Tour Universal’s Wizarding World With Their Creative Team

| May 26, 2010

Recently, I was invited by Universal Orlando to participate in a select media tour of their parks.  This press tour was on Sunday, May 16th with only 30 journalists from all over the world as part of the International Pow Wow travel conference.  We were led throughout both theme parks of the Universal Orlando Resort.  However, the highlight of the tour, and what most were waiting for was a sneak peek of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP).  On the bus ride to Universal it was confirmed we would be going inside the Wizarding World, and later we were told we would be met inside WWoHP by the attraction’s creative team leaders Paul Daurio (Show Producer) and Alan Gilmore (Art Director).  Beware there are plenty of spoilers ahead, but if you want to get insider details on Universal’s newest and most anticipated attraction, directly from the mouths of the creative team – continue reading after the break.


Unfortunately, Universal did not allow photographs during the press tour, but I was still able to get many details on the new attraction from both the media tour and the private party the following evening.  Before describing what I saw at WWoHP, let me give you some background on our tour guides.

Image: Mark Woodbury, president, Universal Creative; Alan Gilmore, art director of the Harry Potter films and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Paul Daurio, producer, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; and Tom Felton, actor who portrays “Draco Malfoy” in the Harry Potter films, discussed the details during a webcast in September 2009. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.

Paul Daurio is show producer for WWoHP.  Alan Gilmore served as the art director for the Harry Potter films, worked directly with author J.K. Rowling, and came over from England to the U.S. to spend the last three years working as art director for WWoHP.  Below is a brief video with art director Alan Gilmore.

We arrived at the Wizarding World, the gates opened, and prominent “no photography” signs were placed all over.  So much from the books and films have been brought to life and now you can see, hear, touch, and taste it.

Hogsmeade Village

We entered Hogsmeade Village and were greeted by the Hogwarts Express locomotive engine that made its way from London’s King’s Cross Station Platform 9¾ to drop off students on the station platform.  This station is also where guests may secure items in lockers before entering the Dragon Challenge roller coaster.  Throughout Hogsmeade you are enveloped by John Williams’ theme music from the films.

Image: The Hogwarts Express arrives at Hogsmeade Station. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Zonko’s Joke Shop

We next entered the shops found on the left as you entered Hogsmeade Village: Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes (the stores are connected).  Alan Gilmore explained how Zonko’s is normally located in Diagon Alley in London (in the books and films), but Universal got permission to open a second branch of Zonko’s in Hogsmeade.

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Zonko’s, located in Hogsmeade. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

In the store window of Zonko’s you see a large animatronic of a girl retching after presumably eating a “puking pastille.”  As you enter Zonko’s, cracks and whistles of fireworks explode overhead.  Shelves are crammed packed with items for sale as well as items solely for display.  Some items for sale include Pigmy Puffs, Sneakoscopes, and Fanged Flyers (these come with a glove to protect your hand).

Honeydukes Sweet Shop

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Honeydukes, located in Hogsmeade. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Inside Honeydukes sweet store are over 110 different kinds of candy ranging from penny candy and salt water taffy to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, chocolate cauldrons, white chocolate skulls, Ton-Tongue toffee (highly recommended), and chocolate frogs containing trading cards of famous wizards – including the four founding fathers of Hogwarts.  Alan Gilmore commented how he had to personally taste every candy in Honeydukes to insure its authenticity.  Take a moment to observe the details in the exterior windows.  In Honeydukes there is a large animatronic chocolate frog that comes to life moving and croaking.

Three Broomsticks Inn

Image: Early conceptual rendering of the Three Broomsticks, located in Hogsmeade. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Three Broomsticks is the Hogsmeade village inn designed to replicate a 1,000 year old Scottish tavern.  It’s incredibly rich in detail with antlers hung throughout the building, and upstairs one can hear residents of the inn arguing and tussling with each other.  Alan Gilmore helped design the menu for Three Broomsticks and sampled all the dishes and beverages offered.  We sampled the cold Butterbeer.  It was sweet and caramel-ly with a carbonated fizz to it.  It reminded me of cream soda with a hint of butterscotch.  It was coated with the thick rich head that lasted until the bottom of the cup and gives a Butterbeer mustache.

Three Broomsticks Menu
The eatery is a quick/counter service restaurant, and the menu features a U.K. inspired menu with traditional British, Scottish, and Irish fare.  Dishes include: the Great Feast platter for four ($50) with roasted chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, and potatoes; Shepherd’s Pie with salad; fish and chips; Cornish pasties; chicken platter; rib platter; and a smoked turkey leg.  The children’s menu includes: fish and chips, chicken leg, chicken fingers, and mac and cheese.  They also serve breakfast in the Three Broomsticks, but that menu was not displayed.  Drinks available for purchase include: pear cider, apple cider, pumpkin juice, pumpkin fizz, cold Butterbeer, frozen Butterbeer, lemonade, Hog’s Head Brew alcoholic beer, and domestic beer.  There are also plastic souvenir mugs available for purchase.  In keeping with the magical aspect of the location, all menu displays are video screens full of movement and motion like the photographs, posters, and paintings seen in the films.

