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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.