It’s no surprise that when it comes to making summer more magical the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be a bright star. On Friday, the attraction officially unveils its Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a dazzling light display that pays tribute to the Potterverse’s four great houses.
The dazzling light projection, set against the backdrop of Hogwarts Castle, is narrated by the Sorting Hat, which in accepting the challenge to assign spectators their proper houses, showcases Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Accompanying the state-of-the-art display is a special musical arrangement created by Academy Award-winning composer John Williams, who created the original scores for the film series. William Ross conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the musical recording.
Once it debuts Friday (including a Facebook Live event at 8:45 p.m.), the show will run multiple times nightly during the summer. In advance of the official opening, annual pass holders, some guests and media were treated to preview showings. Two Californian staffers attended Tuesday's preview and share their experiences here:
Entertainment reporter Kelly Ardis: Since it opened last spring, Hogsmeade at Universal Studios has kind of become my happy place. And when there’s something new I haven’t seen before? That blissful peace that comes from being inside my favorite fictional place turns into unbridled excitement.
Light and graphics projected on a castle actually was something I’d seen before. Last summer I went to Walt Disney World, where my friends and I watched Cinderella’s castle transform into brick for “Wreck-It Ralph” and an underwater kingdom for “The Little Mermaid,” among other things.
That didn’t diminish the fun of the Hogwarts show at all, though. As the Sorting Hat narrates and tells guests about each of the four houses at the wizarding school, Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and Slytherins each get their time to shine (literally). The house crests and their animal mascots are projected on the castle, with lions charging from one side to another and snakes slithering their way up a tower.
The experience is fairly short, under five minutes. Luckily, the park plans to show it multiple times a night. That means you can watch it fully engaged the first time around and catch it a second time through your phone’s camera if you want to get some pictures to show your friends.
Assistant features editor Stefani Dias: Having not been to Universal Studios in a number of years, so much was fresh for me. Even before the nighttime show, I was able to enjoy attractions and areas with fresh eyes (and a sense of relief for having escaped Bakersfield's blistering heat). Even seeing the Wizarding World at a quick glance, it's clear the care that went into creating this unique world.
My previous light show viewing experience extends to World of Color at Disney's California Adventure, which is a wonderful presentation. This muggle is a bigger fan of magic than the Mouse, so this Hogwarts display was a real treat.
In this instance, the brief runtime really works in its favor, with plenty of time to get acquainted with the Sorting Hat's mission of highlighting each house. Clearly this preview night audience had already been sorted, cheering for their respective houses, with the Hufflepuffs especially vocal in the second run-through.
Of course, it ends with a big finish and lingering of sparkling lights. Within those five minutes, you get a fun show for fans that's not going to tax those weary from a day of park activities. And unlike the Southland Disney parks, which often have people camping out for their shows far in advance, this is an easier move-in to watch and then go. Unless you get jammed up in the line for butterbeer. Then it's every woman for herself.
Keep Portland weird but give us their doughnuts. That's easier to manage now that famed Oregon shop Voodoo Doughnut opened its first California location at Universal CityWalk earlier this month. The shop serves a range of 60 eclectic doughnuts, including vegan options and the Hollywood Cream, which was created for Universal CityWalk. Popular treats include their iconic Voodoo Doll as well as Grape Ape, Mango Tango, the Voodoo Bubble and Bacon Maple Bar.
The shop also features another Portland specialty: Stumptown coffee, which brews regularly from the first-ever pink Stumptown espresso machine.
A warning on lines: Morning and evenings draw crowds but if you can hit that sweet midday spot, the wait time is minimal. The only downside? You'd better be ready to order because that checkout process happens fast.
Our recommendations: "As someone who lived in Oregon for three years, I already have a favorite: the No Name, a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Rice Krispies and a peanut butter drizzle. The Voodoo Doll is also a popular one, topped with chocolate frosting and shaped like the name suggests, with a pretzel stick through its heart and raspberry filling inside." — Kelly Ardis
"The Diablo Rex may put some off with its vanilla frosting pentagram but it's worth exploring the dark side for this decadent chocolate cake doughnut. The Bacon Maple Bar earns brownie points for its strips of crisp bacon on top, making it a great sweet breakfast option on the go. The Blueberry Cake was light, fruity and, most importantly, held onto its glaze during the warm car ride home. In fact, since you're likely taking some to go, it's reassuring to note that most (probably not cream-filled) will hold up on the ride back to Bakersfield. Or you've got road trip treats." — Stefani Dias
Other park adventures
Universal season pass holder Kelly Ardis also shares some other points of attraction if you're headed to the park this summer.
The Walking Dead Attraction has been at Universal Studios for close to a year now, but unless you’ve been there recently, it’s probably still new to you. Capturing some of the park’s Halloween magic for this year-round maze, the attraction puts guests right in the middle of their favorite zombie TV show.
Prepare to be scared: Not only do the undead inside look like the ones on your screen, they even went to “walker school” to make sure they move like them too. Greg Nicotero, the AMC show’s executive producer and special effects makeup supervisor, has been involved with the Universal attraction since it started, so this is as close as we fans can get to the world of “The Walking Dead” without the risk of a zombie bite.
The maze is a little short, but the detail within it is great. And while it’s not quite as scary as the mazes the park does for its annual Halloween Horror Nights, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need to link arms with Stefani to get through it. (Note: It's recommended only for those 13 and over.)
For those who go through The Walking Dead Attraction and want more, plan to go to Halloween Horror Nights this fall. The park has already announced two of the mazes: one based on “American Horror Story: Roanoke” and another on “The Shining.”
For 14 years, Shrek 4-D has offered Universal Studios guests a cool reprieve from the heat outside its theater walls. It’s a cute break from the rides and longer lines they attract, but, let’s face it, “Shrek” is a little dated at this point; the first movie came out in 2001.
Soon, “Kung Fu Panda” will take over the theater, at least for a little while. Universal is transforming the “Shrek” attraction into the DreamWorks Theatre, where it will show different DreamWorks shows. Since it’s not tied down to any one movie, the theater will be able to change what it screens as public interest moves from green ogres onto fighting bears and later onto the next thing.
Details on the new theater are slim at the moment, but it is slated for a 2018 opening. If you want to see Shrek 4-D one last time, you’ll need to get to Universal Studios soon. It’s closing in August.