Okay, I finally have time, and possibly energy to tell everybody all about our trip to Universal Studios! Including a probably detailed report of Harry Potter World.
So what was this, about three weeks ago? Gaston and Alice (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) came over, and we all went to Universal Studios and had a blast. The end.
Juuust kidding. It wasn't the end at all. So much happened! The drive, for one thing, was significantly longer than the one to Disneyland, and we hadn't been on that route in years, so we were noticing all the things along the way, including interesting church complexes and an apartment building that looked super fancy to the point that we were like, "Wow, I wonder what the rent's like on THAT place!" (Y'know, since it's in LA and all.) So Gaston looked it up, and their website didn't say, so instead he checked reviews, and apparently eeeeeverybody hates it there, so whatever the rent is, it's apparently not worth it.
Anyway. We eventually made it to Universal Studios, but in order to get there before the crowds, we left ridiculously early, so we were all starving. So we went down Citywalk (the shopping district just outside the park) and stopped at the first place that was open: Voodoo Donuts. Gaston and Alice regretted this decision, as the maple on the maple bacon donuts turned out to be too sweet for them, but Athena and I liked the donuts well enough. They were, of course, ridiculously expensive, which explains in part why Disneyland has a little stand that sells $7 donuts and gets away with it. It all makes me want to learn to make my own donuts... We could probably use our fondue pot as a fryer...
Anyway, the verdict on Voodoo Donuts is: tasty donuts, but too expensive, and we're not real big on the whole voodoo theme. The idea of a toddler-sized coffinful of donuts is tempting donut-wise, but a little too morbid. Besides, we can put Pixie Stix dust on our own desserts, thank you very much. (Actually, it's probably not Pixie Stix dust so much as that candy powder you fill tubes with when you go to fancy candy stores. It's a little too sour to be Pixie Stix. We would use Pixie Stix anyway.)
After breakfast, it was about time for the park to be opening, so off we went...to adventure! Of course we all knew the first thing everybody was going to do, and the longest line for the rest of the day, was going to be the E-ticket attraction in Harry Potter Land, so that's where we headed first. And it's in the back of Harry Potter Territory, so we got a whirlwind tour of Hogsmeade on our way there. It's kind of a weird situation, because you start out in the standard Universal Studios front area, which is basically just like shops with maybe a more Hollywood feel to them, and then you get to this place where if you go right, it's the Harry Potter Domain, and if you go left, it's the Simpsons' Springfield, so the two different art styles are very...oddly juxtaposed.
We turned right, of course, and there was the Hogwarts Express, looking just like it had crashed through the wall. I'm not sure if that's what it "really" looks like when it goes to Hogsmeade, because to be honest, the movie visuals were so stunning that we forgot most of them. But it looks like that when you go to Wizard Central. We passed by a bunch of cool British-looking stores, and wondered why wizards can't seem to build straight chimneys. Later, Gaston speculated that maybe they're showing off that they don't need to obey the laws of regular physics.
We passed under an archway that led to what would maybe be a more open area if it wasn't peak season, that had a smaller, raised area we would later learn was for the little shows that would be happening periodically through the day. I don't remember the entire continuity, so I'll just describe them now. The first show we saw was an a cappella and frog chorus, featuring one student from each Hogwarts house (and one choir director from Gryffindor) holding a cushion with an enormous frog (or maybe a toad, but they all looked more on the slimy side, so I'm inclined to this frog, and everyone knows it's frogs that make choruses; on the other hand, all the standard Hogwarts pets are toads) that would ribbit in time with the music. As a No-Maj I'm also inclined to believe that the frogs were puppets operated by the singers, but what do I know about wizarding?
The second show we saw (only not really all the way through, because the shows never happened when we were just hanging out, so we mostly just walked by them) involved visitors from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. The Durmstrang boys came out and did a cool martial arts demonstration, and the Beauxbatons girls came out and did a cool rhythmic gymnastics demonstration (mostly with the long ribbons, but one of them was in a unitard doing walkovers and stuff), and it was all very cool. Maybe one day we'll see the show all the way from beginning to end.
But we were on a mission, and that was to go to Hogwarts! Specifically, to go on the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which I think is a hilarious name. The premise of the ride is explained to you while you're in line, but since we were so distracted by the amazing decor, and because the line kept moving so you weren't necessarily in the right place to hear things at the right time, and it was early so the line was moving especially quickly, we didn't get the whole picture until later, when we asked if we could just walk through the queue area without going on the ride, so we could get a better look at all the Hogwarts stuff. I'll explain as I go.
