A Celebration of Harry Potter proved most magical once again for its fourth year! We were so toadally excited to attend this year's event at the Universal Orlando Resort that I did something I almost never do—I stepped away from the camera. I know. I know. OK, in the name of full disclosure, I didn't toadally step away (did you catch any of our Instagram stories?!), but I did want to fully experience the event. As the head Potter frog, I wanted to soak up as much of the magic as I could. I made my dad, that's Leap to all of you, do the major photo taking and plotting for those of you attending next year. Here is our overview of A Celebration of Harry Potter 2017. Plus we've got A Celebration of Harry Potter tips for those of you who want to attend in future years.
Recap from A Celebration of Harry Potter 2017
There is so much for Potterheads to take in, and just the general scene is one of pure fandom. There is no better backdrop for muggles mixing with wizards and witches than Diagon Alley and and Hogsmeade. I do say, many of those muggles seemed to be dressed up as wizards and witches;)
Certainly one of our highlights was attending the media Q&A with Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Warwick Davis and Matthew Lewis. Yes, I even got to ask a question! But all attendees got the chance to attend Q&As with the actors, and even as there was time after some of the other panels. By the way, the films' talent are still as amazed as you are by Universal Orlando's Wizarding World, and by the outpouring of love surrounding the stories about The Boy Who Lived ... well, maybe not that sourpuss Lucius Malfoy and his sneering son, Draco.
As a film frog myself, I absolutely loved attending the panels, and the WB Studio Tour London - Discover the Secrets Behind Creature Effects with Nick Dudman and Warwick Davis was my absolute favorite. Dudman is the man responsible for all of the behind-the-camera special effects, amazing animatronics and makeup in the films. Dudman and his team were responsible for everything that was actually shot and not added in later—from a towering Hagrid to an equally intimidating Buckbeak. Did you know, every single feather was placed by individually by hand? Dudman has known Davis since he was 11 years old, so the two had an easy-going banter that made for fun on the stage. They brought up a few props and also played key scenes that showcased this amazing work. Afterwards, they took questions from the audience.
For those who needed a little more physicality, there was the Kids' Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang and the chance to Learn Combat Skills with Paul Harris. Several of the combat sessions were just for tadpoles. After my first session, I was back for the all-ages session too. My wand skills are no match for most of those muggles ;) Paul Harris is the world's only wand combat choreographer, and he demonstrated five of his core wand movements and then let everyone partake. It was so much fun!
You could also buy exclusive Celebration merchandise and other Harry Potter souvenirs too. MinaLima, the graphic design team behind the films, brought a small-scale re-creation of their famed House of Mina Lima shop in London, and were available to all for autographs. They also had their own panel, MinaLima: Graphic Design for the Harry Potter Films with MinaLima. Mary GrandPré, the illustrator of Scholastic's Harry Potter books here in the U.S., also signed autographs and books. She also had her own panel, Scholastic Presents: An Interview with Mary GrandPré. There was even a Muggle Wall at Soundstage 33 that muggles could sign and express what Harry Potter meant to them!
Over at Soundstage 21, the big draw was the demo of "Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them" using Daydream View, Google's new VR headset. Audible gave guests the opportunity to test their Potter knowledge, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment let guests be the first to play as Hermione Granger as part of a new fun pack for LEGO Dimensions.
There were freebies at the Expo too, posters, buttons (from both House of MinaLima and Scholastic) and bags that make terrific souvenirs. But, of course, the highlight of the Expo are the experiences that guests can take part in. The Sorting Hat, at Soundstage 33, once again saw the longest lines (the pic above gives you an idea), and they were steadily long every time we went by. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London brought a few of its props to Soundstage 33 for another very popular experience (45 minutes was being described as a short wait). The Studio Tour made news of its own at the Celebration, announcing an expansion into the Forbidden Forest (opening March 31 in London). But fans were agog when they learned that the, er, smaller expo exhibit would include a full-size Aragog!
If you're thinking about attending next year—and you definitely should since it's the 20th anniversary of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"—keep reading to get the full scoop!
A Celebration of Harry Potter 2017 Event Overview
This annual Universal Orlando special event allows park guests the chance to celebrate all things Harry Potter, including mingling with the cast and crew of the film series, exploring the Celebration of Harry Potter expo, and learning how to correctly duel! Even more magical is the fact that the event is largely included with regular admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. A Celebration of Harry Potter is typically held in January. This year's dates were Jan. 27-29. A few special events are available to those who book a vacation package, and they are also granted priority access to some events. To help you plan your Hogwarts future class schedule, here's what to expect.
Key Elements of A Celebration of Harry Potter 2017
Film Talent Q&As
One of the features we absolutely love about the celebration is getting to participate in film talent Q&A sessions. Each year, different actors attend and participate in various panels and events. During the Behind the Scenes: Harry Potter Film Talent Q&A Session, guests get to actually ask questions and converse with actors from the films. This year, Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick/Griphook), Jason Isaacs (Lucious Malfoy) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) attended the event! The film talent Q&A sessions took place both Saturday and Sunday.
