Plans for Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida revealed
Written by Robert Niles
For our final post of 2011, I leave you with a little holiday present: The plans for the new Harry Potter land in Universal Studios Florida.
A source was kind enough to allow me a look at the plans - and they do appear spectacular. Before I get into the details, though, let me clarify a few points.
First, these are labeled "Concept," and dated last month (November 2011). There's no sign that these plans have been revised, or approved by engineers, so I am assuming that they are initial concept plans. Even though they are quite detailed, they are far from final, and anyone who's been involved in attraction development can tell you that much can change in the development process.
Second, I've seen only detailed plans for the main attraction in the new land, which appears to be set in Gringotts Bank. I've seen rough detail of the rest of the new land, though, and picked out a few details here and there.
Third, every page is stamped "Confidential," so I'm not supposed to be looking at them or telling you about them, and I'm certainly not going to tell you where I got access to them, so don't even bother asking.
So let's get to it, shall we?
The plans occupy the space between the Fear Factor Live theater and the Disaster! show building on the northwest corner of the Universal Studios Florida property - basically all the land now occupied by the Jaws attraction and surrounding Amity carnival games and shops. The northernmost section of the plot - almost half the land within it - is planned for a massive show building, which will house the Gringotts ride.
On the southeastern portion of the plot, a second attraction is designated. I can't tell from the plans what this attraction will be, but its position is consistent with the rumor of a Hogwarts Express ride connecting the two Harry Potter land, as this attraction points into the back-of-house access road that runs straight into the rear of Sindbad theater where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is expanding into in Islands of Adventure.
For pedestrians in Universal Studios Florida, there appears to be a single point of entry into the new Harry Potter land, one that requires walking around a center obstacle inside what appears to be an enclosed space. This would fit with being a "secret entrance" to Diagon Alley, from the Harry Potter books and films. There also is what appears to be labeled an 8,900-square-foot restaurant building located immediately to the left of the entrance to the land. Could this be the Leaky Cauldron?
From the entry, there is a street that proceeds straight back to the rounded entrance facade of the Gringotts building.
The Gringotts Bank exterior, from the Harry Potter films.
Diagon Alley, looking down toward Gringotts, from Pottermore.
Besides the restaurant to the left, I can't tell from the plans I saw what will occupy the other spaces in the buildings along the sides of this main street, which I presume to be Diagon Alley. There is a small, 500-square-foot "walk-through attraction" listed on a spur street to the left of the Gringotts entry, a spur that leads to the entrance to the second attraction. (Another Ollivander's? Your guess is as good as mine.)
Now let's get to that Gringotts ride.
It looks like we can expect another elaborately themed walk-through queue tour, along the lines of what we got with Hogwarts Castle in the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter. From the "Entry Hall," the queue appears to leave the building into shaded, then covered, areas before re-entering into the large "Bankers Hall." The next room in the queue is "Vault Display," then the "Reading Room." From there it's into what's labelled "Office Hallway" before we reach "Bill Weasley's Office." The next feature is labelled "Elevators," which take us up a level in order to cross over the ride tracks to access the center load island.
There are two load channels for the ride, with loading on the center island, and unloading off to the outsides. The ride vehicles are twin, 12-person, open-air cars, arranged in three rows of four. Each row is placed slightly higher than the row in front of it, in a "stadium seating" effect. The look of the cars is very Victorian, with individual lap bars and six Dolby speakers per seat for on-ride audio.
After the load platform, the two load channels merge to the south, then bearing to the left and entering Scene 1: "Turntable." In this scene, you'll face a brick wall, with two tunnel entrances, to the left and right. But before you proceed, the track below the first of the twin cars will drop from underneath that car. The track will come to rest at a 40-degree angle. Then, the track under the trailing car will begin to rise, matching the 40-degree angle of the leading car.
At that point, the two cars will drop in tandem into a third tunnel, below the tunnel on the right. Basically, we've just ridden a teeter-totter-like vertical track switch, attaching to the roller coaster track for our initial drop.
From there, we drop into Scene 2: "Dark Tunnel," a kinetic ride section with a small bunny hop and a hard right turn before we hit a block brake in preparation for Scene 3: "Ledge."
The Gringotts ride won't be a traditional roller coaster. It appears to be a hybrid roller coaster and motion-base ride, a la Spider-Man and Transformers. There are 3D projection screens throughout the ride, embedded in the rockwork of the tunnel walls, creating an illusion of open space, within which we'll watch battles taking place.
The first is in the Ledge scene, where some concept art shows a battle with wizards and giant-like creatures. The plans detail a shaker table under the track, and there's a waterfall effect at the end of the scene, including a fogscreen and water spritzers.
There's a slight free drop and turn to the left as we proceed through the waterfall, leading us into Scene 4: "Thief's Downfall." There are wind and heat effects in this scene, along with our first look at a dragon. Meanwhile, the ride's making a chicane-type turn to the left, then the right.
That leads us immediately into Scene 5: "Sirius Black's Vault." We hit a fog blast before entering the vault, where we see illuminated treasure ahead. The car makes a turn to the right, where the physical show scenery opens up a bit, with a large vault area with a flat 3D projection screen along the far wall. We then bear to the left, turning into Scene 6: "Ruins."
We're curving to the right through the rubble of what looks like a collapsed tunnel in this scene, which leads us into Scene 7: "Chasm." We're inside a large projection cone for this scene, which appears to involve Harry, Ron, Hermoine and… could it be? Voldemort? (The concept art I saw wasn't clear - it almost never is.) I do see a heat curtain and cold-air blast noted in this scene, though. (Shades of Revenge of the Mummy?)
From there, we launch into another dark tunnel (Scene 8), which banks up and around to the left, taking us into Scene 9: "Passage," our finale, where Harry and company bid us farewell before we return to the load/unload platform.
And yes, we do exit through a retail shop.
That's all I've got from these initial concept plans. They lack any information about the narrative of the ride or the imagery we'll see on those projection scenes. But the plans do detail a unique hybrid ride system that takes us through scenes that set up a potentially ambitious narrative.
So, what do you think?
Me? I can't wait to ride.
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