Who among us hasn’t secretly (or not-so-secretly) wished they could go flying on a broomstick or wander the halls of Hogwarts, wearing their house colors and brandishing a magic wand to “reparo” away any trouble that comes their way?
This flagship store, located in the Flatiron District in New York City, opened last month as a decked-out shopping space where Wizarding World fans can unload their galleons and take plenty of Instagram photos (we rounded up our favorite finds from the store here, in case you missed it). But last week, the location took the “experience” part of “experiential shopping experience” up a notch by opening “Wizards Take Flight” and “Chaos At Hogwarts,” two immersive VR experiences that I was lucky enough to preview. The two are wildly different in many ways, but both offer amusement-park-level quality and will make even the most casual Harry Potter fan feel like an excited kid who has just cracked open The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time.
I won’t give away too many details about either experience, because I believe that the surprises within each are a big part of what makes them so magical. However, I will give a bit of an overview of the major differences and strengths of each experience.
Both of the VR experiences start in a themed waiting area, where participants get basic instructions on how to use the required equipment. (Those instructions come from very in-character guides who, in my opinion, really elevate the fan experience). For “Wizards Take Flight,” the staging area is a Quidditch locker room, where participants can stash their belongings in lockers alongside those belonging to characters such as Cedric Diggory and the Weasley twins. Then, for both experiences, you will be asked to give your Hogwarts house and choose from one of four avatar options. The avatars offer a range of skin tones but appear intentionally gender neutral, presumably to keep the process simple and inclusive.
“Wizards Take Flight” is, in simple terms, a flying simulator. The VR equipment is minimal — hand sensors and a headset — because you physically sit on a broomstick upon entering the main room. Once you’re set up on your broom and your headset is on properly, you’ll discover why you selected avatars: You can see your fellow fliers around you, as well as your own hands in front of you! Once the simulation kicks off, participants have some free flying time to explore the grounds of Hogwarts. You truly control the direction of your broom by pulling it up, pushing down, leaning left or right, etc. Honestly, I would have been content flying around the grounds of Hogwarts forever, but soon you are called to help Hagrid with a treacherous flight through London. In the main task/plot of the simulation, you are performing double duty — Not only controlling your broomstick as you dip and dive over the Thames, but also casting spells with a wand that is conveniently placed below your broom (yes, it is a physical wand that you hold). Throughout, the experience feels incredibly real, especially because there are 4D effects, such as wind and rain, that truly elevate the simulation. Overall, this is certainly the more kid-friendly experience of the two. Managing the equipment is fairly simple and, even though some nefarious characters do show up in London, it is possible to just ignore them and focus on the flying experience. Not to cross my fandoms here, but I would definitely liken “Wizards Take Flight” to riding “Avatar Flight of Passage” in Disney World.
The second experience, “Chaos At Hogwarts,” begins at Kings Cross Station. In this experience, participants physically walk through the halls of Hogwarts, using their wands to cast spells and interact with various elements of the Wizarding World to help a certain house-elf who has a fondness for socks. To provide another frame of reference for those who have dabbled in VR, this experience is very similar to the The Void VR experiences, which previously immersed fans in the worlds of Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and The Avengers. Before heading in for this VR experience, players have to get more suited up than they do for “Wizards Take Flight.” The gear for “Choas At Hogwarts” includes hand sensors, foot sensors, a backpack, and an attached headset. The gear is more intense because the experience itself is a bit more intense! It is hard to describe if you have never been to one of these VR experiences, but you are physically walking around a space that — thanks to your fabulous VR headset — appears to be the iconic school of witchcraft and wizardry. Again, thanks to 4D effects, you really feel like you are moving on the grand staircase, walking across precarious stepping stones, or facing off against a host of magical creatures. You also use your wand to cast a variety of spells, but this time it has a stronger impact on the outcome. Unlike “Wizards Take Flight,” “Chaos At Hogwarts” has multiple possible endings, depending on how well (or how quickly) you and your VR companions perform spells. Of the two experiences, this one is far more immersive and action-packed. However, its very physical nature and the sudden appearance of some large magical creatures may make this experience a bit overwhelming for some fans.
Overall, I highly recommend both of the experiences. Because this is, of course, technology-based, there were rare moments when I was keenly aware that I was in a simulation (like when my wand glitched and showed up a few feet away in the air, despite being in my hand, or when I had to readjust my headset for a better view while blasting Pixies). However, the overall experience was incredibly fun, and something I certainly recommend to any Harry Potter fans who find themselves in New York City. The amount of detail in both experiences is stunning. Seriously, you could probably do each of these VR experiences a dozen times and still find new things to see. Even the sleeves of your wizarding robes flap in the wind as you move around!
Tickets for both experiences are available to prebook online, which the store recommends. Tickets are sold out right now through mid-August, but tickets for Aug. 16- Sept. 15 are expected to drop soon, followed by tickets for later dates. It costs $35 per person for either VR experience, which I would say is a reasonable price for the quality.
Head to harrypotterstore.com/tickets to learn more about the experiences and book tickets now!