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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuted at the Islands of Adventure theme park at Universal Orlando resort on June 18, 2010. (It first opened to Universal's hotel guests on May 28, 2010.) In December 2011, Universal announced that it would build a Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood in Florida. That same month, plans leaked for a third Harry Potter land, to be built at Islands of Adventure's sister park in Orlando, Universal Studios Florida. That land, themed to Diagon Alley, will open in 2014. Another Wizarding World, themed to Hogsmeade, is under construction at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka for a 2014 opening.

The original Wizarding World of Harry Potter is themed to the village of Hogsmeade, from the Harry Potter books and films, and was designed by Universal Creative in consultation with author J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter film production designer Stuart Craig. It includes one new attraction, as well as two rethemed rides and multiple shops and restaurants.

Here's our video tour of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

The Hollywood version of the Wizarding World will include Hogwarts Castle, but no other details about that development are known at this time. The Universal Studios Florida land will be themed to Diagon Alley in London, and feature a hybrid roller coaster/motion-base ride set inside Gringotts Bank, with an expected opening in July 2014. Theme Park Insider has been covering the development of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since 2007. You'll find all of our news articles, photos and attraction reviews below.

Expect 'NextGen'-style animation and interactivity in Universal's Diagon Alley

By Robert Niles
Published: May 14, 2013 at 1:34 PM
The leaks keep on coming from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley, now under construction at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. We told you in December 2011 about the Gringotts coaster that will provide the centerpiece of the new land, and in March of this year we described about the various shops and restaurants you'll find when Universal Orlando's second Harry Potter land, which opens in the summer of 2014.

Now, we're hearing more about the various atmospheric details that will distinguish this new land.

You've likely heard of Disney's "NextGen" initiative, which, among other things, includes the installation of new animation and interactive elements in queues and other public spaces in Walt Disney World's theme parks. Well, Universal's creative team is raising the stakes with a similar initiative of its own inside the new Wizarding World.

Universal's pushing the intersection of technology and stagecraft with its development of these features, which, if successful, will help make Diagon Alley the most convincing and immersive themed environment ever created in a theme park. If Universal pulls off what it has planned, as one insider told me, Disney's NextGen will be several generations behind Universal's.

So what is Universal planning for Diagon Alley? Let's start by reviewing what we already know:

Diagon Alley concept art
Concept art courtesy Universal

Diagon Alley Attractions

We've got two rides coming: the Gringotts dark ride, which will blend Premier Rides roller coaster track with a 3D story-driven dark ride. Twin, 12-person, Victorian-inspired open-air cars, arranged in three rows of four, will take riders through the Gringotts vaults, where they will encounter dark wizards, including Voldemort. The ride vehicles will have a motion-base component, making this a blend of Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers in the ride's technology.

The second ride is the Hogwarts Express, which will shuttle visitors between the two Wizarding Worlds: Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida and the original Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. Trains will travel on an elevated track through the backstage are connecting the parks. The windowless train cars will feature digital screens that simulate windows overlooking the passing English countryside -- but don't expect a smooth voyage. As this is a theme park attraction, expect that something will go terribly wrong. (It might be best to keep some chocolate handy. I hear that helps.)

Riders will exit the Hogwarts Express outside the two lands, and might be required to queue to enter the Wizarding World on the other side during busy periods in the parks, according to a Universal survey obtained by Parkscope. The Hogsmeade station will be located underneath the Dragon Challenge track, exiting on the "Lost Continent" side of the Wizarding World. The Diagon Alley station will exit through the facade of King's Cross station, next to the Disaster! exit in Universal Studios Florida.

In addition to the two rides, I'm told that Universal is working on a live show, which will play in the open area under a glass canopy near the Gringotts ride's exit.

Diagon Alley
Gringotts Coaster building (lower left) and the rest of Diagon Alley under construction in May 2013. Photo from TH Creative's gallery from earlier this week.

Diagon Alley Restaurants

The Leaky Cauldron will be the main restaurant in the new land, standing next to the Wizarding World's entrance. Your other refreshment options will include Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, located near the Gringotts bank tower, and what looks on the land's plans to be a Butterbeer stand over one the other side of the land, nearer the Gringotts exit.

Diagon Alley Shops

Universal's creating another Ollivander's wand shop, this time with three rooms to handle to the "wand picks the wizards" show. In addition, you'll be able to stock up on Wizarding gear at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment (that will be the store at the exit to Gringotts).

The plans also call for Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley, located over to the left of the land's entrance, underneath King's Cross station. And that's where things get really interesting.

Diagon Alley's Interactive and Animated Elements

Here's where we get to the fresh stuff! The experience will begin even before visitors step into Diagon Alley, as the Knight Bus, which will be parked on the London promenade outside the land, will feature interactive talking heads.

We already know about the giant fire-breathing dragon that will inhabit the top of the Gringotts bank tower. This dragon really will breathe fire (if all goes well in construction, of course), and it represents the largest of the many animated elements planned for Diagon Alley.

It might be worth taking another look at the Weasley Wizard Wheezes scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for some clues as to the additional interactive and animated elements Universal's planning for its version of that iconic joke shop.

Elsewhere in the new land, be on the lookout for suits of armor that fall apart then rebuild themselves, as well as self-stirring cauldrons and some skeletons that perform with a surprising effect that my sources refuse to tell me about in more detail. And goblins, too!

The most cryptic clue I've heard, though, concerns the wands. There's a huge time crush, obviously, to finish this land by June 2014 (for a planned July opening), but I keep hearing hints that Universal's got something planned that involves wands. One's imagination runs wild.

Which, of course, is the whole point. Universal is working to create a land that will appear to come to magical life for each visitor. With so many interactive and animated elements, the idea is that the entire land becomes a platform for an individual experience within the Wizarding World. It's not just about queuing up for a roller coaster ride. Diagon Alley has been conceived as a public place that supports personal stories, as each visitor discovers the various details and elements available throughout the land.

And the technology that Universal's developing for Diagon Alley won't be limited to this land. Expect Universal, at some point after the opening of Diagon Alley, to begin work retrofitting the original Wizarding World with new interactive and animated elements, so that the magical experience continues at the same sophisticated level across both lands.

Update: I'm hearing now that Universal is working on a "new generation" of souvenir wands, which will have interactive capabilities inside the park and some (undisclosed) additional use at home, too. So your old wands won't be able to do what the new ones will. The wands' abilities are described as more complicated than simple RFID-based triggers.

Finally, many of us are debating just how animated the Gringotts dragon will be. Will it just breathe fire, or will it move, as well? I haven't heard a definitive answer on that, and anyone who's been around Animal Kingdom's Yeti can tell horror stories about trying to maintain a functional animatronic figure on that massive a scale. But the dragon inside the Gringotts ride? Well, that appears to be a different situation.

For the latest on Harry Potter Diagon Alley and other theme park news, follow Theme Park Insider on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

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Told ya so! Universal Orlando confirms Harry Potter - Diagon Alley for 2014

By Robert Niles
Published: May 8, 2013 at 6:49 AM
Universal Orlando this morning confirmed the news we've been telling you for months: That it is building a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, themed to Diagon Alley, in Universal Studios Florida. And that it will open in 2014.

Concept art of Diagon Alley
Concept art from Universal

From Universal Orlando's press release:

Building on the global phenomenon that is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Resort and Warner Bros. Entertainment today announced an expansion of historic proportion with the entirely new themed environment, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

Scheduled to open in 2014, the world’s first centrally themed, multi-park experience expands The Wizarding World of Harry Potter across both Universal Orlando theme parks and allows Universal’s creative team to bring an unparalleled vision to this unique project. The new area will bring to life some of the experiences and places found in and around London in the Harry Potter books and films, offering brand-new adventures for fans and theme park guests from around the world.

Diagon Alley and ‘London’ will be located within the Universal Studios Florida theme park, which is adjacent to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, where guests now experience Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. The new area within Universal Studios will be just as expansive, immersive and authentic as the existing themed environment.

And – just like in the books and films – guests will be able to travel between ‘London’ and Hogsmeade aboard the Hogwarts Express.

Work on the new area is already underway. When complete, it will feature shops, a restaurant and an innovative, marquee attraction based on Gringotts bank – all directly inspired by the fiction and films.

More details on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley will be released over time.

We first reported the plans for the new land in December 2011, revealing the Gringotts coaster and basic layout of the Diagon Alley. And we first reported in March this year that Universal was aiming for opening Diagon Alley in July 2014.

You can read our complete coverage of Universal's Harry Potter attractions on our Wizarding World of Harry Potter page.

Update: Just confirmed from an inside source: The dragon atop Gringotts in the Harry Potter concept art is not an artist's embellishment. It will be real (i.e. a physical prop and not a projection). And the dragon will breathe fire.

As Dewayne Bevil from the Sentinel said to me earlier, when we were looking at the concept art, "It looks like Disney's dragon from New Fantasyland flew over to Gringotts."

Yeah, and it's going to be living there now.

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A closer look at plans for Universal Studios Florida's Harry Potter Diagon Alley, and an expected opening date

By Robert Niles
Published: March 23, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Fifteen months ago, we gave you your first look at the upcoming Gringotts roller coaster that will provide the centerpiece of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. At the time, I also got a glimpse at the plans for the area that will surround Universal's Gringotts, though there wasn't nearly as much detail about those shops and restaurants for me to see and pass along to you, then.

That's changed.

I've now gotten a chance to get a closer look at what you'll find in Universal Studios Florida's version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am blown away.

Diagon Alley
The view down Diagon Alley, from Pottermore

If you thought that the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure raised the bar for a themed entertainment area, Universal's getting ready to raise that bar a notch higher.

You won't see Diagon Alley from the rest of the park -- it'll be hidden behind the facades of Grimmauld Place, Wyndham's Theatre and other west end London landmarks. Only when you go through the adjacent Leicester Square station will you happen upon the "secret" entrance to the land, next to the Leaky Cauldron.

The Leaky Cauldron will be the new land's restaurant. And beyond the restaurant, Diagon Alley opens up in a riot of detail from the Harry Potter books and movies. This isn't some flat theme park land -- it will unfold before you on multiple levels, with elevated train trestles, stairways and multi-story facades. If you're looking for refreshment beyond the Leaky Cauldron, wander down the alley and turn left at Gringotts to find Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.

