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Universal Studios Hollywood to Make Harry Potter Opening Date Announcement

By Robert Niles
Published: December 1, 2015 at 12:06 PM
When will the Wizarding World of Harry Potter open at Universal Studios Hollywood?

Wizarding World Hollywood under construction

All the park has said officially so far has been "Spring 2016," but Universal now is promising us a more specific answer, coming next week. Universal announced this morning that it will make an announcement about the new land's opening date on the park's YouTube channel next Tuesday morning, at 7am PT.

Based on blackout dates announced with Universal Studios Hollywood's new annual passes, we have been guessing that the west-coast version of The Wizarding World will open officially sometime around the week of March 21, 2016.

The original version of the Wizarding World, at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, opened officially in June 2010 with soft opens starting in May of that year. Universal's second Harry Potter-themed land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, opened officially in July 2014, following a press debut in late June of that year. Diagon Alley has limited soft openings before the official opening, although its centerpiece attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, did not run consistently at full capacity until later in the year.

Universal Studios Hollywood announced its Wizarding World expansion back in December 2011, but construction did not get started until late 2013, following local government approval of its $1.6 billion "Evolution Plan" for the studio's property.

You can read the full history of the development of Universal's Wizarding World lands, including coverage from the openings at Universal Orlando Resort in our booklet, Theme Park Insider Visits the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Watch Disney World's Christmas Party Online This Weekend

By Robert Niles
Published: December 1, 2015 at 11:43 AM
Can't make it to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom this year? Disney has announced that it will live-stream the parade and special fireworks display from the party this Sunday evening.

Holiday Wishes
Photo courtesy Disney

The webcast starts Dec. 6 at 8:15 pm ET with "Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade," followed by the "Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season" fireworks at 9:30. The webcast will be posted on the official Disney Parks Blog.

And if you are planning a trip to Disney World this month, don't miss our in-depth guide to all the holiday events at Disney in December. Our overview includes information on special events, as well as the celebrations and decorations at the parks, hotels, Disney Springs, plus information on holiday-themed tours, and our free four-park crowd calendar for the month.

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Legoland California Lights its Christmas Tree and Previews its 2016 Attractions

By Robert Niles
Published: December 1, 2015 at 11:27 AM
Legoland California kicked off its holiday celebrations last night with a celebrity tree-lighting ceremony and a sneak peek at some new attractions.

Lego Christmas Tree
Photos courtesy Legoland California

Actress Jenna Elfman helped light the park's 30-foot Lego Christmas tree, which is built from 245,000 green Duplo bricks and lit with more than 11,000 LED lights.

In addition, the Legoland showed off some animation from its upcoming Ninjago: The Ride, opening next year, and released an image from "The LEGO Movie 4D A New Adventure," which will begin showing exclusively at the park next Feb. 6.

The LEGO Movie 4D A New Adventure

Ninjago: The Ride will feature unique hand-motion technology in lieu of traditional weapons and controllers in an interactive dark ride through a ninja dojo, inspired by the popular Lego franchise. And the 4D show builds off the success of 2014's The LEGO Movie, which also has inspired a sequel that will debut in 2018.

Legoland's Holiday Snow Days and Winter Nights run through Jan. 3, during the park's operating hours. The park also will feature nightly fireworks Dec. 26-31.

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On the Road to the Wizarding World Hollywood: Zonko's Joke Shop

By Robert Niles
Published: November 30, 2015 at 11:37 AM
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens at Universal Studios Hollywood next spring. To get you ready for the Wizarding World's west coast debut, we will profile all of the land's new shops, restaurants, and attractions over the next 12 weeks here on Theme Park Insider.

And we will start today with the a location that you won't find if you visit the original Wizarding World at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. Well, at least, you won't find it any more.

Zonko's Joke Shop

Zonko's Joke Shop opened in Orlando with the rest of Hogsmeade village in June 2010, only to close in 2014 to make way for an expansion of the Honeydukes sweet shop next door. (We will take a look at Honeydukes next week.)

In the Harry Potter books, Zonko's was a favorite of mischievous Hogwarts students looking to buy dungbombs, nose-biting teacups, and other tricks to cause mischief back at school after a Hogsmeade trip. Needless to say, the store was a favorite of Fred and George Weasley, who considered buying its site for a second location of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes after Zonko's closed during the Second Wizarding War.

