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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: Inside Universal's New 'Wizarding World Of Harry Potter'

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The grand opening celebration of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood was truly enchanting, with appearances from cast members, the legendary composer John Williams and a fantastical light show. We went to check out the theme park's latest attraction last night.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been open in Orlando since 2010, and now the West Coast has its very own. During the opening ceremony, we were greeted with the Hogswarts Frog Choir who—accompanied by singing frogs, of course—sang a jaunty tune. Universal Studios President Larry Kurzweil then came out to welcome guests to the attraction, and was presented a wand by the Wandkeeper that allowed him to create plumes of fire.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke, saying he would like to think of himself as a Gryffindor, but is probably a Ravenclaw. He also attempted to alleviate L.A. traffic using a magic wand, but I'm sure your morning commute would indicate Garcetti is a mere muggle.

After brief appearance by an Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), the Weasley twins (James and Oliver Phelps), and Professor Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Williams led the L.A. Philharmonic through a medley of Harry Potter selections, while the crest of each house was projected onto the looming Hogwarts Castle and fireworks burst into the air.

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The Wizarding World is incredibly immersive. While most of the attraction is set in the town of Hogsmeade, you will find the attraction's best ride—a 3D dark ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey—inside Hogwarts. You will first stash your bags and belongings in a locker that uses a fingerprint scan for security before you walk through the castle. As you progress, you'll encounter halls of talking portraits, animated newspapers, various Hogwarts classrooms, a talking sorting hat and other Potter easter eggs.

The ride itself requires you to step on a conveyor belt and seat yourself in a four-person car. What follows is probably one of the coolest amusement park rides we've been on in a while. The motion of the ride is fairly gentle when it comes to the dips and swooshes, but the expansive universe takes you soaring above the castle and through a Quidditch match. You'll also encounter a fire-breathing dragon that blasts your face with hot air, a Forbidden Forest full of gigantic spiders, the Whomping Willow, and a horde of lurching Dementors. The combination of 3D and animatronics make for a surprisingly long and thrilling ride.

Elsewhere, you can go on a short, kid-friendly roller coaster called Ride of the Hippogriff that is more giggly than it is thrilling, and features an animatronic Hippogriff at the beginning of the ride.

The town of Hogsmeade has plenty to do. Carts serve Gilly water and Butterbeer, and you can pop in for a bite at the Three Broomsticks or a brew at the Hog's Head pub. (We went to a separate tasting and wrote about that here.)

There are also many gift shops, including Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods—where one can buy a robe or scarf, and the Owl Post, where you can purchase your own owl or send a letter postmarked from Hogsmeade. At the Hogsmeade Express, you can sit in a train car and have your photo taken. Honeydukes is full of confectionaries like Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and candy floss, while Zonko's Joke Shop—which shares the space with Honeydukes—sells the Extendable Ears and other gags.

One of the best shops is Ollivanders, makers of fine wands since 382 B.C., where you might purchase your very own wand. The shop is jampacked full of wands, which can be used to do real magic at any of Universal's Wizarding Worlds. And by real magic, we mean they are equipped with chips that trigger a number of fun events throughout the park. You can spin plates and open boxes, for instance, by standing on a medallion found on the ground, reciting an incantation and waving the tip of your wand—swish and flick.

Now, you could pick out a wand on your own, or you could engage in a more immersive experience when your wand chooses you. Step inside a secret chamber for a wand choosing, where small groups at a time will be able to try out various wands. You'll be asked to try and create magic with the wands, but of course, the wands choose the wizards, and the spells will only work correctly if you have the right wand in hand.

You might also catch a Triwizard Spirit Rally, or peer into one of the many interactive shop windows. And if you visit the loo, you might hear the voice of Moaning Myrtle.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood officially opens to the public on April 7, but tickets for that day are completely sold out. According to a release, this is the first date in park history on which they've had to stop selling online tickets. So, you should have plenty of time to watch all eight films (and maybe reread the books) while you wait for the lines to calm down.