You'll find Ollivander's in Diagon Alley, of course, and on a much larger scale than in the Hogsmeade outpost in the original Wizarding World. There appear to be multiple "theaters" for the Ollivander's show in this Wizarding World, perhaps helping to alleviate the often-long waits found in the Islands of Adventure version.

Other shops will include Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, which appears to be the gift shop at the exit from the Gringotts ride. And, yes, there are plans for a Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes as well, located near the land's exit.

For all you Slytherins out there, Universal's not forgotten you. Knockturn Alley comprises about one-third of the land, with Borgin and Burkes as its centerpiece.

The Gringotts coaster will be the land's main attraction, and there's space designated in the plans for lockers, so expect similar boarding restriction as on Revenge of the Mummy and the original Forbidden Journey ride. The land's other ride will be the Hogwarts Express train that will connect Diagon Alley with Hogsmeade and the original Wizarding World. There appears to be a ticketing hall in the works the entrance to the train station, perhaps allowing visitors who haven't upgraded to a park-to-park ticket to do so in order to board the Hogwarts Express.

Plans call for dozens of other locations in the new land, most of which I assume to be simple facades surrounding the shops, restaurants and attractions I've mentioned above. But they'll provide abundant photo ops throughout the area. (When Diagon Alley opens, look for me getting my picture taken next to the offices of the Daily Prophet!)

So, when will this new land open? When an initial source told me, I was stunned. So I dug around a little. Now, based on what I've heard and found, I believe that Universal is planning to open Diagon Alley in… July 2014.

That's right. After opening Transformers in Universal Studios Florida this July, Universal's going to follow up with a new Harry Potter land the next summer. If that sounds aggressive, let's remember that USF's Transformers is going from green light to opening in about 15 months, and Universal's well into construction on Diagon Alley already.

Of course, nothing's certain in construction, but if you're a Harry Potter or a theme park fan (and I presume that you are since you're reading this site) and you're not already saving up for a trip to Universal Orlando, start now. Fifteen months ago we first learned of this new land. And if plans hold, in just over fifteen months from now, it'll be open.

I cannot wait!

Update: We've posted some fresh aerial construction photos of Diagon Alley, provided by another Theme Park Insider reader.

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Plans for Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida revealed

By Robert Niles
Published: December 31, 2011 at 4:03 PM
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.

Gringotts exterior
The Gringotts Bank exterior, from the Harry Potter films.

Diagon Alley and Gringotts exterior
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.

Front view

Rear view

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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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood, but when?

By Laurie Niles
Published: December 6, 2011 at 4:01 PM
Universal Studios Hollywood officially announced this morning the arrival of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California, though park officials provided few details of when and what that might be.

One fact is confirmed, though: USH's Wizarding World will include Hogwarts Castle, and there's more to come at the original Wizarding World in Orlando, too.

"We have brought the world of themed entertainment to a new level with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter," said Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO of Universal Parks and Resorts. He said that the Wizarding World would be "greatly expanded" in Orlando, "We're going to build upon the fantastic experience we have there."

Butterbeer toast

Williams joined California Governor Jerry Brown, Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in a Butterbeer toast to the new land. The Weasley twins from the Harry Potter films, James and Oliver Phelps also were on hand for the announcement.

Weasley twins

"The Harry Potter books and films are among the most powerful stories of our time," said Ron Meyer. "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is setting a new standard -- We'll take the same approach as we bring Hogwarts to Hollywood."

Gov. Jerry Brown

Governor Brown said that California is a "mythical place" and that "we have some tough times, but the movie industry gives us hope. We are truly a 'state' of imagination, and this Harry Potter project pushes us just further down that uncertain road where California is going."

Speaking of uncertainty, there were no question from the press during the scripted event so several questions remain unanswered about the project at this point:
- When will it open?
- What rides, shows, shops and restaurants will it include?
- What will it replace in the current Universal Studios Hollywood theme park?

Given that a Hogwarts Castle will be the centerpiece of the new development, it's hard to imagine that Universal would build the Wizarding World on the Lower Lot of the park. (Why put a castle in a valley?) So that would suggest that the Wizarding World would go somewhere on the park's Upper Lot, such as replacing either the Gibson Amphitheater or Terminator 2: 3-D attraction, as Robert suggested in a post earlier this year.

Update: Here are video highlights of the announcement:

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2015 – Harry Potter Goes to Hollywood

By Jeff Elliott
Published: December 1, 2011 at 2:13 PM
Update: (Dec. 5) Universal Studios Hollywood has announced a press event for 11 am, Tuesday, Dec. 6 to make the announcement. Governor Jerry Brown will be there with pretty much all of Universal, Warner Bros. and Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood management to have a "Butterbeer toast."

2015 is shaping up to be an incredible year for theme parks. Of the parks that receive regular mention on this site, the current list is Shanghai Disneyland and Avatar Land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

What we are currently hearing from very reputable news sources is that a new Harry Potter Land is going to open at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2015 in a deal that should be finalized in the next couple of weeks.

The biggest questions are where is it going to go and what is it going to include. To answer those questions, I must point out that this is a very fluid situation that has yet to be officially announced, but what we are hearing is that it will be somewhat similar to the Harry Potter Land at Islands of Adventure. Whether that means that Hollywood is getting robotic arms and dueling coasters is anyone’s guess. The only thing that we can bank on at this point is an immersive village where they serve Butterbeer someplace.

Photobucket

Your thoughts?

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Universal Orlando announces special 'Harry Potter' event for November

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2011 at 9:45 AM
Universal Orlando's gone ahead and done something many of us have predicted or wished for: It's planning a Harry Potter weekend at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for Veteran's Day weekend in November.

Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe, answering my question during a press Q&A at the Wizarding World last year. Will he be among the cast members at the November event?

As of now, the only way in is to buy a combo hotel/ticket package through the Universal Orlando website. Packages start at $369 and includes four nights' hotel plus a three-day ticket to the Universal Orlando theme parks, admission to an in-park Q&A session with a Harry Potter cast member, a pin and a Blu-Ray set of the Harry Potter films.

The weekend will also include screenings of all eight Harry Potter films at the CityWalk theaters, as well as a party on November 13, with food, Butterbeer, live entertainment, as well as cast member appearances.

Packages go on sale Sunday, July 31. You in?

Update: I've got some thoughts on the annual passholder issue.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter turns one!

By Domenik Jost
Published: June 18, 2011 at 7:16 PM
Exactly a year ago today, at 9:23 am, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened it's doors. Since then millions of guests have walked through the arches into Hogsmead, rode the award-winning ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and tasted that deliciously addicting butterbeer.

Today, at exactly 9:23 a.m., Universal Orlando celebrated the one year anniversary with complimentary Butterbeer, Cauldron Cakes, and Chocolate Frogs.

With my virtual butterbeer on my screen, I say toast to a happy one-year anniversary!

Remember, Theme Park Insider has an entire page dedicated to all the coverage from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter including photos, videos, and reviews.

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What would you do? Creating a Harry Potter Halloween event

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM
Theme parks across the country are gearing up for their annual Halloween events. But at some theme parks, Halloween isn't just another overlay, it's a perfect thematic fit for one of the park's existing attractions.

You'll find one of these perfect fits at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, where the park's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter cries for a Halloween event to feature it.

Universal's not hosting any Halloween event at the Wizarding World in this, the land's first year, since crowds continue to fill the land without any extra inducement and the park's still tweaking its operation.

So we'll leave this as a "What Would You Do?" exercise: For 2011 and beyond, what would you include in a Halloween event at Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Remember that everything in the Wizarding World must be canon according to J.K. Rowling's works, so no cheesy cross-overs with Jurassic Park dinosaurs or Frankenstein's monster battling wizards outside the Hogwarts Castle. But Rowling's given you plenty of material to work with, as the annual "Halloween Feat" appears in the first four books of the Harry Potter series.

Halloween Feast at Hogwarts

How would you work the Halloween Feast into the Wizarding World? That's what I like to hear from you, in the comments.

Since the main Halloween event in the Harry Potter world is a feast, you've got to figure that the The Three Broomsticks should figure into any plans. (Yes, the Harry Potter Halloween Feasts takes place inside Hogwarts' Great Hall, but I think that it is reasonable to assume that the people of Hogsmeade would celebrate a Halloween Feast of their own.)

What menu Halloween-only food items would you add at The Three Broomsticks, or sell from carts in the Wizarding World? (Pumpkin pasties, anyone?)

Personally, I think that a Harry Potter Halloween event should be a daytime affair included with regular park admission rather than another hard-ticket event, and positioned as a more family-friendly option than Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Floating Jack-o'-lanterns should decorate the Hogwarts castle queue, and bats should fly overheard through the castle dungeons. Special Halloween candy should appear at Honeydukes. And Halloween Feast-themed merchandise should be offered at the Wizarding World's shops.

I'd also like to see the Three Broomsticks shake up the menu a bit. The restaurant could add a special "Halloween Feast" option, or add additional a la carte entrees and desserts to match the Halloween theme. Universal could program a special feast show with assigned seating times, or continue normal operation with the addition of some entertainment (such as the skeleton band from Chamber of Secrets). I could be swayed either way, based on a strong argument.

(FWIW, I don't think that a Haunted Mansion-style overlay of the Forbidden Journey ride would be a viable option for Halloween Feast, unless Universal really thought ahead and filmed that footage with the Harry Potter actors when it filmed the original Forbidden Journey scenes.)

What would you like to see in Halloween Feast at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Let's hear you best suggestions in the comments.

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What's the deal with some Disney theme park fans and Universal?

By Robert Niles
Published: August 26, 2010 at 1:02 PM
What's the deal with some Disney fans and Universal?

It seems to me that no matter what Universal rolls out, some Disney fans will dismiss it. Take a look at the reaction to Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Theme Park Insider readers love the new land, and its top ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, voting that attraction the best new attraction for 2010. Universal Creative's work has amazed attraction designers throughout the industry - even folks within Walt Disney Imagineering have (very privately) expressed admiration for the project.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey drew one million riders faster than any ride in Universal history, while helping increase attendance at Islands of Adventure this summer, even as attendance at other Orlando-area theme parks (including the Walt Disney World parks) fell.

Honeydukes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park
The kids, in front Honeydukes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park

I understand that Harry Potter doesn't connect with some theme park fans. No theme or franchise will wow everyone. Even Disney's most popular franchises leave some visitors cold. I get that.