Other A Celebration of Harry Potter Sessions
Your trip to A Celebration of Harry Potter 2017 would definitely not be complete without learning how to wand duel like a true wizard. Guests can learn from the mastermind himself, Paul Harris, who choreographed wand dueling in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." There's also an experience made for tadpoles (err, we mean wizards/witches) ages 12 and under! And for tadpoles who are more getting their groove on, they can attend Kids' Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle like a Durmstrang!
There are more opportunities to go inside the Wizard World, through panels with the people who worked on the films and books. Here were the events for 2017:
- Opening night ceremonies
- Kids' Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang
- WB Studio Tour London - Discover the Secrets Behind Creature Effects with Nick Dudman & Warwick Davis
- Harry Potter Trivia
- Learn Wand Combat Skills with Paul Harris (kid and all age sessions)
- MinaLima: Graphic Design for the Harry Potter Films with MinaLima
- Harry Potter Knowledge Challenge
- Stories from the Exhibition: Taking the Audio Tour Experience to the World
- Harry Potter Film Talent Q&A
- Scholastic Presents: An Interview with Mary GrandPre
- House Rally Meet-up (Costume Contest)
A Celebration of Harry Potter Expo
The expo is the largest event taking place at the Celebration. This Hagrid-sized expo includes plenty to see and do, taking place at Soundstage 33 and 21. Many of the exhibits were brand new for 2017. We'd expect even more new exhibits for 2018, since it will be the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone! At the expo, Potter fans can hop over to see iconic pieces, props and graphics designed by the Harry Potter film graphic designers, Miraphora Mini and Eduardo Lima! The Daily Prophet, The Marauder's Map and Hogwarts school books will be available for guests to catch a glimpse of.
If you're as good at Harry Potter trivia as we are, then you'll definitely want to check out the Scholastic display. Here you can see if you're really as smart as Hermione by participating in the Trivia Challenge. Don't forget to sign the "Muggle Wall" after getting Mary GrandPré's autograph (illustrator of the Harry Potter books)! And if you're craving even more trivia, visit Pottermore and Audible exhibits to participate in an audio challenge.
Immerse yourself directly into the "Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them" world by using Daydream View, Google's brand new VR headset. With this interactive experience, guests will have the opportunity to cast actual spells and solve puzzles.
Dressing Up at A Celebration of Harry Potter
One of the biggest highlights of the event isn't actually on any stage. It's seeing all the muggles dressed as characters from the books and films. While you don't have to dress up, many people go all out with their costumes, so unpack your Hogwarts chest and get to dressin'. Of course, you can purchase your wizarding robes and other spirit wear in the parks themselves. Bring your wand (or if you just received your Hogwarts letter, be sure to purchase one at Ollivanders). And of course, load up on Butterbeer while exploring Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!
A Celebration of Harry Potter Tips
While this event doesn't generate the kinds of crowds seen at, say, Halloween Horror Nights, as you've read, there can be very long waits for some experiences and panels. The major panel events and experiences, at least for 2017, were repeated on both days, so you shouldn't have to worry about missing out. Here are our top A Celebration of Harry Potter tips:
1. Get to the Expo early for popular experiences such as the Sorting Hat
Some of the Expo interactive experiences see extremely high waits. We're talking two-hour waits. This year, the Sorting Hat experience at Soundstage 33 had the longest waits, followed by the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (also at Soundstage 33) and then the Fantastic Beasts Google VR experience (Soundstage 21). These experiences see the shortest lines when the expo opens in the morning. If you want to partake in any of these, you should make them your first stop of the day.
The expo typically opens Friday ahead of the opening ceremonies, and this is an even better time to visit the most popular experiences, especially if you can get to them in the morning.
2. Plan your days and map out your destinations in advance
A Celebration of Harry Potter takes place in both Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, so you should plan accordingly and factor in an appropriate amount of time. Take note of where you're going and when. For the most popular panels, plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early, especially on Saturday. If you need to switch parks, allow at least 20 minutes to get through the turnstiles.
3. Get there early
There is limited capacity for the panels, demonstrations and other experiences. The Music Plaza stage can accommodate a large number of people and is used for the largest events, such as opening ceremonies and the wand demonstrations. But if you want a prime spot in the front, you should arrive 30 to 45 minutes in advance.
Parents, do note there is a dedicated seating area at Music Plaza for the tadpoles.
3. Dress up!
One of the greatest parts of the Celebration is seeing everyone dressed up as witches, wizards and other characters from the series. Many attendees go all out in the cosplay, and some even make their own costumes. Not only is it fun, but it makes the experience that more immersive for everyone. Even if you don't go all out, at least don your house colors or your robes. You can always purchase them and other spirit wear in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley when you get there!
4. Don't forget your wand
If you don't want to dress up, at least don't forget your wand. You can, of course, cast spells inside the Wizarding Worlds, but you'll also have more fun in the wand demonstrations.
5. Do everything
Sometimes the things you think aren't that cool end up being a lot of fun or just really interesting. Now, you all know how much I love filmmaking, but even my mom (Flora to all of you) enjoyed sitting in on the behind-the-scenes panels for how the films were made.
Will you be using some Floo Powder and apparating down to A Celebration of Harry Potter? Have questions? Let us know in the comments below!