A Celebration of Harry Potter always proves to be one of the most magical events hoppening at Universal Orlando Resort! We were so excited to attend this year's event Jan. 26-28 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. As this year celebrated the 20th anniversary of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" being published in the U.S., there seemed to be extra magic in the air. We're here to share our A Celebration of Harry Potter experience with you. Plus we've got tips on how to enjoy the festivities if you plan on apparating to Orlando for next year's event.
A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018 Event Overview
This annual Universal Orlando special event, typically held the last weekend in January, allows park guests the chance to celebrate all things Harry Potter. Guests can mingle with the cast and crew of the film series, explore the Celebration of Harry Potter expo and learn 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. This is the kind of magic we love! A few special events are available to those who book a premium vacation package, and they are also granted priority access to certain panels.
Key Elements of A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018
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. A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018 welcomed Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), Stanislav Yanevski (Viktor Krum), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley) and James Phelps (Fred Weasley).
We were lucky enough to attend a media Q&A and ask the cast what their horcruxes would be. Our favorite answer? Oliver Phelps says he would choose a not-so-popular item from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. We also loved Stanislav Yanevski's Universal-themed confession that he's a huge fan of Minions and wants a whole army of them! Maybe he could've won the tri-wizard championship with their help... ;)
Other A Celebration of Harry Potter Sessions
Your trip to A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018 would definitely not be complete without learning how to wand duel like a true wizard. Guests could learn from the mastermind himself, Paul Harris, who choreographed wand dueling in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." There was also an experience made for tadpoles (err, we mean wizards and witches) ages 12 and under! And for tadpoles who were into getting their groove on, there was the Kids' Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle like a Durmstrang!
There were more opportunities to go inside the Wizarding World, through panels with the people who worked on the films and books. Here are the events that took place at A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018:
- Opening night ceremonies
- Kids' Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang
- Special Effects Secrets with John Richardson
- 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
- Harry Potter Chalk Art Walk
- Film Screenings
- The Magic of Costumes in Harry Potter
- Harry Potter Film Talent Q&A
- 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. 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! This display was one of our favorites. You could even purchase prints of Wizarding World advertisements (a lá Daily Prophet) and more! Did you know the MinaLima duo has designed every piece of graphic work in the Harry Potter films from Harry's very first letter from Hogwarts? Our heroes!
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. Plus, for the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we were able to step into a life-sized recreation of the book's cover! And if you're craving even more trivia, visit Pottermore and Audible exhibits to participate in an audio challenge. (There are prizes!)
This year, we caught a glimpse behind the scenes of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child"! You can get a magical look at imagery, designs and costumes from the stage production, which is playing in London's West End and making its way over here to our side of the pond on Broadway (NYC) in spring 2018. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is also returning for 2018 to give you the opportunity to see the creation and special effects of the film series!
For 2018, guests had the opportunity to participate in an all-new virtual reality experience featuring "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." With the help of virtual reality goggles and a handheld, wand-like device, guests stepped into Newt Scamander’s briefcase to meet a few of the beasts.
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'. A huge trend we saw this year was muggles dressing as characters from Fantastic Beasts. 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, there can be very long waits for some experiences and panels. The major panel events and experiences 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. Come early and stay late for popular experiences
Many expo experiences see extremely high waits. Lines were up to an hour and a half just to get into the Soundstage 33 expo ... and once you got in, there was an additional wait for certain experiences. Based on what we saw ourselves and heard from Universal team members, the best time to check out popular experiences is early in the morning or late at night. Contrary to our advice last year, we'd actually suggest waiting until the evening, if possible! Crowds die down for minimal wait times — especially for crazy popular experiences such as the Sorting Hat or Fantastic Beasts Virtual Reality.
Saturday is by far the busiest day at the Celebration. Try tackling your top priorities on Friday before the opening ceremony when some guests have yet to arrive. Focus on attending shows and panels on Saturday while most of the crowd head to the expo, and then revisit Sunday.
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. Arrive 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. Beyond the opening ceremony, which we recommend arriving to at least 30-45 minutes early, we didn't find heavy crowds for events in this area.
Parents, do note there is a dedicated seating area at Music Plaza for the tadpoles so they can get a prime view of the stage for interactive experiences!
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!