But beyond folks who just don't care for Harry Potter, by no objective standard can one consider The Wizarding World of Harry Potter an inferior creative work than what is available today at the Walt Disney World theme parks. I'm not insisting that Universal's Harry Potter is better than everything at the Walt Disney World Resort, just that it is ridiculous to claim that it's worse than the Disney average.

Yet that's what a few Disney fans continue to insist. On online message boards, and overheard around the Walt Disney World Resort, these fans (many of whom I assume have yet to visit the Wizarding World), bad-mouth Universal's work.

"The opening was a disaster." "A flop." (This argument reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line: "No one goes there anymore; It's too crowded.")

"Harry Potter won't last." "It's just a fad." (With more than $5 billion in movie ticket sales and more than 400 million books sold to date, this franchise isn't fading out anytime soon.)

"It's not that impressive." "Disney could have done better." (The Wizarding World is "not that impressive" only to people unwilling to consider it. And if Disney could do better, well, I would love for WDI to accept that challenge and brew up something new which tops it!)

Not all Disney fans think this way, of course. I personally know dozens of Disney-lovers who can't wait to visit the Wizarding World, or who have visited and think the new land delightful. But I also couldn't miss overhearing a few others trash Harry Potter, while I was in Orlando. (FWIW, I heard not one negative comment about the new land while on Universal property. Only while at Disney.)

Here's my theory: It's insecurity. Some fans see their love for Disney as an affirmation of their good taste. As consumers, they've invested heavily in what's widely considered the best in the business (Disney), so that must mean they're smart customers.

But what if another company comes up with something better than (or even just as good as) Disney? What does that say about those fans' financial investment in being a Disney fan? Does that mean they don't have the great taste and smarts that they thought they did?

The easy solution, then, for these folks would be to dismiss the possibility that anyone other than Disney can ever do anything as well as Disney does.

That's just silly, though. If you've dropped thousands of dollars on a DVC membership, or annual trips to Walt Disney World - great. You've gotten a delightful entertainment experience for your money. (Or, at least, I hope that you have.) But entertainment isn't a zero-sum game. A wonderful new attraction at Universal doesn't diminish your Disney experience.

If anything, it can enhance it. Go ahead, spend a day or two up the road at Universal during your next Disney World vacation, and enjoy it. Or even if you don't, just wait to see what Walt Disney Imagineering comes up with as it tries to wrest the industry "buzz" back from Universal.

Trust me, WDI has the ears of Disney management now (especially John Lasseter) and they are playing to Disney's corporate pride. I continue to believe that's part of the reason why Disney's revisiting its plans for the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion and why so many attractions at Disneyland in California are getting some much-needed love. Lasseter, Tony Baxter and others at Disney have no intention of letting Mark Woodbury and Thierry Coup at Universal Creative hog the industry spotlight for long.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey's been great for Central Florida tourism - and for the theme park industry. As we've noted before on this site, what's good for Central Florida and the theme park business is good for Disney, too.

So, to those few Disney fans who are dismissing it, you don't need to knock The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to prove your credibility as a Disney fan. Enjoy it, celebrate it, and wait with us to see (and, we hope, enjoy) Disney's inevitable response.

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The Day After the grand opening of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: June 19, 2010 at 7:45 AM
ORLANDO - It's the Day After the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and reports say that the crowds remain beyond huge.

People again are joining the queue near the front of the Islands of Adventure theme park for a six-hour (or more) wait just to gain entry into the new Harry Potter land. Once inside, as I predicted yesterday, the longest wait is not for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, but for the Ollivander's wand-selection show. Visitors are queuing three hours for the show, which admits just 20 guests at a time. (Ollivander's capacity makes Disney's Dumbo look like Pirates of the Caribbean.)

It steams me, though, to read comments from visitors complaining the Universal didn't prepare for the crowds. Are these folks so thick as to expect that they would be the only ones interested in visiting an attraction that people have been writing about for three years?

Obviously, crowds were going to be massive, and visitors should have expected that. Frankly, I think Universal's done a wonderful job so far. It's protecting the experience within the land by restricting access, and it is running the access queue the long way around the park, through Jurassic Park to Marvel Super Hero Island, to encourage people to experience alternate attractions first.

The only thing that Universal could have done that would have minimized the wait for the huge crowds that want to experience this delightful attraction was to have gone to the system I described in a vote of the week last week: Employ Universal Studios Singapore's system of making people buy tickets for a specific day. That way, Universal could have limited the number of people holding tickets valid on June 18 (and June 19, etc.), so that the area would not be overrun by visitors.

Even with that system though, Universal would have had to implement a FastPass-style timed entry system for the Wizarding World on top of that to avoid the six-hour waits as all the day's ticket-holders arrived early and rushed to do Harry Potter first.

Some visitors figured out how to make yesterday's crush of visitors work out for the best, though. Lines at neighboring Universal Studios Florida were short all day. Check out this comment from a Theme Park Insider reader:

I got into IOA at about 10, saw how insane the line was, left for studios, and rode everything in studios AND ate lunch in citywalk to be back in IOA by 1:45. (studios was absolutely dead, it was great!) My group decided to try and wait again because we heard it was only 4 hours to be let into the [wizarding] world... It turned out to be a 6 hour wait, but we finally got in. We did single rider on FJ and got in within 20 minutes.

The team members along the wait and inside wwohp really [made] everything run as smoothly as possible when all things were considered and I have to say they were very understanding about one person holding the place in line while the others hopped on a ride along the wait route. (It was only harry potter people were lined up for - the rest of the park had 5-10 min waits all day and we just did essentially our own version of child swap as we came to each ride in the line.)

"Hermione"'s system might be the best plan going for experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, should you have plans to visit Universal's Islands of Adventure in the next few weeks. Your other option would be to book a room in one of Universal's three on-site hotels, to get guaranteed early access into the land. (Rooms are sold out for many days in the summer, however.)

Remember, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be here a month from now, as well as six months from now and a year from now. I think it's a great attraction and well worth the wait, whether you wait in a long queue this week at Universal, or wait instead at home to book your trip.

Finally, thank you to all who've left such warm and appreciative comments on the articles we've posted from Orlando this week. I've had such fun covering this, obviously, and only wish that I'd had the chance to meet more Theme Park Insider readers in person while here this week. (Though I am completely exhausted by now!) Thank you, as always, for reading the site.

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Universal Orlando opens its Harry Potter land to the public

By Robert Niles
Published: June 18, 2010 at 7:23 AM
ORLANDO - Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened officially to the public this morning, as the stars of the Harry Potter film series greeted elementary school children and ushered them through the gate to Hogsmeade.

Overnight, Universal wrapped the entrance to the land with a giant Hogwarts admission letter, as thousands of theme park fans gathered in the park and television news helicopters hovered overhead.

Curtain

At about 20 minutes after 9, the curtain dropped, and the stars of Harry Potter emerged from the Hogwarts Express.

Daniel Radcliffe and co-stars

They then came down from the stage to greet a prize-winning class of first-graders from San Antonio, Texas.

Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton and Michael Gambon
Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton and Michael Gambon

Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint
Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Oliver Phelps and Rupert Grint

To "christen" the new land, the Weasley brothers tried to fire a rocket. And, predictably, failed.

The Weasley's rocket

Yet daytime fireworks soon screamed across the sky over Hogsmead anyway.

Daytime fireworks

And with a flurry of confetti "snow," the land was opened to guests

Hogsmeade gate

At least, it opened to a few thousand early-arriving and hotel guests who'd been allowed to queue in Lost Continent and Seuss Landing during the ceremony. Tens of thousands more guests were held on the other side of the park, lining up from Jurassic Park all the way back to the Incredible Hulk Coaster. They'd have to wait for folks from the first group to exit the land before being allowed entry, as park watchers expected the Wizarding World to be packed to capacity all day.

Update: Domenik just uploaded a video:

Update 2: The size of the crowds in and around the park is insane. (Check the comments for photos.) Clearly, if you were planning to come to the park today and haven't yet, don't bother. Save it for another day, one on which you arrive early. Universal opened the parking garages at 5:30 this morning, and there were people queued on the Interstate overpass leading into the park long before then.

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Video tour of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Domenik Jost
Published: June 17, 2010 at 8:09 PM
Take a walk with us through Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

[Note from Robert: A huge thank you to Domenik for shooting and editing today's video tour. You'll be seeing more from Domenik this fall when he covers Halloween events for Theme Park Insider.]

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Theme park magic in Orlando has a new home: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

By Robert Niles
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:56 PM
ORLANDO - The signature attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a twisting, tilting dark ride through and around Hogwarts castle.

The first sign of a good theme park ride is that there is no sign. As you walk up here, you're not approaching another attraction in a theme park - you really feel like you are walking up to Hogwarts castle. Working with the design team from the Harry Potter films, Universal Creative has developed an edifice that surpasses even Disney's Cinderella's Castle.

Hogwarts castle

The story is that Dumbledore's opened the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to Muggle tours for the first time, to the disgust of Salazar Slytherin, who'll let you know that in the castle's Portrait Hall. Yes, the portraits move and speak to another, just as in the films, in an effect that is completely believable.

Portrait hall in Hogwarts castle

You've probably seen attempts at moving pictures in theme parks before. The Wizarding World has several others throughout the land, relying (as is typical for this sort of thing) on video screens. But the portraits within the castle don't look like TV screens embedded in a frame. They look like moving paintings - as simple and profound as that sounds.

The queue through the castle would merit a recommendation on its own. But as a pre-show? Universal Creative sets expectations almost impossibly high, with elaborately detailed recreations of Dumbledore's office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, enhanced with filmed appearances from Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon, reprising their roles as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore.

The Hogwarts headmaster has arranged for Professor Binns to present a lecture "of just a few hours" on Hogwarts' history, but Harry and his friends arrive in the classroom to rescue us from that deadly boring fate. Instead, we're off to the Room of Requirement, where Hermione will enchant a bench for us to ride on, then blow us into the Floo Network for the trip out of the school.

We end up at the top of the Astronomy tower, where we're to follow Harry and Ron, on their broomsticks, over to the Quidditch pitch. But a dragon intervenes, setting up the ride's first stunning encounter with an animatronic figure.

