Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando, with the promise of warm butterbeer, a Frog Choir singing carols and a magical light show projected onto Hogwarts Castle nightly followed by fireworks.
It opens to the public on Saturday. Considering the tears that rose from the crowd at a media preview Thursday night at the sight of the snow-capped castle created by high-tech mapping sorcery, it should be a big draw for Harry Potter fans.
Universal Studios also upsized its nightly Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's with 13 new iconic giant balloons based on the New York parade, from the whimsical donkey-dragon babies of Shrek, to the nightmarishly large Gingerbread Man from the same movie. There are also 15 new floats, many from DreamWorks animation hits, and 100 performers. And the popular Grinchmas is coming back to Islands of Adventure, starting Dec. 2 bringing the residents of Whoville.
Fresh off the hit Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, creative director Michael Aiello left zombies behind and was wearing an itchy maroon sweater for the event with a big white R on in just like Ron Weasley's mother had knitted for him. He said this was a long time coming.
"We've wanted to do this since Hogsmeade opened in 2010," Aiello said. "It's why Hogsmeade is snow-covered to begin with."
In each of the seven novels by J.K. Rowling, Christmas is a regular reminder of Harry never remembering a loving family before he became a wizard, and it's a touchstone for the bonds he creates.
In the novels, during Christmas at Hogwarts the Great Hall is adorned with 12 towering Christmas trees, and the school is decorated with real live fairies that fly around the trees. Warm, dry snow falls from the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall and suits of armor around Hogwarts are known to have been charmed to sing carols.
That cheeky sense of humor comes into place in Diagon Alley, where the singing sorceress Celestina Warbeck and her backup singers, the Banshees, sing a holiday set list that includes My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas, (Hmmph! is the proper response.) And the Frog Choir in Hogsmeade, a singing troupe that harmonizes with giant frogs on pillows, sings I Cast a Spell On Father Christmas – a cautionary tale for young wizards to be sure of the incantation before casting a spell.
Decor has attention to detail, Aiello said, with the idea that the shopkeepers themselves would have created them. So Glad Rags, the store that sells costumes and Aiello's sweater, has a pink ribbon running through its garland that is reminiscent of the lovely pink dress Hermione Granger wore to the Yule Ball. And there are gum drops in the garland outside Sugarplum's Sweet Shop, where they sell cauldron cakes and butterbeer fudge.
But the eight-minute Hogwarts Castle show is where the magic happens.
It will run in 20-minute intervals nightly, starting at dusk. It begins with ghostly images dancing across the huge castle walls, followed by snowfalls, an image of an owl flying from an alcove, and floating lanterns in formation before students on brooms appear to enchant the rocks on the mountain to turn into snowmen and dancers at the Yule Ball come waltzing out on the balcony. The Weasley joke shop sneaks in a plug (Boggart Bangers anyone?) before giving way to shooting lights and real fireworks that are not a light projection.
"It has taken more than two years to get here," Ailello said. "This changes holidays in a big way for Universal."
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