We even heard of an exclusive event Universal hosted for guests dressed to the nine-and-three-quarters. On Saturday night, Universal invited around 50 selected guests in their wizarding world best to enjoy VIP castle show viewing, delicious treats and unlimited butterbeer. Interactive wands were even given to these deserving, dedicated fans! It made us so happy to see Universal showing love to these witches and wizards.
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. Lily adored the "Dance like a Beauxbaton, Battle like a Durmstrang" demonstration, and it was a blast for all of us to watch.
6. Keep an eye out for freebies, and grab merch quickly
Have we mentioned how much we LOVE the fact that so much of A Celebration of Harry Potter is included in Universal general admission? This includes fun little souvenirs from the expo as well. This year, we each came home with a full-size (!!!) illustrated Prisoner of Azkaban poster and "20 year" Sorcerer's Stone pin from the Scholastic booth alone. MinaLima offered cute buttons, and we even snagged a prop-copy of Harry's Hogwarts letter from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Bring a backpack or two to collect all of this swag!
When it comes to merchandise at A Celebration of Harry Potter ... you won't be able to get enough. Note that Celebration-exclusive merchandise is only available at the expo soundstages and cannot be found inside Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade shops — so be sure to hop on it while you're visiting! This year, the 2018-edition wand was sold out by the end of Saturday. If souvenirs are a top priority for you, we recommend getting ahold of what you want ASAP. We made our big shopping haul late on Friday so we could take our goodies straight back to the hotel. Note that some of the merchandise doesn't qualify for returns, so make sure you're confident in your selections.
7. Hop to the Nighttime Show at Hogwarts ASAP
After a successful debut of a Christmas-special nighttime spectacular at Hogwarts Castle, Universal welcomed a new projection show during A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018. The show is about 6 minutes long. The nighttime projection show is narrated by the Sorting Hat and describes each of the Hogwarts houses as the castle is lit up with their respective colors, topped off with Hogwarts being covered in what appears to be twinkling stars.
The schedule will say the show takes place at a certain time (9:15 p.m. in our case), but have no fear, the show runs intermittently throughout the night. We would estimate that it took place every 10 to 15 minutes. There were crowds lined down the cobblestone streets of Hogsmeade, so we recommend getting there as soon as you're able to get in "line." As each show takes place, crowds will clear and you'll get closer to the castle. Our top advice here: Don't worry, the shows run quick and you'll get a great view sooner than you think!
(Guess what? This show will be running select nights through February, at least. We have a feeling it will be sticking around for a while, so don't worry if you missed it at the Celebration.)
Recap from A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018
This year more than ever before, we really felt the magic of Harry Potter come alive at Universal Orlando Resort. Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, combined with the endless costumes surrounding you, really make you feel like the wizarding world has come alive! Universal does a great job of bringing that sense of "home" so many people find in the Harry Potter films and books to life.
One of our highlights for 2018 was attending the media Q&A with the Harry Potter cast. We loved seeing the five actors interact like old friends and reminisce on the days of making our favorite movies! 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.
As a film frog myself, The Warner Bros. Studios Tour exhibit was my favorite of all the Expo experiences. This year, the Studio is focused on showcasing the practical effects of the films. We were able to see the real Goblet of Fire in action, letters shooting through the Dursleys' front door and Dobby's cake floating over our very heads. Oh, and it was quite satisfying to see Umbridge's pink tweed outfit still singed and smoking. These were the most awesome photo-ops.
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. Since last year, I've upgraded to the all-ages session. We even got to battle death eaters! Paul Harris is the world's only wand combat choreographer, and this year he demonstrated five offensive and five defensive moves. Between last year and this year, they'll have to put me in Azkaban to hold me back!
Of course, there was the Expo, where you could see props and costumes from all of the films, including "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." Our favorites to see this year were the outfits Ginny, Fred, George and Luna wore to Bill and Fleur's wedding. (We had no idea Fred and George's suits were so sparkly!)
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.
Over at Soundstage 21, the big draw was the demo of "Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them" using Daydream View, Google's VR headset. Audible gave guests the opportunity to test their Potter knowledge. We even got to see Professor Slughorn transforms from a sofa to a human in the Half-Blood Prince courtesy of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London!
Will you be using some Floo Powder and apparating down to A Celebration of Harry Potter 2019? Have questions or tips? Let us know in the comments below!