On the Road to Diagon Alley: Universal reveals more about the The Hogwarts Express

March 14, 2014, 8:30 AM · [Update: We're hearing our first credible rumor of a soft-opening date for Diagon Alley: May 14. No guarantees, of course, with soft openings, but if you are visiting Universal in mid-May, we would love a trip report, with photos, if you get in. Good luck!]

Universal Orlando Resort teased a bit more about its Hogwarts Express ride that will connect the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands at the resort — the existing Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and the upcoming Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

We've profiled the Hogwarts Express on "The Road to Diagon Alley" before, and now Universal's offering its own description of the adventure visitors with Park-to-Park tickets will experience on the train.

Hogwarts Express train

To board the Hogwarts™ Express at King's Cross Station, you'll walk straight through a solid brick wall onto Platform 9 ¾™ where a Hogwarts™ Prefect will be waiting to lead you to your passenger compartment.

As you wind your way through the British countryside, keep watch outside your window. You never know who — or what — you might see flying, swooping or lurking just outside the train. You might encounter an adventure or two along the way as well, before alighting at Hogsmeade™ Station in Islands of Adventure.

Visitors also will be able to board the Express at a new Hogsmeade station for the trip over to Diagon Alley in USF.


Replies (81)

March 14, 2014 at 8:39 AM · I'm really curious about the brick effect... Seems hard to pull off at the scale it would require for a mass transportation/high volume ride system.
March 14, 2014 at 8:48 AM · reading details of this on here and on the Theme Park Review site it seems as if Universal have something very clever indeed lined up. It promises to be a unique experience.

Only one alarm bell rang for me. TPR said the following: "The Hogwarts Express will pull into the station billowing steam and smoke, before welcoming guests aboard. The train itself sits about 200 guests at a time, and is made to the exact size of the cabins and hallways of the train in the movies. The paint, materials, and even the whistle are all movie accurate". The trains have got to shuttle each way, allow time for guests to de-train and board, plus travel slowly enough for there to be time for the adventure to happen. That suggests that we aren't going to see departures any more regularly than every ten minutes or so giving an hourly capacity of 1200. Is that going to be enough to satisfy the demand?

March 14, 2014 at 10:16 AM · I also vaguely remember something about the brick effect being one of the seemingly impossible challenges posed to Disney Imagineering when they hopelessly tried to win the Harry Potter franchise. :)
March 14, 2014 at 10:17 AM · FWIW, 1,200 guests per hour is a pretty respectable hourly capacity rate. That's about what Thunder Mountain does, if memory serves me.
March 14, 2014 at 10:18 AM · Facinating video. The 8:52 video on the Diagon Alley expansion is a must-watch. It seems very exciting.
March 14, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Wouldn't it be 2,400 per hour if you include both trains running at the same time. I mean it would be 1,200 for Kings cross and 1,200 for Hogsmeade right? I am guessing that by the time they unload and then reload the trains then make the trip I think that they will be lucky to do the trip 5 times per hour (about 12 mins per trip). Which would be 2000 per hour total for both trains combined (1000 per train or station per hour).
March 14, 2014 at 10:32 AM · Apx. 1200 capacity hr.from each terminal, which means the actual capacity is apx. 2400 per hr. (train leaving Hogsmeade and train leaving Diagon simultaneously). That's in the vicinity of attractions like POC & Spider Man. This is in reality one attraction that has two loading platforms that operated in sync.
March 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM · Brent: I see that we came up with the same explanation at the same time. From what I've read on OU from their insiders, it seems like the boarding & unboarding process will be fairly quick. They compared it to the Mummy's Revenge . So the number should be fairly close to the 2400 figure, which is a very good capacity.
March 14, 2014 at 11:01 AM · Yeah Rob I hope they can get that many per hour through the ride. The one thing that Universal ride operators will have to watch is people trying to stay on the train after the ride is over to take pictures since the cars are really close replicas of the ones from the movies. I can just see people trying to do this and slowing the process down.
March 14, 2014 at 11:21 AM · I am still shaking my head that a park-to-park ticket is required to ride the Hogwarts Express. $200 is a steep price to pay for a train ride ($40 extra per ticket for a family of five to park hop). On the other hand this requirement may help control traffic - I know my family won't be riding unless they change it.
March 14, 2014 at 11:54 AM · Parents of 4 on WDW Magic had an interesting article comparing the pricing strategy of Universal vs. WDW. On their graph, while a single day park hopper was similar in price at both resorts, two and three day park hoppers were "considerably" cheaper at Universal than Disney. The thought was that Universal was trying to hold onto their visitors for at least a two or three day visit, but penalizing the single day visit by making it less feasible economically, and the slightly longer visit much more economical. That theory seems very feasible. So a one day visit to Universal is apx. the same as Disney. But beyond that, there's really no comparison. Universal would be much less. The Hogwarts Express is surely positioned to get visitors into a two park multi day stay. Universal employees that post on some other sites have said that even now Universal sells very few single park tickets. After Hogwarts Express debuts it will probably be close to nil.
March 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM · Brent: Good point on gawking slowing up the line. My guess would be they'll run it like the loading/unloading on Transformers where they yell at you to get you on & off super quick, using that as part of the ride scenario of urgency due to the Transformers attack. In this case, get off before the Dementors get you. LOL
March 14, 2014 at 1:17 PM · Rob, I am not trying to compare Disney to Universal in pricing or anything else. Put simply, my family has never park hopped at either company's parks. In fact, it is my opinion that all their parks offer plenty of attractions to occupy at least one full day of our time. The added expense of park hopping has never even entered my mind. But now Universal is telling guests that whether they purchase a one, two, three, or four day ticket, they must also purchase a park hopper to ride the train. In other words, Hogwarts Express is nothing more than a very expensive up-charge attraction. Universal wants people to pony up forty bucks to ride a train 100 yards to an adjacent park -- what a rip off.

