As you walk past King’s Cross Station and step through the secret entrance into Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando this holiday season, Christmas slowly begins to take shape. Shops are decorated with garlands and lights, wreaths hang above doorways, and the scent of warm Butterbeer floats through the air. If you’ve ever seen (and smelled) this in person, you can thank Deb Buynak.
Buynak has been with Universal Orlando for nearly 30 years and currently serves as the resort’s Vice President of Entertainment. She’s overseen everything from stunt shows to attraction openings, but during her recent interview with Family Vacation Critic, it was clear the holiday transformation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter holds a special place in her heart.
“One of my favorite things about the holidays is watching the reactions of our guests when they step foot in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and see the wizarding world come to life before their eyes,” Buynak told Family Vacation Critic. She also let us in on a few details and secrets you won’t want to miss if you visit Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter during the holidays. Here’s what you’ll want to keep an eye out for during your next trip.
Take a Close Look at the Holiday Decor
“You will see, hear and taste the traditions throughout the streets of both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley,” Buynak explained. Inside King’s Cross Station, where guests can ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade, carefully wrapped gifts sit among the luggage carts on the train platform.
Over at Hogsmeade, pinecones, berries, greenery, and lights join the perpetually snow-capped roofs to add to the wintertime merriment. It’s snowy year round in Hogsmeade village, so the snowman with his striped scarf and wizard’s hat are ever present, but it makes for a pretty sweet photo spot this time of year.
Shops Are Adorned WIth Unique Holiday Details
When you look just a bit closer at the holiday decorations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you’ll notice each building’s decor has embellishments that complement the shop within. “Guests will see the magnificent decorations throughout the land which are each so unique to the personality of the individual shopkeepers,” Buynak said. “Each proprietor adds a special touch to their shop-front decorations. In Hogsmeade, owl feathers are nestled in the strands of garland outside the Owl Post. Down the path at Spintwitches Sporting Needs, home-crafted golden snitches adorn the festoons.”
In Diagon Alley, guests will find wreaths with book pages fashioned into flowers at Flourish and Botts bookstore and, “not to be outdone, the folks at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes have of course used firecrackers in an ornamental fashion,” Buynak pointed out. “There is so much more to discover for yourself.”
Get Carried Away By Bewitching Holiday Tunes
“We have two original entertainment experiences that can only be seen during the holidays at The Wizarding of World of Harry Potter,” Buynak told us. Though entertainment is available daily in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, performers in both parks swap out their typical setlists for holiday tunes that wizards and muggles alike will enjoy.
“The Frog Choir is comprised of Hogwarts students and their giant croaking frogs, which will of course handle the bass notes. They perform just outside Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade,” Buynak said. She also noted how the lyrics of their songs give amazing insight to the happenings at Hogwarts during the Christmas season. “From accidentally casting a spell on Father Christmas to the stress of finding a date to the Yule Ball, it is all somehow oddly relatable to what we muggles experience this time of year.”
We don’t like to play favorites, but nothing gets us dancing like Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. They perform holiday hits like “Nothin’ Like a Holiday Spell” and “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” all the way through the holiday season in Diagon Alley. Which brings us to our next secret.
See Snow…In Florida
There’s not many places to see snow in Central Florida, but Universal Orlando just so happens to be one of them. This year, you can catch a gentle snowfall while Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees sing and dance, or see snowflakes slowly swirling down from the rooftops in Hogsmeade village. In a state where the temperatures only fall below freezing once in a blue moon, it’s a truly magical sight.
Savor a Cup of Hot Butterbeer
Hot Butterbeer is only available during the holiday season at Universal Orlando, making it one of the most highly coveted varieties of Butterbeer. In the Harry Potter book series, Hogwarts students would drink foaming mugs of Butterbeer when they visited Hogsmeade.
At Universal, you can get the drink with flavors reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch (and, yes, topped with a delightful foam) from Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, Leaky Cauldron and The Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley, and street carts in both lands.
Stop By Hogwarts Castle At Night
While this year’s The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle projection show is on hiatus due to COVID modifications at Universal, Hogwarts Castle still receives a winter projection overlay each night when the sun goes down. The rocks surrounding the castle appear to be covered in snow, holiday lights bathe the castle walls with a warm glow, and a large Christmas tree is projected onto one of the castle towers.
There is actually one way to see The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle show this year, but it’ll cost you. For the first time ever, Universal is offering an exclusive guided tour of its holiday offerings. Pricing for Universal’s Holiday Tour starts at $59.99 (plus separate theme park admission) and includes a private viewing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle show.
Pick Up a Harry Potter Holiday Gift
From ornaments to robes to stuffed owls, holiday gift ideas abound in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you want to give an extra special gift this year, though, some of the shops offer personalization services that’ll help you win the holidays for the Harry Potter fan in your life. At Quality Quidditch and Dervish and Banges, you can shop for personalized Quidditch jerseys.
While technically outside the Wizarding World, in Universal’s first-ever Holiday Tribute Store, there is an entire room dedicated to Harry Potter where guests can get their name embroidered on their house scarf or robe.
Before you go
To experience all that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has to offer for the holidays, you will need a Park-to-Park ticket that includes admission to both parks. It’s the only way to hop on the Hogwarts Express train that connects the two lands.
Universal’s holiday festivities will continue daily through January 3, 2021, including Universal’s Holiday Tour, and Buynak’s team can’t wait to see you. “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the most impressive areas of our destination, as they are a favorite to so many. Being able to bring the holidays to these lands for our guests is a top highlight for me every year.”
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