Hog’s Head Pub

Image: Early conceptual rendering of the Hog’s Head Pub, located in Hogsmeade. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

You pass behind a fireplace in Three Broomsticks and enter the Hog’s Head Pub.  The pub has an important place in Harry Potter’s world as the meeting place of “Dumbledore’s Army.”  Ceilings here stretch upwards of 85 feet with stairways and balconies as far as one can see.  Alan Gilmore’s instructions were to make everything look ancient and make this the dirtiest, grimiest, moldiest pub in all of America.  Behind the bar hangs a prominent hog’s head animatronic that comes to life puffing its jowls, grunting, and snorting.  The mounted hogs head is surrounded by shrunken heads and dusty bottles labeled white rat whiskey.  Guests can purchase Hog’s Head Brew – an alcoholic beer here.  Alan Gilmore mentioned most of the items seen in the pub are props that were used directly in the films.

Image: Mounted on the wall of the Hog’s Head pub is the hog’s head, which will come alive and puff its jowls at visitors. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

The remaining stores on the left hand side of Hogsmeade Village are facades and not stores visitors can enter.  However, there is still a rich level of detail in these storefronts.  Dogweed and Deathcap’s Exotic Plants and Flowers contain a deadly shrieking mandrake in the window, and you faintly hear the plant’s screams through the window.  There is also a dancing animated mimbulus mimbletonia plant that students carry around.  There’s a kiosk with a wanted poster for Sirius Black – fully animated with the actor Gary Oldman who portrayed Sirius Black in the films.  The public conveniences (restrooms) are also located on this side (keep an ear tuned for Moaning Myrtle), and above the conveniences is J. Pippin’s Potions shop.  Further along this side of the street is Gladrag’s Wizard Wear: London, Paris and Hogsmeade, Scrivenshaft’s Finest Parchments, Inks, and Quills, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Pottage’s Cauldrons of All Sizes, and the Magic Neep.

The Owlery

Image: Early conceptual rendering of The Owlery, located in Hogsmeade. Notice the window into Dervish and Banges on the right.  © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Across from Three Broomsticks and behind the Hogwarts Express Station Platform, guests will find the Owlery, the main gathering place for Hogsmeade.  Shaded benches sit underneath eaves filled with roosting animatronic owls.  The birds hoot, spin their heads, and fluff their wings.  Behind the owlery is the Owl Post and Dervish and Banges.

Dervish and Banges

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Dervish and Banges, located in Hogsmeade.  Notice the Owl Post on left side of rendering. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

This is a small shop connected to the Owl Post.  Broomsticks fly overhead, and the animatronic Monster Book of Monsters is caged.  Try not to disturb the 4-eyed book of monsters as it comes to life snarling and snapping.  Triwizard tournament and Quidditch equipment, jerseys, robes, scarves, steins, t-shirts, and pins, all with the colors and crests of the individual Hogwarts houses can be purchased in this shop.  Magical equipment such as cauldrons, Spectrespecs, Remembralls, Nimbus and Firebolt broomsticks can also be purchased.  However, Alan Gilmore suggests taking flying lessons after purchasing a broomstick.

Owl Post

Sandwiched between Dervish and Banges and Ollivanders wand shop is the Owl Post.  This is where owls drop off the mail.  Owls perch waiting for the next delivery, and recently delivered mail piles up on top of the cashier’s hut.  Stacks and stacks of unsorted mail can be found throughout the room.  Great pains were made to make all the buildings of Hogsmeade look very old.  “Mold” grows up the ceiling of the shop.  Owl droppings are everywhere.

Within this store guests may purchase the wands selected for you in Ollivanders wand shop (the wand shop exits into the Owl Post).  There are the normal wands described in the books and films, but also 13 brand new wands designed just for WWoHP.  These are the Ollivander wands unique to WWoHP, and designed by Alan Gilmore with the input of J.K. Rowling.

Other merchandise for sale in the shop include: Hogwarts Express leather luggage tags, travel pouches, and picture frames all with the Platform 9¾ logo emblazoned on it.  There are owl puppets, mugs, stamps, stationary, and wax sealing kits for sale, and you can mail postcards from here that will receive a special Hogsmeade postmark.

