“This is just like magic!” – Gilderoy Lockhart
If you love Harry Potter then you definitely must visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Not to worry, directions are not in riddles. Just take the aptly named JR Yumesaki Line (Yume = dreams, saki = to bloom) from JR Osaka station and alight at the Universal City stop.
There was no room to swing a Kneezle since it was Sunday. The express tickets were sold out by 10am (the time I arrived). However, it is vital to join the timed entry tickets queue immediately if you want to enter the Hogwarts area as soon as possible. No charm is powerful enough to get you in without the ticket! Just remember that you can only enter during the stipulated time period and once you miss it, you won’t be able to enter.
Now, we wait. A very, very long wait.
While waiting, I tried some snacks, two other rides, caught parts of shows, and explored the souvenir shops.
The park price for food was expensive, but it’s okay to indulge a little. The roasted turkey leg cost 700 yen (about SGD 8), but it was massive, juicy and so deliciously soft. I noticed many visitors munching on a whole leg by themselves! I would have done the same but I wanted to try the food I’m interested in, so I shall share my food. The turkey leg is sold at various stands in USJ, so don’t miss it! Queues for it can get very long, especially towards closing time.
The mango shaved ice from the Amity Village boardwalk area was perfect for a hot day. The mango topping was real mango, and while the amount of mango syrup and milk was a tad too sweet for my taste, this treat still hit the spot after wandering around in the scorching sun for a few hours. I can’t remember the cost, but I remember how pleasant it was. Just be careful when eating it as you might spill it on others!
The chocolate-flavoured Churros (or churritos), the aroma of cinnamon and the crispness of this treat was worth the 450 yen. It was nearly as long as my arm, but I still wish it was longer as I feel like I could eat more. This is the perfect saku saku texture, or the perfect balance of crispy on the outside and moistness inside.
Minions lovers can also get popcorn complete with a minions holder. In fact, many park visitors were carrying this around! The holder is really cute, complete with movable eyes. However, I have no idea how I would bring it back to Singapore if I did buy it.
Anyway, the Minions Plaza in USJ must not be missed for fans of Minions. There are just too many cute Minions-themed food and merchandise to be bought.
In addition to the Minions craze, there was a One Piece theatre show, a Yokai Watch maze, and a HERO event that was advertising the launch of the movie of the same name. I skipped all these as they were really crowded.
While it seemed that I had a lot of time, queueing for rides meant a lot of wasted time. Still, it can’t be helped as the shortest queue I noticed still required a wait of at least 90 minutes! That was Jaws, and also a mistake.
Jaws was as exciting as watching paint dry, but I’ll give points to the tour guide’s acting. Just be warned that if you don’t understand any Japanese, you’ll be in for a boring ride. The entire ride was about 7 minutes (according to the USJ website). The boat hardly shook at the attack of the shark, and the most exciting thing was watching people get thoroughly soaked on the left side of the boat.
If you don’t want to get wet, sit on the left side of the boat! Or better, avoid the ride. On the bright side, the Jaws souvenirs shop is chock-full of cute merchandise, like the plush shark that is as round as a ball, or a Jaws hat that is clamping on down on your head.
I also tried Backdrop, the roller coaster that reaches various parts of the park. It moves backwards, so the riders cannot see where they are going. This is rumoured to be the most thrilling of all the rides. You can choose a song to listen to during the ride but the speakers were too loud for me.
However, once you get past the noise, you can enjoy a bird’s view of the park. I really can’t wait to get into the castle!
4pm finally rolled around and it was time to enter the Hogwarts Castle!
The wait for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4K3D ride was over 300 minutes, or over 5 hours. Since the wait took so long, I thought it was best to wait until later. I really enjoyed the sights and the immaculate details in the Harry Potter area. If you have time, do look at the displays inside and outside the shops.
You can also buy wands, cloaks, scarfs, or anything to make your experience at Hogwarts more magical. After all, what is a trip to one of the best places on Earth without a tangible memento?
Gladrags Wizardwear also sells Timeturners!
Don’t forget to try some of the snacks they have. I wanted to get a meal at The Three Broomsticks, but the queue was too long. Instead, I went to the nearest Hog’s Head stand and bought a Butterbeer! Unlike its namesake, it contains neither alcohol nor butter. Butterbeer of the muggle variety is essentially a fizzy drink with vanilla cream on top, or an ice-blended one if you chose the Frozen Butterbeer version. Nonetheless, the Butterbeer mug was another souvenir I could keep. Just get the 1100 yen Butterbeer instead of the 600 yen. I assure you, you will not regret it.
Looks like real beer, tastes like magic.
What I really regret was not trying more snacks, like the Chocolate Frog sold in Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans from Honeydukes, and Pumpkin Juice sold at the stand.
I sort of wished I paid 800 yen to try this, even though I may not keep the bottle.
I also tried the Flight of the Hippogriff, because I wanted to take in the atmosphere (and many photos) of Hagrid’s house. The set was really detailed, right down to the placement of the pumpkins on his doorstep, the windows and the sound of Fangs barking when you are near his door.
However, the ride itself was more of a mini roller coaster, which was perfect for enjoying the breeze than a thrilling ride. I guess if I didn’t wait for the ride, I would not have been able to see Hagrid’s house.
The highlight of this area is definitely the Hogwarts castle. The towering castle is just next to the ride for the Flight of the Hippogriff.
Do not be deceived if you see a queue peeking out from the castle grounds, because there is a huge space inside the castle where there are many people queueing for the 3D4K ride. At least, the design of the waiting area was the replica of the Hogwarts greenhouse. I won’t say that it was worth the wait, but I did enjoy the amount of effort put into making the place so realistic.
It was also equipped with some sort of mist that cooled visitors. The shade was also a nice touch since I probably would have turned into a puddle of sweat if I had to wait in the sun, among the sheer number of people. When you enter the castle, you will be given a card to put your belongings in a locker as there is no space for you to bring anything along on the ride. I wished I could have taken photos of the interior of the castle as the path to the ride led us through Gryffindor’s male dormitories, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Dumbledore’s office.
The ride itself was fantastic, and several times I tried to catch a Snitch or touch a dragon, or dodged as Harry instructed. This is a ride that cannot be missed if you visit USJ. Of course, you can also purchase a candid snapshot of yourself at the end of the ride.
The best way to end this day was when I managed to take a photo with the Hogwarts train conductor before leaving the place. I am definitely returning to USJ again. But until then, mischief managed.