A Celebration of Harry Potter: Universal Orlando’s Spectacular Wizarding Convention

Lisa Fritscher June 9, 2014 No Comments

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Sorting Hat

The Sorting Hat was a big draw for kids and adults alike.

Opened on June 18, 2010, Islands of Adventure’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter sent shock waves through the theme park community. A faithful recreation of the wizarding village of Hogsmeade, the Wizarding World also contains what is arguably the most immersive and technologically advanced theme park attraction in the world. Housed inside a lovingly replicated Hogwarts, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” places visitors in the middle of some of the series’ most iconic locations and situations.

The immense success of the Wizarding World soon led to an announcement for an expansion. Diagon Alley, located inside Universal Studios Florida, opens in June 2014. The Hogwarts Express train will transport visitors between the two areas.

 

A Celebration of Harry Potter

Of course, the Wizarding World is not just another theme park land. It is also a place for the series’ most loyal fans to gather and indulge their own dreams of becoming a wizard for a day. Against this passionate, energetic backdrop, it only makes sense for Universal to host conventions and events that bring fans together with the people who created the magic.

Movie Props

The Expo featured authentic movie props such as a Death Eater mask.

A Celebration of Harry Potter, held January 24-26, 2014, was one of the biggest Harry Potter conventions to date. Dad and I attended with my cousin Eric and his 12-year-old daughter Erica. Although we were only able to attend on Saturday, we managed to catch almost all of the special shows and events.

The kickoff party was held Friday night in the Universal Music Plaza. A large, fully-equipped stage with a massive general admission viewing area, the plaza is normally used for concerts. Several of the film stars appeared on stage for a question and answer session. Fans were also treated to clips from the movies, a presentation by the illustrator who created the all-new book covers, and even some details about the upcoming Diagon Alley expansion.

 

Our Experience: Panels and Classes

We arrived around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Eric and Erica were slightly ahead of us, and their first mission was to find event T-shirts for all of us. Surprisingly, Eric said that the shirts did not appear to be selling that well. We think it might be because they were not announced—people simply did not know they were available.

The panel discussions and classes were all held in the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater, a little-used venue with a large seating capacity on the opposite side of Islands of Adventure from the Wizarding World. The Expo center was in Soundstage 33, accessible only from the Universal Studios park. This proved to be an excellent way for Universal to disperse the crowd a bit.

Amphitheater

The panel discussions and classes were held at the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater.

First on the schedule was a question and answer session with several of the film’s stars. The trio—Harry, Ron and Hermione (played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) were not there. However, the major supporting child actors were, including those who played Luna Lovegood, Fred and George Weasley, Seamus Finnegan and Neville Longbottom. There was a rumor that Mark Williams, who played Arthur Weasley, would appear, but he was nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, the session was fascinating, as the actors regaled us with behind-the-scenes stories.

Next up was a presentation by the creative director of Pottermore, a highly interactive fan site. I had a passing familiarity with the site, but was unaware of just how much the site has to offer. After viewing the presentation and becoming addicted to Pottermore, I highly recommend it for any Harry Potter fan.

We took a lunch break at Blondie’s, also in Toon Lagoon, before returning for the 3:30 wand class. While waiting for the class to start, we saw most of the 2:00 Q&A with the actors. It featured the same group of actors as the morning session. Although the questions from the audience were obviously different, we felt like we hadn’t really missed anything by taking a lunch.

The wand class, taught by the fight choreographer, was full of surprises. It turns out that the fight choreographer was actually a dance choreographer. He invented a dance vocabulary for the basic fight moves, as well as a style for each character. The combination of moves and styles allowed him to choreograph even the complicated Ministry of Magic battle in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in a straightforward way that stayed true to the characters and prevented discrepancies between multiple takes.

At the end of the class, he invited several of the best students to show off their skills on stage. They assumed they would fight the choreographer, but instead were asked to engage with a special guest: Arthur Weasley, played by Mark Williams! So the rumor was accurate, but no one expected his appearance to be that dramatic!

 

Our Experience: Expo

After the wand class, we headed to the Studios park to visit the Expo. The line was very long, as they let in only a few dozen people at a time. This ensured that everyone was able to see the exhibits and displays in detail, without being trampled by a crowd.

Graphic Props

It was hard to resist buying replicas of the graphic props used in the films.

The Expo was simply breathtaking. One area contained valuable props from the films, including a Death Eater mask, Hermione’s Time Turner, and even a gold Galleon. Another section was home to MinaLina, the team who created the graphic props, such as the Marauder’s Map and the Daily Prophet, for the movies. They had reproductions of virtually every graphic prop for sale, and were kind enough to autograph their catalog for us. Eric and Erica stood in line to be sorted by the Sorting Hat, while Dad and I watched and took pictures. The U.S. Postal Service was there to hand-cancel its new limited edition Harry Potter stamps, while the artist who designed the stamps was available to autograph them.

We spent a little over an hour in the Expo, and easily could have stayed longer. But we knew it was close to closing time, and everyone was getting hungry. So I bought a commemorative pin for my best friend and, after one last look, we were on our way.

 

Tips for Parents

Although this specific event will not be repeated, Universal hosts similar Harry Potter conventions on a semi-regular basis. This fact kept the crowds from being as large as we had feared. The layout, with venues scattered across both parks and well away from the Wizarding World, also helped to prevent mass crowding. It was definitely busy, but not bad enough to put people in a bad mood. Throughout the day, we chatted and laughed with Harry Potter fans from around the world.

At the panel talks and classes, Universal staff did an excellent job of ensuring that every seat in the amphitheater was filled. Although those who had paid for a vacation package got priority seating, we were able to get into every session. Persistence really paid off, as staff at the end of the line did not always know exactly what was going inside. Several times we were told that the theater was full, only to be admitted a few minutes later. The theater was cleared after every event, giving everyone a fair shot at getting into the next one.

If you want event-specific merchandise, buy it when you arrive. Although there seemed to be plenty of merchandise for this special event, it is impossible to tell what the demand will be on the day of your visit. For example, on the Wizarding World’s opening day, even very expensive merchandise sold out almost immediately.

Make a game plan. If you are in town for several days, try to see the Wizarding World before or after the event weekend. Pay attention to the daily schedule and plan to arrive an hour or two before each activity to ensure that you get seats.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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