First, you go into the dungeon where you MUST put all of your loose belongings inside a locker or they really will not let you on the ride. This is serious business, people. Remember to stop by the lockers first! (This was very important for us, because we were going to meet up with our tram tour guide sister and give her the Christmas present we bought her. Into the locker it went!) Then you go through some tunnels and come out on what appears to be the herbology area. There are all kinds of hanging plants, and there's a tool shed and a little greenhouse if I remember right... It all looked very cool and kind of made me want to go to the UK for real.
Eventually we made it into the castle, where we walked past all kinds of cool things that I probably won't remember all of, but there was the hall of portraits, and oh my goodness this was awesome, because, I mean of course they had moving portraits because what kind of a backwards theme park can't do moving portraits in this day and age? But! a lot of the time, with something like that, once a portrait starts moving, they'll light it up or something to draw your attention to it (or because they can't get the technology to work otherwise, if it's old, maybe?), but here it was really subtle. They had portraits of all the heads of houses, and if you were there at the right time, you could hear Salazar Slytherin whining about what are all these Muggles doing at Hogwarts? This must be Dumbledore's doing! And Helga Hufflepuff is all, "Oh, stop whining, Salazar." And Godric Gryffindor thinks its an awesome idea, and Rowena Ravenclaw mostly is smart enough to stay out of it. But she has a great accent. And the best part is, when the conversation is over, they all resume their standard poses and nothing else happens to the portraits so they all look just like paintings. And the best
best part is that they'll still move eeeever so slightly, so, for example, the hand where Helga Hufflepuff is holding the house goblet thingie (I'm not always good at remembering item names) will move just a liiiiittle bit up or down. It's great.
You also walk past the containers holding all the jewels to let you know which house is winning. Gryffindor is in the lead, obvs.
Then you go to Dumbledore's office, and Dumbeldore himself greets you! I think they use...right, it's probably supposed to be magic if he's not really there, but I think it's a similar technology to what they do with Hatsune Miku. On the other hand, I've never been to a Miku concert, so I couldn't say for sure. But the point is, it looks like a 3D hologram, and
the actor playing
Dumbledore did a fantastic job, because it really felt like he was there talking to you. He explained that we had been invited to sit in on a Defense Against the Dark Arts class, but, as usual, they were having trouble with getting teachers for that class, so the History of Magic teacher has agreed to substitute. He mentioned the History of Magic text and suggested reading it, adding, "You'll find it...long."
I should also point out that Dumbledore's office...oh! I forgot to mention that we got to see the griffin statue guarding the door to the office! It was just like in the movie! Which is okay, because that was one art direction that I didn't have problems with. (Still kind of annoyed that Fawkes isn't prettier. And the office is naturally filled with all of Dumbledore's things, including the Pensieve and a Remembrall and just all kinds of cool stuff like that.
Our next stop is the classroom for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and I guess they must have used some enchantments to make these rooms connect more immediately (and more definitely, considering how everything moves around), which was nice of them, considering we're all Muggles and all that. Anyway, of course this classroom, too, looks just like in the movie, and even has a dragon skeleton hanging from the ceiling. This is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione meet us, using the same spell that Dumbledore did (and also the invisibility cloak; it's really cool, because you see the door open, and then a few seconds later, there they are on the balcony!), and Harry explains that he and his friends decided that we'd all much rather see a Quidditch match than sit through a history lecture, so they enchanted some benches to carry us away from the classroom and over to the Quidditch pitch.
And this is where Harry and company's secrecy seems to be a little silly, because now the portraits are explaining the safety and etiquette rules for riding on levitating benches. That's pretty funny, too, though, because you have the old wizard dressed in an old aviator's uniform explaining the safety rules, the proper witch explaining etiquette, and the former Quidditch player telling you to forget what any of those other guys are saying; flying benches are awesome and here are the awesome things you can do with them. The proper etiquette witch doesn't like him. He's fun, though, because he'll leave his portrait and walk across the other two to steal the flying benches from the etiquette witch.
And then you go by the Sorting Hat (or at least he's somewhere on the way), and on to the floating benches. This part was a little bit terrifying for us, because we don't usually like big thrill rides, and we'd never been on a ride with a shoulder harness before! Also, my shoes were on a little loose and I was suddenly very worried that they would fall off. They didn't, fortunately.
As for the ride itself...I'm not sure how well I can retell it. The thing about Universal Studios, and probably everywhere if the big Pirates of the Caribbean ride that everyone is so excited about in...was it Hong Kong or Shanghai?...is any indication, is that all the new rides are simulators. Simulators are great in that they can create situations that are still impossible to do with practical effects, but they're the opposite of great in that they are the most motion-sickness-inducing rides there are. That being the case, we were all feeling rather queasy by the time we got off of it, and Alice said later (when we decided to walk through the queue instead of doing the single rider option) that she can only handle the ride once a day. So we only went on it once.
