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A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando – 2015

Celebration of Harry Potter 2015

The second annual Celebration of Harry Potter was held January 30 – February 1, 2015, at Universal Studios Orlando. Being that we’re ten hours away in Knoxville, Tennessee, this family had check marked the “Will NOT Be Attending,” box in our heads. However, when we heard the line up of events on Universal Studio Orlando’s blog, we decided that a trip must be made to Florida.

The plan was simple:

  1. Get kids out of school early on Friday (they were all for this).
  2. Drive for ten hours to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort – arriving at midnight.
  3. Freak out for a day and a half with the other Hogwarts fans.
  4. Head home to get everyone to bed at a decent enough time so we’d be rested for work/school.

Here were our non-negotiables:

  • Interactive wands must be purchased. (I would perform magic.)
  • The event expo would be seen in its entirety.
  • Camera devices would be given to all – anything was fair game for a picture.
  • The wand demonstration master class would be visited.
  • Diagon Alley would be seen for the first time.
  • Escape from Gringotts would be ridden at least once.
  • Hogwarts would only be visited by way of the Hogwarts Express.
  • The Forbidden Journey would be ridden. (8 year old was FINALLY tall enough!)
  • One of every dessert ordered from The Leaky Cauldron
  • The Fishy Green Ale beverage would be sampled.
  • Butterbeer ice cream would be sampled.

The Cabana Bay Beach Resort

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Since we only spent two nights at the resort, I don’t have much to say for our stay. We literally used the resort for sleeping so we could be refreshed for more Hogwarts fun. However, we were quite impressed with everything that we saw on property. The lobby was quite big and included a gift shop with many of the popular items that you would want to buy from the parks. I could have easily done a lot of shopping right there in the hotel and not had to worry about going into stores the following days. I was also quite pleased to discover a Starbucks coffee, and the food court seemed to be nice for families. I was lastly very impressed to see that Cabana Bay has a fantastic gym. Yes. I said gym and NOT fitness room. There were quite a variety of machines for cardio and strength so that folks like myself that want to get a workout on vacation will have no problem at all. The kids were in awe when we walked by the bowling alley, I mean a bowling alley in a hotel! Come on! They thought that was way cool, along with the old cars parked out front to fit the retro theme.

The rooms themselves were also nice with a retro modern look. We stayed in a family tower room that would house all six of us. The room was outfitted with a microwave, fridge, and kitchen sink by a small bar counter. We had a small living area with sleeper sofa and two queen beds in the sleeping quarters. All in all, it was a great choice to stay on property because we were allowed entrance into the Wizarding World an hour before the general public, and we could all stay in the same room, which cut down on the hotel cost for our trip.



Celebration of Harry Potter Expo

The first day of the event we made a quick run to the Escape from Gringotts ride which our daughter has covered in her own blog. Then we made a quick stop at Olivanders in Diagon Alley so that our wands could choose us. 🙂 We then felt equipped to enter the expo right after the park had opened to the general public.

Universal chose to have two lines this year; one to enter the expo and one for the sorting hat experience. We neglected to see the sorting hat since all of us have been sorted, and it was almost an hour wait in line. However, the experience did look magical as there were flat screens all along the line asking differing houses to cheer when a person was sorted into their Hogwarts’ house.

The magic spilled over into our wait in line to enter the expo building. Spirits were high as we stood in line with other folks dressed up in their Hogwarts and Wizarding World garb. A staff member came around handing out cardboard ties with the colors and emblems for your Hogwarts house; everyone was given the opportunity to support their house before entering the expo. Also, our two youngest were given presents of Wizarding World money in stylish cases. I could be wrong, but I believe they are the same cases for sale in Diagon Alley. The Universal member made their day, and it was only about 10am.

Upon entering the expo our senses were delighted as we took in the props, costumes and set visual that surrounded us.


Warner Bros. London

Warner Bros. and Universal Studios really made dreams come true and created memories for our family. We first went straight for the que so that we could get our picture taken in a set done up like the Great Hall. Before getting our fun momentos, we were given a quick tour of a case that contained props from the films. This included items such as Harry’s glasses, Hagrid’s umbrella, and a golden snitch.







We quickly moved to the next que to get our pictures done in scenery with a dementor and Buckbeek. The whole time we were simply amazed at the friendliness of the staff and their wanting to make the experience memorable for all of us.