Ollivander’s Wand Shop

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Ollivanders, located in Hogsmeade. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

We entered the wand shop through the Owl Post, and stood awestruck.  The ceiling stretches 25-30 feet high, and every inch is filled with shelves crammed with dusty wand boxes.  The design of the shop is Victorian British taken directly from J.K. Rowling’s words.   A Wandkeeper resides behind a desk directing a special effects laden show.  He judges your characteristics and qualities to fit you with the proper wand.  Note: the Wandkeeper is not Mr. Ollivander himself as he is gone, but is an “associate” of Mr. Ollivander.  Alan Gilmore described the show as quite interactive, lasting several minutes, and individualized for each guest.  The whole room is part of a theatrical stage included in the show where “amazing things happen.”  Once the wand selects you, guests exit Ollivanders into the Owl Post to purchase their wand.  Each of these 13 special Ollivander wands has a backstory created by J.K. Rowling and consistent with the folklore of Harry Potter.


Video: Ollivanders wand shop guests will experience a wand choosing them. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Dragon Challenge

Further up the street on the right side of Hogsmeade are more shops.  Sabedoria Tomes & Scrolls Bookshop contains a window display of the books of Gilderoy Lockheart, and with many animated photos of Professor Lockheart (portrayed by Kenneth Branagh).  There is Quality Quidditch Supplies with a fantastic window display of a Quidditch trunk with bludgers bouncing and a Golden Snitch flitting in the back of the shop.  Continuing up towards Hogwarts Castle is a performance space that will stage a variety of shows including: Beuxbaton dancers, Durmstrang fight demonstrations, and Hogwarts Frog Choir.

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Dragon Challenge. This is the transition between the outside and inside portions of the queue. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

The Dragon Challenge queue contains many elements from “Goblet of Fire” and the Triwizard Tournament.  There are numerous signs cheering on the wizarding champions and schools competing in the tournament including: Harry Potter, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang.  At the end of the outside portion of the queue you pass through a circle of flags, and see the wreckage of the Weasley’s flying car.  You enter the inside portion of the queue through a Dragon Challenge competitor’s tent and see the Goblet of Fire emanating blue light.  The Triwizard Cup is prominently displayed around the next corner.  The inside portion of the queue is very dark, cool, and maze-like.  You can also find dragon eggs in a display case and a hallway with candles hovering overhead.  At the end of the queue is a large sign where you can choose your dragon the Chinese Fireball (red) or Hungarian Horntail (blue) and board the roller coaster.

Flight of the Hippogriff

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Flight of the Hippogriff.  Notice the roller coaster train is a “wicker training” Hippogriff.  Hagrid’s Hut and Buckbeak can also be seen in the background of the rendering. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Alan Gilmore quipped the entrance stones to Flight of the Hippogriff were brought over from Stonehenge, and they do look like actual granite stones.  As you wait in this queue, you hear Hagrid, the groundskeeper and caretaker for all creatures, instructing you how to properly greet the Hippogriff before you mount a “trainer” Hippogriff (this is the roller coaster train made to resemble a wicker Hippogriff).  As you pass Hagrid’s hut you can hear his dog Fang barking from inside.  The view of Hogwarts Castle from this queue is particularly striking – especially at night.  Hanging overhead in the ride loading area are all sorts of baskets, bellows, jugs, and animal traps and cages, and the roof of the loading building is made to look incredibly old.  When the roller coaster begins, you round a corner and come face to face with a large animatronic bowing Hippogriff in its nest – again the detail is incredibly meticulous, realistic, and life-like.

Image: Guests pass Hagrid’s hut in the queue for the Flight of the Hippogriff family-friendly roller coaster. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Hogwarts Castle

Image: Early rendering of Hogwarts Castle exterior. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Alan Gilmore described the castle as the “essence” of all the castles one sees in the films with the most important parts included.  The astronomy tower contains Professor Dumbledore’s office, and is a very important place in the remaining films.  The mountain that Hogwarts sits upon is made of concrete, and Universal worked with the top concrete sculptors in the world to create it.  All the rocks you see are created from concrete and designed to look like granite.

The castle is spectacular, designed in forced perspective, and several hundred feet tall (not tall enough for airplane warning lights).  You enter the grounds through an entranceway flanked by statues of winged boars on pillars – these are the sentinels and guardians of Hogwarts’ perimeter.  On the pillars, LED lights “magically” etch “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” into the stone.  Standing on either side of the entranceway were Hogwarts students today decked in their green and silver trimmed Slytherin robes.  Beside the entrance there is a test vehicle for the ride.  The seat is narrow, similar to the ride seat on Dragon Challenge, with a box/mask placed over your head containing a screen and speakers.