There is a famous cliche that states a sucker is born every minute, and Universal is aggressively testing that cliche with this nefarious, price-gouging scheme.

March 14, 2014 at 1:25 PM · James; I understand where you are coming from. It's difficult economies where whole families are involved. I'm not defending Universal's pricing policies, just speculating that their aim is probably to encourage multiple day trips and discourage single day one park trips. In the past they were probably happy to get a tourist to make at least a one day trip away from their Disney vacation. Now they want that tourist to stay onsite, nearby, or leave Disney for at least 2,3 or 4 days.
March 14, 2014 at 1:38 PM · I am not sure how charging $40 extra to ride a train encourages anyone to stay longer. If I have to pay extra just to experience one D (or maybe C) ticket Harry Potter ride, I will stay LESS days to make up the cost. And why shouldn't I? I can park hop... so instead of staying four days and visiting each park twice, I can stay two days and still visit each park twice by park hopping.

I honestly think Universal is counting on folks not being smart enough or patient enough to do the math. Imagine a sign at a grocery store announcing: "Apples - three for a quarter, or a nickle a piece." How many folks buy three apples thinking they are getting a good deal?

March 14, 2014 at 2:05 PM · James: It may all come down to survey question scenarios and how the numbers are crunched in relation to those. And you're probably right about people doing the math. Supposedly Universal ticket booths highlight the park hopper functions and downplay the availability of one park admissions. They probably don't want that single park customer and would rather have a customer spend a long day in both parks. If a family is coming from Disney for only one day they want to have them as long as possible to maximize their profit. Hogwart's Express is probably going to have huge demand and if you put everything together from start to finish on the attraction, it's probably going to be viewed like an E ticket, which it may well be.
March 14, 2014 at 2:04 PM · We will be at universal in mid May.Does anyone know how to get picked for a soft opening?

March 14, 2014 at 2:28 PM · I just wish folks like me, and many others on this site, who view Universal as a multi-day vacation destination were not being price gouged for one ride. There should be an option to take the train on a round trip for those who have multi-day, single park passes. Why punish faithful fans just because they don't want to pay an extra $40 to park hop?
March 14, 2014 at 2:42 PM · But if you don't have a mulit-park ticket, you're going to be skipping either Hogsmeade *or* Diagon Alley. Why would you want to only do one of those *and* ride the train?

