When Universal Orlando announced that it would be bringing Harry Potter to its parks (and I was among the first to break the news), the anticipation was enormous. As one of the most popular book series and film franchises ever created, J.K. Rowling's rich stories have enchanted readers and audiences around the world and have established a rarefied place in popular culture. It only made sense that there would have been incredible pent-up demand to visit the theme park version of Harry Potter's lands and commune with the beloved characters.
In developing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, the wizards at Universal Creative did more than merely deliver a perfectly adequate park facsimile of the Potter mythology. They dramatically raised the bar and redefined the art of theme park storytelling. The centerpiece ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, with its groundbreaking technology and stunning effects, immediately became the new standard bearer for the best theme park attractions.
Instead of satisfying demand, the land, which opened in June of 2010, fanned the flames of desire even more among Potter's legions of fans. Attendance has been up dramatically at the original land's host park, Islands of Adventure, and revenues have soared throughout Universal Orlando. Lines, especially ones to get onto the signature ride, to purchase an addictive butterbeer, and to witness the wand-chooses-the-wizard experience at Ollivanders, can swell up to two hours and longer during peak periods. Inevitably, Universal announced (a scant 18 months after the land debuted), that it would expand The Wizarding World.
So, what can muggles expect in the next chapter of Potter at the park?
Two Parks. Two Versions of The Wizarding World.
In January 2014, Universal confirmed some of the information about the new land that had been percolating as rumors for many months, but left many of the particulars still vague. The highly anticipated expansion is scheduled to open in the summer of 2014.
Take a photo tour via Universal's concept art in my detailed (at least what details are known) Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley Preview.
Here is a brief rundown of what is on the way:
- Potter mania will extend to sister park, the adjacent Universal Studios Florida with a whole new land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Effectively doubling the size of Harry's theme park home, the area is being being built on the park's former Amity site that included the now-closed Jaws ride.
- The featured attraction at Diagon Alley will be Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Other than saying that the ride will be "a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional journey," Universal has been mum about the details. It will be an indoor coaster and will likely include a free fall track feature, an element that has been used in other rides, such as Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Universal knows about indoor coasters with its stellar Revenge of the Mummy.
- Having two interconnected themed lands spread between two parks is unprecedented -- as well as wildly ambitious and audacious. Here's where it gets especially audacious: The two lands will be literally connected via the Hogwarts Express, a train that will transport guests back and forth. The journey will be complete with a themed experience that will vary for guests.
- The new land will include the King's Cross Station and the mysterious platform 9¾, the secret gate at which Hogwarts students (and soon, presumably, park guests) board the train. There is no word about how, exactly, Universal will handle inter-park admissions via the train. But one thing is for sure: Many, if not most guests will want to go to both parks every time they visit the resort to get their Potter fix. That should significantly boost attendance overall, drive demand for Universal's on-property hotels as well as its CityWalk restaurants and shops, and lead to longer stays. It's a brilliant business and marketing strategy.
- As Potter fans know, the mythical, cobblestoned Diagon Alley is located in London and includes shops and other places of interest to established and budding wizards. Among its notable emporiums is Ollivanders Wand Shop. It appears that the existing, highly popular IOA shop will remain open, and it is likely the new shop will be considerably expanded to accommodate many more guests. However, Universal's honchos have said that they will maintain the intimate and "realistic" scale of the original Wizarding World. Rather than creating a cavernous wand shop, my guess is that the park will build several smaller ones, but will design them in a way that visitors will think there is only one close-quarters shop.
- Other shops announced by Universal include:
- Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes- Joke shop items, magic tricks, and gag gifts.
- Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment- Budding wizards can find hourglasses, armillary spheres, and other essential gear.
- Quality Quidditch Supplies- Equipment and clothing for the popular wizards' game.
- Borgin and Burkes- Located on Knockturn Alley, the ominous story will cater to those who dabble in the dark arts.
- Universal says that the Leaky Cauldron, a popular pub and dining room that is situated at the entrance to Diagon Alley, will be introduced as part of the new land. It will offer fish and chips and other UK favorites. Guests will also be able to indulge in unique flavors at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour.
- The original IOA land will be known as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade (the village that includes the Hogwarts school) to distinguish it from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley that is under construction at USF.
Whew! There are a lot of exciting, major changes in store. It will be interesting to see the land take shape. It's likely that Universal will deliver something spectacular given its impressive Potter park performance thus far. Check back for updates. And I'll look forward to sharing a cold, frosty butterbeer with you at The Leaky Cauldron.