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Whether it’s the first time or the 100th, it's always a thrill to see Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located at both Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla.
“This franchise really touches a certain spot in people’s hearts,” said Mark Woodbury, vice chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts and president of Universal Creative. “It’s truly amazing to see the reaction of guests as they come through the gates of Hogsmeade and have that experience of stepping into the movies and books they love."
Depending on the time of year, clients can also see the iconic castle magically transform during any of the three Wizarding World of Harry Potter's spectacular nighttime projection shows: The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, which honors the four Hogwarts houses; The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, featuring holiday moments from the “Harry Potter” franchise; or Dark Arts at Hogwarts, which presents the sinister side of the series.
The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts CastleThe Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, which debuted at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2017, was the first digital projection mapping show created for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Accompanied by music inspired by the John Williams film score — and appropriately narrated by the sorting hat, a magical talking hat that places incoming students into their houses — this show features a visual tour through Hogwarts’ four houses: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor and Slytherin.
"The Nighttime Lights show combines groundbreaking state-of-the-art projection mapping technology with a unique 360-degree surround-sound audio system and immersive lighting to pay homage to the four houses of Hogwarts in a way you’ve never seen before,” said Stephen Siercks, senior director of entertainment production for Universal Studios Hollywood.
Through lighting effects and digital imagery, the colors and symbols for each house not only appear on the castle, but as each one is introduced, thousands of twinkling lights change color: yellow for Hufflepuff, blue for Ravenclaw, red for Gryffindor and green for Slytherin. The show culminates with spectacular lasers and fireworks that illuminate the skies above the castle and simultaneously surround clients with brilliant white lights.
The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts CastleThe second projection show, The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, was introduced to The Wizarding World in 2017.
The whimsical seasonal show depicts holiday elements from the “Harry Potter” stories, from caroling ghosts to magically conjured snowmen. The show also features the elegant Yule Ball from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” as well as an assortment of wacky gifts that young witches and wizards might find under the tree, courtesy of the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shop in Diagon Alley.
“The parks do a great job of immersing you into the magic,” said Sue Ellen Knebel, director of travel services for DreamFinder Travel in San Marcos, Calif. “There’s also snowfall, and in Southern California, who doesn’t enjoy a little snow magic with a cup of Butterbeer for the holidays?”
Dark Arts at HogwartsThe newest and perhaps most immersive Wizarding World show is The Dark Arts at Hogwarts, which was introduced this year.
According to Siercks, the show explores the darker undertones of the “Harry Potter” world with characters such as the massive spider Aragog; the Dementors, which are soul-sucking wraiths who guard the wizarding prison of Azkaban; and Death Eaters, the followers of the evil Lord Voldemort.
Clients will certainly want to have their wands at the ready when the music of The Dark Arts Suite, composed by John Williams, fills the air, and fog cloaks the castle’s facade. Fire and lighting effects further underscore the danger, and when projections appear of Death Eaters — and especially of Lord Voldemort — even stouthearted wizards will feel a chill.
At Universal Orlando Resort, the Dark Arts at Hogwarts experience begins with an exclusive interactive preshow where fog and eerie green light announce the arrival of masked Death Eaters in Hogsmeade. Clients visiting Universal Studios Hollywood will see coordinated aerial drones forming the shape of a shining stag (Harry Potter’s Patronus and a charm against the Dark Arts) in the night sky. In Orlando — and when conditions in Hollywood ground the drones — the Patronus is projected onto Hogwarts Castle itself.
Location: Sue Ellen Knebel, director of travel services for DreamFinder Travel in San Marcos, Calif., says that close to Hogwarts seems like the best viewing for these shows, but if clients are too close, they may actually miss projections on the castle walls.
My favorite spot is in front of the Frog Choir stage (then I watched again from the Three Broomsticks patio, with Butterbeer potted cream).
Timing: My family planned an early dinner at Three Broomsticks to be ready for the first show, but Knebel advises to wait for later shows when crowds are smaller. She also notes that the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is often shorter during the first show, so it’s a great time to ride.
Check showtimes online, but also ask team members, because times can vary. (Plus, if crowds are heavy, there may be additional surprise showings.)
The DetailsUniversal Orlando Resortwww.universalorlando.com
Universal Studios Hollywoodwww.universalstudioshollywood.com