Inside Universal Orlando's version of Zonko's you found a rather cramped store, filled to the rafters with gags, tricks, and toys from the books or at least inspired by the mischief of the Weasley twins and other fun-loving Hogwarts students.

Inside Zonko's

Look up in those rafters, as you step through the transition into Honeydukes next door, and you can see several Extendable Ears, listening in on the customers below.

Extendable ears

The outer windows promoted many of these items, including Puking Pastilles candy, with animated displays. Today, many of these animated windows throughout the Wizarding World are interactive, and can be triggered by casting spells with Universal's interactive souvenir wands.

Zonko's window

Zonko's remains open in the Universal Studios Japan version of the Wizarding World, but visitors to Orlando looking for a joke shop instead need to visit Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, which effectively replaced Zonko's in 2014.

Coming up on the "Road to the Wizarding World Hollywood":

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Your Guide to Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World

By Jeff Siegal
Published: November 29, 2015 at 10:22 PM
Welcome to TPI’s guide to the 2015 holiday season at Walt Disney World. This is your guide to all the things available to you, your family, and friends at the Walt Disney World Resort during the month of December. TPI’s guide includes information on special events, parks, hotels, Disney Springs, tours, and our FREE crowd calendar.

December 2015 Walt Disney World crowd calendar

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“Very Merry”)

This is Walt Disney World’s special ticketed holiday event (prices range from $69-$79). It takes place at the Magic Kingdom from 7pm to 12am on select nights. It DOES NOT require a Magic Kingdom ticket to attend — you can be in the park with a Very Merry ticket after 4pm. If you have a Magic Kingdom ticket, YOU MUST buy the Very Merry ticket to remain in the park after 7pm on nights where they have Very Merry.

Again on Very Merry Dates:

So what is Very Merry all about? They have various live shows, a special Christmas parade, the Frozen Holiday Wish lighting of Cinderella’s castle, Holiday Wishes firework display, and all the hot cocoa, apple slices, and cookies you can eat and drink, which is included with the ticket. However, the best perk of Very Merry is that it is a limited-ticket event, meaning the park is not nearly as crowded. The wait times are almost cut in half once regular ticket holders are out of the park around 8pm, making the wait times 20 minutes or less. Later in the night, around 10:30 pm you might not even see a line, even on sold-out nights. Tip: If you want to ride a ride earlier without a wait, go during the first parade. Also buy your limited merchandise early before they sell out.

Tickets can be purchased the day of the event, but tickets tend to sell out quickly. We recommend you buy tickets in advance. December 18, the last Very Merry, is already sold out. The only available dates are: December 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17. Discounts are available for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members.

The Parks

The Magic Kingdom in December

Magic Kingdom: The park is decorated the same as when Very Merry runs. All the lights, wreathes and garland are up. Just about all the treats are available to purchase. The Jungle Cruise is still decorated and renamed Jingle Cruise. The Christmas parade and Holiday fireworks are also shown during the week of Christmas. Even the castle will be decorated in those amazing icicle lights throughout the month. If you have a Magic Kingdom ticket and don’t want to spend the extra $70-80, just go to the park at night, it’s just as nice. Those who stay at the Disney resorts can be there during their extra Magic Hours which extends the hours of operation on certain days, just like other parks. Check out their Christmas store located near the entrance to Liberty Square.

Epcot: Experience Holidays Around the World. Try foods and listen to stories from all the pavilions. The American pavilion has Mr. and Mrs. Claus, carolers, snacks, along with stories of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Canada has a musical group, China has their Lion Dance, France has Pere Noel, Germany has stories of the first Christmas tree and Nutcracker, Italy’s La Befana, Japan has the story of the Daruma doll and New Year’s traditions, Norway’s Christmas gnome story, Mexican Feliz Navidad dancers, and the UK has Father Christmas stories. The main stage by the fountains feature a Gospel celebration of the season. The Illuminations fireworks is modified to feature a Peace on Earth message. Ask for a schedule to see when all these great performers are taking the stage. The highlight of Epcot is their Candlelight Processional which is retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator accompanied by a 50 piece orchestra and mass choir. Guests this year include Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amy Grant (check out Disney's website for celebrity schedules). This is a VERY popular event. Tip: Show up early or grab Candlelight Processional dining reservations to ensure you can see your favorite narrator. Check out their Christmas store located in the Germany pavilion.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Outside the park is a large Christmas tree. Inside is decorated with lights and garland. Frozen, although available all year, has a show which you can reserve Fastpasses. Do not miss the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. It’s a spectacular show of lights synchronized to music, playing for its final season. Disney also offers a dessert party called Very Merry & Bright Dessert Party, for an additional amount ($39 for children, $69 for adults). Check out for more information. Check out their Christmas store located near Mamma Melrose Restaurant.

