’s Harry Potter land opened. But SeaWorld Orlando took the biggest hit, absorbing a 12.1% blow to attendance that year.

As California’s most popular tourist destination, Disneyland will be somewhat insulated. But second-day parks such as Disney California Adventure, SeaWorld San Diego and Knott’s Berry Farm will be warily watching Wizarding World.

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She called her boss Professor Snape

(Shan Li / Los Angeles Times)

Barbara Taormina, a Ventura resident practicing wandwork alongside her friend Sam Alejandre, was very determined to be here this morning.

The 32-year-old Staples district manager said she told her boss — “Professor Snape,” she called him jokingly — that she would be attending the Wizarding World opening day no matter what.

“I told him, ‘If you want sales, I’m going,’” she said.

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She’s got the magic touch

(Shan Li / Los Angeles Times)

Standing outside Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment store, Madison O’Brian, 15, and her mother and grandmother took turns waving her newly purchased wand.

The wand, bought for about $50, is supposed to open a lockbox when waved at the Wiseacre’s window display. But none of the three could get the spell to work.

“I think we’re not doing it right,” said Anna O’Brian, handing the wand back to her daughter and puzzling over the instructions. “I think you have to turn it on.”

Then, with a flourish, Madison waved the wand and the key turned right and the lockbox opened. “You’ve got the touch,” Anna crowed.

Madison, who lives with her mother in Petaluma, said they were visiting her grandmother, Maryanne, in Southern California and had to come to the park.

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A celebratory shot of whiskey

Omar Cabral, 35, and his friend Erika Vega, 33, had already been to soft openings of the Wizarding World, but they still wanted to be there for the official opening.

“It’s good to see to see the excitement,” said Vega, who lives in Burbank and is a scene planner for “The Simpsons.”

Both she and Cabral celebrated getting in with a decidedly adult shot of firewhisky. While in line for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, they held cups of cider mixed with another shot of whiskey.

“They did a really good job,” said Cabral, of Azusa. “It’s very Disneyesque. They went full out.”

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Their first views of Hogwarts

Tatiana Romero, 19, and her friend Zamantha Garcia, 18, both high school seniors, called in sick Thursday so they could attend the opening day of the park.

Romero, a South Los Angeles clad in wizard robes, said she couldn’t miss such a big day. She and Garcia, who lives in Koreatown, got up at 4 a.m. to get in line.

“I’m kind of speechless right now,” Garcia said as she looked at the “snow"-topped shops while in line for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. “It’s so magical.”

As the line moved, the pair turned a corner and spotted Hogwarts Castle. Romero squealed and clutched her heart.

“Oh my God, Hogwarts!” she said. “Oh my God, that’s amazing.”

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Disneyland strikes back

Though some have predicted that Disneyland attendance could take a small dip this year because of the popularity of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Mouse House is not sitting idly on the sidelines.

The park has begun construction of an attraction that is likely to give it fresh momentum: a 14-acre expansion based on the blockbuster “Star Wars” franchise.

Disneyland has also retooled several existing attractions to appeal to “Star Wars” fans. An underused area in the Innovations building of Tomorrowland has been converted into Star Wars Launch Bay, a hall where parkgoers can play “Star Wars” video games, buy merchandise and meet costumed characters from the movie franchise.

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At 2 a.m., there was already a crowd

Mayra Nicola stayed overnight with two friends, Samantha Gomez and Sabrina Alonzo, at a hotel near Universal Studios, hoping to snag wristbands to get into the park first.

But when they arrived at 2 a.m., there were already about 200 people ahead of them in line.

“We’re crazy Harry Potter fans,” said Nicola, who was wearing a black wizard robe and carrying her wand. “We’ve done Harry Potter midnight releases, Harry Potter midnight signings.”

Gomez and Alonzo, both 28, said they were most excited about visiting the shops and soaking in the atmosphere. Nicola said she wanted to “practice her wand.”

Alonzo said they’ve all had copious amounts of coffee to stay awake. “I’m so jittery,” the San Diego resident said. “I feel like I’m having a heart attack.”

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Opening day begins

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The first ones in line

Aidan Jasanis, the first person in line for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s official first day, got in line at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The 14-year-old middle school student became friends with the second person in line, 28-year-old Katie Aiani, when they went to a soft opening of the amusement park.

Aiani, who runs a Twitter account about Harry Potter-related news, said they didn’t sleep much last night, catching a only few winks on the ground while wrapped in blankets: “We’re wired on magic at this point.”

Aidan said he appreciates how the Wizarding World employees never break character as residents of a magical world. Aiani said she loves the little details from the books that only fans will recognize.

The pair’s shorthand for needing to go to the bathroom, Aiani said, is “doing a Moaning Myrtle.”

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Lines already forming for Harry Potter

The gates open for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at 8 a.m. Thursday, but visitors who bought tickets online can enter at 6:30 a.m.