Imagine an Omnimover dark ride, such as Disney's Haunted Mansion. But instead of riding in cars that move only in one dimension, rotating on a stable axis, imagine a riding on a robot arm that rotates and elevates along three axes - left and right, up and down and tilting diagonally - as it moves through the show building. Then think about Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and how it blends movie screens with physical props in a three-dimensional dark ride space.

Creative Director Thierry Coup has surpassed his work on Spider-Man with Forbidden Journey. Here, richly detailed animatronics add to the mix of narrative tools, along with a clever use of on-ride photography.

Together, the ride and show elements deliver several of the most dynamic, iconic moments from the Harry Potter series, while placing you into that action in relation with the characters themselves, as Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury said this morning. You'll face that dragon, along with massive spiders and dementors, on the most action-packed day of hooky since Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Eventually, of course, Harry gets the snitch, the wizards save your bacon and everyone exits happily into the gift shop.

After 10 years, we, at last, have a ride that exceeds Spider-Man, a rousing journey through a pop-culture icon that thrills riders with unique experiences at every turn. About 15 years ago, a mom on the dole in Scotland created a story about a boy wizard that inspired a generation of children around the world to embrace reading like no other generation before. When media scolds complain about kids' short attention spans, I laugh. Kids who queue up at midnight to buy and read 750-page books have no problem with their attention spans. Jo Rowling's creation inspired those kids (and many adults) to embrace literature. And now it's inspired a creative team to build the most advanced and engaging attraction in theme park industry history.

Forget fairies or wizards. That is magic.

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The stars of Harry Potter talk about Universal Orlando's Wizarding World

By Robert Niles
Published: June 17, 2010 at 3:35 PM
ORLANDO - This morning, Universal Orlando Resort made several of the stars of the Harry Potter films available for a question and answer session, about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the actors' roles within it.

Tom Felton and Michael Gambon
Tom Felton and Michael Gambon

Rupert Grint
Rupert Grint

Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe, answering my question

I asked the actors about the first time they heard confirmation that the theme park attraction would be built, and their reaction to that news. Radcliffe spoke of his initial hesitation, followed by his relief in seeing the detail to which Universal was building the theme park addition.

You can see their answer in the video below, as well as their responses when asked about their reaction to going on the ride for the first time.

Looks like Dumbledore's not a roller coaster fan....

Update: I added a bonus video for our Facebook fans of Tom Felton, talking about the kid who told him, "I hate you." Funny!

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Universal Orlando's celebrity opening ceremony for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: June 16, 2010 at 9:06 PM
ORLANDO - Universal Orlando Resort opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (sort of, you can't get in until Friday morning) this evening with a celebrity-filled ceremony in the Islands of Adventure theme park.

Author J.K. Rowling was there, though she ducked the media in favor of greeting some of the invited children. I did pick her out of the crowd at the ceremony, though she deftly managed to keep folks between her and anyone with a professional-quality camera, preventing me from getting a clear picture to show you.

Nevertheless... Warrick Davis, Professor Flitwick from the Harry Potter films, started the program by conducting Universal Orlando's "Frog Choir," before the spotlight moved to Universal and Warner Bros studio executives.

Several readers tweeted and messaged me that the sound cut out on the speeches during the live webcast, but no matter. You didn't miss much, as Tom Williams and Ron Meyer of Universal and Barry Meyer of Warner Bros took turns congratulation each other, as well as the Universal Creative team and Harry Potter artistic director Alan Gilmore and production designer Stuart Craig for their work on the project, all to polite applause.

The invited crowd roared more loudly, though, in welcoming conductor and Academy Award-winning composer John Williams to the stage with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Williams led the musicians in two numbers from his Harry Potter scores.

John Williams conducts

Then, the Knight Bus interrupted with a honk, delivering film actors Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley) and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) to the stage. But where's Harry?

The supporting cast of Harry Potter

A Ford Anglia then drove up, and out hopped Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe addressed the crowd, urging them to wave the souvenir wands they'd been given toward Hogwarts Castle, while casting a "Lumos" spell.

The Weasley family. Oh, did I spoil something? :-)

The stars of the Harry Potter film series

The first two attempts elicited little more than a flicker, but on the third - "Lumos Maximus!" - the previously darkened castle glistened with light as fireworks then exploded behind it.

Fireworks over Hogwarts Castle

Grand finale

After the finale of the Thinkwell-produced ceremony, many of the invited guests crowded the Forbidden Journey queue, while the Orlando Phil serenaded those who remained behind to nosh on fish n' chips, Scotch Eggs, haddock, salmon, roast beef, Cauldon Cakes, Treacle Fudge, life-sized Chocolate Frogs, and, of course, Butterbeer.

By the way, having tried it now, I'm convinced that this liquid crack is part of Universal's diabolical plan to force return visits to the Wizarding World: I could develop a ruthless addiction to this stuff.

Check in tomorrow for a video report from inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with my review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

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Universal Orlando to webcast Harry Potter grand opening

By Robert Niles
Published: June 15, 2010 at 11:28 AM
Last week I wrote on Facebook that all theme parks should live-stream their attraction opening ceremonies on the Web. (As Disneyland did for the World of Color premiere.)

Well, Universal Orlando's not going keep Harry Potter fans around the world in the dark. Universal announced today that it will webcast the Wizarding World of Harry Potter grand opening at www.universalorlando.com/HarryPotterNews.

There will be two webcasts:

Celebrity Preview: Wednesday, June 16 from 9:30 – 10:00 PM EDT

Official Public Grand Opening: Friday, June 18 from 9:00 – 9:30 AM EDT

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Which celebrities do you most want to see at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 14, 2010 at 7:18 PM
With the opening just a few days away, rumors are swirling about who will show up at the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando this week.

Knight Bus
Universal's brought the Knight Bus to Orlando for the premiere. Photo courtesy Universal Orlando Resort.

We've seen several of the top actors in promotions for the new land, including Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton and Emma Watson. Two people we haven't yet seen on site at Universal Orlando are perhaps the two biggest celebrities in the Wizarding World: Daniel Radcliffe and author J.K. Rowling.

Whom would you most like to see show up at the premiere? I'll be in Orlando, starting Wednesday, to cover the festivities. If you'd like to watch at home, in addition to reading Theme Park Insider's coverage, NBC's Today show will broadcast from Universal on Friday morning, the day of the official public opening.

Update from comments: Universal's confirmed that John Williams will be at the premiere. More names to come.

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First Look: Harry Potter's Three Broomsticks restaurant now open all day

By Scott Joseph
Published: June 10, 2010 at 6:03 PM
It's been serving breakfast for a couple of weeks, but today the Three Broomsticks restaurant at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened for all today for lunch and dinner, too. Here's a first look at the fish, chips and butterbeer being served.

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NBC to air Universal Orlando/Harry Potter special on Sunday

By Robert Niles
Published: June 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM
NBC will broadcast a half-hour TV special on the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park this Sunday, June 6, at 7pm Eastern and Pacific (6 Central and Mountain).

The special will include a video tour of the new land, as well as commentary from cast and creators.

The NBC television network is part of NBC/Universal, which shares ownership of the Universal Orlando resort with Blackstone Group.

Update: If you missed it (or want to see it again), here's the video.

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Reader review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando

By Robert Niles
Published: June 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM
Theme Park Insider reader Jason Read just e-mailed the following review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park:
I'm not much for spoilers (where's the fun in knowing everything?) but a few things I mention might fall into that category, so fair warning. Also, signs proclaimed that the attraction was still in technical rehearsals and some elements may not have been functioning. Everything I saw (both in this attraction and the land overall) seemed very polished and ready for primetime, but it is still in (hotel only) soft opening.

You begin by walking through gates into Hogwarts--the cast, referring to you as Muggles, try to convince many to try the demo seat outside the attraction and stow as much as possible in a locker which was free for the first hour or so (you really don't want to be holding onto anything during this one).

You're then lead through some deep underground caverns of the castle and out into a greenhouse. Though it's outdoors, fans keep the area cool and the frosted awnings diffuse the hot Florida sun while keeping things open. Look closely for a few (thankfully nonscreaming) Mandrakes among the wide array of wild-life.

Queue greenhouse at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Then it's past large wooden doors into the castle proper. There are several hallways to walk through before you encounter the really fantastic talking portraits. They're extremely convincing and begin to set the story up-- Dumbledore has invited everyone to tour Hogwarts (much to the displeasure of a cranky Salazar Slytherin). Oh, and be sure to tell Hagrid if you bump into a missing dragon.

The Hogwarts portrait gallery, at Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

It just a few short rooms more to Dumbledore's office where he welcomes you and tells you some stories about the school. The room, like the rest of the queue, is intricately propped with references to the films and books.

Dumbledore's office, at Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando

Next it's into a classroom where Harry, Ron, and Hermione hijack your tour to take you to the upcoming Quidditch match. There are some fun effects in here, and the anticipation certainly grows as it's clear the attraction is coming up quickly.

The creative team made the choice here not to "pulse" the queue (have each group see the preshow once through before letting the next group in) and instead just let everyone stream through. They did time it out pretty well though and each time through I saw just about one rotation of the preshow. By not pulsing the line actually moves at a pretty steady clip throughout--which should make some of the sure-to-be-exceptionally-long lines a little more bearable.

Next it's off to the room of requirement where a small army again asks some to sit in the test seat and reminds everyone about loose articles. A nice touch is that the cast now says they are preparing you for the Quidditch match whereas before they referred to your tour of the grounds (they may have had different costumes as well, I'm not sure).

From there they split groups into two lines and you get the safety spiel by the Sorting Hat (how great is that!)

The "Enchanted Benches" seat four and are loaded via moving walkway. The loading process, at least while I was there, seemed to be going off like clockwork--this area was also, quite smartly, very heavily staffed.

The sense of motion achieved by the ride system is really spectacular. Everything from flying to quick maneuvers and scene transitions are all handled beautifully. You never go upside down but a couple times you're on your back looking straight up. Many of the movements are sudden and quick but are not jerky at all. The ride combines segments of projection with segments of real sets and animatronics. The flying segments are great--they're like a much more active version of Disney's Soarin' attraction, except you feel like it's happening only for your group.

One thing worth mentioning is that unless you're looking really hard you feel like the only ride vehicle in the room. This perfect masking really makes for a magical experience--seeing other ride vehicles always irks me.