So it's an expensive ticket for just a train ride, yeah, but it's not just a train ride. It includes an additional section of the Wizarding World.

March 14, 2014 at 3:11 PM · James; I understand your position completely. If I remember correctly, Universal originally had not decided on whether to require a two park ticket to access the Hogwart's attraction. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall for their internal discussions. Perhaps the logistics of re queing, checking tickets etc. & turn around time seemed too formidable of an obstacle. Or the extra money interest popped up. Interesting.....Heh, if your're staying multiple days, you might want to check into getting an AP. I wasn't smart enough to do that my first two trips, but I saved a lot doing it last year and now I scheduled another vacation 11 months from that one, so I get two long vacations out of one AP. Makes my ticket costs cheap as all heck, and AP's are park hoppers too. Universal AP's are very fair in price. And with the multi day hoppers the difference between single & hopper becomes almost negligible. A 2 day hopper is $176, a 3 day hopper is $186, and a 4 day hopper is only $196. Once you get past that single day hopper, the prices are very reasonable.
March 14, 2014 at 3:47 PM · I personally do not think that it was as much of a money grab by Universal as it was a nightmare to think of what to do with people who did not have park to park tickets if they let them ride the train to the other park. I also think Universal used to be satisfied getting people who were staying on site at Disney to come to Universal for one or two days of their vacation, but now with all the money Universal is putting into their parks and in new onsite hotels they want people to stay at Universal for their whole vacation now.

I also see James's point of view that he would never buy a park to park ticket because they spend all day in one park and could save money not buying park to park tickets. But look at it this way James, a 2 day base ticket to Disney is $188 and a 2 day park to park ticket to Universal is $177. So if you were going to go 2 days to Disney and Universal then Universal is still cheaper than Disney even having to buy the park to park tickets.

March 14, 2014 at 4:43 PM · Rob and Brent, you guys make great points, and I appreciate everything you have to say. But any way you slice it, Universal is charging $40 per ticket to ride a train (anon poster you could not be more wrong with your comment unless you post another comment trying to defend it). I like multi-day vacations and leisurely strolls through one park....it is the way I roll. Why should I have to spend more money just to be allowed to ride one attraction?

And the logistics argument...heck, Universal has some brilliant folks and they need to figure that stuff out. How hard can it be to have a round trip ride? And who wouldn't want that extra leg of the trip for a little more immersion?

As for all the comments about Disney pricing vs Universal pricing, the fact is that people would be livid if Disney pulled an up-charge stunt like Universal is doing with their new train ride. However, because it is Universal we seem to want to cut them some slack. We have such a double standard some times just cause Universal was down and out for so many years and is finally emerging as a solid number two option. If Universal wants to play with the Big Boy, then Universal needs to be held just as accountable for their questionable actions.

March 14, 2014 at 4:54 PM · I really do understand what you are saying James I guess my point was that as a "big boy" Universal is still cheaper than Disney even buying a park to park. I also think that doing a round trip ticket would have really backed up the lines at both stations even more than it will already be (especially in the first year its open). And even though I fully understand why you buy base tickets without park to park I think that you are probably in a small minority. I live down here and have people visit all the time and have yet to have anyone buy a non park to park ticket yet. In fact most have bought annual passes for $199 and say they will be back sometime in the next 12 months lol. Come to think of it I should start charging for my guest room lol.
March 14, 2014 at 4:58 PM · You're probably right, Brent, but I gotta be me. I seem to be in the minority on most things these days. I would rather put that $200 towards another full day of fun than a ride on a train. Thankfully my local zoo offers train rides for $2.50, so no big loss I guess!
March 14, 2014 at 5:33 PM · Universal is going to sell a metric ton of park hopper passes from the entrances to the respective train stations. 'Mommy why can't we go on the train ride? Whhhaaaaaaa' Seems like a genius move to me...

They are a business and their goal is to extract funds from your wallet. This will do just that. :)

March 14, 2014 at 5:36 PM · I always see people reference Disney trying to get the Harry Potter franchise for the Disney parks, but I have never seen any concept art or descriptions of what their pitch was for Potter. I have, however, read conflicting reports that Disney didn't even bother trying to get Potter because they figured that if Universal spent the money and built it that Disney would still win...because it would attract guests to Orlando and they would come to Disney too. So, Disney didn't want Potter.