Theme park officials confirmed that they would distribute wristbands to the first 250 guests in line. Those early guests will get to take part in an opening ceremony at 6:15 a.m. But you better hurry; the lines are already forming.

If you plan to get to the park tonight or early tomorrow, the park isn’t allowing overnight camping on the sidewalk near the park entrance.

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Magic wand tricks (and tips)

After 2 1/2 years of construction, Wizarding World is set for its grand opening Thursday morning. Here is how you can use an interactive wand at many of the park’s exhibits.

Brady MacDonald shows how interactive wands come into play at the Wizarding World.

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And that’s a wrap

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John Williams conducts L.A. Philharmonic

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Spotted on the red carpet

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Harry Potter stars arriving

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Rolling out the red carpet

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Crowds -- not Voldemort -- may be biggest challenge

(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is likely to be the most popular attraction to ever open at the Southern California park, if the multitudes at similar Harry Potter hangouts at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., and Japan are any indication.

Already, online ticket sales are sold out for opening day, though tickets are still available at the gate.

It doesn’t take a wizard to divine that the biggest challenge for Universal Studios executives will be managing the congestion when fans storm the six-acre simulacrum to buy wands and robes and queue up for a high-tech flying ride.

Universal Studios has already adopted several crowd-easing strategies.

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You snooze, you lose -- for Thursday, anyway

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Universal Studios Hollywood said it had sold out of online tickets for Thursday, the first day the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is officially open (as opposed to endless previews for random park guests and special groups).

Tickets will be available at the gate, however, park officials said.

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A twist on the world’s best dark ride

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey literally turns the traditional dark ride experience on its head by placing riders on the end of a unique robotic arm as they travel past domed projection screens and animatronic characters.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida has a similar ride, but the West Coast version adds 3-D imagery to the domed screen segments that were only 2-D when the ride debuted in 2010 at the Florida theme park.

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Harry Potter stars to walk the red carpet

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Don’t expect to see Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) or Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) at the red carpet event tonight, celebrating the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Sorry, J.K. Rowling fans. She’s not planning to attend either.

But other stars from the Harry Potter movies are scheduled to appear, including James and Oliver Phelps, shown above, who played Ron Weasley’s twin brothers. Also expected are Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

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Live video from the opening celebrations

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Hippogriff coaster is short on thrills but big on story

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The Flight of the Hippogriff at the back of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a short but fun ride that’s great for young kids who are anxious to climb aboard their first roller coaster.

People waiting in line for the ride pass the home of Hogwarts groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid and into the coaster station, themed to look like a stable for magical creatures.

The coaster train looks like a wicker basket, with a lead car that suggests the head, wings and feet of a hippogriff, a legendary creature with the front quarters of an eagle and the hindquarters of a horse. Here’s what happens next.

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Where to grab grub and grog

(Universal Studios)

For hearty British fare and an ice cold mug of Butterbeer, the place to be is the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade village.

The buffeteria-style restaurant and adjacent Hog’s Head pub offer Harry Potter-inspired food and beverages.

Here’s what’s on the menu -- and what Butterbeer actually tastes like.

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Review: Wizarding World is ‘magic come to life’

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Here it is, magic come to life, or as close as it gets, conjured into obsessively detailed, interactive splendor by many of the same designers who worked on the films.

Only this time, instead of partial sets, fleshed out with camera work and green screen, they got to build real streets, actual shops and taverns, even, in the queue leading to the Forbidden Journey, the Gryffindor common room. There’s Hagrid’s hut and his famous motorbike. Chocolate frogs, the Owl Post, the bottles of Gilly Water. Myrtle playfully moans in the restrooms.

Even after all this time, even for someone who has been to the park in Florida, who has read the books with three children, sat through the films a dozen times each ... even for me, J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is just as magical as it ever was.

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Merchandising magic

L.A. Times theme park blogger Brady MacDonald explores the shops at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Merchandising will grab center stage as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens Thursday at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Displays in 11 shop windows throughout the Potter land are embedded with motors, lights and sensors so that guests who wave their wands in a prescribed motion can make the items in the displays to come to life. But the enchantment works only with the more expensive “interactive” wands ($47.95), not with the less expensive replica wands ($39.95).

When a similar Harry Potter land opened in Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., in 2010, attendance shot up 20% and revenue jumped 41% for the year, as visitors cleaned out the shelves of magic wands, Gryffindor robes, chocolate frogs and other Potter-themed souvenirs.

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An exclusive sneak peek

After years of waiting with wands at the ready, Harry Potter fans managed their first look at the L.A. area’s Wizarding World as the park began “technical rehearsals.”

We got an exclusive sneak peek as the finishing touches were being put on the attractions, restaurants and shops around the looming Hogwarts Castle.

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What to expect when the Wizarding World opens

How big will the new land be? What attractions will be added? Should Disney be worried?

Here are answers to 10 big questions about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and what it means for the Southern California theme park landscape.

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