“Which Hogwarts House are you?” I’ll admit the question — posed by a member of the 360 Media PR team sitting at the entrance of Harry Potter The Exhibition on press day — caught me completely off guard. “He feels like a member of Ravenclaw,” said Paolo, our Eldredge ATL website wizard (and in-house “Harry Potter” expert) as he confidently tied a Gryffindor scarf around his own neck.
True confession: While I had signed up to tour the immersive Wizarding World now open at 200 Peachtree in downtown Atlanta, I have never cracked open a single one of J.K. Rowling’s beloved books. I also officially checked out of the film franchise after a press screening of 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” (Honestly? I found something deeply disturbing about Rowling brutally beating the snot out of her three child protagonists in each of the two-and-a-half-hour epics).
So, who better then to explore this massive former Macy’s department store space (first built in 1927) to see if even non-“Potter” fans might find the family-friendly attraction fun (not to mention worth the luxe ticket pricing?). Now, with my House selected, a blue-hued Ravenclaw scarf in hand, my activated exhibition bracelet around my wrist and a designated wand assigned to me, I was ready to set off for Hogswart and environs.
Here are the five things you need to know about downtown’s newest pop-up tourist attraction.
Your Wizarding Wristband Is Key
Your name, photo and House literally follow you through the exhibition as you tap your high tech RFID wristband against various Golden Snitch insignias throughout the tour. Via your bracelet, you can rack up points in Quidditch, cast a spell, mix a potion of your choosing (I whipped up a batch of the ultimate ZzzQuil alternative — Draught of Living Death, using Wormwood and Valerian Root) and engage in CGI-enhanced wand battles. Your results are later emailed to you. Your name is even beamed onto the wall of the Marauder’s Map where you can snap a selfie.
Everyone wants to share things now,” Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions told us. “Thanks to the available technology we use with the wristbands, all of the things you did during the experience, those moments you had, are then sharable with others and are emailed to you at the conclusion of your experience.”
Plan To Spend The Time And The Money
This deeply immersive exhibition is lengthy (it encompasses all of the books and movies, along with the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise and the stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”). In short, it’s 30,000 square feet, folks. Plan accordingly. The average tour lasts between 60 and 90 minutes, not including time to roam through the gift shop or eating in the on-premises “Potter”-themed restaurant where you can enjoy a Strawberry Scone with Devonshire Cream or a Smoked Salmon Crumpet. An audio tour is available as an added on extra. Also this: try booking your visit on off days and times. A Monday reservation at 11 a.m. is cheaper and will be far less crowded than a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on Thanksgiving weekend. And to ward off a tragic case of FOMO later on, say yes to the photo package. I mean, who doesn’t want a souvenir posing in front of the King’s Cross train, Hogwarts Castle or in The Great Hall (available as prints created onsite or digital copies emailed to you or both).
This Isn’t The Universal Theme Park Attraction
Atlanta is only the second U.S. city to host this all-new Harry Potter The Exhibition after a successful six-month stop in Philadelphia at the Franklin Institute. New technologies allow this experience to be more immersive and personalized and features new props and set pieces that have even been swapped out since the Philly run.
“I love this space and what we can do with the exhibition in this space,” says Zaller. “In Philadelphia, we had over half a million people see it. We were able to come in here and make the exhibition even bigger. We like to say, it’s 60-percent celebratory, all about celebrating the franchise and 40-percent behind-the-scenes.”
Go With The Right People
Even as a decidedly non-“Potter” aficionado, this was a wonderfully enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. It definitely enhanced the experience to have a “Potter” expert in attendance as well. I watched moms and kids stand slack-jawed together in room after room and excitedly run to see what’s around the next corner. Don’t be afraid to embrace your inner nerd either. After all, how many times in life will you be offered an opportunity to pot a screeching Mandrake in the Herbology Greenhouse? Just go with it.
This is a great family day out,” says Zaller. “You see grandparents, parents and kids all together. Since we’re near Centennial Park, we’re right where all the downtown attractions are. It’s also in the heart of downtown so for many of the tourists who don’t leave this area, it’s right here for them as well.”
Yes, there are shelves and shelves of the unique butterscotch-ginger, cream soda-adjacent soft drink not traditionally available outside of the Universal Park experience. Even though it’s priced at $10 per bottle, it was still flying off the shelves during our visit. And it was being sold to the usually crotchety, cynical members of the media, mind you. Tom Zaller’s pro tip? Drink it ice cold. “You can only get Butterbeer at the parks in Orlando, in the UK and here,” he says. “It’s hugely popular. We also have exclusive Harry Potter The Exhibition Atlanta apparel created just for us.”
Harry Potter The Exhibition is now open daily for a limited engagement at 200 Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta in the massive old Macy’s and Davison’s department store space (the actual entrance to the exhibition is behind the building at 150 Carnegie Way NW). Prices start at $25 for children (12 and under) and $29 for adults. Flextime tickets (good for any time) start at $59 apiece. For more information, click here. To purchase advance tickets, click here.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.