It’s no question that the story of Harry Potter has cast an enchantment spell on the theme-park and entertainment industry ever since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter first opened its doors to Hogwarts in 2010. Although one could argue that the franchise was already culturally significant prior to its theme-park era, I would state that one can’t fully appreciate its current status without going back to the first land’s infant year.
Grab hold of each other and your Time-Turners, dear readers, and come with us as we explore the first year of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.
The Wizarding World, year one – a brief history and opening-day ceremony
Working with the input of author JK Rowling and two Harry Potter movie franchise alumni – Stuart Craig, the production designer of all eight installments, and Alan Gilmore, the art director for chapters three and four (and the assistant art director on the second) – Universal Creative brought the village of Hogsmeade to life in the former Merlinwood portion of The Lost Continent in Islands of Adventure.
In preparation for its transition, the Dueling Dragons roller coaster closed down for a short time in order to revamp it to Dragon Challenge for the opening day. Although the changes were essentially alterations to the queue and boarding area, they were significant enough to allow the ride to better meld with the area it was now housed in.
In May of 2010, soft openings begun for the park’s new “island” (one of which this writer waited six hours for) and continued intermittently until that fateful day of June 18. As a special event the night before the grand opening, a Harry Potter gala was held in the Wizarding World, with a number of celebrities in attendance that included Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Jo Rowling herself. During the event, John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra performed a piece written by the legendary composer for the occasion.
Then, on June 18, 2010 – at 9:23 am, to be exact – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade was revealed to the world with a ceremony broadcast by both The Today Show and The Weather Channel. The special occasion featured an introduction by the Hogwarts Express conductor, a speech from Daniel Radcliff, and a celebratory pyrotechnics display via a Weasley Wet-Start No-Heat Firework that was ignited by Oliver Phelps (George Weasley). Afterwards, Daniel and the rest of the main cast from the movies lead the first day’s guests into the highly anticipated attraction.
Addressing those legendarily insane crowds on the opening day, I can personally vouch for them. The line to enter Hogsmeade was a reported nine-hour wait that snaked through Islands of Adventure and spilled into CityWalk (more specifically, that was four hours to enter the park, and then another five to enter the Wizarding World). You don’t have to take my word for it, though – the now-infamous picture published by the Orlando Sentinel tells the story enough.
Once guests finally crossed inside the village arches, there were additional queues varying between 30 minutes to roughly an hour for any of the experiences therein. Given its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for those waits to linger within that spectrum for most of the year, especially for those wanting to experience Hogsmeade’s main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Despite those hefty waits in the hot, Florida-summer sun, just about every guest who crossed into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would reap his patience’s rewards, even if it were just for a couple of hours. From opening day onward, the general consensus would remain that it was absolutely worth their time.
The Wizarding World, year one – the magic of Hogsmeade Village and the crowds
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade’s immersion was impressive for its time, and it was as if every Potter-head’s dream came true. Finally, fans of the series could own the official Hogwarts robes of their house, experience the iconic moment when the wand chose the titular hero for themselves, and go on an adventure with Harry in Hogwarts! Would-be wizards could even purchase the wand of their favorite character from the movies (upon my first time, I was sure to purchase Sirius Black’s and the Elder Wand).
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was a trendsetter in its own right from day one. It was welcomed with praise for its ambitious design and combined use of projection screens, props, and KUKA coaster technology to transport guests to some of the most iconic locations within Harry’s world. The queue through Hogwarts Castle was even an attraction in itself, as guests were treated to special effects and a level of visual entertainment and theming that hadn’t been utilized before.
Naturally, the opening wasn’t without its shortcomings. Many were disappointed and highly critical of Universal’s attempts at handling the crowds, claiming that the team members didn’t properly accommodate those in line experiencing the heat of summer or suggesting that there should have been something like a return system in place to alleviate the anticipated wait times. It would also be some time before Express Passes were integrated into the Wizarding World, which may have influenced those higher wait times that lingered for most of the year. Objectively, this isn’t uncommon for new attractions, and I’m unsure if one could have prepared properly for such an intense response.
The Wizarding World, year one – one-year anniversary and beyond
The resulting success brought life back to Universal Orlando’s dwindling numbers and, over the short span of a few months, allowed the resort a few significant achievements. Universal had sold over one million cups of Butterbeer, the property’s signature beverage, and received Amusement Today’s awards for 2010’s “Best New Ride” and “Best Dark Ride” of 2010 and 2011.
On The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade’s first anniversary, a mini-ceremony was held at the exact time the land had originally opened. Guests were greeted from characters within Hogsmeade, and a speech from the Hogwarts Express conductor ended with an explosion of gold-and-white confetti. Complimentary signature food and beverages (read: Butterbeer) were handed out while they lasted as a surprise treat, making this a special occasion. Strangely, the event was quietly held, with the only sign of anything taking place that day being a small camera crew that Orlando Informer’s original owner and editor happened to stumble across that morning. Nonetheless, it was clearly still special for those lucky enough to attend.
The quick success of the theme-park land ignited fervent speculation of future possibilities. Rumors of what would come flew in every direction until, a month after the first anniversary, Universal announced the first Celebration of Harry Potter special event. Then, in December of 2011, two early Christmas gifts were presented to the general public: plans to close the Amity portion of Universal Studios Florida, in order to expand the Wizarding World, were revealed, and Universal Hollywood announced intentions to clone its own version of Hogsmeade.
Despite knowing just how much more The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would change over the course of the next nine years, it’s clear to see how the first land’s first year was nothing short of an eventful one.
What are your fondest memories from Harry’s wondrous world, whether they date from the first year or the most recent one? Share them with 100,000+ other Harry Potter die-hards in our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.