The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a life-sized replica of Hogwarts at Universal Studios Hollywood that took five years of planning, two and a half years of construction, and $500 million to complete.
The last book in the original Harry Potter series was published in 2007, but J.K. Rowling's wizarding empire has continued to expand, with film adaptations of the books, the Pottermore website, the spin-off Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them (the movie version of which is coming out this year), the sequel play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and—why not?—a theme park.
So many people bought tickets for the theme park's opening on April 7 that Universal had to shut down its online ticket operation—a first for the company. When I attended on Sunday, two days after the gates opened to the theme-park-within-a-theme-park, the place was still packed, even though tickets were not exactly cheap at $105 a head. Fans of all ages wore robes and pointy hats as they explored the six-acre space featuring a replica of Ollivander's Wand Shop, Hog's Head Pub, and other magical stuff from the Potterverse. A guest who looked eerily similar to Professor Minerva McGonagall, complete with a crooked witch hat and green robe, nearly crushed my foot with a motorized scooter she'd decorated with dolls of Dobby and Hedwig.
Other fans spent the day nerding out over the intricate park design and easter eggs littered about, such as a recording of Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms, fake owl droppings outside the Owl Post, and a handful of picture frames featuring moving images.
To Universal's credit, the place truly felt immersive, and the staff was so large that I rarely saw the same costume-clad employee more than once. Even the two musical performances that kicked off in the middle of the park every half-hour would swap out cast members as if there were an endless supply.
After eight hours of exploring, I got lightheaded and decided it was time to leave. As I walked out, I wondered how popular the Wizarding World would be once Disneyland opens its impending Star Wars theme park. I turned back to give the park one more look, and saw a teenager in a Korn shirt vomit into a trashcan.