Universal: Our first look at Wizarding World Christmas, revamped Macy’s parade

Universal Orlando kicks off its holiday celebration Saturday – its earliest start to festivities in at least 15 years.

Both theme parks have new elements – including the first-ever full-blown Harry Potter-based holiday merriments — which they showed off to members of the media on Thursday.

Here are some notable moments.

• Hogwarts Castle on the Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure side is bathed in projections, no easy feat considering the nooks and crannies of its curved, irregular canvas.

There are 24 camouflaged projectors aimed at the structure, which is virtually decorated in many looks familiar to fans for the Potter films.

It’s new content, not highlights from the movies.

I think it really picks up steam about midway through the seven-minute show, right about the time a Christmas tree appears in the prime turrett.

Other cool moments involve quidditch, the Weasleys and pyrotechnics.

• The score is new, but you’ve heard a lot of these tunes in Potterland before, say, throughout the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.

But the arrangements are new, freshly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road.

They aren’t reinventing the Potter wheel here.

Stick with what works, right?

• The greening of Hogsmeade gets a little lost at night. It’s lit up fine, but that kind of obscures the details along the storefronts.

And in some ways, it’s a victim of its success.

The lights and garland are so natural that you kind of think, “Weren’t those always there?”

Nevertheless, I think it will work for Potterheads, who are prone to just standing in the Wizarding World and soaking it all in. (Diagon Alley is also decked out for the season.)

New songs are on tap for the live entertainment on both sides of WizWoHaPo.

Among the Frog Choir selections is an uptempo one about putting a spell on Father Christmas (disastrous results),

and Celestina Warbeck has four new jazzy numbers and new costuming for her and the Banshees.

• In any other year, the revamping of the holiday parade at Universal Studios would be the top story.

It may lurk in the shadows of all things Potter, but it’s worth a look.

It’s a complete re-do from ground up.

Very successful are the new, detailed, self-propelled floats.

No longer are they pulled by large white pick-up trucks. Kudos. (Bonus points for the lighting of the undercarriage.)

• Universal has recruited intellectual properties to star in the production, including “Despicable Me” (watch for a minion making a snow angel), “Shrek” and “Madagascar.”

There are multiple units – balloons, big floats, dancers, stilt walkers – for each IP.

Loads of confetti and snowy effects, of course, and Santa and his new ride bring up the rear, along with a Macy’s unit with a toy theme.

• The parade has an all-new soundtrack as well. I wouldn’t call it marching music.

It’s more mellow and melodic than in years past. I almost felt like waltzing.

A Hallmark movie came to mind throughout.

Maybe a full park/audience will amp it up for me, but – and yes, yes, change is good — I did find myself missing Darlene Love’s song. Must download.

The parade will be nightly through Jan. 6.

The castle show will be repeated repeatedly from dusk to park close.

Other Universal standards – Grinchmas and Mannheim Steamroller concerts – return as well.

They’re all included in park admission.

dbevil@orlandosentinel.com; Twitter: @ThemeParks

This post originally appeared on orlandosentinel.com

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