I wonder if Robert can clarify this and share with us anything he knows about what Potter would have been like if Disney got it.

To me, Disney would have just built one ride, not a whole land. I bet they would have built a simulator like Star Tours, but themed to Potter. Maybe put it where Be Our Guest is now and Mermaid is, on what was the 20k lagoon. I bet they would not have built Hogwarts and instead would have just had that in the Star Tours-style ride. I bet the outside of the show building would have just been London facades, maybe a Leaky Cauldron restaurant and then the entrance to the ride. That's it. Very minimal.

It was best for everyone (even Disney) that Universal got to build Potter.

March 14, 2014 at 7:34 PM · Okay, Annette, I'll bite on your partial thread hijack...

You do realize that Hogsmeade has one new ride (a moving simulator), one new show, one new counter service restaurant, and a few cramped shops, right? And that Diagon Alley has one new ride (a family coaster), one conveyer attraction, one new restaurant, a copy of the show at Hogsmeade, and shops.

"Minimal" doesn't matter if it is done right. Right?

@Anon Poster, Not my wallet, pal. No train ride is worth $40. Unless it is Amtrak and it is taking me to Orlando.

March 14, 2014 at 7:19 PM · Best a Disney/Harry Potter info summary I've found: Jeff Elliott's comment May 24 at 804am
March 14, 2014 at 9:53 PM · ^I love Jeff Elliot, but that whole discussion thread is filled with theory, rumor, conjecture, and urban legends. All we know is Disney and Rowling talked, and things did not work out. That's it. Everything else is just rumor.

But I do agree with most folks.... Universal would be dead in the water without HP, so I am glad they got the shot in the arm they needed. Now Universal is doing well, and Disney continues to roll, so out of the deal, we as fans get the best of both worlds: two great themed entertainment destinations (although, as a long time fan of Universal I think their Orlando parks have been pretty solid since about 2004, long before the boy wizard came to town).

Sadly, despite Universal's success of late, they are still a greedy corporation and won't hesitate to gouge fans with a $40 up-charge to ride a train.

March 15, 2014 at 1:28 AM · The debate about single-day tickets and multi-park hoppers is somewhat spurious to me. I kind of understand your stance James but since you've admitted that you tend to visit for several days what's the problem with buying a multi park hopper ticket, especially as they tend to work out cheaper?

But even having said that the vast majority of visitors to either Universal or Disney are visiting as part of or as the whole point of a vacation. If my wife and I travel from the UK we spend two weeks and buy the best value advance multi-park tickets which all have park-hopper facilities anyway. I suspect the number of guests that will NOT have park hopper tickets is a very small percentage and so this is not so much a question of Universal charging you $40 to ride one attraction as them offering a unique and amazing way to move from park to park for free, (it's in effect a posh version of Disney's monorail or transportation buses).

March 15, 2014 at 1:09 PM · David, I do not see where a multi park ticket is a cheaper option unless (as Rob pointed out) you purchase an annual pass for $200 (blackout dates apply, including the entire month of July and any other normal vacation period of the year) and intend to visit Universal Orlando for more than four days (IMHO four days is a perfect length of stay for UO, and Universal must agree since they do not sell anything longer than four day tickets except for the previously noted annual pass). So in your case of a two week stay, yes, at both Universal and Disney the annual pass is a great option. In most other cases, including my four day case, a park-to-park ticket will add $40 to the bill per ticket purchased. If you can show me the numbers to prove otherwise, I will cede to your point. Until then the only thing spurious in this discussion is your math skills.

