For Harry Potter fans, there is always going to be something instinctively nostalgic and comforting when encountering its familiar world. Owls, wands, the colors of the four Hogwarts houses; even before entering Harry Potter: The Exhibition, we were taking pictures outside next to murals of our respective houses. The tour has newly arrived in Atlanta, home of Imagine Entertainment, which partnered with Warner Bros. Discovery and EMC Presents for a comprehensive walkthrough of this now-iconic fantasy franchise.
Like Wizarding World in Orlando and Leavesden Studios in London, the focus is primarily on the movies (it is Warner Bros., of course), but what this exhibition brings to the table are some clever interactive elements to make you feel like you are part of the story instead of just strolling through a museum. Featuring props and costumes from the movies alongside hands-on moments, the self-guided tour lasts about 60-90 minutes, and is accessible for both children and adults (plus, those who aren’t familiar with Harry Potter lore will still have fun with the interactive components).
During a press preview for the Atlanta leg of the exhibition’s journey (which premiered in Philadelphia), my Ravenclaw husband and I (Slytherin) were given an opportunity to go through the tour and try out the cafe, which features a special menu and signature drinks. From the start, the atmosphere is cozy and a little electric. The location helps with that; instead of a suburban strip mall (which to be fair has plenty of parking), it’s settled downtown in a grand building at 200 Peachtree that was long ago a Macy’s flagship store.
For those who don’t want to know any specifics and prefer to be surprised (which is a fun way to do it, and how I experienced it myself), I will just summarize things first before offering a more linear walkthrough for those who want to know exactly what they’re signing up for (plus some tips along the way), and then conclude with thoughts on the cafe.
For fans who have done the other Harry Potter tours and experiences in Orlando or London, this obviously can’t compete with rides or being on actual sets. But it’s a very fun interactive tour at a very decent price point ($25 for children 12 and under, and $29 for adults, excluding taxes and fees). Using an RDIF wristband, which you personalize on arrival, visitors can see their names and faces projected throughout, earn points for their chosen house, and get an email at the end with pictures and tidbits from the exhibition. The tour itself goes through a number of iconic locations from the movies, and features real props and costumes from the sets. There are plenty of photo opportunities, both official and casual, and lots to geek out over. It’s designed to appeal widely, from kids to older adults, thanks to the interactive elements. As pretty major fans of the franchise, my husband and I had a great time embracing all of the fun callbacks and designs, and it’s also fun to be around others who are pointing things out and delighting in these flourishes as well. Bottom line: I recommend it.
Regarding the Audio Guide ($8): If you buy it, don’t plan on listening to it throughout the exhibition unless you are just looking to space out. A big part of the fun is interacting with the sites and sounds of the tour, and many of the docents were very friendly and excited to show you what each room holds. When there is peak attendance, it will also be loud, and the audio companion is very dense. It’s great for hardcore fans, because it gives some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits on filming, but it’s not something your kids will pay attention to during the experience. My husband and I actually ended up listening to it in the car on the way home, which I would suggest (or listening to it beforehand to get you hyped). It does correspond somewhat to the flow of the exhibition, but again, it will be best experienced outside of the actual event.
The tour begins with an RFID wristband, which personalizes your experience throughout the tour. After filling out your basic info, you choose a house, wand, and Patronus, and have your picture taken at the kiosk (note that you only get one retake, so crouch if you’re more than four feet tall and find your angles quickly). There is an official photo op afterwards, which you can view later for purchase after the tour. From there you move into an introductory room where you get your first interactive moment: your name appearing on the Marauder’s Map projected along the walls. After that, visitors move through the portrait hall (take your time!) and have the opportunity to take another kiosk picture with a digital Sorting Hat (that doesn’t replace your first, but will be emailed to you—try to get down to the center of the camera area for the best results). Then come small, fairly minimal rooms for each Hogwarts house, which include costumes, behind-the-scenes information, and artifacts from filming.
