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Insider's Update: A million reasons to visit

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Published: August 9, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Universal Orlando this week celebrated one million rides by passengers on its new Hogwarts Express attractions. The two train rides — connecting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, in each direction — opened officially just one month ago. If you do the math, one million rides in a month means that each Hogwarts Express has been carrying more than 1,000 riders per hour, on average, from parks pre-opening through close. In contrast, Universal needed several weeks of operation to get Harry Potter and the Escape for Gringotts putting through more than 1,000 riders per hour on a consistent basis.

Hogwarts Express
Universal celebrated the one-millionth rider with free Butterbeer ice cream, and a photo op, for a trainful of guests. Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

So how is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley doing, a month in? The new land hasn't attracted the overflow crowds that clogged the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure the summer that it opened, in 2010. Universal hasn't had to restrict access to the land with return-time tickets since its first week of operation. The resort also has lifted some blockout days and cut overall planned hours for merchandise personnel in the land, according to insiders. But all that tells us is that crowd levels haven't hit the best/worst-case scenario for which Universal planned. (Best case for Universal's short-term bottom line; worst case for quality of the guest experience.) That shouldn't be too surprising, given Universal's reticence to provide more than three weeks' advance notice of the land's opening, coupled with fans' memory of the huge lines in 2010, encouraging potential visitors to put off coming to Diagon Alley until late summer, fall, or beyond. Yet with one million visitors already through on the Hogwarts Express, lines out of the door of the ice cream parlor, and reported brisk (though not overflow) business at the other establishments in the new land, Universal's doing fine with its ongoing investment in Harry Potter.

Over at Walt Disney World, Disney's Hollywood Studios has extended its "Frozen Summer Fun" events through September 28, providing late-summer visitors more chances to see Anna, Elsa, and the rest of the crew from Disney's animated hit.

We're also hearing that Disney's now using paper return-time tickets in lieu of a standby queue for people who want to eat at the Magic Kingdom's Be Our Guest restaurant at lunch and who didn't get a Fastpass+ reservation in advance. To review: If you want to eat at the popular Beauty and the Beast-themed New Fantasyland restaurant you need to make a Disney Dining reservation for dinner, or get a Fastpass+ reservation at lunch, or if you can't get either, arrive at the restaurant early enough in the morning to get a return-time ticket for lunch. One wonders if Disney will ever just throw in the towel on using three different reservation systems for one restaurant and just open up regular-old dining reservations at Be Our Guest for all meals.

Disney also has announced that tickets will go on sale for next year's D23 Expo on Thursday, August 14 at 10am PT. The convention will again take place at the Anaheim Convention Center, this time from August 14-16, 2015. Early-bird admission, on sale through the end of the year, is $52 a day for D23 members, and $149 for a three-day pass.

Artoo at D23
Disney teased its "Project Orange Harvest," aka Star Wars Land, at the 2013 D23 Expo. Here's hoping for more details this time around.

If you want to drop $2,000 on the event, a special "Sorcerer's Package" is available, which includes reserved seating at events, plus advance tours of the Expo and access to several receptions. Tickets will be available via D23Expo.com.

Readers' Opinions

From 50.135.69.66 on August 9, 2014 at 6:09 PM
It doesn't surprise me that Diagon Alley isn't drawing the crowds that Hogsmead did. Many Potter fans who wanted Harry Potter experience have already done so. Basically, the magic of it being done is over. There is no rush to get there to be able to experience the world of Harry Potter as many fans have already had that "first" experience.
From Robert Niles on August 9, 2014 at 6:47 PM
I think it's also worth noting that the capacity of Diagon Alley is much greater than the capacity of Hogsmeade, so the fact that DA doesn't have the long waits that Hogsmeade did shouldn't imply that it is drawing smaller crowds -- just that the crowds haven't grown as much as the capacity did.
From Rob Pastor on August 9, 2014 at 7:12 PM
Diagon Alley capacity is apx. 8,000 compared to the 4,000 at Hogsmeade. And the Studios has a larger area to disburse the crowds than the narrow pathways at IOA, plus added capacity with Transformers, Springfield, Hogwart's Express stations, and Despicable Me. The Studios can be extremely crowded in reality without actually looking crowded. Insiders over at OI are stating their sources are saying crowds are significantly larger than Harry Potter 1, and Universal over hired as a preventive worst case scenario so they wouldn't look bad if their crowd control tactics didn't work as well as they have.
From 108.132.197.233 on August 9, 2014 at 7:21 PM
I was luckily one of those million riders. Did Hogwarts Express break FJ's record for fastest to one million riders in Universal? Anyway, it is true when they say that what is good for Universal is good for Central Florida. I noticed significantly larger crowds at SeaWorld and Disney. Harry Potter is definitely helping Universal compete against the big boys Disney and SeaWorld.
From 42.104.32.153 on August 9, 2014 at 7:49 PM
i'm planning my first visit to WWoHP later this month, 29-30 august. i'm happy that the crowds would not be too overwhelming!..however, i am wondering if i would need an advance reservation at the restaurants..honeydukes n all..
From Robert Niles on August 9, 2014 at 10:46 PM
As always, Yogi Berra sums it up: "Nobody goes there. It's too crowded."

