Wizarding World of Harry Potter celebrates one year of fans, celebrities and Butterbeer at Universal Orlando

in Entertainment, Food, Movies, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando

One year ago, on June 18, 2010, Universal Orlando officially unveiled its most popular and highly-anticipated new attraction to date, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The mere mention of Harry Potter in relation to a theme park was enough to stir excitement among millions of fans of the book and film series and when it finally saw its grand opening one year ago, the results were like no one had seen before.

Today, Universal Orlando commemorated the anniversary at 9:23 a.m. – the exact time The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened one year ago.

After taking part in a countdown led by the Hogwarts Express conductor, guests and team members celebrated in the streets of Hogsmeade while “snow” confetti and gold streamers fell from the sky. Guests also enjoyed complimentary Butterbeer, cauldron cakes and Chocolate Frogs.

Video: Universal Orlando celebrates one year of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

With the occasion celebrated, let’s take a look back at a year filled with wizardry and enthusiasm like no one had seen before.

Opening day of the Wizarding World drew a crowd so massive that the line wrapped not only through the Islands of Adventure theme park, which is home to the Potter area and attractions, but also outside of the park, snaking through Universal CityWalk. At its longest, reports were that guests could wait more than 9 hours to even enter Hogsmeade Village – and then wait even longer to enjoy the shops, rides, food, and Butterbeer.

Somehow amidst it all, fans found the Potter magic to be worth the wait. Despite many, many hours of standing in the hot Florida summer sun, finally turning the corner and seeing Hogwarts Castle in person for the first time is a moment that made many dreams come true. Even I, as a non-Potter fan, was awestruck rounding that corner with my eyes transfixed on what appeared to be a giant castle that had been there for centuries.

But it was weeks before the frenzy of opening day that I, along with hundreds of other theme park guests, first stepped foot into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter during a soft opening. On May 28, 2010, we offered the world its first look inside, touring Hogsmeade Village, its many shops, and taking in performances by the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang as well as the Hogwarts frog choir. While the streets of Hogsmeade are beautifully themed, it’s the interiors that had Potter fans most interested:

Video: Detailed tour of Hogsmeade Village shops, windows & more in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Video: Ollivanders Wand Shop show at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Watching a guest get “chosen” by a wand at Ollivanders is still one of the most magical experiences in the Wizarding World. And thousands upon thousands of dollars have been spent in Hogsmeade Village’s shops on the exclusive merchandise created just for the park.

During the first few soft opening days, the big new ride added to the park in the Wizarding World was not quite ready for guests. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first opened the doors to Hogwarts Castle on May 28, but only for a limited time and with some technical glitches. After all, opening day was still a couple weeks away. The following day, I was able to walk through Hogwarts, enjoying everything except the ride. But the ride’s queue that winds through the castle is every bit as impressive as the attraction itself, featuring Dumbledore in his office and Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom:

Video: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue at the Wizarding World in Universal Orlando

And a few days later, I finally rode the ground-breaking Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, returning with spoiler-free and spoiler-filled reviews, the latter of which proved to aid many Potter fans in planning their trips to the Wizarding World, helping to silence fears of those who don’t take well to roller coasters. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, after all, is not a roller coaster (despite many media outlets initially reporting it as such) and can be enjoyed by nearly everyone.

But even with this high-tech new ride and Potter makeovers of two Islands of Adventure classics, it was often the tiniest details that had fans especially excited. Take, for instance, a small bit of audio used to enhance the Wizarding World restrooms:

Video: Moaning Myrtle haunts restrooms in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

And after all of the finishing touches were put on all the many details throughout the Wizarding World, it was time for it to celebrate the grand opening, two days prior to the public opening. On the evening of June 16, Universal Orlando rolled out the red carpet for a special nighttime event that brought together Harry Potter film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Tom Felton, and many more with actor Warwick Davis leading the Hogwarts frog choir and conductor John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. The massive red carpet press event set out to capture the world’s attention and succeeded in doing just that.

Video: John Williams conducts orchestra at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Video: Warwick Davis conducts Hogwarts Frog Choir at Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening event

Video: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint & Harry Potter stars open Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World

Then on the morning of June 18, the stars were brought out once again to grand open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the thousands of fans who had gathered throughout (and outside) Islands of Adventure.

Video: Daniel Radcliffe & other stars officially open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to first guests

Cameras also caught the first crowd to be let into Hogsmeade Village:

And a few days later, I experienced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at night for the first time, a beautiful and magical journey unto itself:

Video: Nighttime tour of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade Village at Universal Orlando

Throughout its first year of being open, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter enjoyed many highlights and milestones. The Night of a Thousand Wizards brought a group of hardcore Harry Potter fans together for the Wizarding World’s first after-hours guest event, with free-flowing Butterbeer and allowing fans to show up in costume as their favorite Potter characters, a happening not normally allowed during regular operating hours.

In less than two months’ time, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey welcomed its 1 millionth rider, a record-setting feat. And a few months after that, Universal announced it had sold its 1 millionth Butterbeer, offering 1,000 free cups that morning to celebrate the occasion. It is, after all, the Butterbeer that most guests leave the Wizarding World raving about (and where Universal is quickly making back its investment).

Today Universal Orlando is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter online, with a special section on their Facebook page devoted to looking back at “some of the finest moments” from throughout the popular attraction. And they should be celebrating. The Themed Entertainment Association recently released its theme park attendance report for 2010, attributing a 30.2% increase in attendance at Islands of Adventure to the introduction of Harry Potter to the theme park. Even more impressive is the fact that the same park saw a 13.8% drop in attendance in 2009, so Potter helped to turn the downward trend around in a big way.

Now, even with more than a million Butterbeers sold and millions of guests flocking to the Wizarding World to enjoy Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and all of the other attractions, rumors persist that there’s more Potter to come. The remainder of the Lost Continent area of the park, which was taken over in part to form Hogsmeade Village, offers plenty of additional room for further expansion of the popular new area. But if a Wizarding World expansion is in the works, neither Universal, Warner Brothers, nor JK Rowling are talking. Expansion or not, looking back at all that has happened in just a year’s time, it’s easy to see that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will continue to draw huge crowds of smiling faces for years to come.

You can relive everything from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s first year through our 29 videos, hundreds of photos, and plenty of reviews, reports, and celebrity sightings.

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