The next section is very interactive as you move through “classrooms” for Spells, Potions, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology, as well as a miniature version of the Great Hall. Each of the cozy and well-decorated classrooms have hands-on elements that were very fun (some are very loud! And again, adults will need to do some crouching; it is positioned for kids and accessible for those in wheelchairs) Of note, your RFID chip only allows for one interaction in each room, so pay attention to the display each time—you only get one shot! While this was mildly frustrating once or twice (I wanted to see what happened if I brewed a potion incorrectly, for example), it definitely will help move folks along when there are crowds, which will be well worth it.
After the class portion, things move outside the castle for rooms and props devoted to the Triwizard Tournament, the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s Hut (with a unique photo opportunity), and a Quidditch exhibition which lets you actually chuck quaffles through goalposts to the adoration of piped-in spectators (it was, actually, very gratifying). The tour of iconic rooms from the franchise continues from there, with nods to the Ministry of Magic and two rooms for Fantastic Beasts (which is all that really deserves; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child gets a nook, too). Things get darker as you turn into the Deathly Hallows section, naturally, where a trio of Death Eater masks spooked me from the other end of a corridor. There’s a fun interactive wand battle here and notes on the Battle of Hogwarts before the final room, which is a nod to the franchise’s memories. Exit through the gift shop (which has plenty of fun memorabilia, as well as bottled butterbeer), and you’re a wizard, Harry!
Cafe / Refreshments
The cafe has more Marauder’s Map prints on the wall, and is sparsely decorated but still cozy (each table has its own light with a vintage-looking filament bulb). As a fish-eating vegetarian, I was very heartened to see that the menu was very friendly to everyone. Overall the fare is casual and pre-packaged but still very tasty. There are breakfast items including yogurt, fruit, croissants, and muffins, plus lunch items including salads and sandwiches (served with chips). My husband enjoyed a smoked turkey sandwich, and I had a smoked salmon crumpet, both of which were very tasty (although had they been warmed up on a press they would have been truly divine). Both were decent portions for a cafe lunch (especially the salmon), but the real treat were the themed beverages.
All of the beverages are non-alcoholic by default, but there is alcohol available and several cocktail variations suggested for each. The drinks are fairly simple to start but all include a twist, sometimes two, including dry ice fog, an edible smoke bubble, and/or edible glitter. We tried three drinks: the Philosopher’s Stone (cranberry, lime, and pineapple juice, Sprite, edible smoke bubble); Pumpkin Patch (peach juice, pumpkin puree and spice, vanilla, mint garnish); and the Basilisk (Sprite, green apple syrup, silver edible glitter, cherry garnish, dry ice fog).
The smoke bubble was so much fun to see created, ephemeral though it was. The smoke taste also lingered in the drink afterwards, which otherwise was just a regular juice combo, therefore making it unique. Pumpkin Patch was our choice for a favorite based on pure deliciousness, but the Basilisk had the most pizazz thanks to the glitter. Plus, the green apple syrup, which I was wary of, was not overpowering at all (compliments to the bartenders).
Unfortunately, we were unable to try the locally-made speciality chocolates for each house, as they were not available yet, but we did each have a mini brown buttered cake that was very tasty and dense, almost like fudge.
In summary: The cafe fare was good but standard, though unfortunately I can’t speak to its value because it was free for press (and I don’t know, as of print, the final prices on this or the cocktails). Downtown Atlanta is mostly full of overpriced restaurants, so if you need to grab something quick on your way in or out of the exhibition, this is not a bad option. That said, what really stood out were the fun drinks; if you are trying to be frugal, I would recommend spending money on one or two Insta-ready themed speciality beverages to add a little something extra to the experience before you head home.
Harry Potter: The Exhibition opens Friday, October 21st; tickets are on sale now at atlanta.harrypotterexhibition.com, or can be bought in-person at the venue box office. There is a paid parking garage at 150 Carnegie across from the exhibition, which is located at 200 Peachtree (although the entrance faces Carnegie). Ticket prices for the event start at $25 for children 12 and under, and $29 for adults (13 and over), excluding taxes and fees. Flextime tickets start at $59, and VIP packages are available.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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