SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter

by on February 6, 2016 1 Comment

Filed under: Adults, Celebrations, Dining, Harry Potter, Saturday Six, Universal Orlando Resort

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter. Universal has several great events during the year, including Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights, but one that doesn’t get as much attention celebrates a character who completely changed the fortunes of the Universal Orlando Resort: Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Jam packed into this annual three day event are Q&As with celebrities, wand dueling classes for kids, and a whole bunch of cool stuff inside the Harry Potter Expo. Today we are going to look at our favorite parts of the event, so sit back, take a shot of firewhisky, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – The Sorting Hat Experience

With the Harry Potter books, author JK Rowling created a world that feels as real as our own. It is rich with depth and includes many concepts that readers can instantly identify with. The first Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – finds Harry going to Hogwarts, a magical school for gifted wizards and witches. Each student at Hogwarts is then sorted into one of four houses. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. The way the students are chosen for the houses is through the Sorting Hat. The first Harry Potter film brought this hat to life in an unforgettable scene, and Universal does its best to recreate that moment at A Celebration of Harry Potter.

Guests are brought up to the Sorting Hat and asked several questions from the robed Team Member (including where they were from, what they did for a living, if there’s a house they feel they might fit well in, etc). The Sorting Hat then announces which house it has sorted them in. It sounds crazy, but it’s fun and it’s popular. In fact the Sorting Hat experience gets some of the longest lines of the entire celebration, and why shouldn’t it? Getting sorted is something many Potter fans dream of, and although filling out a questionnaire on Pottermore is one way to get sorted, getting sorted by the Sorting Hat feels real.

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SATURDAY SIX’s own Megan Stump moments before being sorted into Gryffindor. (photo courtesy of the Universal Orlando Resort)

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“Hmm, difficult. VERY difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh yes. And a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you? ” – The Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (photo by Hunter Underwood – @elvenage)

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Another First Year gets sorted into one of the houses at Hogwarts. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

# 5 – The Merchandise

There is generally not a lot of exclusive merchandise at A Celebration of Harry Potter, but what was there is solid. One of the stand out items was a fantastic print by MinaLima which featured the four houses of Hogwarts (as well as the Sorting Hat) in a stained glass inspired design. The main logo for A Celebration of Harry Potter featured Hogwarts, the dragon above Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley, and the Hogwarts Express all done in a style that pulls back to reveal the face of Harry Potter himself. This design could be purchased on t-shirts, magnets, and key chains. Another item that stood out was house themed charm bracelets whose proceeds went to the Lumos Foundation, an organization working to help institutionalized children regain their right to a family life.

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Amazing MinaLima print featuring the four houses of Hogwarts in a stained glass design. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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The Celebration of Harry Potter 2016 logo used for shirts, magnets, and keychains. Love the minimalist design and that it reveals Harry himself. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Ravenclaw Crest charm. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Sorting Hat charm. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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This frame-worthy print featuring students boarding the Hogwarts Express was free during A Celebration of Harry Potter. FREE! (photo by Megan Stump)

 

# 4 – The Panels

Throughout the weekend on the Music Plaza Stage at Universal Studios Florida and the Toon Lagoon amphitheater in Islands of Adventure were panels featuring stars of the Harry Potter films along with creative people who worked behind the scenes. Every year Universal gets a good selection of actors and this year included Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Katie Leung (Cho Chang) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood). However the real get was Rupert Grint coming in for the first time. That’s right, one of the Golden Trio – Ron Weasley himself – was in town for A Celebration of Harry Potter.

The cast Q&A’s are always a huge hit of the Celebration and they’ll answer a variety of questions including what is their favorite of the Potter films (Bonnie Wright said Chamber of Secrets), what they would like to see brought to Universal (“…a Quidditch pitch, said Katie Leung), and what they would be if not an actor (“An ice cream man.” Said Rupert Grint, “I’ve already got the truck.”)

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The stars are out tonight including the actors who played Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Cho Chang, and Luna Lovegood.(photo by @FelipeWWoHP)

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Rupert Grint, AKA Ron Weasley. (photo by @FelipeWWoHP)

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Matthew Lewis, AKA Neville Longbottom. (photo by Megan Stump)

Other panels featured people such as MinaLima Designs, the people behind the stunning graphic work throughout all the Potter films (from Harry’s acceptance letter to Hogwarts, the Undesirable No 1 posters, and everything in between). Another had Eddie Newquist and Alan Gilmore, heavy hitters in the Potter film Universe as they helped design and create the stunning prop work. The stage was also home to wand classes taught by Paul Harris, the man who choreographed all the battles seen in the films, as well as dancing from Beauxbatons students.

