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Best insider tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Big entrance

The first time you visit, enter from the Seuss Landing/Lost Continent side, which is the main entrance. That will mean turning right when you enter Islands of Adventure and going counterclockwise around the park. While you can also enter from Jurassic Park, you won't get the fantastic bit of stage work as you enter. With the castle looming in front of you, the music swelling, the train belching steam and Hogsmeade all around, it's a stunning effect created by Oscar-winning production designers. The rooftops are even dusted with "snow," a lovely illusion in 90-degree heat.

Tight quarters

When the place is open to all, it is going to be insanely cramped. There are small spaces everywhere, which gives it part of that U.K. charm, but it will be tough to move around. Try to conjure an "accio patience" spell for the trip.

Your room key is an express pass — where you get to go in the shorter line — if you stay at the Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel or the Portofino Bay Hotel. Otherwise there are only a limited number of express passes for sale for each date for $19.99 to $59.99 that are good one time only for the Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff rides. It's customary for a new attraction like this not to offer an express pass until a few months after opening, a spokeswoman for the park said.

Leave out the little ones

This is not for toddlers. As we've already noted, it will be tough to move around anyway, and even harder with a stroller. If the kids are too young for the books or movies, they are too young for this.

Also, you have to be 48 inches tall to go on the signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and there are some intense images and sounds even in the shops that would scare a 3-year-old.

Prepare to shop

Harry Potter geeks are the literary version of Trekkers, dressing in wizard robes to debate the human rights of house elves or why wizards would bother with trying to pass the NEWT exams (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test). The shopping here fills this niche nicely, with hundreds of licensed items for sale. Bring plenty of Galleons.

• You can take home bottles of butterbeer (a creamy soda) and pumpkin juice (like a pumpkin-infused apple cider). And you can get a mug of Hog's Head Brew, a beer made especially for the Wizarding World.

• The Owl Post office lets you send a howler to Grandma with a Hogsmeade postmark.

• There is a variety of toys, including the Sneakoscope ($14.95) and the Fanged Flyer, that saw-toothed Frisbee ($24.95, glove included), sold in Zonko's joke shop in Hogsmeade.

• Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods sells loads of shirts, chess sets and brooms, and even has a corner of dark wizard goods such as an "I served time in Azkaban" T-shirt or Death Eater shirts that look like an Ed Hardy design. (Aha! We knew he was a dark wizard!)

• Honeydukes sweet shop, with the chocolate frog croaking in the window, has chocolate frogs (which come with a wizard trading card in each box, $9.95), sugar quills, gigantic lollipops, fudge and, of course, Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans ($9.95).

You've got to eat

While you can bring bottled water, snacks and any food that is required for medical purposes or dietary needs, you cannot pack a gigantic picnic for the entire family. If you want to keep with the Potter theme, you'll eat at Three Broomsticks, the signature restaurant in the Wizarding World. Here you'll find shepherd's pie and fish and chips in the reasonable $9.99 to $13.49 range. There also is a platter for four featuring salad, chicken, ribs, potatoes and more for $49.99. Over on the kids menu, you can get fish and chips, chicken fingers and more. Behind the restaurant are some outdoor tables, one of which gives a breathtaking view of the castle. Have someone in your party scope that out and save it for your crew. It's also a great spot for a photo.

Plan your day

Potter fans may have imagined this huge sprawling world but it's really just a corner of Universal. It's three rides, the castle, food in Three Broomsticks and several small shops.

If the lines are huge, we recommend queuing up first at the castle to go on the Forbidden Journey ride. The line is an adventure itself with special treats throughout the castle like Dumbledore addressing the crowd and the portraits talking to each other. The queue and ride are supposed to be an hourlong experience, but long lines may extend that quite a bit. Then take your time to really appreciate all the attention to detail throughout Hogsmeade, from the gown in a shop window that Emma Watson wore at the dance in the fourth movie to the jumble of wands at Ollivanders shop.

Times staff writer Sherry Robinson contributed to this report.

Best insider tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 06/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:55am]
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