And incidentally, one does not need a park ticket to ride Disney's monorail or bus services. Furthermore, if your idea of "posh" is a short ride on a large, slow moving vehicle with video screens instead of windows, I have a ten year old Toyota Sienna with leather seats, tinted windows, and a DVD player that might be of interest to you. No fair offer will be refused. If I sell my van I might be able to afford the ridiculous up-charge on Universal's posh train ride. ;)

March 15, 2014 at 7:08 AM · Just to change the topic slightly, back to Hogwarts Express. I have a feeling, from everything I've read, that this attraction is going to surprise a lot of people that are underestimating it's attraction potential. Between the two train stations, effects at the stations, the train interior & exterior, screens and atmosphere effects on the train itself, and a decent length of show this has the potential to be a wow attraction. Universal must be pretty confident about the train since they have been featuring it in its ads & presentations even more than Gringotts (which may end up as the premier ride experience among all theme parks). Of course, this is just speculation coming from someone who isn't a big Potter fan, but I think it's going to be a really excellent memorable experience, much more than a means to move people between two parks. You can walk to IOA from Studios much quicker than the queue times for this ride will be.
March 15, 2014 at 7:47 AM · I am sure it will be a fine attraction, Rob. My comments comparing the train to my van were very much tongue in cheek.
March 15, 2014 at 8:14 AM · I'll buy the park hoppers once, just so my family can do the train. After that, we'll go back to the cheaper single day tickets and just skip the train altogether.
March 15, 2014 at 8:28 AM · James Rao - I do not see your point and I'll explain. First off getting a park hopper ticket at Disney World is not like the multi park ticket at Universal Orlando because of proximity. The parks in WDW are not close and you have to use transportation either bus, car, or monorail. Where as the parks at UO are right next to each other and easily accessed by walking. Even Disneyland out in Cali has this same model down and it works because of proximity.

The second reason is logistics. It would be a nightmare letting people with only a single park ticket ride the train. Which by all understanding from the technology, design, movie tie-in, and hype the train is going to be an E ticket attraction. The wait for this attraction is going to be off the charts and you said why can't they just let you ride it twice with only buying a single ticket? Wait time would be longer by you robbing that seat from someone who purchased a multi park ticket essentially making the single park ticket better than a multi park ticket. Lets say UO would not do that but make you wait in another line to go back on the ride. How would they see who is one park and multi park ticket holders? OI would have to fence off whole areas for single park riders with restroom facilities because waiting for an hour getting on a train and then waiting for another hour to get back on the train to ride it again because that's your only option because you bought a one park ticket and no one is going to let you go into a second park for free.

That leads into the third point amusement parks are a business. You don't really believe that parks building multi million dollar expansions just for everyone's pleasure? Universal is a business, Disney is a business, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Sea World, Busch Gardens are all businesses that are trying their hardest for you to buy their tickets, merchandise, and food. Is food more expensive at a theme park than in your local sit down restaurant?.....You bet it is. Is the admittance at a theme park more than a metro park? Ah yeah seeing how the metro parks around here where I reside are free. Is the entertainment cost more at or near a theme park than my local karaoke bar? You know by golly it does. It's because corporations found out investing in something that meets or exceeds expectations in anything demands a higher price and people will pay it. Yes sure I could ride the swing set at my local metro park but I'm not going to get the same reaction, thrill, eye candy effect as I do riding the Spider-Man ride at IOA.

You are an economy person in that you like to get everything out of your dollar and I think nothing is wrong with that. Most things though you are going to not be able to have your cake and eat it too and this is one of them. You'll have to pay that extra money to ride the train whether you like it or not because popular demand dictates that they will pay it. Proof is in how long the wait will be this summer in multi park pass holders. A few people can see your point but even fewer will agree with you on this argument because everything I said dictates the contrary.

March 15, 2014 at 10:01 AM · Apple, to be somewhat blunt, "my point" that Universal is charging my family $200 to ride a train is not open to debate. It is a matter of fact.

As for your other comments, I never compared Disney's park hopping to Universal's except to say that Disney does not force you to purchase a hopper to ride any of their attractions. And the fact that WDW is significantly larger than Universal Orlando is a moot point.

Your "logistics" argument does not sit well with me because (as I wrote before) Universal has a lot of smart folks who can figure this stuff out - if they want to please ALL their customers. "Logistics" is a fancy way of saying, "I don't want to do it because it's too hard!" Something I hear quite a bit as a father of three kids who whine incessantly when asked to do their chores.

