Everything You Need to Know for 2016’s “Celebration of Harry Potter” Event

HPC-X37Universal Orlando is bringing back “A Celebration of Harry Potter” – which will take place this weekend, January 29 – 31, 2016 at Universal Orlando, allowing fans to celebrate all of Harry’s adventures, from the beloved books to the feature films and more.

Like some of our previous guides to Universal Orlando’s events – here’s all the information you need you know, based on our experiences attending previous Celebrations in 2011, 2014, & 2015.

The Basics

As the name indicates, A Celebration of Harry Potter is a special event all about the boy wizard. During this weekend, guests can enjoy different activities held throughout Universal Orlando Resort, including panels with Harry Potter stars and creators, a Harry Potter exposition, and for those with exclusive event packages, there is also a private party held after hours in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It all kicks off with a special presentation Friday evening, which is open to all theme park guests.  We will find out the specifics for 2016 soon, but if it’s held at dusk in the Music Plaza Stage again, which is very likely, we highly recommend bringing warm clothing. This location is an outdoor area with no shelter, and the Celebration takes place in the middle of winter, so you will want to cover up to stay warm and comfortable.

The following day, the panels will begin and the Harry Potter Expo will open to guests. Both will also be available to everyone with theme park admission, so all those with regular tickets or Annual Passes can enjoy them without having to pay anything extra. Access for non-package guests to the activities will depend on availability, and will be on a first-come, first-serve basis… but there will be plenty of space and availability, so do not be discouraged if you do not have a package. The benefits for those who do purchase Exclusive Event Packages will be better seating at the panels and faster access to the Harry Potter Expo.

Guests are encouraged to dress up as long as the costume contains no masks. Veils, long trains, live animals, swords or weaponry are also not permitted.

The Celebrities

So which Harry Potter film stars will be attending? As of now, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), and Katie Leung (Cho Chang), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) are all scheduled to attend the event.

J.K. Rowling will not be in attendance.

Even though actors are scheduled to appear, it is not a guarantee that they will attend, so the event is schedule is subject to change. Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid) was scheduled to attend last year’s panels, but unfortunately dropped out due to illness.

The Panels

The panels consist of Q&A sessions, discussions, and demonstrations with special guests. In the past, the special guests have been cast and crew from the Harry Potter films and also members of the creative team behind the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. Some panels are more interactive than others, but all of them will have plenty of audience participation. Select event activities are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Panels will be held at the Music Plaza Stage, located in Universal Studios Florida. There will be a Special Guest queue for package-holders, and a separate stand-by queue for guests with regular theme park admission. During the past two events, the panels rarely filled up to capacity and most still had available seating after the presentations had began, so even if you’re a bit late to one, you might still get a seat. Another word of advice regarding the weather, the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater has a roof structure, but it has no walls, so it can also get very cold in there during the wintertime. Be prepared with warm clothing for the panels, too!

Harry Potter Expo

This popular activity includes booths, displays and activities for all guests. In 2014, the centerpiece was a huge photo-op with the Gringotts vaults set, a teaser to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction – which is now open in Diagon Alley. The Expo then featured a variety of offerings for every type of Harry Potter fan. For book enthusiasts, there were free autograph sessions with Kazu Kibuishi, illustrator of Scholastic’s fifteenth anniversary editions of the Harry Potter books.

There was also a section of the Expo space dedicated to Pottermore, J.K. Rowling’s interactive website about the books, where guests could sign up and experience the website for themselves. For fans of the movies, there were displays of costumes and props from the films, an area dedicated to wand dueling as taught by instructor Paul Harris who worked in the films, too, and another area dedicated to MinaLima’s work, where you could meet the graphic artists Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima.

There was also a photo-op and interactive experience where a live actor and the sorting hat provided each guests with a personal sorting into their Hogwarts house. In addition, the Expo had unique merchandise for sale throughout, including a booth selling the collectible Harry Potter stamps from the United States Postal Service, and this booth also offered guests the opportunity to get a free Harry Potter themed postcard personalized with their pictures. Overall, the Expo was an amazing treat for Harry Potter fans, especially with all the freebies in the form of unique experiences and souvenirs. We should expect a similarly wonderful experience in 2016!

The Harry Potter Expo is set up inside Sound Stage 33, within Universal Studios Florida. It also has two queues: a Special Guest queue for package-holders with priority access, and another for guests with regular theme park admission, which will have a bit of a longer wait. Since the Expo is held in an indoor location, there are no worries about the winter weather here. But, one of the most important tips we can offer for the Celebration in general, is to plan to visit the Harry Potter Expo earlier rather than later in the day. The Expo’s queues closed long before the closing time for Universal Studios Florida during the 2014 event, so it is highly recommended to get in line for the Expo at least a few hours before the Universal Studios Florida’s park closing time.

