José was clueless. At the beginning of our group tour, he casually stated, “Oh. By the way, the ‘Friends‘ soundstage is closed for renovations.” The wail that came from the tram sounded like a Jurassic velociraptor attack. My daughter was one of several heartbroken fans. She mewled, “That means I can’t have my picture taken on the couch?”, referring to the legendary Central Perk sofa. Sensing revolution in the air, José went on the defensive. “But, hey. We’ve got a great museum with all kinds of stuff from the Harry Potter movies.” Disaster averted.
Hollywood is known for making movie magic and it’s got a couple of fun spots that any aspiring wizard would really enjoy. The big draw will be the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, rumored to be opening in the spring of 2016. Similar to the one that attracts record crowds in Orlando, the Hollywood park will have two rides, restaurants and shops. Construction was underway during my recent visit. Looking at the snow-capped roofs of Diagon Alley was torture for most of the kids, who kept dragging their parents over to peek through slats in the fence.
Until it opens, take a Warner Brothers Studio Tour for an up-close look at the original costumes used in the film productions. The 2-hour tour takes you all over the studio campus. You get to walk around sound stages for hit shows such as Pretty Little Liars and the Big Bang Theory and view exterior film locations for movies like Argo. Included in the tour is a 20-minute stop at the Warner Brothers Museum. The first floor is devoted to all things caped as the studio gears up for the release next spring of Batman vs. Superman, starring Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight.
I only got a quick glance before – whoosh – my daughter flew up the stairs to see the Potter costumes, including one worn by Robert Pattinson’s ill-fated Cedric Diggory. There are also many props from the films including a very hairy, but less scary Aragog the spider. But the highlight for her was getting to wear the sorting hat. She was thrilled to be Gryffindor. José was relieved; he told her the Pretty Little Liars were on site and to look for their pink golf carts.
After dabbling in make-believe wizardry, it was time for the real thing. The World Famous Magic Castle is home to the Academy of Magical Arts, a private club for magicians that opened its doors in 1963. It’s like the Playboy Club – for nerds. How could I, a mere mortal, gain admittance? Guests of the adjoining Magic Castle Hotel are permitted access, but it was fully booked for our stay. The other option is to get a guest pass from a member. My social circles are fairly diverse, but I don’t know any magicians. So I checked the calendar for the names of magicians performing during our visit, then I looked at their personal media sites. I sent a couple of inquisitive tweets and before I could say, “abracadabra”, a guest pass arrived in my inbox. It’s a bit stalky, but it worked.
The club has strict rules about dress, cell phone use and photography. It also enforces a firm over-21 policy in the evenings, so I booked a weekend brunch reservation. We arrived and were reminded about all the rules and then were admitted to the lobby. Entering the actual club requires you to guess the secret password that will make the bookcase slide open. (Hint: it is what you think it is.) The place is decorated as you’d expect: wood paneling, heavy draperies and great posters of prestidigitators from the past.
We reserved the first seating at 10:30 and finished our crab legs and hot fudge sundaes in time to watch the first performer at 11:15. We saw another 2 magicians and they were all great with the kids who got front row seats and the chance to be volunteers. I squealed with delight watching birds and turtles appear out of nowhere. So did several of the women who took “all you can drink mimosas” as a personal challenge. The shows are about 20 minutes long and you can see as many as you can fit in during your stay. There are also several parlors and bar areas where members practice their close-up magic for the guests.
Hollywood is the land of illusion. Many of the busts I saw defied both gravity and the imagination. Every other car was a Rolls-Royce. And Johnny Depp certainly can’t be Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow at the same time (The Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard features celebrity lookalikes who’ll take pictures for tips). It was the perfect place to take a magical mystery tour; my family, though, wishes I’d stop asking, “Is this your card?”