I won't detail the ride scenes so I don't ruin the fun but I will say that there are encounters with lots of the scary, creepy crawly, and supernatural members of the Potterverse. [Editor's note: If you, like Ron Weasley, don't care for spiders, you might have a few tough moments riding.] The ride should be enjoyable for all but there are a lot of quick references to the films that will make a lot more sense to those that have seen them. The story moves along pretty quickly and it took me a couple rides to catch it all (as any good ride should!)

The ride may be a little intense for the younger set--some of the effects come VERY close to you, but in my estimation it matches the scariness of the films appropriately. The height requirement (48 inches) may make this less of a problem while causing some of it's own (there's going to be a few disappointed young Muggles out there). The attraction also boasts an impressive list of ailments that should cause one to consider not riding.

One effect that I loved (though it took me until my last ride to figure it out) is a Dementor that attacks you and you see an image of your own face in a cloud of smoke as you retreat away. Very cool.

My family (some theme park nuts, some not) all agreed that this raises the bar and surpasses Spidey for best ride of all time. Scenery, lighting, audio, ride system, and effects were all top-notch. Congrats to Universal Creative and all the project teams on a job well done.

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What are your chances of getting into a soft opening of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

By Robert Niles
Published: June 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM
So, what are your chances of getting in to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or even to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, before they open to public, officially, on June 18?

PotterwatchLet's try to figure that out. (Warning: Unconfirmed speculation ahead!)

Universal Orlando hotel guests are getting into The Wizarding World for two hours, between 8 and 10am, each morning. The Wizarding World did open to non-hotel guests this morning, for the first time. Here's what I think happened:

Remember that Universal's trying to "load test" Forbidden Journey. It wants to see that the new ride can handle its targeted number of riders each hour, without going down. Also remember that downtimes aren't always the result of a mechanical failure. The operations crew is learning how to load and unload people from the ride as swiftly as possible, while remaining safe. That takes practice. If people are getting on or off too slowly, that slows down units on the track, potentially leading to a downtime, which Universal wants its crew to learn to avoid.

But to do this testing, and for the operations crew to get this experience, Universal needs a steady stream of people flowing through the queue. Yesterday and this morning, Forbidden Journey drew down its queue to the point where the ride became a walk-on. That's not good for testing and why (I suspect) Universal let some "day guests" into the land this morning - to fill up the Forbidden Journey queue.

If the Forbidden Journey queue reduces to a walk-on any other mornings between now and June 18, expect the same thing to happen.

According to our report yesterday, Universal's also scheduled its team members to keep the Wizarding World open throughout the day, provided that Forbidden Journey can hit its capacity and uptime targets for a certain amount of time. We don't know how long that time is, but Universal's operated Forbidden Journey for the entire two-hour window two days in a row now. If I were in charge (and I'm most certainly not), I'd want to see three to five days of flawless operation for the hotel guests before extending operations later in the day.

Also, I wouldn't want to extend operations for the first time on a weekend. I'm sure Universal doesn't want local annual passholders slamming the park on a weekend before it's sure that Forbidden Journey and its crew are good to handle those crowds. That's why I'm looking toward the week starting next Monday, June 7, as your best bet for when Universal might keep the Wizarding World open past 10am. (It could happen Thursday or Friday this week, but the odds get better with each passing weekday.)

If the Forbidden Journey performs well and keeps hitting its numbers next week, then Universal might be inclined to keep to open to day guests the weekend after next, June 12-13. That also might help draw locals to the park a week ahead of the official opening, taking some of the crowd pressure off the park the following weekend.

After the 13th, though, the chances of a public soft opening begin to diminish. Universal's scheduled its press event for June 16-17, so I strongly suspect that there will be no access on those days to anyone who's not a hotel guest. Given that Universal will need to set up for the press event, I wouldn't get my hopes up for a soft open on the 15th or 14th, either.

So if you're not pressed for time, I'd wait until next week before going on #Potterwatch at Islands of Adventure. If you'll only be in Orlando this week, and really want to see Potter, be at Islands of Adventure before the park opens at 9am, walk directly to the Wizarding World, through Seuss Island, and hang out until a little past 10, hoping that the hotel guests linger over breakfast at the Three Broomsticks and that the ride ops need to let in some days guests (like you!)

Any Universal Orlando team members care to comment on all this speculation? (Remember, you can comment anonymously, though those are screened for approval before going live on the site.)

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New Harry Potter ride stays open all morning, plus other Wizarding World updates

By Robert Niles
Published: May 31, 2010 at 10:03 AM
Theme Park Insider reader Jason checks in again this morning from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure, where he reports that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey stayed open for the entire two-hour period when the new land was open to Universal Orlando hotel guests.

In fact, by the end of the two hours, the ride was a walk-on*:

[*Update: Check the comments for confirmation that the Wizarding World won't be "soft opened" to the non-hotel-guest public until Forbidden Journey can hit its mark more consistently. But a public "soft open" had been scheduled.]


Below are a few more scenes from around the Wizarding World, which Jason described in detail in the comments of a previous post:

Hippogriff-- never rode it in it's original incantation but the theming is well done including the Buckbeak animatronic and Hagrid's hut (including the sound of growling Fang)

Dragon Challenge -- wish they had done at least a minor update to the ride vehicles and finally made the effort to conceal backstage equipment. The new queue is much better lit and is very well done (though the original was excellent also). Best parts of the queue are the TriWizard Cup, the floating candles from the films, and some great views of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts on the way in.

Food -- Three Broomsticks had the exquisite detail found in the entire area but as they were only serving breakfast for the preview we skipped it. I can't wait to come back when the fish and chips are being served. The menus are done in the same style as the newspapers from "Prisoner"... very clever. The Butterbeer is not something I expected to like as I'm not into sweets, but was very pleasantly surprised. Cream soda-y with a carbonation that helps cut the sweetness ($8.50 in a souvenir glass)

Wand Shop-- very fun little performance, the theming is superb and kids will love this (there were lots of operations people about timing the display and counting guest numbers). You exit into the gift shop where you can purchase a ~$30 wand (I had to ask as there aren't any prices on boxes). What happened to the MagiQuest-like features? Was that just fan speculation? I was really looking forward to that as it would have been brilliant.




The "frog choir" sings "Double Trouble" from "Prisoner of Azkaban."


Hargrid's Hut from the Flight of the Hippogriff queue.


You can see the Weasley's wrecked Ford Anglia from "Chamber of Secrets."


The Owl Post in Hogsmeade

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New photos from 'soft opening' of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: May 29, 2010 at 1:24 PM
Theme Park Insider reader Jason sent along some pictures of the hotel-guest-only opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. He wrote that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was open for only 20 minutes this morning, "but it's [a] beautiful area!"

Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express

Hogsmeade
Walking through the village of Hogsmeade

Flight of the Hippogriff
Test train on the Flight of the Hippogriff family coaster

Entrance to Hogwarts Castle
The crowd, queuing for the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts Castle.

The Wizarding World is opening to hotel guests only for two hours each morning (8am to 10am, I believe). Forbidden Journey seems to go down like Newton's apple, so if you're staying in a Universal Orlando hotel and want to ride, I would advise getting to the park well before 8 to get to the front of the line.

Note from Robert: Great pics there! But the shot of Hogwarts got me thinking, where have I seen that before? A ride entrance, through two animal-guarded columns, with a castle tower looming behind?

Curse of DarKastle at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

It's on a much smaller scale, but still, I find the comparison interesting.

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Potterwatch: Will the Forbidden Journey open today?*

By Robert Niles
Published: May 27, 2010 at 10:24 PM
Harry Potter in the Forbidden Journey. Image courtesy Universal Orlando.It's May 28, and we're on Potterwatch all day here at Theme Park Insider.

This is the first day that folks will be staying at Universal Orlando's resort hotels under the Harry Potter package that the resort began selling earlier this year. As part of the package, visitors were promised admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.

But will that admission include a ride on the new land's signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey?

If you are inside Islands of Adventure this weekend, use this thread to let us know if you got inside the Wizarding World and tell us what you were able to experience. The more detail, the better! And if you have photos, please e-mail the best ones to themeparkinsider @ gmail.com and I'll post them here, too. (YouTube links, too!)

*Update: Reports say... Forbidden Journey opened, then quickly closed. If you don't have a hotel pass, don't expect to get anywhere near the land, but hotel guests are getting in to the other shops and the restaurant.

Update 2: Some great (okay, totally silly) fake reports on Twitter:

"Rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, ride has Doc Octopus & Green Goblin trying to shoot down guests on broomsticks"

"My favorite part of the Harry Potter ride was the section where they swooped over Sleeping Beauty's Castle"

"Rode Forbidden Journey! Don't want to give it all away, but we flew over San Francisco on broomsticks!"

"I didn't understand the section of Forbidden Journey where hagrid was beating harry with his broom"

"Man, Harry Potter was so AWESOME! I especially loved when Optimus Prime came in and him and Harry fought King Kong."

And my favorite: "Rode Harry Potter, KUKA arm suspends you as giant ape tries to swat you down. Took picture in Harry Potter's hand at the exit."

More, uh, reputable reports have that there are multiple narratives in the Forbidden Journey story, including Dementors, Nagini and Voldemort, so re-rides might be rewarded with a different experience. For that day off in the future will visitors will be able to get on Forbidden journey more than once in a day, of course. ;-)

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Vote of the week: What are your expectations for Universal's Harry Potter land?

By Robert Niles
Published: May 20, 2010 at 10:24 PM
With employee previews beginning for Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and with outsiders getting their first look at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue and other Wizarding World sites, I think it's time for a poll on your expectations for the new land.

Cast members from the Harry Potter films visit Universal's Wizarding World
'Harry Potter' film actors Robbie Coltrane [Hagrid], Matthew Lewis [Neville], Emma Watson [Hermione], and Oliver [George Weasley] and James Phelps [Fred Weasley] visit The Wizarding World in this publicity photo released by Universal Orlando.

The quality standard for Universal's Islands of Adventure is the park's highly acclaimed Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, which debuted with the park in 1999. So, naturally, I think it fair to judge Harry Potter against that ride.

To make this somewhat apples-to-apples, let's judge the Wizarding World's signature attraction, the Forbidden Journey queue and ride. Will it be better than Spidey, and set a new standard for the park - and the industry? Do you expect Potter to match, but not exceed, Spidey? Maybe you think that it won't rise to that ride's level.