Also, to the comment above, none of the dining locations in the Wizarding Worlds accepts advance reservations, as all are counter service. But with so many people coming to the UOR these days, I would make reservations for the table-service restaurants elsewhere in the resort that interest you. (I believe that all of the table service UOR restaurants are on OpenTable.com.)

From Kerry Mayo on August 9, 2014 at 8:19 PM
To the first commenter 50.135.69.66;

With all due respect, I don't agree with your assessment. I believe many locals, like myself, were gun shy about going on the first few days because of the historic crowds that appeared when Hogsmeade opened. So many stayed away, but are now beginning to appear at Diagon Alley. What I am noticing is that there are many people who would not describe themselves as diehard HP fans who are making a point to go to these parks because they have heard how awesome they are. I would say that my anecdotal evidence (friends and family) coincides with that theory. YMMV, of course, but that's what I'm seeing.

Also, as another poster pointed out, Diagon Alley is twice the capacity of Hogsmeade and it laid out better IMO. Wider pathways, larger stores. So while it was crowded for sure, it did not feel as bad as the first time I went to Hogsmeade. We will have to wait for the official numbers, but I'm willing to bet that your assertion of HP's magic being "over" is flat out wrong.

From David Brown on August 10, 2014 at 12:17 AM
I don't see the appeal of Harry Potter being 'over'. But I do wonder if it won't just gradually decline now that there are no more new books and no films in production to keep the excitement at fever pitch.

Good quality attractions and immersive lands will always draw people so I don't see the Wizarding World getting quiet any time soon but it's possible that the mania we have seen in the past may be dropping down to more manageable 'ordinary' levels akin to that generated with any big new attraction.

From 85.150.173.168 on August 10, 2014 at 12:36 AM
JK Rowling is working on the script for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It's a spin off series that is situated in the 20's and is situated in the same world as Harry Potter. So the movies aren't done.
More important, this franchise has it's origin in literature (like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit). People will never stop reading these books and new readers will be pulled in these books for many generations.
From James Rao on August 10, 2014 at 2:23 AM
FWIW, the Rao Family is headed to the great state of Ohio to ride Kings Island's new roller coaster, Banshee, which opened in late April (18th) and gave its millionth ride in early July (10th). This record breaking, inverted, B&M coaster is on pace to be the most popular debut for a ride in more than 25 years at Kings Island. The last coaster to attract such massive crowds during its debut year was Vortex, which gave 2,183,642 rides in 1987, according to Kings Island officials.

Just wanted to note that big theme park news is happening "Beyond CaliFlorida" (thanks, Mr. Elliott) too!

From 107.146.119.248 on August 10, 2014 at 5:36 AM
About no new books and movies, look up Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them to be released in 2016. There will be more in this universe written by Rowling also.

From Rob Pastor on August 10, 2014 at 6:20 AM
James: Don't know if you were at King's Island previously, but it's a great park. Back when I was a big coaster fan it was my favorite park. It's Disney like entrance is quite beautiful.......Just for a bit of a clarification on the excellent capacity of Hogwart's Express, Seth Kubersky ( the Orlando Weekly, Touring Plans, Guide to Universal Orlando columnist), has been timing the ride for Touring Plans. Seth is saying the original objective was to load a train once every 8 minutes, but the Team Members have gotten the turnover time down to an outstanding 7 minutes so the two trains (both station's trains move simultaneously)have had a capacity of 2,700+ per hour. He further states that the 1 million figure was from grand opening and didn't include the soft openings. The daily figure for ridership has been around 30,000 according to the figures Seth has compiled for Touring Plans. That's a lot of people to actually move from one park to another, even considering some make a return trip. But then there's also the attendance that can't ride because they only have a 1 park ticket, or those that rode the train on a previous trip day and weren't riding again. So that's a pretty good indicator of the crowds in the parks....And Harry Potter lands don't just attract Harry Potter fans. There's plenty of people like me who couldn't care less about the Harry Potter books or movies but are amazed with the Universal creations of Harry Potter and the attractions and go to the parks to enjoy the entertaining lands.
From James Rao on August 10, 2014 at 10:19 AM
@Rob First time for The Rao Family as a unit for sure! This year the youngest, Emma, finally hit that magical 54" height requirement. No point in driving 11 hours to a coaster park if everyone can't ride all the coasters.

FYI - We'll hit Cedar Point this week as well.... Coaster counts are going off the charts for the Rao Family this year! We'll save the two new family coasters in Orlando for next year after we get all this machismo out of our system!

From 86.184.115.130 on August 10, 2014 at 10:31 AM
On the point of no new Harry Potter books or movies being planned, take a look at Disney. The fact that Snow White & Seven Dwarves was released 85 years ago didn't stop them building anew ride based on it. Or little Mermaid being a 30 year old film and that still got a new ride.