Image: Hogwarts Castle in January 2010. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Once you enter the castle, all the main spaces have been recreated and are part of the experience during the “Forbidden Journey” queue.  Alan Gilmore said the goal was to move away from the typical theme park experience of a queue separated from the attraction.  He asserts, the queue is a part of the attraction, and also claims it is the most detailed queue ever created.  Some of the areas guests will experience include the corridors around the courtyard, the Greenhouse, the Portrait Gallery, Dumbledore’s Office, Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor Common Room, and the Sorting Hat (guests will not be sorted into houses since they are all Muggles), all recreated in incredible detail.

Image: Griffin statue in queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

We were not able to enter the castle on this media tour.  However, we were permitted the next day during the International Pow Wow private party.  When the party started I made a beeline to WWoHP and entered Hogwarts Castle with a cold Butterbeer in hand.  This evening I was greeted by both Gryffindor and Slytherin students.  First you enter the castle dungeon and pass the Mirror of Erised from the first Harry Potter novel.  Next, you emerge outside into the gardens surrounding the castle, and work your way up to the greenhouse.  At the top of the greenhouse there are mandrakes stored in a cage, and if you look closely you can see the faces of the shrieking plants popping up out of the soil.

Image: When passing through the Portrait gallery, guests will encounter several magical talking portraits, including the four Hogwarts founders. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

From the greenhouse, you go back inside the castle into the portrait room – full of enchanted, moving, talking portraits.  The founders of the four houses constantly talk and squabble back and forth – mostly about Harry Potter.  I enjoyed hearing Salazar Slytherin questioning why all these Muggles were in Hogwarts.

Image: Guests pass through Dumbledore’s office. The office is an exact replica of the one seen in the Harry Potter films, and is the place where the Hogwarts headmaster officially welcomes you to Hogwarts. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

Next comes Dumbledore’s office full of cases containing dusty, old telescopes and oculars.  There is a pensieve here, and a three dimensional hologram of Professor Dumbledore appeared in the loft behind his desk.  The technology producing this hologram was incredibly realistic and full of detail.  I looked twice to ensure it was not a person standing behind the desk.  Dumbledore explained how Hogwarts had trouble retaining its Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and Professor Binns temporarily occupied the position.

You exit Dumbledore’s office into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.  This room is dominated by a large articulated dragon skeleton hanging from the ceiling.  There is a chalkboard in the front of the classroom describing all the characteristics of Dementors – possibly Binns’ lecture for today?  In the professor’s lecture loft, Harry, Ron, and Hermione suddenly appear from underneath an invisibility cloak.  They explain in two, 30 second video clips how boring Professor Binns’ lectures are, and encourage us to meet them in the Room of Requirement to watch a Quidditch match down on the pitch.

Image: The final space in the queue for “Forbidden Journey” is the Room of Requirement where guests finally board the ride vehicle. © 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

We exit the classroom, pass the portrait of the Fat Lady guarding the entrance to the Gryffindor Tower of the castle (this portrait looks identical to the one in the film), and enter the Gryffindor common room surrounded by many more talking portraits.  We bypass the Room of Requirement where the ride vehicle loads, and go down a “chicken” exit or VIP “back door” entrance to the attraction full of additional talking portraits.  The entire queue for the castle took 20-30 minutes to walk through, and I tried to go slowly to soak in many details.

Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods

Image: Early conceptual rendering of Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. © 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.

As with all good theme park attractions, you are funneled into a gift shop prior to exiting.  Filch’s contains merchandise specific to every Hogwarts’ house: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw.  Guests can purchase t-shirts, hoodies, hats, mugs, etc. all in house colors.  There are Hogwarts Express items, and t-shirts representing creatures of the Wizarding World such as house elves, Fluffy, and the phoenix.  There is also a Dark Arts section with Death Eaters, Azkaban, and Voldemort merchandise.  Finally, many stuffed animals from the books and films can be found as well.

Throughout the press tour, Alan Gilmore described the lengths Universal went to in order to ensure everything was true to J.K. Rowling’s vision.  He said this was one of the reasons he was brought over from England in order to ensure the level of detail.  There are details that guests will never experience. For example, all the books you see are finished on the inside; every room is finished in every building; everything you see – every detail is finished.  He described how difficult it was to make the transition from art director on the film to theme park design.  He mentioned that these are real buildings not plywood and plaster movie sets.  Every light placement, special effect, elements of magic, was planned, placed, and laid out two years in advance.

I would like to thank my hosts Universal Orlando, Alan Gilmore, and Paul Daurio for arranging this special visit.  I was the last one to leave the WWoHP after the press tour.  Alan Gilmore gushed with details about the attraction.  His excitement and enthusiasm was infectious, and as long as he was willing to talk and answer questions, I was going to listen.  So what are your thoughts on Universal Orlando’s new attraction?  Sign in with your DISboards username and password to leave a comment below.


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Category: Universal / Sea World, Universal Orlando

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