Or maybe you're hoping to experience Harry Potter with no expectations at all.

That's our vote of the week:

Let's hear your expectations for this new land, in the comments. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider!

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A round-up of sneak previews of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: May 19, 2010 at 12:33 PM
Universal Orlando allowed attendees at the recent travel industry "Pow-Wow" to walk through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this week. Here's a round-up of write-ups: (FYI, no photos or video were allowed, so no one has any.)

Orlando Sentinel

Tampa Tribune

St. Pete Times

From a mom's perspective on Potter for toddlers

Concerns about accessibility for larger riders

Thanks to TPI reader Pyra Dong for the initial link.

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Is Walt Disney World feeling nervous about the arrival of Harry Potter?

By TH Creative
Published: May 3, 2010 at 9:21 AM
As the opening day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter approaches, I have been hearing more and more chatter about how Universal Orlando’s newest attraction will affect Walt Disney World. Will the inevitable stampede of guests heading to Islands of Adventure have an impact on the attendance numbers at the Disney parks? Are the WDW powers that be feeling a little nervous?

This topic of conversation reminded me about a newspaper ad that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel almost twenty years ago. It was June 7, 1990 and Universal Studios Florida was welcoming its first visitors. That day a full page ad announced “Welcome Universal Studios Florida. What’s good for tourism and entertainment is good for Central Florida.” At the bottom of the ad was a picture of Mickey Mouse and the logo for Walt Disney World.

Orlando Sentinel ad from Walt Disney World welcoming Universal Studios Florida

I’ve always felt it was a bit simplistic to regard Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando as competitors. I never believed that consumers took an “either/or” approach to visiting the Orlando theme parks.

Nor do I believe that the Potter attractions will have any significant impact on Disney’s success. Indeed, according to the Themed Entertainment Association’s recently released 2009 Global Attraction Attendance Report, if the new Potter attractions actually doubled attendance at IOA, the number would still fall short of Walt Disney World’s least attended park – Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Having said that, there is no denying that Disney executives have always had a degree of curiosity about the attractions designed and built by the team at Universal Creative. A healthy dose of media attention was invested the day Michael Eisner strolled into IOA to experience the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man. Several years ago I ran into Tony Baxter at an IAAPA convention in Atlanta. Noticing my Men In Black: Alien Attack construction team shirt he told me he’d ridden the attraction three times and was impressed.

However, while the Disney team has every reason to be impressed (indeed maybe even humbled) by the work of Universal Creative, I’m not sure that they feel even remotely intimidated by the arrival of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’d even go so far as to say that the Disney company is probably pleased about the attention the Potter attractions are drawing to the region.

In fact, I think it would be wise for Disney to play the same card again and take out another advertisement in the local paper. I’m almost certain they have a picture of Mickey dressed in wizard garb, don’t they?

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Who'll be the the first to try the Platform 9 3/4 gag at Harry Potter?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 20, 2010 at 10:55 PM
I'm wondering at what point this conversation - or something like it - takes place at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

Perhaps it will be a frustrated Universal employee who inflicts this on an especially annoying or clueless visitor. Or maybe an older brother or sister, with a sick sense of humor, trying to convince a gullible younger sibling.

"Hey, how do we get to Harry Potter?"

"Oh, it's easy. You get there the same way as they did in the films. Platform 9 3/4"

"What?"

"Platform 9 3/4. You know, like to get to the Hogwarts Express? It's a really cool effect - it was really expensive to produce and that's why it took them so long to open. You have to get a running start, then run through that brick wall over there."

Platform 9 3/4
Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station in London

"You're kidding me."

"No! I'm totally serious. Just run at the wall there, then it will open and you'll be on the ride."

I know, it's evil. ;-) But I will bet you a galleon that someone tries to pull this gag not long after the new land opens.

Update: Now that I think more about it, I think the most logical candidate to really, really want to try this gag might be a frustrated Disney cast member, after being asked about Harry Potter one too many times this summer.

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Harry Potter filmmakers talk about Universal Orlando's new 'Wizarding World' land

By Robert Niles
Published: April 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM
Universal Orlando's released its latest promotional video for the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opens to the public on June 18. In this video, producers and designers from the Warner Bors. film series talk about the development of The Wizarding World at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

This also provides an excuse for me to tell you that I've created a special The Wizarding World of Harry Potter page on Theme Park Insider, which includes several of our top Blog Flume posts about the new land and its attractions.

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New video of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: April 8, 2010 at 2:50 PM
Universal Orlando today released a new video of Universal Creative's Mark Woodbury walking through Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, opening officially on June 18 and soft-opening who-knows-when:

Comments?

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It's official: Harry Potter opens at Universal Orlando on June 18

By Robert Niles
Published: March 25, 2010 at 7:38 AM
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure will open - officially - on June 18, just making Universal's announced deadline of "Spring 2010."

Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure

No word yet on a soft opening in advance of that date, though a Universal spokesperson told the Orlando Sentinel that people who bought Harry Potter packages starting as early as May 28 would get the access they were promised.

Universal also confirmed details about the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which will take place in Hogwarts Castle. The queue will be part of the attraction (and so, no Universal Express access, at least initially) and begin the dungeons of the castle.

Universal confirmed that you are Muggles for this one, and will see talking portraits, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore's office,a qudditch match, dementors and the Forbidden Forest. You'll ride on "enchanted benches" (i.e. the Kuka robot arm) and get the safety spiel for the ride in the Gryffindor Common Room.

More details in a video and text press release from Universal:

The Story

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey draws you into the excitement and chaos of Harry's life. As you venture through Hogwarts castle, you meet Harry, Ron and Hermione who convince you to skip a planned lecture and follow them. Upon taking their advice, you travel by Floo powder, and begin the adventure as you soar over Hogwarts, narrowly escape a dragon attack, have a close encounter with the Whomping Willow, get pulled into a Quidditch match and more.

"Guests will experience firsthand a completely new adventure featuring the iconic characters, amazing creatures and recognizable locations they've only read in the books or seen in the films," said Thierry Coup, creative director for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The Location
The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey experience starts as soon as you walk through the gates of Hogwarts. Within the towering Hogwarts castle, you explore a truly magical place. You journey through iconic locations taken from the films and take in the extraordinary detail of each scene. They include:

  • Dumbledore's office: Here, you meet the Headmaster as he welcomes you to Hogwarts
  • Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom: Where you first meet Harry, Ron and Hermione
  • Gryffindor common room: You meet three additional characters who prepare you for your journey
  • Room of Requirement: Here, with hundreds of floating candles above, you take your seat on an enchanted bench and begin the Forbidden Journey
  • Other locations: In addition, guests will pass through the Dungeon passageway and hallways of Hogwarts where they will have the chance to see hundreds of wizard portraits from the films, including several magical talking portraits created exclusively for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including the four founders of Hogwarts. Guests will even get a glimpse of the Sorting Hat.

The attraction's newly created ride system envelops guests in filmed action scenes and moves those scenes with them as they travel through the ride, allowing more time in the center of the adventure and with their favorite characters. This fusion of robotic technology and filmed scenes has never been achieved until now. In some cases, technology had to be invented to achieve the highest level of guest experience. The combination of pioneering, state-of-the-art technology, innovative filmmaking and surprises around every corner make this attraction the embodiment of the Harry Potter book and film series—and the future of theme park entertainment.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Quick Facts

  • Storyline: As you venture through Hogwarts, you meet Harry, Ron and Hermione, who convince you to skip a planned lecture and follow them. Upon taking their advice you travel by Floo powder, and begin your adventure as you soar over Hogwarts, narrowly escape a dragon attack, have a close encounter with the Whomping Willow, get pulled into a Quidditch match and more.
  • First-ever combination of advanced robotic ride system technology with innovative, immersive filmmaking
  • Award-winning composer John Williams oversaw the creation of the attraction's score
  • The queue includes the following Harry Potter book and film elements: Headmaster Dumbledore's office, Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, Gryffindor common room, Room of Requirement, and the greenhouse; talking portraits including the Fat Lady and the never-before-seen four founders: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw; the Sorting Hat, the One-Eyed Witch statue and the Mirror of Erised
  • Duration of ride: The full attraction experience, including the queue, takes about an hour
  • Number of scenes in the attraction: 12
  • Characters (featuring Harry Potter film talent): Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid and Draco Malfoy
    • You may also catch a glimpse of Fred and George Weasley, Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter to be open May 28

By Robert Niles
Published: February 18, 2010 at 10:12 AM
Word's breaking that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park on May 28.

I've gotten the word from a couple of sources, and a new vacation package that Universal's promoting for Harry Potter says that the offer is good for stays starting May 28.

That's the Friday that kicks off the Memorial Day weekend in the United States, which is a traditional opening date for theme park attractions in Orlando and Southern California. (Regional theme parks tend to debut their new rides when the park opens for the season.)

Keep in mind that this is the date when Universal's taking reservations for travel packages. I wouldn't be surprised to see the new land open before that date, at least on a "soft opening" basis. Universal previously announced that the new Harry Potter land would be open to at least walk through during Grad Nights in late April.

Update: Universal's really trying hard to cook some waffle into that opening date: From its press release:

The May 28 travel date was set to help consumers with vacation planning and does not represent the opening date for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. Universal has announced that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open in Spring 2010. Specific opening information will come as soon as it is available.

I read that as it'll be open on May 28, but might be open sooner.

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Flying broomsticks for Universal's Harry Potter ride? Super Bowl TV ad gives clue

By Robert Niles
Published: January 29, 2010 at 11:40 AM
Universal Orlando announced today that it has bought airtime for a TV ad during the first half of this year's Super Bowl. (Featuring, of course, my Indianapolis Colts, playing the heel for a change, against the pretty much universally beloved New Orleans Saints.)

Last year, Universal ran an ad that kicked off its million ticket giveaway promotion. This year's commercial will promote the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure, though it will also promote the resort in general. But what caught my attention was the screen grab Universal released from the ad:

Harry Potter Super Bowl TV ad

Broomsticks? Where in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will theme park visitors be riding broomsticks? Will that be the theme of the Kuka arm ride vehicles on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, or will the B&M Inverted Coaster seats on Dragon Challenge be themed to broomsticks? (We already know what the ride vehicles look like on the Flight of the Hippogriff family roller coaster.)