My point being that movies and books get new readers and watchers all the time, the fact that the film/book was realised years ago doesn't mean there won't be people interested in a ride/land based on it.

From Rob Pastor on August 10, 2014 at 2:09 PM
James: Enjoy your trip. Looks like some cooler weather coming into our part of the country this week (Pa. & Ohio)so you might want to pack some sweatshirts for Cedar Point. I've been up there, and used to live in the area, and it can get nasty chilly on the lake if the temps in the mid 70's or lower............On a Universal note, a number of Insiders on other sites are saying that both Universal Studios & IOA had higher attendance in July than DHS, Animal Kingdom & Epcot. No official announcements at this point though. But if true,or even close to true, this could be what's needed to coax Disney into some new attractions, sooner rather than the normal way later.
From N B on August 10, 2014 at 4:05 PM
Diagon Alley has WAY more room than Hogsmeade, so it seems less crowded. I figured there would be no need to queue people just to enter after a couple of weeks unlike the narrow and relatively small sister land at IOA.

Kings Cross, all the new stores, and 3 Ollivanders shows eat up a lot of the visitors and the queue for Gringotts is enormous with all the chains in place. It is almost always full by a half hour after regular opening.

Universal simply did a better job of making it seem less crowded and it can hold about twice as many visitors as Hogsmeade.

I am looking forward to the days where EFG is running consistently and they address a couple of the projection issues. I want to see that 4K in perfect clarity and not the "rushed" setup as I feel is what happened to get it open by the delayed opening date.

I am betting they do some overhauling this Winter when it is extremely slow, probably around February.

From James Rao on August 10, 2014 at 8:04 PM
Stopped by Kings Island for about two hours and rode Banshee, Diamondback, and The Beast (in the dark and in the rain). It was quite a trifecta of excellence. Impressive. Looking forward to some ERT on Banshee tomorrow AM. That coaster is simply wonderful. The best invert I've ridden to date.
From 75.191.153.208 on August 10, 2014 at 8:54 PM
My family and I have gone to both openings (Diagon Alley a couple of weeks ago, and WWoHP in July of 2010) and they were BOTH insanely crowded. Luckily we had Early Park Admission both times. I will say that Diagon took about an hour longer than Forbidden Journey with early admission, BUT they both had ride breakdowns while we were waiting in line. Gringott’s is amazing, but the rest of my family liked FJ better. I will tell you this…we waited for ice cream WAY too long in DA. They’ve gotta figure out how to scoop a cone more efficiently. This is the one area that I have absolutely NO patience for. I can take a wait for an elaborate ride, but a common function like scooping ice cream….C’Mon Man!!!! We thought there must be some sort of elaborate production going on, when the line started WAY outside…..but it was just totally inept workers. The wait for the train, and the Wand show at Olivanders were both SUPER speedy compared with the ice cream parlor. I wanted to wave my son’s “magic” wand around, trying to get some sort of action, or movement, but unlike the rest of the DA windows, the Ice Cream parlor workers don’t work. But, again, the Gringott’s ride is amazing!!! cReMy family and I have gone to both openings (Diagon Alley a couple of weeks ago, and WWoHP in July of 2010) and they were BOTH insanely crowded. Luckily we had Early Park Admission both times. I will say that Diagon took about an hour longer than Forbidden Journey with early admission, BUT they both had ride breakdowns while we were waiting in line. Gringott’s is amazing, but the rest of my family liked FJ better. I will tell you this…we waited for ice cream WAY too long in DA. They’ve gotta figure out how to scoop a cone more efficiently. This is the one area that I have absolutely NO patience for. I can take a wait for an elaborate ride, but a common function like scooping ice cream….C’Mon Man!!!! We thought there must be some sort of elaborate production going on, when the line started WAY outside…..but it was just totally inept workers. The wait for the train, and the Wand show at Olivanders were both SUPER speedy compared with the ice cream parlor. I wanted to wave my son’s “magic” wand around, trying to get some sort of action, or movement, but unlike the rest of the DA windows, the Ice Cream parlor workers don’t work. But, again, the Gringott’s ride is amazing!!! ouple of weeks ago, and WWoHP in July of 2010) and they were BOTH insanely crowded. Luckily we had Early Park Admission both times. I will say that Diagon took about an hour longer than Forbidden Journey with early admission, BUT they both had ride breakdowns while we were waiting in line. Gringott’s is amazing, but the rest of my family liked FJ better. I will tell you this…we waited for ice cream WAY too long in DA. They’ve gotta figure out how to scoop a cone more efficiently. This is the one area that I have absolutely NO patience for. I can take a wait for an elaborate ride, but a common function like scooping ice cream….C’Mon Man!!!! We thought there must be some sort of elaborate production going on, when the line started WAY outside…..but it was just totally inept workers. The wait for the train, and the Wand show at Olivanders were both SUPER speedy compared with the ice cream parlor. I wanted to wave my son’s “magic” wand around, trying to get some sort of action, or movement, but unlike the rest of the DA windows, the Ice Cream parlor workers don’t work. But, again, the Gringott’s ride is amazing!!!

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