When the news broke in 2010 that Universal Studios Orlando would be opening a theme park dedicated to all things Harry Potter on this side of the Atlantic, it was all I could do to restrain myself from buying a ticket to Florida right then and there. Instead, I contented myself with group texting all of my friends “WE NEED TO GET OURSELVES TO ORLANDO STAT.” But though we dreamed and pined and read up on every article there was on the subject, we never did make it Eastward.

So when I found myself in Palm Springs recently – a tangible three hours away from Universal Studios Hollywood – I knew what had to be done. Though the townsfolk called me crazy (“You’re going to drive six hours round trip to do what?”) and I myself was wary of the tales I’d heard about L.A. morning traffic, I was too close to let this forever dream of mine slip through my Muggle fingers. So, I set my alarm to 5:45 am the night before my pilgrimage and went to sleep with drifting dreams of broomstick riding and spell casting soaring through my mind.

Hop aboard the Hogwarts Express, fellow Muggles, and take a journey with me through the fanciful land of witchcraft and wizardry!

6:15 am – Leave Palm Springs

Okay, so we meant to leave at 6:00 am, but we somehow still made it out of the door in a relatively prompt manner. If only I could just Accio shower! and get that sorted, I’d have been set. #MuggleProblems

A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on

6:18 am – Get Starbucks (Necessary)

Just a quick pit stop to buzz us up for the long and narrow drive Westward.

9:45 am – Arrive (!!!)

We tried to contain our excitement as we looped around the spanning grounds and saw the crooked towers of Hogwarts poking above the concrete walls and palm trees. We failed. We turned our music way up and danced at the thought of this dream becoming reality. Pro tip: turn your music up and dance upon driving onto the grounds. It’ll get you through the crabby crowd of stop-and-go traffic and drivers who didn’t pick up a morning Starbucks.

10:20 am – Enter the Park and Make a Beeline for Hogsmeade

As we entered, we made an immediate dash to the gates of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – a foolhardy mistake. Here’s why: in our hasty excitement, we turned down taking a quick survey that would have given us a front-of-the-line pass to the Studio Tour (one of my favorites at Universal). Learn from our mistake, kind reader. So take that survey and then RUN. Luckily, they don’t make you hightail it too far and we reached the gates in no time. We took a bunch of pictures and reveled in the surreal moment for awhile before we entered and were transported to the snowy Scottish hamlet as though by magic. Though we were wearing a matching all-black, warm-weather, culotte-centric outfit (so we could easily find each other if we got lost), we felt like we were suddenly in Scotland, wandering through the village that we’d only seen on the big screen.

Accio my acceptance letter! 📜

A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on

While you wait for The Three Broomsticks to open for lunch at 11:00, wander around the shops – we bought a pastry in Honeydukes, tried on robes in Madam Malkin’s and waved imaginary wands at the storefront displays as they whizzed and flew about at the command of those who actually forked over $50 for a *magic* wand.

11:00 am – Lunch at The Three Broomsticks

As soon as the clock struck 11:00, we rushed over to line up for a spot in The Three Broomsticks for lunch. The menu was littered with traditional English dishes: bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips. As expected, the prices were astonishing, but here we were, goshdarnit – it’s not every day that Muggles are allowed into a magical pub! So we filled up our tray with British favorites and had our first taste of the sugary (non-alcoholic) Butterbeer that I’d been dreaming of ever since I attempted to make it for the Deathly Hallows watch party I hosted years ago. It was, in a word, perfection. We ate like Ministers of Magic, slowly sipping and savoring our drinks and willing ourselves to believe that we’re actually in Scotland.

12:00 pm – Ride the Rides!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Culottes🔮

A photo posted by Chelsa Ayers (@chelsaayers) on

Riding our Butterbeer sugar high, we hopped into the hour-long line for Journey Through Hogwarts, one of the two rides in the Wizarding World. Much to our delight, we weren’t just twiddling our thumbs during the wait. As we twisted and snaked through the dark halls of Hogwarts, pictures moved and items whizzed about, we got to peek inside of the headmaster’s quarters and even had a chat with Harry, Ron and Hermione, who spoke to the crowd from a balcony, projected onto the spot with 3-D technology. As we boarded our charmed seats, the ride moved into a dark room where it tumbled us to and fro as we were chased by dragons, caught in the middle of a Quidditch game and saving the Wizarding world with the Gryffindor trio. With the help of 3-D technology and constructed sets, we were made to feel as though we were actually flying over the grounds of Hogwarts behind Harry and doing our part in the fight against Voldemort.

We then went to the other ride, Flight of the Hippogriff, which was a tame and short version of a roller coaster. It was fun, but much too short. The line was speedy, though, so we went on it again to get our fill.

2:00 pm – Check Out the Other Universal Rides

With four hours of the Wizarding World under our belt, we thought we should see what else Universal Studios had to offer. We went on the informative Studio Tour, a ride that has since been equipped with 3-D upgrades and modern Hollywood facts since the last time I visited the park. As Jaws is my all-time favorite movie, I always sit on the far right side of the tram to get the best thrill when we drive through Amity Island. We then went to the lower lot where we went on the Mummy ride, the Jurassic Park cruise, the Transformers ride and ended the Universal Studios bit with the dystopian Waterworld show. We had a fun time walking around in the California sun, but we knew that we needed to go back to our magical town one more time before we left.

We wore matching outfits in case we lost each other.

A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on

5:30 pm – Walk Through Hogsmeade One Last Time

If only for one more taste of butterbeer.

6:00 pm – Head Home

We waved goodbye to the magic place hesitantly and with much dragging of our heels. Eventually, though, we drug ourselves out of there and were suddenly on our way back to the car. Which parking lot did we park in, again?

6:30 pm – In N Out Pit Stop

Oh, this is so necessary. Snag yourself a table in a the usually-crowded joint and enjoy a cheeseburger, box of fries and thick milkshake as you revel in your magical voyage into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

A photo posted by Chelsa Ayers (@chelsaayers) on

Have you been here before? Tell me about any must-dos that I may have missed in the comments below!

2 Responses

  1. Taylor Gang

    in all of these "do's" I have to add a "don't". I have been out of school for quite a few years now and it apparently slipped my mind when spring break was. I didn't realize until I got there and was waiting 2+ hours for everything!! don't go during spring break!

    • Mary Zakheim

      Taylor, this is such a good “don’t”! Luckily, we were there on a weekday, which meant that the crowds weren’t too bad! Thanks for the comment – it’s good for folks to keep in mind!


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About The Author

Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.