And the other directorial gripe we have about it is that everything happens so quickly that we barely have time to process what just happened before the next big thing is happening. It is our opinion that that does not help with the motion sickness. They tried, though--they alternated between showing us things that happened on a screen and putting us in areas where there were actual, physical things (we learned later that that's called "practical effects"). But it still felt like bam!bam!bam!bam!bam! They need to learn from the Hunchback of Notre Dame's Frollo: Ease up. Wait between lashes. Otherwise, the old sting will dull him to the new.
So here's what I can remember. First, the bench moves in front of Hermione, who tosses some powder on it and makes an incantation, and then we're off! First in a cloud of magical powder, and then I think we're flying over Hogwarts? We're following Harry and Ron to the Quidditch pitch, and Harry's talking to us the whole time, giving us instructions and making us feel like we're really a part of everything. And the next thing I remember is that we ran into a dragon...and then the ride glitched and the screen went blank while we just hung in midair for a while. Sadly, when we started moving again, the screen stayed blank, so we had to have Gaston tell us later that that was the coolest part of the ride, with the dragon chase scene.
I did sort of gather that it was a dragon chase scene, because the next place we went was done with practical effects (this is my new favorite term, by the way; I'm so tired of digital everything (not that we're against digital in general, just that it seems to be so overused, and worse, so lazily used, that we're like, "Let's just put it away until we can all learn to behave.")), and we could see where the dragon had destroyed part of the building, and this bit of the rafters on fire, and cool stuff like that. Well, now we've been knocked off course, so the only natural place to end up is the Forbidden Forest. This is where the practical effects fell short, because there were giant spiders! Ooohhh noooo!!! But they didn't really move at all. We're told that usually there's a lot more fog on the ride, so they might not always be so obviously boring, but come on, you can make model spiders move without even using motors. We had a Littlest Pet Shop turtle that moved its legs because of the wheels inside it when you pushed it along the ground.
Hermione comes along to woodenly tell us that the forest is dangerous and we shouldn't be there, and...watch out for the Whomping Willow. Is that what was next? We don't remember the right order, but I already went over that. But the Whomping Willow was there, and that was another practical effect, too! So that was cool, and this is where things got really crazy with the flying benches, because we actually went upside-down! What! I mean, you had to know it was coming, what with the shoulder harnesses and everything. (This is also where Athena learned about how the enchantment on the benches worked, as her eyes wandered outside of the intended viewing area (we like to look around at everything, okay?) and saw the hydraulic lift holding up the bench ahead of us.)
Finally we make it to the Quidditch pitch, where Malfoy comes along and makes some snide comments, and then for some reason there are Dementors. I mean, obviously the reason is that Dementors love Quidditch, I guess. But they came along, and we had to run away from them, and then we were...in the Forbidden Forest again? Maybe it was the dark dimension created by the loss of all joy and happiness? Anyway, it was dark and there were Dementors flying at us, and they looked very much like the Grim Reaper decorations you tend to see in your neighbors' yard at Halloween, so we were intensely underwhelmed by them, but Gaston and Alice assured us that they remember that part being actually scary before, and that there should have been more fog, so we're going to have to reserve judgment on the Dementors until we can go on the ride when it's not glitchy. Somebody must have been using a borrowed wand or something.
Well obviously the climax was when Harry comes back and casts Expecto Patronum, and then we go back to Hogwarts where the entire faculty and student body are there applauding us...for...something? Winning the Quidditch game? Surviving Dementors? Breaking every single rule? I don't know. It's just a Thing with these simulator rides; you always have to come back a hero for just sitting there letting them throw movies at your eyeballs.
Naturally, the ride exits through the gift shop, which in this case takes the form of Filch's Emporium. I assume it's all the stuff he's confiscated from students. Basically it's the store that has everything that doesn't fall into one of the categories covered by the specialty stores in Hogsmeade. We'll talk about those later, but we have been typing about this forever, and we assume you have better things to do than read our long LJ posts, so we will save that for another time. As a little trailer, I will tell you that we got into a fight with one of the storekeepers. (There was no physical fighting; sorry, didn't want to get your hopes up.)
Today I'm thankful for getting to go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (it still cracks me up), practical effects, getting to try Voodoo Donuts, getting lots of cake at Bread Day, and getting to translate Mitsuboshi Colors (available now on Hidive!).