Insider's Update: A million reasons to visit
Written by Robert Niles
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.Tweet
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.
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.
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