Disney's Animal Kingdom: Other than a large Christmas tree themed to Animal Kingdom and some garland, there isn’t much to this place in regards to holiday theming. There is a Santa Mickey and Minnie meet and greet, but we suggest visiting this place to either see all the wonderful animals or get away from the even more crowded other parks.


A great way to spend an afternoon is to visit all the hotels. Some hotels are more decorated than others, so we recommend visiting the loop of hotels that are in front of Magic Kingdom. This includes The Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, and Contemporary. All these hotels can be accessed through bus or monorail. The Grand Floridian is probably the nicest of them all as it has that classic Christmas feel. The hotel features a large Christmas tree in its lobby and a gigantic gingerbread house where snacks are sold. Chestnuts are usually roasting at night in front of the main entrance.

Grand Floridian gingerbread house

The Polynesian is not nearly as decorated as the Grand Floridian, but it has many smaller trees, garland, and small Christmas displays, all themed to the Polynesian lifestyle. If you want to shorten the tour, skip this one.

The Wilderness Lodge is another great hotel for Christmas decorations. The hotel features a large Christmas tree in its lobby adorned with Native American-inspired ornaments. Garland and smaller trees are around the hotel too. If you want to go all out, take a 25-minute sleigh ride for $79 a person. Be sure to get cozy in front of one of their many fireplaces located on each floor of the hotel.

The last stop is the Contemporary. Outside is a towering Christmas tree. The hotel also features a 17-foot-tall Frozen themed gingerbread house. Lights and other decorations are all around the lobby. Christmas day service is also available for Catholics and Protestants. Take a good picture of the not so hidden, hidden-Mickey hanging in the windows.

Already toured the string of Magic Kingdom hotels? Well, check out the Yacht and Beach Clubs, along with the Port Orleans Riverside resort. All the resorts are decorated in some form or fashion and often have holiday-themed food and drink.

If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can have your room decorated for Christmas including a Christmas tree and more. Prices vary.

Disney Springs

If you’re looking for a more economically friendly way to get into the Holiday spirit (and my second favorite to Magic Kingdom), visit Disney Springs. Parking is free. Throughout the park are tons of garland, wreathes and tons more lights. The area boasts three unique Christmas trees, Holiday entertainment, and Santa. This year’s addition includes picture spots where people can pose in life-sized Holiday cards. It truly is a fun place to be during the holidays. Be sure to check out Disney’s biggest Christmas store, Disney’s Days of Christmas, located on the east side. Did anyone else notice the parking garage themed to Christmas too? With red (spot filled) and green (spot empty)....

Special Tours

Disney’s Holiday D-Lights ($259): This tour lasts for roughly five hours and brings you to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios to view all of their lights. It also includes a holiday-themed buffet. It also features a very limited edition pin.

Disney’s Yuletide Fantasy ($99): This tour lasts three hours and tours you through Magic Kingdom’s and Epcot’s lights. Get to know how the decorating is done through cast members and visit some of the countries in Epcot to listen to their Holiday traditions.

For more information, including dates which these tours are available, and booking call: 1-407-939-8687.

What will you be doing at Walt Disney World this holiday season?

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The Holidays Get off to a Running Start at Disney's Jingle Jungle 5k

By Eric Freilich
Published: November 28, 2015 at 12:36 PM
My journey to Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k began last fall when I took part in my first race, the Happy Haunted 5k. I had wanted to take part in a Disney race for some time, and since the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend was already booked that year, the Happy Haunted 5k was a suitable second choice.

Knowing that runDisney events quickly reach capacity, I marked the registration date for this year’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend on my calendar. We were also able to book a room at Pop Century at a rate made available for race participants, which saved us some money.

The months between March and November quickly passed, before I knew it, race weekend had arrived. We woke up early on the morning of November 6th; loaded our luggage into the car; grabbed some Egg Mcmuffins, hotcakes, and hash browns; and made our way up Florida’s Turnpike to Walt Disney World.

We arrived at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports around noon and found ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic as we approached the parking lot. The Cast Members directed us park on the grass which was a significant distance from the entrance to the complex. Thankfully, Disney was running a shuttle from the parking lot to the entrance, as even though it was November, the temperature was in the mid to high 80s. In fact, Disney had signs posted around property cautioning runners that the weekend was not the best time to try and top their personal best due to the heat.