Update (Feb. 2): Here is the ad:

Discussion at this thread.

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A new, 3D view of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: January 28, 2010 at 1:44 PM
USA Today is running a map of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in today's newspaper - one that you can view in 3D via an online webcam.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Map

The instructions are in today's article taking a look at what fans can expect in the new land at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, opening this spring. (Gotta love their choices for outside theme park experts to quote....) There's also a link to a PDF version of the map [7.4 MB], if you don't have a copy of the newspaper.

I couldn't get the 3-D version to work; I got an error from the www.harrypotter3d.com site when I launched it that the server was inaccessible. Maybe too many folks are trying to look at the map, or maybe it just doesn't work on my Mac. Anyway, I'd still suggest downloading the map; it's a fun souvenir. (Seriously, though, USA Today and Universal Orlando really should have put their logos on the downloadable map. Lost promotional opportunity there, ya think?)

Anyone else get in to the 3D version? From the preview video on USA Today's website, the map itself looks like a more detailed version of the map that was first revealed in the video that I embedded at the bottom of our preview post on the Wizarding World last fall.

Update: Universal Orlando today also sent out a press release with additional details about Hogsmeade Village (which appears to include locations from Diagon Alley in London, alas....)

“When guests visit Ollivanders, they will instantly feel like they’re in the shop from the films. It’s an intimate, single-windowed building, with the same signs, colors and other details read about in the books and seen in the films,” said Alan Gilmore, art director of the Harry Potter films and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. “But more importantly, visitors to Ollivanders will experience for themselves the magical moment that forever changed Harry’s life.”

Inside Ollivanders, visitors will be surrounded by thousands of multi-colored dusty wand boxes stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling. They will be welcomed by an inquisitive Wandkeeper, who will guide them through an enchanting experience to find their very own wand. First the Wandkeeper will ask the guest a few special questions and then select the first wand for them to try. Just like Harry, the guest will be prompted by the Wandkeeper to give the wand a wave, and a series of magical mishaps will occur until the right fit is found.

In addition to the magic featured in Ollivanders, guests will experience many other magical happenings at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including a Howler featured in the Owl Post shop front window whose ranting can be heard by guests as they pass by; The Monster Book of Monsters in Dervish and Banges that will snarl and growl at anyone who tries to get too close, and the Hog’s Head which can be seen puffing his jowls at visitors who visit the Hog’s Head pub.

Thoughts?

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Hogwarts castle exterior complete at Universal's Islands of Adventure

By Robert Niles
Published: January 25, 2010 at 2:21 PM
Universal Orlando sent along a photo of the now-completed exterior of Hogwarts Castle in Islands of Adventure:

Hogwarts castle at Universal's Islands of Adventure

The castle will be the home of the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter land that will open at the park this spring.

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Vote of the week: Will you visit Universal Orlando's Harry Potter theme park land in 2010?

By Robert Niles
Published: January 15, 2010 at 7:51 AM
This is the time of year when I like to start looking ahead to all the new attractions that will debuting at theme parks around the country this year. But this year, really, there's one new attraction that sucking all the attention from everything else:

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.

The Kuka robot-arm-driven dark ride through Hogwart's Castle (and, via Floo Network elsewhere in the Wizarding World) promises to be most unique ride system debuting this year, not to mention being the first U.S. attraction based upon the biggest book-and-movie franchise in the world this decade. Obviously interest is high, not just among the regular theme park fans and Harry Potter devotees. This is one of those occasional theme park openings that draws attention from folks who don't normally pay much attention to theme parks.

Which provides a huge opportunity for Universal Orlando to win new customers and build market share. (Universal's already raising some ticket prices, in an effort to ensure visitors stay longer than just a day or two this year.)

But as we wait for Universal to reach out to the general public, what about the industry's most loyal fans? What about you? Are you planning to make a trip to Universal Orlando this year?

That's our vote of the week:

Tell us why, or why not, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider!

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Universal raises multi-day pass prices in advance of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: January 11, 2010 at 12:45 PM
I suppose that this shouldn't come as a surprise, but Universal Orlando has raised the price on its $99 two-park, seven-day pass to $170, a nearly 72 percent increase.

The increase is part of a restructuring of Universal Orlando's theme park tickets, to what the resort is now calling Universal's Select. Much like Walt Disney World's "Magic Your Way" ticket packages, the new pricing structure is designed to get people to opt for longer stays at the resort: The price per day decreases the more days you buy.

Of course, the old online-only $99 deal might have been the best deal going in Orlando. But at that price, one could argue that it was *too* cheap - many folks bought the pass and used it only for a day or two, as it was cheaper than buying a one-day, two-park Universal Orlando pass at the gate, and the same price as buying it online. Charging more might convince some visitors to spend more time at the parks, to "get back the value" from their purchase.

Now, Universal charges between $79 for a one-day, one-park ticket and $170 for a seven-day, two-park ticket. (Those are adult prices. Prices for kids ages 3-9 run $10-$20 less.)

These tickets also expire within 14 days of first use, a restriction that prevents visitors from buying tickets now for use on future vacations. (The old $99, seven-day ticket expired after seven days, but some other unused Universal tickets did not expire.)

The changes come just in time for the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter this spring. Will this price increase reduce the number of fans slamming the park for its opening? Is it a smart move by Universal to increase revenue at the one park almost certain to post at attendance gain this year? Neither, or both?

Let's hear your thoughts, in the comments.

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Is it too late for Harry Potter to become a profitable franchise for Universal Orlando?

By Michael Owen
Published: January 6, 2010 at 6:57 AM
Possibly the most eagerly anticipated theme park expansion of 2010, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, set to debut at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, will more than likely attract millions of fanatics of the boy wizard over the next year.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The addition of the Potter themed land, based around Hogwarts and the surrounding area, represents Universal’s first major expansion of their Islands of Adventure theme park which opened in 1999. Whilst the attractions are all set to be of the same high standard set around the rest of the park many industry experts have questioned just how long guests will remain spellbound by a series of movies nearing its end.

Of course, these concerns are all valid, just ask Mattel, the company who own the rights to produce the Harry Potter based toys. After the release of the first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosophers (that was the UK book title) Sorcerer's Stone, Mattel couldn’t get the Potter toys on the shelves fast enough, selling around $160m worth in 2001 alone. However, the year following the release of the second instalment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the value of sales was estimated to be around $130m according to The Economist, a fall of $30m.

Similar trends were seen in the release of the Harry Potter video games, all of which have been developed by Electronic Arts. Since the release of the original game all sales of the Potter-based games have declined. Seemingly even the most budding magicians, witches and of course wizards can get too much Harry Potter magic.

It has to be said that it isn’t all downward spirals for the billion Dollar franchise, book sales, for example, have increased over time, with J.K Rowling’s seventh instalment of the series ‘The Deathly Hallows’ being the best selling of them all. The same can also be said of the movies, more and more people seem to become fans of this tale of courage, integrity and friendship as Warner Brothers premiere’s each new movie. This has to be primarily attributed to the promotion of the books and movies as for all ages. No longer are these best-selling novels regarded as simple children’s stories, they’re aimed not only at the young but the young at heart.

Theme parks are a whole different ball game as we know. If you ask many kids these days if they’ve ever seen an episode of classic Sci-Fi series ‘The Twilight Zone’ they’ll most likely give you a confusing stare, not knowing exactly what you’re talking about. Despite this ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is arguably Walt Disney World’s most popular and most loved attraction. At the same time when ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ appeared at the same park it was at the height of its popularity, yet visitors didn’t take to the attraction and the interactive quiz lost popularity along with the show it takes its name from.

There are of course other movie franchises in theme parks. As much as I hate to use the same park as an example over and over I have to go back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The movie park as hosted the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular since opening and Star Tours for over a decade. Both attractions have passed the test of time and are still favourites today. Yes, both are in need of some changes but the main thing is the theme based around two huge movie franchises still holds strong, even though the last Star Wars movie was released several years ago.

So, franchises can last for a considerable number of years in a theme park. As long as the theme is backed up by quality attractions then I’d bet that any half decent movie series could last over a decade in the park. Having a big name movie franchise at one of your theme parks is great for drawing crowds but what will keep them coming back are great rides and shows, regardless of the theme. If something is good people will ride it over and over again, even if the movie it’s based around is a little passed its sell-by-date.

Universal are taking precautionary and notably smart steps when it comes to ensuring the Potter theme stands the test of time. Rather than going down normal routes to revenue Universal are adopting a more unique approach. The Wizarding World will offer more than just rides and shows, unique products such as Butterbeer taken from the books will be sold in outlets around the land. This product and many more will be unique to the Potter themed land and it’s likely to be much more profitable than the traditional Potter products sold outside of the theme parks gates.

If I was asked to say now if The Wizarding World would be a success I’d say yes. The plans look simply amazing and if the rides and shows are kept up to scratch then Universal will have no problem selling millions of tickets for years to come just to people who want to experience some magic outside of Walt Disney World. However, if Universal is expecting to make a ton from merchandise as they do at many other themed areas, most notably Marvel Superhero Island, they may be in for a shock. Mattel’s figures don’t lie, there’s seemingly only so much Potter stuff one would-be wizard can have and that’s something Universal will have to deal with in years to come.

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The scaffolding comes down at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Mitchell Botwin
Published: December 23, 2009 at 10:26 AM
The scaffolding has come down on Hogwarts. The Orlando Sentinel has a photo montage of the status of the Wizarding World.

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Universal's impending PR problem with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2009 at 9:55 PM
Universal Orlando managers must be enjoying the avalanche of coverage that their webcast today has generated for Islands of Adventure's upcoming Wizarding World of Harry Potter development.

But could that coverage be creating a PR problem for Universal?

Take a look at some of today's headlines:

These are among the biggest and most influential major media outlets in the country. And they all say the same thing: Not that Harry Potter will be a new land within Islands of Adventure. No, the headlines say that Harry Potter will be a new theme park.

And that could turn out to be a huge problem for Universal.

One bad scenario for Universal: Folks expecting an entirely new theme park will be confused when they get to the ticket booths or Universal website and don't find "the Harry Potter park" as one of their ticket options. They'll wonder that it is not open yet, or worry that they're being conned into buying a ticket for a park that they might not want in order to get into Harry Potter.