Obviously I agree with your comment that Universal is a business and this tactic is an obvious money grab. However, the popularity of the train ride is yet to be determined. If there are enough people unwilling to frivolously toss their cash into Universal's up-charge coffers, the park hopper requirement will change quickly.

And lastly, as long as I don't blow $200 on a train ride, I will have plenty of money left over to both buy and eat loads of cake. Perhaps that is what I will do while the frivolous masses spend $10 a minute for a train ride.

I should note, Apple, that if you have money to burn I will gladly accept a donation of $200 so my impoverished family can ride the train too.

March 15, 2014 at 9:49 AM · It's good to see a long good well rounded and polite discussion on TPI again, kind of what we used to have on the forums. For some reason, it seems that people don't post on the forums much anymore. Robert used to cut the forum topics off at 100 responses, now it takes weeks to reach 10.
March 15, 2014 at 10:08 AM · The pricing strategies are certainly a complex business decision. It is safe to say that if Universal was not expecting to significantly increase its revenue stream from this new HP expansion, it would not be spending the money. So, in response to James' frustration, I would say that it IS frustrating, but that (basically) if we want expensive, immersive new lands, we will have to pay for them. I dug a little deeper into the pricing, and discovered a few things. First off, WDW has had a pricing strategy that strongly encourages at least one day of visit to each of the four parks. So, the 4-day base ticket is only slightly more expensive than the 3-day one. Because of that, the per-day rate drops dramatically when you purchase 4 days or higher (from $91 per day to $73.50 per day). Disney uses pricing to dictate their desired customer behavior, and we fall into line, because it makes economic sense to do so. Universal Orlando has likewise encouraged a 2-day visit by making the 2-day ticket dramatically cheaper per day than the one day ticket ($68 vs. $96). BUT, the per-day cost for a 2-day ticket used to be even cheaper, much cheaper in fact, an acknowledgement that Universal was often viewed as a one-day experience by some park-goers. In the recent price hikes, the 2-day passes went up dramatically (much more than the one-day pass), and the new "deal" became the 3-day pass (now $49 a day). The unspoken message is clear: "we now wish you to view us as a three day experience." BUT, as you said, without paying for park hopper, you don't get to ride the new Hogwarts express. So, what are they hoping we'll do? Buy a three-day park hopper, use one day immersed exclusively in the HP world (which many will do) and then spend one day each on the rest of IOA and UO. The per-day park hopper admission price on a 2-day is $88 for Universal, EXACTLY THE SAME as a per-day park hopper on a 4-day WDW. BUT, the per-day cost of a 3-day Universal park hopper drops dramatically, to $62, and undercuts significantly the BASE per-day cost at WDW on a 4-day pass (without park-hopper) , which is $73.50. So, that's the game. Universal is encouraging folks to view them as a value over Disney, if visited for 3 days. The pricing strategy implies that they view WWHP as a pseudo "3rd gate." One thing that I find very interesting is that Universal still charges significantly less to park-hop than Disney does, even though park-hopping at Universal is much easier and offers a more useful experience than at Disney, because of the compact layout of the resort. (also, I believe there will be one more round of hikes before WWHP-Diagon Alley opens, and based on this analysis, the rates will increase for 1 and 2 day park hoppers but remain basically unchanged for the 3-day version)
March 15, 2014 at 10:22 AM · Interesting stuff, Jonah, but please understand I am neither comparing nor contrasting Disney and Universal pricing.

Also, Universal will get my $200, make no mistake, I would just rather spend it on something other than a train ride.

March 15, 2014 at 10:29 AM · I get that, James. I just think it's interesting that we have long ago resigned ourselves to Disney's pricing strategies, but are up-in-arms about this new change (which I feel also), even though the result may still be a better value than Disney.
March 15, 2014 at 10:46 AM · There is no doubt Universal is still a cheaper option than Disney, but that is to be expected as they have half the number of parks. And the fact that both companies are pushing the boundaries of what most folks can afford is without question. However, I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks $40 is a reasonable and justifiable price for a train ride.
March 15, 2014 at 10:45 AM · $40 not just for a train ride, but to literally not leave the HP franchise for an entire day. (At least, that's how they hope you will view it!) You, of course, are highlighting the stark truth, which is that they are charging $40 for a train ride...
March 15, 2014 at 10:49 AM · Agreed Jonah. I deal in the harsh reality of fiscal responsibility. Uncommon these days, I know, but required if you want to do more than "survive" later in life. ;)

Appreciate your insight as always, sir!