The shuttle dropped us off and we worked our way through the crowds to the Jostens Center. I waited a short time to pick up my bib and packet as my wife and daughter looked at merchandise. We wanted to purchase a pin and magnet; however, the line for the registers wrapped around the complex several times. We put back the merchandise and went across the way to the HP Field House to get my event T-shirt.

Ready to run

We also took time to browse the vendors’ booths and I even caught a glimpse of Jeff Galloway, an accomplished professional runner and Founder of the Galloway Marathon Training Program that many runDisney participants use.

After a brief shuttle ride back to our car, we drove across the Osceola Parkway and down Victory Way to Pop Century. We had completed our check-in online and already received a text message with our room number, so we were able to bypass the lobby and go directly to our room. We ate lunch in the Everything Pop food court; and, since it was already after 2:00, decided to move our plans to attend the Food and Wine Festival to another day.

It was after 11 PM when I finally fell asleep, and I awoke six hours later to wash up and make my way to the bus loop. I spoke with several runners who were also planning to take part in the Half Marathon that night. Little did they know that the weather had other plans for them, and Disney had to scale the race down to half of the original length to ensure the runners’ safety.

Thankfully the weather was pleasant when the bus dropped us off in the Animal Kingdom parking lot. I followed my fellow runners to the corrals, deciding to pass on the extensive line to meet Mickey and Minnie for a picture. I made my way to Corral D, which coincided with my selected pace, and warmed up to the music being played by the DJ. The volunteers and Cast Members soon directed us to line-up to approach the starting line; and, about thirty minutes later, the race began.

Starting line

My excitement grew as I approached the starting line. Disney staggered the starting time of each group for safety reasons, and most of the runners from Corrals A-C were well into the race by the time I reached the front. I did one final stretch, turned on my pace tracking app and music, and started to run as soon as I heard the words, “Runners Ready…Set… Go!” Bystanders, volunteers, and Cast Members cheered us on as we started down the path that wound through the rest of the parking lot.

Christmas music was piped in through speakers that lined that lined parts of the track. I jogged the first ½ mile and then decided to switch to a brisk power walk as the path narrowed. Most of my fellow runners did the same for the majority of the race. There was a water stop close to the end of the first mile which was just outside the gates to the park. I made it a point to enjoy each step and take in the sights and sounds of early morning in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was very serene, as they hadn’t yet started playing the ambient music that is present while the park is open.

The second, and most of the third, mile of the race took us backstage. We crossed over the railroad tracks that led to Rafiki’s Planet Watch; passed by the Expedition Everest show building; and, unfortunately, also made our way through the part of the park where they store garbage. The path remained narrow for most of the race; although I didn’t mind because it helped me maintain a comfortable pace.

Mickey and Minnie

I heard the DJ as I neared the finish line in the parking lot. My fellow runners and I were again greeted by the cheers of bystanders and I made a final sprint as I crossed the finish line with a smile. Volunteers were waiting for us with water, Powerade, and snacks. I stopped to pose for a picture with my medal, and then made my way towards the entrance to meet my family. Before going into the park, I looked back at the finish line once final time and smiled with a sense of accomplishment, joy, and excitement for my next adventure.

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Beetlejuice Extended at Universal, Plus More Orlando Entertainment News

By Robert Niles
Published: November 27, 2015 at 12:04 PM
Here's a quick round-up of entertainment changes at the Orlando-area theme parks.

Universal Orlando has extended the run of Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue at Universal Studios Florida through Jan. 5. Universal previously had announced that the show would close in December, as its theater will be demolished to clear space for the new Fast & Furious - Supercharged attraction that also is claiming the former Disaster! theater.

Walt Disney World has confirmed that its Canadian Lumberjacks show at Epcot will close on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The show started late last year as a replacement for Off Kilter, the longer-running Celtic rock band that had played on the outdoor stage in Epcot's Canada pavilion. The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs will take over the stage for Epcot's Holidays Around the World event.

Next door in Epcot's United Kingdom pavilion, Disney has added Quickstep, a quartet that plays English, Scottish and Irish music. Members play the fiddle, flute, guitar, bagpipes and an Irish frame drum. Quickstep has begun its performances already and appears in the pavilion Wednesdays through Sundays.

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