A slightly worse scenario: Even before getting to that ticket purchase, people will factor the cost of visiting an additional theme park into their planned Orlando vacation, and some might skip looking into a visit as a result, without knowing that Harry Potter is included in the cost of admission to IOA.

The worst case for Universal: People find the right ticket option, buy it and visit - only to discover that the "new theme park" is really just three rides (and only one of them new) and no shows. Expecting a full-fledged Harry Potter theme park, they get mad that they didn't find that and turn to e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, online message boards and all their friends to complain. Loudly.

Blame the company for its silly "theme park within a theme park" verbiage. Rather than just come out and say Harry Potter would be a new themed land, or "island" if you will, within Islands of Adventure, Universal has lost an opportunity to create needed brand recognition for IOA, while potentially leading many future visitors to expect something that Universal Orlando will not deliver - an entire theme park devoted to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal needs to spend the months between now and next spring clarifying this Wizarding World, heavily promoting it as a land within IOA: "Want to see the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter'? It's only in Universal's Islands of Adventure!" etc. The news media coverage, as shown by the headlines today, is moving in a direction that Universal shouldn't want; Universal needs to hit hard with advertising, online and on air, in order to better manage public expectations for the new land.

This doesn't mean that Universal has to play down WWOHP. This looks like it will be one of the most impressive new projects within a theme park in years. But it will be a project within an existing theme park, and Universal's looking at a PR nightmare if the public fails to comprehend that.

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Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open in Spring 2010, webcast confirms

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2009 at 8:27 AM
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida will open in "Spring 2010," Harry Potter co-star Tom Felton announced today in a live press webcast.

Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the popular movie series based on J.K. Rowling's best-selling books, was welcomed on to the webcast set by Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury, who hosted the webcast.

"I'm not usually welcomed in the Gryffindor common room," Felton cracked as he entered the crimson-and-gold set.

Tom Felton
Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) in Universal's Gryffindor Common Room

Woodbury described some highlights of the new land during the half-hour webcast. He began by introducing the official map of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, created by the same team that devised the Marauders' Map for the "Prisoner of Azkaban" film.

WWOHP map
Map of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Visitors will enter the land through the village gates of Hogsmeade, where they will see Hogsmeade Station and the Hogwarts Express to their right. On the left will be Zonko's joke shop and Honeydukes candy store, which both will be themed merchandise locations, selling items from the books and movies, as well as park-specific Potter-themed items.

Down the street on the left, visitors will find The Three Broomsticks restaurant and Hog's Head Pub, which will be restaurants, serving Harry Potter-themed fare, including Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice.

Across the street stands the Owlery and Owl Post, which will be a working post office, offering Hogsmeade post marks on sent items. Next to that will be Ollivander's, another merchandise location where "the wand chooses you," in an undescribed "interactive experience." There'll be a Dervish and Banges merchadise shop, as well.

That leaves the attractions. Woodbury confirmed that there would be three: Dragon Challenge (a rethemed Dueling Dragons), Flight of the Hippogriff, a family coaster set amid a Care of Magical Creatures class led by Hagrid (this is rumored to be the Flying Unicorn coaster, rethemed) and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the centerpiece new attraction located within Hogwarts Castle.

Concept art
Concept art from Universal of the Forbidden Journey entrance

Woodbury did not provide details on Forbidden Journey, except to confirm that it is not a roller coaster. However, it's been widely leaked that the ride will be a indoor track ride, where visitors will travel via "Floo Network" on Kuka robot arms, mounted on an elevated track, through iconic scenes from the Harry Potter stories. It was confirmed that visitors will walk through the Gryffindor common room on their way into the ride, and the ride's blueprints show the queue area proceeding through the Great Hall, as well.

Will Wizarding World of Harry Potter meet its opening date? Which scenes will make the cut for the Forbidden Journey ride? What's on the menu at the Three Broomsticks? And will the Ollivander wands trigger any interactive experiences outside the shop? Questions remain as fans anticipate the land's opening next year.

Update: Here is the video fly-over of the new land that Universal played during the webcast. It's an overview of the map, with close-ups of Hogsmeade, followed by Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff and then Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

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Flying Unicorn, Enchanted Oak close at IOA

By Robert Niles
Published: July 9, 2008 at 9:50 AM
Construction continues on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And, as a result, the construction perimeter around the new Hogwarts Castle/Hogsmeade area has expanded to include the Flying Unicorn Vekoma Junior Coaster and the Enchanted Oak Restaurant.

Both locations are closed, though I do not know at this point if those closures are permanent, or if those facilities will be rethemed to become part of the Harry Potter land.

Harry Potter
Looking from the Flyring Unicorn toward Jurassic Park

Harry Potter
Looking west from the Flying Unicorn exit

A new walkway is open to Jurassic Park, bypassing this corner of Lost Continent, though a spur route is open, which dead-ends at the Dueling Dragons coasters.

We suspected that Flying Unicorn's days were numbered when we visited Orlando last month, so Natalie was sure to get a last ride on her favorite attraction. Then she blew her spending money on a stuffed unicorn afterward.

Unicorn

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Universal Orlando's top chef talks about Mythos, food trends... and Harry Potter

By Robert Niles
Published: July 7, 2008 at 7:00 PM
Last week, Mythos restaurant at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida won Theme Park Insider's award as the world's best theme park restaurant, for the sixth year in a row. Prior to the announcement, I spoke on the phone with Universal Orlando's executive chef Steve Jayson, who oversees all the resort's food operations, including Mythos.

Steve JaysonJayson, a 53-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, joined Universal in February 1989, before Universal Studios Florida opened to the public. He previously worked at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista, among other positions in the hospitality industry.

At most theme parks, food service provides little more than fatty take-out fare, often dished up by outside vendors. Disney's Epcot made dining an attraction unto itself when it opened more than a quarter century ago, but few other parks have risen to that challenge since then. I asked Jayson about Universal's philosophy toward food service.

"We wanted our food service program to be equal to that of anything that [visitors] would find anywhere in America," Jayson said. "If they were at Louie's Italian Restaurant in the New York park of our Universal Studios park, the experience in that restaurant would be equal to a street corner Italian restaurant in New York City."

Jayson talked about the importance of using fresh ingredients in producing award-winning food for theme park visitors.

"The infrastructure put in place by the industry to deliver to chefs anything, from organic products to fresh products, seasonal products, regional products, has grown incredibly," Jayson said. "So I can get the little, unique ingredients that one might need to create something very individualized."

"I can get anything from anywhere, within 48 hours," Jayson said.

Freshness is also the key to Mythos' success, Jayson said.

"Everything in there is fresh," Jayson said, crediting Mythos chef Mark Wachowiak. "We use all fresh produce, all fresh poultry, all fresh fish and we cook it in a simple type of way."

"You get this innovative, creative menu that you might not expect to see in a theme park and then when the food gets delivered, it's good... it's hot, it's wholesome, it's fresh and it tastes good. Then you walk out and you go 'Holy cow, I never expected anything like that at a theme park.'"

So what is Jayson's favorite item on the menu?

After pausing for a moment, he picked the cedar-smoked salmon. "I usually get it a Mythos and I'll put it on a salad, like our blueberry spinach salad that we do. That's my favorite, whether it is on the salad or the full entree."

So what other trends does Jayson see in the industry, trends that we'll be seeing at Universal Orlando?

"The big, giant desserts are a thing of the past," Jayson replied. "I think that chefs in America are slowly educating the public about flavors and creativity and at the same time the portion sizes are coming down - for a number of reasons. The simple fact [is] that costs of goods are getting higher, so chefs are saying, 'Well, I can try to make it a little bit smaller.'"

"The other part of it is the whole obesity issue in America is really starting to surface... so that's our way of being sensitive to that, too."

Jayson cited the shot-glass desserts served at Mythos, as well as smaller pastries now being served at Confisco Grille as two examples where Universal's embraced a "smaller plates" philosophy.

I couldn't resist the chance to ask Jayson about Universal Orlando's next big project: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Forget Quidditch, the "Harry Potter" experience I most want to have is a Hogwarts feast. Jayson confirmed that he and his staff are working on new food service concepts for Universal's Harry Potter land.

"We've visited Scotland to get a real close, personal look at the cuisine that they eat," Jayson said. "We're going to have one restaurant that's going to have a nice selection of items that you would probably expect to see in that vein of cooking, and I think it is going to be great."

But what about pumpkin juice? They've got to have pumpkin juice, right?

"Pumpkin juice, butterbeer," Jayson laughed. "All those great beverages, we are working on a lot of different things."

Click the link below to listen to my complete, 21-minute interview with Universal Orlando executive chef Steve Jayson:

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The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter comes to Universal Orlando

By Erik Yates
Published: May 31, 2007 at 5:40 AM
Its official, Harry Potter is coming to Universal Orlando, more specifically he is coming to Islands of Adventure in his own 20 acre Island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Orlando Resort, and Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. are partnering to bring a completely immersive and interactive area that is second to none to the Florida theme park.

“We will rely on our company’s rich movie heritage and expertise in transforming film concepts into theme park entertainment experiences,” said Ron Meyer, president and COO, Universal Studios. “The Harry Potter stories are among the most compelling of our time. The millions of people who have read the books and seen the movies will now be able to experience the world of Harry Potter in person.”

Inspired the stories by J.K.Rowling, the area will immerse visitors in the world of Harry Potter an allow them to visit such area as Hogsmeade,the Forbidden Forrest, and even Hogswart Castle.

The area is expected to open in 2009, and will include several attractions, shops and resturants that bring the stories to life, as well as a new state of the art attraction that will bring the characters to life in a way that fans have never seen before.

This rumor has been going on for the better part of a year [here, too], and has raised several questions on where the land will go. While it is still unclear, it looks as if some speculation is correct, that part of the Lost Continent area will become Harry Potter. Rides such as Flying Unicorn, and Dueling Dragons will be renamed and rethemed while areas such as Sinbad, Poseidon and Mythos will remain untouched. While this is not official, it does have many fans of the park breathing a sigh of relief, especially since Mythos has been voted "Best Theme Park Resturant" four years in a row beginning in 2002 by Theme Park Insider.

The entire project is expected to be complete in 2010. [Check out TPI readers' plans for a Harry Potter theme park from four years ago.]

Update: See http://media.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/ for Universal's press release and handout art as well as the anouncement webcast.

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Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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