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Panel on Harry Potter The Exhibition including Eddie Newquist (with microphone) and to his left Alan Gilmore. Both are key men behind many of the amazing props in the Harry Potter films. (photo by Brianna Nutting)

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Three lovely students from Beauxbatons display fancy footwork along with ribbon twirling. (photo by @FelipeWWoHP)

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Just a fad… (photo by Seth Kubersky, click to see full size)

# 3 – The Expo

One of the main features of A Celebration of Harry Potter is the Expo, where guests enter a Universal Soundstage and discover an interactive world featuring many exhibits from the Harry Potter book and film series. This year there were also sections for this fall’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them motion picture as well as the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage play coming to England this summer. Pottermore, the official website of Harry Potter, had an area of the Expo and so did Scholastic, the distributors of the Harry Potter books. There were exhibits featuring Potter action figures and even a giant Lego Hogwarts castle. One of our absolute favorite areas was the one dedicated to MinaLima Design. As we mentioned above, these are the people behind all of the graphic work seen in the movies. Luna Lovegood’s issue of the Quibler that we saw in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? They did that. Rita Skeeter’s book The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore as seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1? They did that too. They did everything, much of it seen on screen for seconds (if seen at all). The work they created helps the Potter world on screen feel lived in, and helps bring all of us viewers into the story.

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MinaLima (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Examples of MinaLima work as seen in the Potter films. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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The attention to detail in the Harry Potter movies is second to none, including editions of the Quibbler (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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A new Harry Potter play (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Hogwarts castle in Lego form. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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The lego Whomping Willow. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

# 2 – The Studio Tour

The Studio Tour is actually part of the Expo, but it is also one of our favorite parts. Walking through the impressive display of props brings you right back into the world of Harry Potter and shows the amount of painstaking detail that went into everything. This is a small scale version of the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London, but has enough awesome items and cool demonstrations that any true Potterhead should want to book a flight over to England immediately and check out the real deal. The Tour at Universal included a look at how they make wands and another room dedicated to the makeup done in the series. Peter Petigrew’s mole, Harry Potter’s scar, and Bellatrix Lestrange’s teeth are a sample of some of the work that had to be done to the actors for their onscreen personas. The Studio Tour ended with a photo op with a Death Eater.

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Wandmaking. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Death Eater mask. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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A Ron Weasley wig worn by Rupert Grint himself. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Teeth for Bellatrix Lestrange. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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It’s the little things that separate the very good from the great. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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A despicable human being, without a shred of decency or soul. Also pictured, a Death Eater.

# 1 – The Fans

What makes A Celebration of Harry Potter stand out from just about any event at Universal (or Disney for that matter) is the passion of the fans. Not only are the Potterheads who show up for the annual celebration possibly the most well behaved large group in theme park history, but their cosplaying also rivals anything this side of San Diego Comic Con. Outside of the bible, the Harry Potter book series has sold more books than anything in history, and many Potter fans feel a deep connection to the source material. The outpouring of love for the characters is something you can feel when being in the middle of it. Inside the Expo, Scholastic put up a giant wall with the words “what does Harry Potter mean to you?” and let guests write their feelings. Just about anywhere else you go you would find this wall defaced with curse words, or bad jokes, or people trying to plug their Instagram, but these Potter fans wrote from the heart. It’s a special group of people, and that helps make this a special event.

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A unique take on the Four Founders of Hogwarts: Helga Hufflefpuff, Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, and Rowena Ravenclaw. (photo by Rubina Kandidah)

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Incredible cosplayers including a boggart Snape, Professor McGonagall, Yule Ball Hermoine and Viktor Krum. (photo by Dank Marletto)

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A terrific Newt Scamander from the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film. (photo by Kelly Hoffmaster)

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A stunning collection of Harry Potter cosplayers including a Death Eater, Luna Lovegood in her Quidditch cheering outfit, and a Golden Snitch! (photo courtesy of the Facebook photography group Papanotzzi and Gary Snow.)