Our last photo experience was a neat photo booth that imported one of three fantastic backgrounds into the photo.

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Pottermore was represented at the event. The website was running their Proudest House Contest. People all over the world and at the celebration were challenged to take pictures of their house pride and post them to social media with set hashtags. The booth at the expo took part in the contest by creating moving pictures of people inside their respective Hogwarts’ house common rooms. The photographers were really entertaining and helpful. Unfortunately, our houses lost but we tip our hats to those ambitious people of Slytherin house.


Meeting Great People

Of course one of the best parts of such a huge fan-based event like this was meeting all of the great people and seeing the ornate costumes. Here are a few of the people that you really need to meet on Twitter if you can’t meet them in person:

  • Central Florida Slug Club @CFSlugClub – This crew was fun-loving and had great costumes.  They made us wish we lived in Florida.
  • (@TheChattyMomma) – We met this team giving an interview and were able to converse with them for a bit. You couldn’t meet a friendlier couple and parents would do good to check out both of their sites which have invaluable resources for parents.

  • @mightylauren – We never got to meet up in person, but this gal gave us the inside scoop into the event from her point of view all the way from our drive from Tennessee until we returned home. She was a great asset for us finding out schedules and plans during the event.
  • Orlando Tourist (@orlandotourist1) – This is another crew that was a blast to communicate with on Twitter during the event. Hopefully, we can meet up with them during a return trip. Check out their blog and follow them on twitter for some great information on the parks.



Wand Demonstration Master Class with Paul Harris


The last day of the celebration the Hogwarts Adoption, our crew chose to tread lightly throughout the day and conserve our energy for the Wand Demonstration Master Class with Paul Harris. After all, we had our new interactive wands, and we wanted to be responsible wizards by learning the proper use of them. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Paul had brought along Evanna Lynch (the actress who plays Luna Lovegood) with him for the show. People from the audience had been selected ahead of time to make their way on stage and participate in the demonstration. Paul showed us simple movements and how it drew origins from choreography. Paul and Evanna were both entertaining and great fun to learn from during the show. The demonstration concluded with Evanna and Paul splitting up the team of volunteers into two teams and performing a fake wand duel.

If you haven’t witnessed this demonstration, make plans to attend. We witnessed the adult demonstration, BUT they also put on a show for younger children.


What Did We Think?

If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, this event is a MUST. The ages of our group were 8, 11, 14, 16, 35 and 36; All of us enjoyed a Celebration of Harry Potter. Due to our tardiness in deciding to attend, we were not able to purchase special event packages before they sold out. However, we were able to do most of the activities excluding the special evening events in the Wizarding World. Would the event package be worth it? We think so. Not only could you attend special evening sessions that included Q&A sessions with the cast from the movie, but you also received special seating in all the events.  We intend to watch for Universal’s offering of this event next year. See you there.

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An Adopted Kid’s Thoughts on Escape from Gringotts


My Thoughts on the Escape from Gringotts Ride at Universal Studios Orlando

from the quill of Jasmine Fink

It was really crowded at Universal Studio’s Diagon Alley area when we had to put our stuff in a locker. The park will not allow any bags or loose items on the ride so you are allowed a complimentary locker for a short amount of time. Then, we had to wait in line for a little bit. It was kinda cool waiting to ride. At the front, where you first walk into the building, there are some goblins working at the bank teller stations and one talks to you. The other goblins are working in a huge hall of Gringotts Bank that has three huge chandliers. [The whole story behind the ride is that you are a Muggle (a non-magical person) here to open up an account at Gringotts Bank.]



After you wait for a while in the main bank hall/lobby, you go through a smaller back hall of the bank. [You pass offices of the various goblins that work at the bank. If you pay attention you will even see the goblin Griphook’s office. Griphook is a big part of the Harry Potter books. Visitors then walk into Bill Weasley’s office. Bill is a wizard and brother to one of the main characters in the books. Bill and another goblin show up in the office via video screen to tell you that they are taking you to your vault in the underground caverns.] After passing through Bill’s office, you are led into an elevator. You have to go down to the caverns to get to your vault that you are opening. Next, you get some 3D glasses. Then, you go up some stairs, and some staff ask how many people are in your party. After that, you are seated by four into ride carts. Next, you ride through a fantastic and realistic ride. I think that everyone should be able to go ride Escape from Gringotts.

