Harry Potter in New York City! I haven’t been this excited since I saw the Knight Bus driving around lower Manhattan on the release day of The Deathly Hallows. If you are a big fan, you will enjoy this large exhibit of artifacts and props straight from the movies. Beware: no cameras allowed, their reason being that they do not want to hurt any of the “artifacts” or damage their integrity, even though half of it is made of plastic. They aren’t even this strict at the Smithsonian! (As you can see, I was extremely disappointed by this restriction.)
Your journey starts with the sorting hat, where you are asked what house you want to be in, once you answer a man behind the black curtain flicks a switch and the sorting hat magically speaks and places you in the house of your choice! Definitely an attraction to keep the little ones occupied. (Well, and people like me, who get goosebumps just at hearing “Hedwig’s Theme.”)
After the sorting you view a brief video that features various scenes from the last seven movies, highlighting unforgettable costumes, props, and characters, all of which can be seen within the exhibit. At the end, a whistle is blown and a wall opens to reveal the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station. After that, you’re allowed to go off and explore at your own pace.
The exhibit has pretty much everything you can think of, even the moving pictures found on the walls of Hogwarts, including the large portrait of the fat lady who guards the Gryffindor dormitories. There are so many different layers of props within each scene of the Harry Potter movies and it was fascinating to see the small details in the background so close up, such as the Gryffindor common room message board. Written on it were were various lists of messages and notes such as “Dragon Drawing Club” or a coupon “half off all Weasleys’ Wizard Wheeze products,” all of which could easily be mistaken for what a real school message board would look like (minus the magic). I also enjoyed looking at the Marauders Map up close. It’s astounding how much hand-drawn detail went into it. I kept expecting it to start moving, but I guess I forgot to say the magic words, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
One of my favorite attractions was being able to go inside Hagrid’s hut. Always a place of comfort and understanding for the trio, it was really exciting to sit in the overstuff chair and imagine sipping tea and scoffing down Hagrid’s treacle fudge whilst trying to solve the latest whodunnit mystery.
There are a few interactive features to take part in. You can re-pot the mandrakes from the Chamber of Secrets movie and just like in the movie, if you pick them up by the root you will hear the lovely sound those creatures emit when disturbed. You can also play some quidditch, aiming the quaffle basketball-style through the goal hoops. (Pictured above.)
The exhibit features a detail that is mostly overlooked in the movies: the character’s wands. Naturally, Harry’s, Voldemort’s, and Dumbledore’s wands are the most recognizable since they play very important roles in the movies themselves, but I really enjoyed looking at each of the supporting characters’ wands and how they reflected their personality. Some of the more notable ones were Bellatrix Lestrange, made of a dark wood that wasn’t straight like the others but curved, almost looked like a long talon that you would see on a vulture. Sirius had a scruffy black wand with numerous amounts of black carvings that looked like something out of one of Hermione’s ancient runes textbooks. Professor Umbrage’s wand looked like a table leg from a piece of furniture, complete with a small pink marble ball at the handle. Narcissa Malfoy had a black high polished wand with tiny silver beads at the very end, all of them delicately placed in a very orderly pattern.
Walking downstairs brings you into the darker side of the series. Here you will find the creatures of the forbidden forest including an offspring of Aragog and the head of a Norwegian ridgeback dragon. My particular favorite was to see Harry’s little red torn sweater from Sorcerer’s Stone standing beside Professor Quirrel and his purple turban. Something very exciting I came across while browsing Voldemort’s horcruxes was an object that we have not yet seen in the movies: Helga Hufflepuff’s cup! The very artifact that Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook break into Gringotts to steal! No Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem to report on, I’m afraid. I guess they had to keep some things secret still.
The last part of the tour is the great hall. Professor Umbridge’s proclamations from the Order of the Pheonix (pre-Fred and George Weasley’s brilliant destruction of them) greet you on the walls before you enter. Those were a real treat to view since they did look extremely real and you can tell a lot of detail went into each one. I enjoyed reading the restrictions that you could not see in the movie. Inside there are a large assortment of props, including Hermione’s magenta gown from the Yule ball (P.S. She is sooo tiny! I could not believe how small her clothes were.), a lifelike statue of Dobby hiding behind Professor Dumbledore’s robes, the famous floating candles, and plenty of other memorable knickknacks from Honeydukes candy to Ministry of Magic interdepartmental memos.
You get to take one last look at the sword of Godric Griffindor and then your tour ends, depositing you into a large gift shop of with plenty of merchandise to take home.
Some items did not have as much detail as I expected, such as the newspaper articles from the Daily Prophet. Everything except the headlines was gibberish placeholder text, but I guess its asking a lot of the prop crew to write actual articles for papers that few will read. Other items, such as the Dumbledore’s Army list, had the real signature of each actor involved signing for their own character.
When you go through the tour, it becomes obvious that a lot of time and effort went into creating these displays. If you cant make it to Universal Studios to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I feel that this exhibit is a great runner-up to that experience.
Quidditch picture from the Harry Potter: Exhibition site
Stephanie Treanor lives in New York, absolutely hates egg salad sandwiches, and has reconnected with her former love of all things SFF thanks to working with Tor.com.