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“Well, being me… has its privileges.” – Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. (photo by Rubina Kandidah)

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A young wizard and Bellatrix Lestrange go head to head in London. (photo by Kista Crites)

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A Potter fan writing what the series means to him. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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The passion jumps out of the very wall. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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“Whether you come back by page or the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” – JK Rowling

HONORABLE MENTION – Butterbeer FUDGE

While not technically part of A Celebration of Harry Potter, Butterbeer Fudge made its debut at the parks just days before, so we’re going to count it anyway. Found at Honeydukes in Hogsmeade Village and the brand new Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop in Diagon Alley, Butterbeer Fudge now joins the list of other Butterbeer flavors including ice cream, potted cream, and the drinks (regular, frozen, and hot). If you thought the Butterbeer drinks were sweet, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is sweeter than any fudge you have ever had, and then there is icing on top! The butterscotch and caramel flavor that we all love is there, but be sure to bring an insulin needle with you.

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Butterbeer Fudge. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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Butterbeer Fudge. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – The Inappropriately – But HILARIOUSLY – Placed Snake

Presented without commentary.

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The World Famous Jenn and Tim Tracker of YouTube fame.

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SATURDAY SIX Emergency Editor @FelipeWWoHP in a picture we will use against him for years to come. #blessed #withvenom

Reason We DON’T Love A Celebration of Harry Potter – THE LINES

If we learned one thing from this year’s A Celebration of Harry Potter it’s that the event needs to expand. It is too popular for its own good now. Lines just to get into the parks can be crazy and once inside they just get bigger. With a new film set in the Potter Universe coming out this fall, next year’s event could be even more packed, so it’s time for Universal to start considering spreading this event over the course of two (or hopefully more) weekends. Blow it out, bring in more merch. Encourage one of the bigger Potter fan websites to hold an event at the new Sapphire Falls Resort and all that new convention space. Call in every favor and somehow get Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson or – dare to dream – JK Rowling as a guest. Do autograph sessions like Disney’s Star Wars Weekends used to do. A Celebration of Harry Potter is now bursting at the seams, so let’s get a bigger pair of trousers shall we?

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Lines for the Expo. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Line for the Sorting Hat Experience. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Muggle-rific. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Universal valet, doing it’s best impression of trying to get into DHS during Osborne Lights. #KuberskyProblems

 

Thank you Alan Rickman

Days before A Celebration of Harry Potter began, actor Alan Rickman passed away. As Severus Snape, Rickman had the challenge of playing the most nuanced character in the series and did so in a way that it is impossible to picture anyone else in the role. He brought humor and pathos to a character we all wanted to despise, and then turned everything on its ear at the end. I’ve had many a debate with my Potter friends about how I feel Rickman’s Severus Snape was the true hero of the entire film series. Outside of Rickman has been a defining actor of my life. Whether it was Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Metatron in Dogma, or Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, Rickman has guided me along into my adult life. A great actor, and by all accounts a better man, Alan Rickman enriched my life more than I can ever repay. Thank you Alan Rickman.

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Tribute to Alan Rickman. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Wands raised to honor Alan Rickman. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Alan Rickman, RIP. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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“I, uh, I don’t really remember. I took a bludger to the head two minutes in. Woke up in hospital a week later.” – Oliver Wood (photo by Ollie Mei)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: Six Reasons We Loved Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

Six “Secrets” of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village

Six Reasons We Love Diagon Alley

Six Surprises of Universal’s Hogwarts Express

Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards (AKA ” The Burgys”)

Six Great Souvenirs From the Universal Orlando Resort

Six Surprises of Diagon Alley

The Six Best Drinks, Snacks, and Food Options in Diagon Alley

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, New Kid On The Block Hunter “Elvey” UnderwoodSeth Kubersky (my co-author on the Unofficial Guide to Universal Oralndo),  channeling the essence of  the great Gryffindor photog Colin Creevey Gary Snow, “snake”charmer FelipeWWoHP, and Fred Weasley’s widow Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.

And an Extra Special Thanks to the Central Florida Slug Club. They’re a good lot them. (That was written in a British accent, just so you know.)

Posted on February 6, 2016

One Response to “SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter”

  • Hey Touring Plans Blog,

    Curious why you aren’t reporting on price increases at Universal Orlando. You’re not the only site who isn’t…but isn’t this pertinent info for readers?