A Celebration of Harry Potter: A Vacation Tickling Sleeping Dragons
By MJ Wilke
You may not be able to actually attend Hogwarts or shop in Diagon Alley but for a weekend you can vacation there. A Celebration of Harry Potter is an interactive, immersive vacation in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando.
Following in Harry’s footsteps, you can wander through Diagon Alley shops, buy a wand at Ollivanders, have a Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, drop down to the depths of the vaults at Gringotts, take a walk on the wild side down Knockturn Alley, run through a brick wall at Platform 9¾, ride the Hogwarts Express, see the talking portraits at Hogwarts Castle, be sorted by the Sorting Hat, play Quidditch with Harry, and much more. Celebration weekend is a once-a-year, enhanced experience that includes all the above and the following special events that do not occur during the regular days at the park: the Sorting Hat ceremony; an expo with exhibits from Scholastic, Pottermore, and others; panels with film talent; fireworks set to the movie theme song; and an after-hours special event in the park.
The motto of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus, which translates to Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon. Yet Harry and friends spent 7 years having adventures and getting into mischief. It seemed as though they couldn’t wait to go tickle a dragon. All that mischievousness has been included in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. Cast spells with your new interactive wand purchased at Ollivanders. A marauder’s style map is included to show the hidden-in-plain-sight spots in the park where the wand’s magic will work. With the spell spoken and the correct wand motion, you can turn lights on, make frogs open their mouths, or surprise unsuspecting muggles by causing fountains to spurt water in their direction. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes shop in Diagon Alley stocks all your practical joke needs. If that’s not enough, there is the shopping in Knockturn Alley.
So, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios has recreated Harry Potter’s world in amazing detail. Whereas a visit to a filming location is a peek behind the curtain, this park maintains the mysteries of the world and allows you to visit the magical place. All your senses are immersed. While in Diagon Alley, you no longer have the feeling of being in Orlando, instead you soak in the alleys of Harry’s London. Enter a women’s public convenience (restroom) and you will hear the voice of Moaning Myrtle resonating throughout the room. John Williams’ brilliant movie score plays throughout the park. During the Hogwarts Castle ride (aka Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), you feel the breath of a dragon on your face, the spit of a spider, and—most thrilling—you fly around the Quidditch pitch with Harry. Dining at either the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks provides surprisingly good British fare and bottled Gilly Water (just in case you need to breathe underwater). Even something mundane like an ATM adds to the magic of this place: it is a Gringotts ATM.
The vacation package includes all of the things you would want to do if you lived in Harry’s world, starting with receiving an owl in the mail as a welcome gift and a commemorative key pin upon arrival. Then being sorted into your house by the Sorting Hat placed on your head. One amazing benefit of the vacation package is the Evening at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter event after the Opening Night Ceremony and fireworks. The park is open after-hours for vacation package guests only. Seeing Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, London, and Diagon Alley at night is a magical experience. And there’s the bonus of no lines and no waiting for any of the Harry Potter rides or shops. This is a great time for a photo op of going through the brick wall of Platform 9¾.
By Sunday evening, you can’t help but feel like you slipped into a magical world and tickled a sleeping dragon. Mischief Managed!
Note: In order to see and do everything that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and A Celebration of Harry Potter offer, plan to arrive early. Explore the theme park and rides on Thursday, the expo and Sorting Hat on Friday, and the panels on Saturday. On Sunday, reward yourself with a relaxing day in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley shops and restaurants. Warning: Saturday the lines are almost unmanageable for most experiences.
MJ Wilke is the founder of Wayward Nerd. She is a road warrior. A nerd. A trekkie. A whovian. A Star Wars fanatic. She will go where no one has gone before, come back and post it here.