We are a family of Harry Potter fans. Which is why the announcement that Universal Studios Hollywood would open a Wizarding World of Harry Potter—a mere five hour drive away from our home in Nevada—was exciting news! So we were among the early visitors when the new area of the California theme park opened in 2016, and have made several trips since to take advantage of annual pass benefits.
While the Wizarding World was definitely the bait that brought us in, there is much to explore and enjoy at Universal beyond Harry Potter. We were delighted to find favorites all throughout the park. As a parent, one of the real benefits of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is its relatively small size. It is remarkably more manageable than nearby Disneyland, which most would argue requires several days to fully experience. A one-day visit to Universal will not leave you feeling like you just scratched the surface. Still, there are plenty of rides and attractions to keep a family busy and happy.
If you’re traveling with tweens in tow, check out these five family favorites.
1. There’s magic in the air. Buy a wand. It’s completely worth it.
While the Universal Studios theme park in general lacks a sense of overall magic that visitors familiar with Disney parks may expect, that is not the case in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal has successfully created an immersion experience that will delight fans and even win over skeptics of the wizarding life. In this recreation of Hogsmeade, flanked by shops and inns and presided over by towering Hogwarts Castle, there is real magic to be found. With an interactive wand purchased at Ollivanders (approximately $60), young wizards and witches can cast spells. Proper wand movement must be coupled with the verbal spell casting to make plants grow, dishes spin, drawers open, and more. For aspiring wizards that may need coaching, resident robe-wearing tutors are always on hand to assist.
2. Feast like a wizard. Three Broomsticks
Working all that magic works up an appetite. Forget the usual theme park fare and go for The Great Feast at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant. The Harry Potter theme continues inside, and neither the quality or the quantity of cuisine will disappoint. Advertised as a feast for four for $65, we fed three adults and two tweens with enough leftover to feed one or two more. Our 12-year-old boy feasted on ribs and left full and happy! Roasted chicken, ribs, red potatoes, veggies, and corn on the cob are served family style on a silver platter. A fresh, modern salad comes separately. Unfortunately, dessert (caramel bread pudding!) is not included, and we were too full to indulge. Cold, foamy butterbeer is a “must-try” when you visit, either at the restaurant or a cart outside.
3. Face your fears. Jurassic Park The Ride
Jurassic Park The Ride starts off like a lazy boat trip viewing impressive gentle giants and cute baby dinos on shore, but quickly becomes a heart-pounding water ride, facing a ferocious T-rex and plunging down an 84-foot waterfall. Young children may be afraid, but for many this will be family-friendly fun. Our 8-year-old daughter is always scared while waiting and cringes during the ride, but wants to go again when it’s over. I suffer from motion sickness and have trouble on the 3-D rides that are common at Universal Studios, but this ride is great fun!
4. Act like a kid. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
This became an unexpected favorite and inspires all of us to relax and be silly. If your kids are fans of the minions and other characters from the Despicable Me movies, they will love the fun storyline in this 3-D ride. The motion level is mild and the 3-D interaction inspires lots of laughs and gasps. If the wait is long, you can be impressed by the extensive expense and effort put into entertaining kids throughout the queue lines.
5. Animal Actors show. Don’t balk at this one.
In addition to the much-needed respite of getting off your feet for a bit, all ages will very much enjoy the Animal Actors live show. Reluctant, even grumpy tweens are soon laughing and engaging with the talented animals on stage. Trainers and dogs, cats, birds, rodents and more show tremendous talent and training in bringing to live stage the tips and tricks these “real-life” animal actors actually use while filming a movie on the sets at Universal.
There’s more to see and do at Universal, with options for all ages and interests. Start with these five favorites and see where the day leads. You’ll be sure to find abundant memory-making moments for family travel.
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About Hilarie H. Robison
Hilarie H. Robison is a writer, facilitator and strategist who believes in leaving a legacy for loved ones. With a professional background in public policy and non-profits, she recently joined her husband in family entrepreneurship. Together they launched Legacy Tale, where they help families make and keep memories. Natives of Las Vegas, the Robisons love to travel with their two school-aged children. Follow Hilarie's adventures on Instagram and Facebook.
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