The richly detailed literary and filmic universe of Harry Potter sprang spectacularly to life Wednesday night at Universal's Orlando Resort in a lavish VIP ceremony filled with emotion, fireworks, music, and wonder.
An enthusiastic red carpet greeting awaited visitors as they passed through the opening archway into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and a steaming Hogwarts Express locomotive to find a bustling Hogsmeade, the village just outside the grounds of the Hogwarts wizarding school that is at the center of much of the Potter series action.
In-character villagers mingled with muggle press, VIP guests, and stars from the wildly popular Warner Brothers film series — including "Harry Potter" himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe — in a microscopically detailed Hogsmeade, ironically draped in convincing, sparkling winter snow in the Florida June heat.
Otherwise jaded journalists and show biz professionals giddily slurped delicious, frothy Butterbeer (including a frozen version in deference to the climate), Pumpkin Juice, and a potent Hog's Head Brew as they reveled in a milieu previously only known through the imagination and the movie screen.
Long time Universal Orlando Executive Chef Steve Jayson was on hand to discuss the creation of a creamy, miraculously balanced, vanilla-based Butterbeer, of which Potter author J.K. Rowling enthusiastically approves, Jayson announced with satisfaction. I found Jayson's spicy apple-pumpkin flavored Pumpkin Juice — the other beverage conjured only from Rowling's literary description — a bit cloying, yet delightful nonetheless.
As the evening sky darkened, guests were ushered into a hushed, cloistered Ollivanders, stuffed to its vertiginous gills with multicolored boxes of wands. The utterly convincing Wandkeeper selected a shyish woman guest to be mated to a wand — remember, the wand selects the wizard! — asked her a few questions to narrow down the search, then selected a candidate wand. All hell broke lose with shelves rattling ominously, lights flashing derisively, and shop flowers wilting: wrong freaking wand, it seemed. After another false start or two, the stars aligned and the wand chose the wizard to spectacular fanfare and startling effulgence.
Moving on, visitors strolled through the enticing stacked shelves of Zonko's Joke Shop; Dervish and Banges magical supplies; Honeydukes sweet shop; and the Owl Post (from whence messages can be sent and authentically post marked), replete with live-looking owls and their inevitable digestive remnants. Authentic Brit cuisine including shepherd's pie and Cornish pastries beckoned from Three Broomsticks restaurant and adult libations abound at the adjacent Hog's Head pub.