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 is up dramatically at Islands of Adventure, and revenues have soared throughout Universal Orlando. Lines, especially the 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 early May 2013, Universal confirmed some of the details that had been percolating as rumors for many months.
- Potter mania will expand to sister park, the adjacent Universal Studios Florida with a whole new land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. It is scheduled to open in 2014 on the site of the former Amity land that included the now-closed Jaws ride.
- 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. There is no word whether the existing IOA shop will close, and a new Ollivanders will take its rightful place in "London." (Although it is likely, and will probably be considerably expanded to accommodate many more guests.) That and other similar adjustments may be made to conform to Universal's new designation of the original IOA land 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.
- 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. It's likely that 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.
- Universal has confirmed that the featured attraction at the new land will be based on Gringotts Wizarding Bank. it is unconfirmed, but strongly rumored that the new ride will be some kind of an indoor coaster that 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.
Whew! There are a lot of exciting, major changes in store. It will be interesting to see how the plans actually unfold. Whatever the future may hold, 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 next year at The Leaky Cauldron.