Now through Jan. 6, Potter fans' holiday dreams can come true
Video courtesy of John Saccheri/BigFatPanda.com
Two years ago, says Michael Aiello, Senior Director of Entertainment Creative, the creative minds at Universal Orlando – who’d been chomping at the bit to bring Christmas to the already snow-covered village of Hogsmeade – were finally given the green light.
It's a tall order to bring something as grand as Christmas to a world so fiercely policed by its fans and it wasn’t a task Aiello and company took lightly.
"It is a monumental challenge but fortunately we’re all huge fans of this brand," he told 10Best, sporting an ‘R’ sweater reminiscent of a young Ron Weasley. He says the process really happened in three parts.
"We’ve got a massive décor overlay that’s happening all over the Wizarding World – beautiful garland, all lit and all uniquely different depending on where it’s going to be placed. So the same detail that each of the shops have goes into the garlands, as well."
Over in Diagon Alley, witchy songstress Celestina Warbeck and her back-up Banshees have four brand-new holiday numbers (and some fun, blowy snow that seems well-suited for the stony cobbled streets) including "Accio Christmas," a Calypso-infused number, and what will surely be a fan favorite: "My Baby Gave Me A Hippogriff for Christmas."
The Frog Choir, too, has a few fun, new holiday-themed ditties to share over near Hogwarts Castle. And speaking of which, that’s where the holiday season highlight will be happening, multiple times nightly.
"Amid all the decorations and shows, we really wanted to have something that was a kiss goodnight to the guests," says Aiello.
The all-new map projection is one unforgettable kiss to Potter fans, filled with light and color, beloved music and characters, and humor, emotion and fireworks.
Fans will see the castle covered in snow, alive with action as students on brooms soar about its towers and turrets, the familiar Ford Anglia that Arthur Weasley modified to fly – along with a host of other Potter tributes to satisfy all levels of Potter fan.
"We turned the Castle into the Yule Ball from the fourth film," says Aiello as he rattles off depictions. "And the Weasleys make a fun and colorful appearance...it’s a ton of stuff, about an 8-minute experience, that’s jam-packed full of amazing moments and visuals."
Harry Potter-related festivities may be stealing the thunder a bit this year, but Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s got a toes-to-tiara makeover this year. And the results make for a truly enjoyable parade-viewing experience (in particular if you’ve got the patience to come early and stake out a spot on the curb – that’s a guaranteed front-row seat!).
Show Director Lora Sauls says this year’s collaboration – Universal has a working history with Macy’s that dates back 15 years – was two-and-a-half years in the making.
"There is so much detail to notice in each of the 15 brand-new floats," she told 10Best. "It took that much time to move from scenic development to technical integration to engineering integration to talent integration...and then a year to develop all the balloons."
Each was designed specifically for the Universal Event (you won’t have seen any at the Thanksgiving Parade in New York). Soon-to-be favorites include Bob the Minion, who is part of the chaotically cheery "Despicable Me" unit of the parade and the Dronkeys (Dragon-Donkey babies) who float along with Fiona, Shrek and the rest of the gang.
Those hoping to see old favorites need not be sad about all the new elements; the new self-driving floats are an undeniable improvement! Big, beautiful, colorful and detailed – gone are the towing trucks. There’s nothing to detract from the spectacle; it’s a clean and lovely line – 100 percent entertainment with all utility integrated within.
"These floats are one of a kind," says Sauls. "We start off with minions decorating a Christmas tree and playing in snow – then we go to the Madagascar crew. They’re celebrating friendship and fun and King Julian is singing his own little ditty. And then we have Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and Dragon, and amongst these different stories we have brand new balloons only ever seen in this parade. We worked with Macy’s to develop balloons that were only going to be flown here at Universal."
Balloons live in a sound stage; they’ve been blown-up since Horror Nights was in progress (rehearsals through New York streets with scenes set for The Purge likely made hilarious photo-ops for employees!). The balloons are topped off daily to ensure efficient flying.
All the holiday fun, from Potter Christmas to Grinchmas to the parade to the Mannheim Steamroller performances are on tap now through January 6.