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How to Enjoy Universal Orlando’s Harry Potter Celebration 2015 without a Special Package)

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TouringPlans is happy to welcome Dani Dennison-Perez to the blog. Dani also writes for Orlando Informer and ThisFloridaLife.

A Celebration of Harry Potter 2015 is on the horizon. Potterheads, Muggles, and everyone else are anxiously awaiting its arrival much like young little witches and wizards waiting their turn to cross onto platform 9 ¾ for the Hogwarts Express on their first trip to Hogwarts. This event officially debuted last year and seems to be a new annual tradition (we hope). This year’s A Celebration of Harry Potter will take place January 30 – February 1, 2015.

Much in the same vein as Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, A Celebration of Harry Potter brings together celebrities from the movies, special shows and Q&A sessions, and exclusive exhibits. What’s more, it brings in a nice hefty revenue stream for Universal Orlando and Loews Hotels as vacation packages with special benefits are sold at a mind baffling rate. But what if you weren’t able to snatch up one of those enticing packages? You can still find ways to revel in the celebration.

Last year I decided not to purchase any of the packages and went about the whole thing very casually. No planning, no forethought, just showed up…. And I got nothing accomplished (though I still had fun). Here now are my tips, just keep in mind, this is based on my experience last year. Some things may be changing this year, but I am confident the same tips will apply.

Photo credit: Universal Orlando
Photo credit: Universal Orlando

Get there early

Last year I was fighting a cold and opted to sleep longer. Sure, I panicked a little when I saw photos on Twitter of the hundreds of people there bright and early and the long stand-by line that stretched well into Marvel Super Hero Island for the 10am session. My friends got to Universal Orlando about 45 minutes before opening on both days. They were able to experience the Harry Potter Expo, including being sorted by the Sorting Hat, in fact, they made it through all the experiences at the Expo once and had plenty of time to go back through a second time.

Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando

Without the extra perks that come with the pricey packages your best friend is time. But, getting to the parks early is only half the battle. You’ll need to get to any shows or Q&A Sessions at least an hour and a half to two hours ahead of time. Last year we headed over to the Toon Lagoon Theater to check on the wait for the 2:00 PM session. When we arrived to the theater it was 12:00 PM and there were already 100 or more people waiting…. two hours before show time. We could have elected to wait and secure a seat for the 2:00 PM show, but we didn’t. Returning an hour later we found that we were now out of the luck and the 2:00 PM show was already full; one hour before show time the theater was at capacity.

Choose only 1-2 experiences per day

The above example is just one reason I believe it is pretty much impossible to experience all of the Harry Potter Celebration festivities without purchasing a special package. It is about as impossible as trying to resist the tantalizing scent of the Amortentia potion (the most powerful love potion in the Wizarding World). So set a realistic expectation that you will only be able to get into 1-2 shows and decide ahead of time which ones that will be. Additionally, you will have to commit to getting to the show or session of your choice very far in advance, without any guarantee that you will indeed make it in before it reaches capacity.

While a complete detailed schedule has not been published, you can check out an overview of the event here. Take a look ahead of time and plan out which 1-2 experiences are on your must-do list. There are full descriptions of each offering here. With the hope of not sounding pessimistic, it will be next to impossible to get into more than 1-2 shows or sessions. Once you select your must-do activities visit the Universal Orlando section of TouringPlans to make sure you know all the ins and outs of both parks.

Make new friends

I know I am starting to sound like Professor Flitwick repeating “swish and flick” over and over again when I continually say you have to get to the shows and sessions well in advance, like an hour and a half to two hours ahead of time. It’s just the truth of the matter. This means you will be sitting in line for a good long time. But there are plenty of ways to pass the time. One of the many fun aspects of attending a fan celebration like Star Wars Weekends or A Celebration of Harry Potter is being among like-minded individuals. So when you’re stuck waiting in line, introduce yourself and make friends with a few fellow Potterheads. Not only will it pass the time, but you may learn some tips for enjoying the rest of the Celebration.

Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando

Dress the part

Another common practice during fan celebrations like this is to dress in costume. This is certainly true for Star Wars Weekends and became part of the fabric during last year’s Celebration. The good news is the world of Harry Potter doesn’t require costumes that are completely outlandish. So if you’re a little timid then a simple scarf, necktie, headband, or lanyard representing your Hogwarts House (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw) will do the trick.

Make time to people watch

Now of course with dressing up for the celebration comes checking out what other people are wearing. Celebrations like this just beg for some good old fashion people watching. Like a nerdy red carpet, the theme parks become a showcase of fun and creative costumes and clothing. Last year, we secured a spot just outside Hog’s Head pub and watched. It was simply delightful to watch the streets of Hogsmeade Village practically filled to the brim with guests in Hogwarts robes, scarves of their houses, handmade costumes, and other fanware.

Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando

Attend at least 2 days

The Harry Potter Celebration takes place over three days: January 30 to February 1, 2015. If you want to experience as much of the celebration as possible, especially without one of the special packages, you’re going to need to plan it out across multiple days.

I recommend going to one of the first sessions one morning and then heading to the Expo the second morning. Last year I thought maybe people would be clearing out towards the end of the day (which is typically the behavior at Unviersal Orlando) however I ended up waiting an hour just to get into the Expo only to be told they would not be allowing any more people in since it was an hour before closing time.

Be patient

Last year’s Harry Potter Celebration was a big hit, and that was without the fascinating Muggle London and Diagon Alley areas being open. It stands to reason that this year’s celebration will be bigger and busier. So as one final piece of advice be ready for crowds, take a deep breath, grab a Butterbeer (or maybe something a little stronger) and enjoy the excitement.

The boy wizard has cast quite the enchantment over Orlando visitors. It is exciting to see the return of A Celebration of Harry Potter. As busy as it will get, it really is magical spending the day in Orlando’s two most exciting theme parks with the air tingling with excitement and jubilation as Harry Potter fans fills the streets celebrating the epic story they love.

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Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. She's worked in nearly all of Orlando's theme parks, on board Disney Cruise Line, and in hotel management. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thisfloridalife