The ride was very enjoyable for us because we like fast and jerky rides. There was a part where you got sprayed by a few drops of water, but isn’t very wet. We got thrown, hit, and spun. It was a lot like the sister ride in the Wizarding World, The Forbidden Journey, but this ride is in 3D and not as scary. (There are no spiders.)

[Spoiler Alert – My description of the ride itself]


Hufflepuff-daughter-adopted-hogwarts-orlando-floridaYou are trying to open an bank account. [You begin your descent into the caverns in your Gringotts cart. Bill and his goblin friend show up on a track ahead of you to attach their cart to yours.] The defenses are set off because there are imposters in the bank somewhere. Bellatrix, an evil witch, is warned and finds you thinking that you’re the imposters trying to steal from her bank vault. She hits you with a spell. You go down a tunnel on the cart and Bill Weasley [saves you by casting a spell that halts the cart. You see Harry Potter, Hermoine Granger, and Ron Weasley in another cart. They tell Bill that they are hunting horcruxes (magical items keeping the evil wizard Voldemort alive). The bank defenses throw the trio from their cart and trolls show up to take care of you in your cart.] Trolls throw you [and knock you off the cart track and you begin falling. Bill shows up again to hit you with a spell that ceases your falling.] You land at the spot Harry, Hermoine, and Ron are on the dragon and Bill saves you from the dragon’s fire by casting a water charm. Then, you are told to go into your vault, because you’ll be safe from Bellatrix and Voldemort in there. Voldemort breaks through the wall of the vault. Bellatrix is also there and she tries to torture you. [Both of them know that you saw Harry Potter and think you know where he is at.] Voldamort says, “Maybe a little dose of pain to help you remember!” Then, he blows a big ball of fire, but the trio on the dragon shows up and blows the fireball away. Last, Harry, Hermoine, and Ron get you out of the caverns, but I won’t tell you how. You have to ride the ride yourself.

Note: This ride may be loud for smaller children.






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Chapter 5 – Kid Discussion – What Makes You So Special Anyways?


Diagon Alley. I don’t think that I have met anyone that has read The Sorcerer’s Stone that didn’t want to walk through the magical archway behind the Leaky Cauldron and enter this magical shopping district. Compared to his time at the Dursley’s home, this trip to Diagon Alley had to be better than great for Harry. With the opening of the new Diagon Alley theme park at Universal Studio Orlando, a lot of people are getting their chance to see how excited Harry felt when entering the magical world.

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What was it like to be there? My kids think it would be neat to be led to a vault piled high with gold, and it goes without saying that each of them wants a Nimbus 2000. Each of my adopted children has their own opinion also on which animal Harry should have gotten to take to Hogwarts.

There are so many exciting things to talk about in this chapter. While my kids and I talked about the chapter, though, we noticed someone that was unhappy during about half of the reading. Harry. Nearly everyone in Diagon Alley knew who he was and thought that he was simply amazing. However, Harry didn’t think he was special at all. He concentrated on things that he didn’t know about the magical world. He felt dumb and silly.

After dinner my family talked about Harry’s sad feelings for a bit. My kids, who have been through the foster system, feel that it is easy for kids to look at the bad things about themselves. It’s easy to feel like you’re the weirdo at school because you don’t live with your biological mom or dad. When you have a problem lying to adults or hitting people or stealing food, it’s easy to think that you’re not special. It’s easy to think that something big is wrong with you.

My family went around the dinner table and had everyone share at least one thing that made a person around the table special. You know what? Everyone shared something, and no one was left out. We discovered once again that each of us is unique. Each one of us is important to the family.

One of my kids has a cognitive disability. It would be easy to just say they are the kid who can’t read simple words, do simple math or tell time. He/she gets angry easily and feels the need to argue all the time. However, there is so much more to a person than the things they struggle with in life. My kiddo is also incredibly kind-hearted, very talented in the arts, is a conversationalist and very detail oriented. If you needed help cleaning your room, you would want this child who makes sure that everything is sorted.

It’s easy to focus on the bad things, and that’s why it’s good for your family to let each other know the special things that make each person great.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What do you want to see or do in Diagon Alley?
  2. Which type of animal would you take to Hogwarts?
  3. What do you think makes Harry special?
  4. Take a few minutes with your family. Have each person share at least one thing about the other members that make them special.

Help other families:

Share one thing in the comments below that makes you special and unique. We would also love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments.


Kids’ Discussions:
Ch. 01
| Ch. 02Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17

Parents’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17