Image: Universal Orlando

A Celebration of Harry Potter 2018 enchanted fans of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World series in a variety of magical ways.

The annual event started in 2014 at Universal Orlando and has evolved rapidly over the past few years into a one-stop shop for fans. Hosted at the home of the original Wizarding World theme park, A Celebration of Harry Potter provides three days of events, holds two buildings full of Harry Potter Brand booths, and generally gives fans a place to congregate annually.

With so many different companies officially involved in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series these days, Celebration has hit its stride as the only place to see everything going on in the franchise. This was proven by two busy sound stages filled with booths by Scholastic, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, CineConcerts, Pottermore, Oculus (virtual reality), Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, and Eduardo Lima and Miraphora Mina (the designers behind every single Wizarding World movie) themselves.

Most of the booths had at least one fun opportunity for those in attendance. For example, this was the first time that Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, the forthcoming iOS and Android app, was available for fans to play. Hypable enjoyed a demo of the game by participating in a virtual Charms class with Flitwick. The game looks cute, but the demo was so short that we can’t review it just yet.

Meanwhile, Scholastic had a large Sorcerer’s Stone cover that you could step into to celebrate the book’s 20th anniversary. They were also handing out large pieces of Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated Edition cover art, and previewed their forthcoming 20th anniversary edition covers (with illustrator Brian Selznick in attendance and signing concept art).

The Harry Potter Studio Tour brought a couple of practical effects, including the Goblet of Fire (complete with the ability to spit out a name!), and the Dursley’s front door with its ability to rapidly fire Hogwarts Letters.

In addition to creatives like MinaLima and costume designer Jany Temime, Celebration also brought out Potter film stars. This year the event welcomed Stanislav Ianevski (Viktor Krum), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), and James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley). The Potter alums hosted a couple of Q&As and appeared at a handful of other panels.

Simply put, A Celebration of Harry Potter is a great way to experience everything official. Step into the Studio Tour! Hang out with Pottermore! Meet MinaLima! See Cursed Child props! Enjoy a Harry Potter concert (which all attendees were treated to on Friday night from the Orlando Philharmonic)! It’s all here and all do-able in a weekend, making A Celebration of Harry Potter an easy way to sample the franchise that continues to expand despite the Potter series turning 20 years old in 2018.

Celebration didn’t offer many big news moments, but Universal Orlando did provide attendees with the first showings of their new nighttime projection show at Hogwarts Castle. Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle is expected to run through much of 2018 and is an extra perk of visiting the parks, but unfortunately the show is very short. Clocking in at arguably 2 1/2 minutes long, it’s not very satisfying if you’ve made an extra trip to Universal just to see it. What’s more, the projections on the castle do not look nearly as sharp as the Christmas show’s did.

As interest in the event grows, Universal and Warner Brothers should make some adjustments to keep everyone happy. For starters, it’s frustrating that there are long queues just to get inside the sound stages where the brand booths are located. Early Saturday there was a 90-minute wait just to get inside. And once you’re in, more lines greet you to do most of the activities available. So a word of caution: If you’re planning on attending A Celebration of Harry Potter (and we do recommend it!), you should be prepared to wait, or get to the show floor right at the start of the day.

My other concern with Celebration is what it lacks in presentations. There are major opportunities here to break big news (like a Fantastic Beasts trailer or a preview of the forthcoming Hogsmeade ride) or hold panels that are run by well-known fans. A Celebration of Harry Potter should be more like Disney and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Celebration, which brings major guests, unveils big news, and hosts a huge number of panels that are both official and fan run. It’s turned into one of the biggest recurring events for the Star Wars fandom, and A Celebration of Harry Potter could easily become the same for their own.

Harry Potter and the Slytherin who’ll beat him in quidditch

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With a new Fantastic Beasts movie coming out at the end of this year, guests from the current Wizarding World series were noticeably absent. That said, on Saturday night Universal did share a new featurette about The Crimes of Grindelwald. The end of the new featurette revealed quick new shots from the sequel, but the video hasn’t been released online.

I’m hopeful that A Celebration of Harry Potter will continue to expand in the years ahead. It’s particularly great for those who haven’t been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before — not only will you see special guests, get to experience many aspects of the franchise, and hang out with the biggest Potter fans, but you’ll also get to experience the amazing Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley lands!

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