Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which Jenn Goes to LeakyCon: "Open at the Close" Private Universal Studios Party

I remember the thrill of excitement that shot through my body years ago as I hurried towards Barnes and Noble. I would do this - practically run toward the store - whenever a new Harry Potter book was released. I was never brave enough to stay up until midnight and fight through crowds at bookstores in order to obtain a copy. My brother and I had a system, you see, when we were teenagers. We would buy one copy of the book and share it between us. The book stayed in a neutral zone (the living room) and we would take turns - shifts, really - to read. I'll never forget the summer that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. I say this because it was the summer my mom temporarily banned my brother and I from reading J.K. Rowling's novel. She banned us not because she detested the series, but because my brother and I would hover around each other during the first week we obtained the book, alternating between glaring at each other and the clock. I told him that he had been hogging the book; he countered that he had just started reading and I would have to wait my turn. My usually patient mother took the book from us and placed it in our dining room until we could prove that we could read the book without bickering.

It's an amusing story when I really think about it: my brother and I fought over a book. We couldn't share a novel, but I think that what this story is evidence of is just how special, how compelling, and how important the Harry Potter series was (and is) to so many people. There have been eight movies, seven novels, countless cosplays and tattoos and papers and discussions about this integral and beautifully constructed series. And as new people continue to be introduced to the Boy Who Lived and his extraordinary tale of heroism and loyalty, new ways to celebrate Harry Potter are forming.

That's where LeakyCon and I factor into this diatribe. When I found out that this delightfully geeky convention would be housed in my city beautiful of Orlando this year, I knew that I had to be a part of it. And, armed with a press badge, this year I've found myself being able to be a part of the delightful, mad world of nerdy conventions. LeakyCon kicked off last night with a special event called "Open at the Close" hosted at - you've guessed it! - the new Universal Studios Diagon Alley expansion. It was my first time seeing the Diagon Alley portion of Universal (I've been to the Islands of Adventure part featuring Hogsmeade and Hogwarts before), and it was a blast. Really, it was amazing because of the people that I was surrounded by. LeakyCon planned a special event with Univeral Studios that closed the park beginning at 10 PM to outside guests and allowed those few (hundred) with LeakyCon special passes to have Diagon Alley all to themselves.

I was surrounded for a few hours by Harry Potter lovers, by LeakyCon attendees, and by people who were full of so much happiness and joy. People who burst out into spontaneous "Get Back to Hogwarts" sing-alongs while in line for the Hogwarts Express. People who genuinely love and care about fandom and who don't care if they look silly or weird. People who squeal and hug when they meet each other, who become friends in line for a ride, and who "ooh" and "ahh" at a dragon that breathes fire. These are my people. And that was my introduction to LeakyCon.

So below the cut, here are some of my favorite photos and memories from "Open at the Close" so that you can live vicariously through me! ;)

Hello and welcome to King's Cross! Head over to Platform 9 and 3/4 for an adventure. :)

Panoramic shot of the entrance to Diagon Alley. Y'all, it is the real deal. I think that what impressed me most of all with Universal's Diagon Alley was how much time and effort was clearly put into making sure this was not just a place that people could enjoy but that Harry Potter fans and super-fans would love and cherish. Everything was constructed with so much attention to detail, as you'll see throughout the photographs. They wanted to nail it and they did.

Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes (upper left), Diagon Alley, Gringotts (lower left) and the Knight Bus (lower right)!

ALL ABOARD THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS! The train was astounding because it allowed you to truly feel like you were a part of the Hogwarts journey. There were no real windows, as the windows to the "outside" were really an interactive screen displaying rolling London countryside and the journey to Hogwarts castle (the opposite occurred when you rode from Hogsmeade back to Diagon Alley) and the car "hallway" displayed projection of Ron, Harry, and Hermione along with other riders (and some chocolate frogs!) It was a delightful experience. Additionally, while in line at King Cross, you get to journey to Platform 9 and 3/4 through a wall! (... Okay, so it's not REALLY a wall. As you head into a hallway, a distorting mirror is alongside you that makes it look like you're disappearing through the wall. It's a nifty little touch, for sure!)

The interior of Gringotts Bank was ASTOUNDING. It was so true to the books, the movies, and so breathtakingly gorgeous that you just had to stop and stare for a while. Honestly, this was probably my favorite part of Diagon Alley and I'm glad that the lovely people at Universal allowed the LeakyCon attendees to walk the lobby, even though the ride had to close for maintenance at night. I just... well, I have no words for how pretty this was. Pictures don't even do it justice!

Diagon Alley at night was so beautiful. I think that I speak for all of the "Open at the Close" attendees when I say that everyone there made us feel like a part of Hogwarts. Thank you to the people who served us meals, drinks, and desserts especially prepared for the LeakyCon attendees last night. Thank you to everyone who made us feel the magic. I can guarantee that we appreciate it. 

J.K. Rowling said that Hogwarts would always be there to welcome us home. I'm looking forward to the rest of LeakyCon, honestly, because I am excited not just for panels and the opportunity to meet up with friends, writers, actors, and musicians. I am excited because so many people have found a home through Harry Potter and its fandom and so many more will continue to in the future as my generation begins to pass along the stories of Harry, Ron, and Hermione to our siblings and friends and children.

No, I am excited for LeakyCon 2014 because I am excited for people to remember that they are not alone and that those weird, wonderful, silly, fun people that will flood the Orange County Convention center aren't just fellow fans; they're family. Together, we are Hogwarts. And at Hogwarts? You always have a home.


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