Universal Orlando hosted its second annual Harry Potter Celebration over the weekend. We heard announcements over the summer that they were bringing the Celebration back, and were now offering a special annual passholder vacation package. Every passholder I know wouldn’t be caught dead purchasing a vacation package that included tickets to the theme parks, since we already get unlimited entry for the year, so when I saw that they were offering less expensive packages for those who already have theme park tickets, I knew I wanted to purchase one. The packages went on sale in August and sold out the first day, but I got one.
HPC (Harry Potter Celebration) 2015 was a vast improvement upon HPC 2014. The main reason I wanted the vacation package was that it included special guest access to the HP expo and to the panels, discussions and demonstrations. Last year, I didn’t make it to any of the panels because the lines started several hours before the event even began, and they were ridiculously long, and even then, most of the events reached capacity. This year, they held all of their events at the main stage in Universal Studios, and while the hordes of people still swarmed the area, there was more than enough room for everyone who wanted to attend. I was still able to use my special guest privileges to get to the front of the crowds, which was a big perk because during the opening ceremony, I got to meet Evanna Lynch and Oliver Phelps on the red carpet! I’m also in a few photos on Universal’s social media pages, including Facebook, and on the official Harry Potter Facebook page. But I digress…
I’m going to take you through a day-by-day account of my experiences starting with Friday, January 30th.
Friday started off very early for me. I was at the parks by 7:30am, sharp. That’s when they were opening the group sales window by Islands of Adventure (IOA) to start distributing credentials for the vacation package holders (aka, “special guests”). I made some friends in the lines, which worked out to my benefit later in the weekend. We ended up waiting about an hour and a half just to pick up these dang passes, but we needed them to get through the special entrance for the expo and the opening event later that day. Once that was done, I headed over to the expo to meet up with some other Slug Club members. We took some photos in the photo booth and I did my cool Ravenclaw Pride .gif at the Pottermore booth. MinaLima and Kazu Kibuishi were there as well but the lines to get autographs were a bit long and I decided I would go back later for that. Slytherin HoH Heather, and Slug Club member, Terrea, and I ended up just goofing off in the parks for a bit until the movie in the park began at 2:30. I left my friends behind and went up to the reserved section for special guests.
I ran into some Slug Club members in the front, Neisha, Arjun, Cassie, Katie and Jyoti, among others that I’m not completely familiar with. Slug Club members may recognize these names as part of the #Potterwatch and #OccupyDiagon group that we interacted with a lot over the summer. We sat through the whole movie waiting for the opening event to start. Quite honestly, compared to last year, it was a bit underwhelming. They had the Durmstrang boys, Beauxbaton dancers and Hogwarts choir processional through the red carpet. The Hogwarts Choir sang a song, but we can see that anytime in Hogsmeade. Then they brought out some representatives from the Hogwarts Exhibition and Pottermore. Paul Harris, the world’s only wand choreographer, made a brief appearance, along with Eduardo Lima and Miraphora Mina of MinaLima and Kazu Kibuishi, the illustrator of the most recent scholastic book covers. They were only on stage for a few minutes before being rushed along.
Finally, Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood, was introduced and she walked down the red carpet. I was able to talk to her briefly but missed a chance to get a picture or autograph. I also shook Oliver Phelps’ hand and talked to him for a moment. It was all very quick, which was to be expected. They ascended to the stage where the host then introduced Michael Gambon, who arrived quite fashionably by the faithful Ford Anglia. They only had the actors on stage for a few minutes. Last year, they had a full Q&A session and a bunch of announcements about Diagon Alley. I knew that we couldn’t expect that again seeing as Diagon opened 6 months ago, but I expected something more. They decided to save most of the Q&A for the actual panels this year.
I went back to my hotel room and decided to rest, knowing full well that Saturday would be the longest day of the HPC for me. My roommate, Angel, and I had our private evening event on Saturday which didn’t start until 7:30pm, and I was slated to meet up with the Slug Club at 7:45am, so it was going to be a 14 or 15 hour day. I was ready! I dressed up in my school uniform and robes because I knew that the Ravenclaw meet-up would be that day, a new feature of the HPC. They had photo meet-ups for all the Houses, which was really neat! Fun fact: every House meet-up, except Slytherin, had a Slug Club member win the Hogwarts Blu-ray Collection prize! Congratulations, Ashlynn, Kiers and Lauren!
Saturday was another early start. I arrived around the same time as the day before and met up with Melissa at Starbucks to wait on the rest of the club. The first autograph session ticket distribution was Saturday morning, and we heard a ton of complaints. I knew I didn’t want to even bother with the autograph sessions, and I’m glad I didn’t. It sounded like a complete mad-house and they only had 250 tickets to pass out to over 3000 people who showed up. No thank you. Because of this, the Starbucks line was ridiculously long. I skipped coffee that morning.
The line to get in to Universal was starting to get long, so we decided to circumvent the lines and enter through the IOA entrance to take the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley. Our plan worked brilliantly and we got to the expo before 9:30. I got to skip the line with my pass, so while I was waiting inside for the rest of my club members to join me, I purchased a copy of Prisoner of Azkaban for Kazu Kibuishi to sign and a packet of postcards designed by MinaLima to have them sign as well. Kazu showed up 15 minutes early to his scheduled appearance, so only 3 or 4 people were in front of me in line. He really is a very nice man and I was thankful to get him to sign my book. My boyfriend, Erik, loves his Amulet series so I surprised him by getting Kazu to sign both my name and Erik’s.
Eduardo and Miraphora of MinaLima were also a true delight to interact with. They were so nice and humble, and seemed almost offended when I said I didn’t want a picture with them! I only wanted their autograph. If you ever have a chance to meet them, take it! They are talented, witty and just a pleasure to talk to. They are the ones responsible for bringing the Wizarding World to life and I couldn’t be more thankful.