Exclusive Event for Package Holders

This is the only part of A Celebration of Harry Potter that is available solely to exclusive event package holders, and it is a private after-hours party in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. As specified in the official Celebration page, desserts and a Butterbeer will be provided. There might be some Harry Potter stars and VIPs in attendance at this private party, too… You never know!

Package Perks vs. Regular Admission

A Celebration of Harry Potter will be open to ALL guests with theme park admission. There are advantages for those who splurge on an exclusive event package, including guaranteed seating at panels that is closer to the stage, priority access to the Harry Potter Expo, and the exclusive private party in the Wizarding World.  Premium Vacation Package guests will also have a special autograph and photo session with select Harry Potter film talent. Whichever way you choose to attend the event, keep in mind that the panels take place in Islands of Adventure (Toon Lagoon Amphitheater), and the opening ceremony as well as the Harry Potter Expo will be held in Universal Studios Florida (Music Plaza Stage and Sound Stage 33), so you will have to visit both theme parks to experience everything that the Celebration has to offer.

Ultimately, it is up to each guest to decide whether to attend with the perks of an exclusive event package or with regular theme park admission. In addition to “Special Guest” perks, the packages also include hotel accommodations, a breakfast in Hogsmeade, and a welcome parcel with special merchandise, which are all factors to consider. So, if a package is what you’re looking for, make sure to check out all the details on the official Celebration page and be ready to book them quickly as they sell out fast.

2016 Schedule of Events

Whichever way you attend, A Celebration of Harry Potter is a fantastic special event put on by Universal Orlando Resort and it should not be missed!

Friday, Jan 29th

The Harry Potter Expo – 9AM – 6PM | Soundstage 33
Movie in the Park – 1:30PM – 4:30PM | Music Plaza Stage
Opening Night Event – 7:30PM – 8PM | Music Plaza Stage


Saturday, Jan 30th

The Harry Potter Expo – 9AM – 4:30PM | Soundstage 33
Kids’ Dueling Demonstration & Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris – 10AM – 10:30AM | Music Plaza Stage
Kids’ Harry Potter Film Trivia – 10:45AM – 11AM | Music Plaza Stage
Bringing the Harry Potter Films to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – 11AM – 11:30AM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang – 11:30AM – 12PM | Music Plaza Stage
The Global Impact of Harry Potter: The Exhibition – 1PM – 1:30PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Harry Potter Film Trivia – 2PM – 2:15PM | Music Plaza Stage
Graphic Design for the Harry Potter Films with MinaLima – 2PM – 2:30PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang – 2:45PM – 3:15PM | Music Plaza Stage
Harry Potter Props Showcase with Acclaimed Prop Maker Pierre Bohanna – 3PM – 3:45PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Behind the Scenes: Harry Potter Film Talent Q&A Session – 4:15PM – 5PM | Music Plaza Stage
House Rally – 5:30PM – 6PM | Music Plaza Stage
Harry Potter Film Tribute – 6:45PM – 7:45PM | Music Plaza Stage


Sunday, Jan 31st

The Harry Potter Expo – 9AM – 6PM | Soundstage 33
Kids’ Dueling Demonstration & Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris – 10AM – 10:30AM | Music Plaza Stage
Kids’ Harry Potter Film Trivia – 10:45AM – 11AM | Music Plaza Stage
Harry Potter Props Showcase with Acclaimed Prop Maker Pierre Bohanna – 11AM – 11:45PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang – 11:30AM – 12PM | Music Plaza Stage
Bringing the Harry Potter Films to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – 1PM – 1:30PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Harry Potter Film Trivia – 2PM – 2:15PM | Music Plaza Stage
Graphic Design for the Harry Potter Films with MinaLima – 2PM – 2:30PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Kids’ Dance Like a Beauxbatons, Battle Like a Durmstrang – 2:45PM – 3:15PM | Music Plaza Stage
The Global Impact of Harry Potter: The Exhibition – 3PM – 3:30PM | Toon Lagoon Amphitheater
Behind the Scenes: Harry Potter Film Talent Q&A Session – 4PM – 4:45PM | Music Plaza Stage


 

The Crowds

Even though it is now considered the slow season at the parks, expect major crowds to come out and attend as the event only lasts one weekend. Since many of those in attendance will be focusing on all Potter-related events and activities, many areas around both parks should be less crowded; meaning some rides could have lower wait times. The only caveat is that many of the attractions at both parks will be down for maintenance, refurbishment, or future attractions, so it could be an unprecedented event year as far as lines go.


Whichever way you attend, A Celebration of Harry Potter is a fantastic special event put on by Universal Orlando Resort and it should not be missed!

Will you be attending? Are you planning on attending with the exclusive event package or will you experience it with your regular theme park admission? Let us know your plans, questions and comments on our forums!