Finally, the Slug Club caught up with me and we were able to take some group photos. After the expo, we headed to Diagon Alley to take another group photo with members who couldn’t meet us in the morning because of the autograph sessions.
We all dispersed after that. I did some shopping and got some lunch, then headed over to the main stage for MinaLima’s panel. For the opening event the night before, the entire front section was reserved for package holders, but they changed it up and made only the right side of the front an exclusive area. I ended up going to the left side because it was less crowded, and because it was general admission, most of the Slug Club members were able to join me. I was happy to not be alone! MinaLima gave a nice presentation including a slideshow of some of the graphics they designed for Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. It was a very educational panel; I left feeling like I knew more about MinaLima and appreciated what they did even more.
Right after the MinaLima presentation, Kazu Kibuishi came to the stage to draw something for us. It was a one-of-a-kind digital piece that would be raffled off during the weekend. I already knew some information about him from last year’s event, but I did like that they opened the Q&A to the crowd and let the guests ask Kazu some questions. He wasn’t able to finish the drawing all the way, but he later tweeted a picture of the finished product. It was a scene of the Quidditch pitch with Hogwarts in the background. It was amazing watching him create this in front of all of us!
After Kazu’s demonstration, I joined a horde of other Ravenclaws for our House meet-up. It was really fun, and I lost my voice the next day screaming so loudly for Kiers to win up on the stage! The only bad thing was that they had to move the barricades for the photo, and when they put them back up, everyone had shifted all over the place so we lost our spot at the front to watch the Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris. Still, a member from the Slug Club got chosen to go on stage with Paul Harris and Evanna Lynch and duel it out! It was so fun to watch. We barely had enough space to practice the moves that Paul was teaching us, but I learned the 5 offensive positions and the 5 defensive blocks of wand dueling. I’m a pro now.
It was finally time for the day to end and our private evening event to begin. My roommate, Angel, and I made our way over to Kings Cross where they had everyone in a holding area until the event was ready. At about 7:20, they started letting people in to Diagon Alley. We realized how it would be busy in Diagon and decided that since we were already at the train station, we may as well make our way over to Hogsmeade. There were probably fewer than 100 people in Hogsmeade with us, absolutely no line for the food station, and all of the shops and rides were fully functional.
Did I mention unlimited free butterbeer? Oh yeah. Angel and I were starving, so I kind of wish they had more than finger foods but it was enough to fill me up: chips and onion dip, tortilla chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, churros, soft pretzels and praline pecans. That’s not including the dessert table: mini pumpkin pies, mini custard pies, apple pie and vanilla bundt cakes. They were all scrumptious. I took advantage of the empty park to practice some spells with my new wand (McGonagall’s is now interactive, yay!).
We eventually made our way back to Diagon Alley, which still was pretty empty, and we just hung out drinking tea and butterbeer until about 10. The private event was the cherry on top of everything. I really did feel like a VIP there and it was an incredible experience to be in the parks without all the crowds and muggles.
Day three got a later start for me. I had to check out of my hotel and I didn’t need to be anywhere until 1pm. Paul Harris was hosting another wand masterclass, but since I went to the one the night before, I decided to skip it and head over to wait in line for my private Q&A session included in my vacation package. I had the option to pick between Saturday and Sunday, so I picked Sunday which worked out really well for me. Some of the people I had met while waiting in line for our passes on Friday told me that if I wanted to get a good seat and a possible autograph, to sit in the aisle and as soon as the Q&A is over, to have my items ready and book it to the foot of the stage. So that’s just what I did. I waited from 9:45am until the start time of 1pm so I would be first in line and get the seat that I needed.
The actual Q&A was really quite engaging. We lucked out and everyone in the audience asked very compelling questions. They weren’t ones that I had heard a million times before and it allowed for a very entertaining hour. I sped to the stage after the host said, “Well, that’s all…” and Evanna Lynch came over to my side of the stage. Angel and I were being pushed up against the stage but I held my ground so I wouldn’t be trampled. It paid off. Evanna signed my special guest pass! She really is just so devoted to her fans because she is a fan herself. The twins stayed after as well but they were on the other side of the stage. Michael Gambon peaced out right away. I can’t say I was surprised about Michael Gambon’s attitude toward the Harry Potter fans. He’s so famous for so many other things that I don’t think he really appreciates all of our devotion to the fandom. That’s okay, if not just a little disappointing.
I completed my goal for the weekend. I really had wanted a picture with Evanna but it would have been awkward to get one with her up on stage. I met up with Slug Club members afterwards and we spent the rest of the day goofing around in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Me and Greg grabbed some butterbeer ice cream before heading over to the main stage for the next panel. At this point, I was just exhausted so I skipped the last Q&A and decided to head home.
Overall, the weekend was just spectacular and I made so many incredible memories with such great people! I would say that the vacation package was well worth the money and if they offer them again for annual passholders, me and Angel will be going again next year. If you have the opportunity, I definitely recommend it, but even without the package, it would be an enjoyable event!
What I would like to see for next year: bring Evanna and the twins back but skip on Michael Gambon. Last year, I enjoyed seeing Mark Williams, Matt Lewis and Devon Murray a lot more than I enjoyed Gambon. He just wasn’t engaging the fans well, and I heard some bad things about how he interacted with people who got autograph session tickets. We Harry Potter fans don’t need big names, just actors that actually enjoy meeting with us. I would love to see Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton or Alan Rickman attend as well.
I also would have liked to see a better opening ceremony. It felt rushed and very clipped. Maybe they could have done an original performance by the Hogwarts choir or Celestina Warbeck, or even some kind of scene acted out up on stage.
What about you all? What did you think about the weekend? What would you have changed and how did it compare to last year?