March 15, 2014 at 10:53 AM · And yours! *tip of the hat*
March 15, 2014 at 11:07 AM · The only comment I have is that I am just buzzing to visit this. We are already booked up for end of June and so I just hope that it is open on our arrival. If not then I shall just have to book another trip as soon as we get back. We know all the London layouts as visit London many times but to experience the Hogwarts Express and all the other thrills this new phase is going to bring will just be thrilling. Please Please Please be open then....Florida here we come !!!!!!!!!!
March 15, 2014 at 12:25 PM · Today being the traditional St. Paddy's parade day, it's cool to hear a "tip of the hat" phrase. A happy St. Pats day today, & the real date on Monday, to all of the Irish Americans plus the Irish overseas. We have a case of Guinness Stout, Irish music, and a huge pot of Irish stew for the next three days plus the pub tonight. A "tip of the hat, and a top of the morning" to all of you.
March 15, 2014 at 2:15 PM · Holy Rao.... Saying the same thing 50 different ways to get your point across. We get it.... You know who won't care about it? On-site guests who have multi-day park hoppers... Yes, it is unfair to anyone buying a single park ticket, I agree.

No one is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to ride it or pay the additional fee. It is a choice, plain and simple. Do you honestly think Universal didn't plan this to entice people to make it a destination vacation vs a one day visit?

Who goes to Disney World and just visits the MK?

March 15, 2014 at 2:53 PM · N B your question is not a valid comparison of the situation. I go to both Universal parks I just like to do it one park at a time. But Universal says if I tour in this fashion I cannot visit one of their upcoming attractions. You're right, it is unfair, and perhaps unethical. And you know who DOES care about it? On site guests with multi-day ONE park tickets!

Also, I have not written the same thing 50 different ways, I have been consistent in every post to the point of redundancy. The horse is dead, but some folks are so blinded by their "Universal Can Do No Wrong" attitude that they can't move on.

And while Universal is not pointing a gun to my head, they definitely have set their sights squarely and, to use your word, unfairly on my wallet.

March 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Robert: I'm going to take a gamble & hope your source is correct about a May soft opening. I have reservations for Cabana & Royal Pacific for two weeks in Sept. I just added an additional reservation at Portofino for May 17th - May 24th. If we get lucky on an opening I'll give a ride review when I get back. No pictures though since I'm not very knowledgable about the technical stuff. And if they don't open I'll just enjoy the Florida sun at the pools. It's been a really tough winter in the northeast.
March 15, 2014 at 2:59 PM · James,

it may be different in the UK but when we visit Florida we buy the 5 Park Universal/Seaworld/Busch Gardens/Wet and Wild Ticket. It gives us 14 consecutive days access to al 5 parks, including park hopper facilities. 18 months ago it was around £235 per person.

My maths ain't that bad mate...... :)

March 15, 2014 at 3:11 PM · I think that total is ~$400 US, right? That's a lot more than the $155 I was going to spend on four day single park tickets. And double an annual pass with blackout dates. You're trying to gouge me even more than Universal!!! ;)

The Flex ticket sounds like a good deal for your length of stay. Enjoy. And Falcon's Fury at Busch Gardens looks like it will be a real winner. Good thing you don't have to pay a $40 up-charge to ride it!

March 15, 2014 at 3:18 PM · My point James is that the vast majority of UK visitors come for a week or two weeks and therefore buy these flexible tickets, (equivalent of $80 per park unlimited 14 day access) so we aren't going to even think about whether we need a special ticket to ride the Express as we will already have one.

Yep, if you choose to buy only one day tickets you will pay through the nose, but as has been pointed out there are other options that most people seem happy to take.

Ultimately you have to make your own choice. I am sure your kids will understand your noble stance and be totally cool about it..... ;)

March 15, 2014 at 3:42 PM · Lol... my children don't even like Harry Potter - they think he is just for "kids" (or adults who like kids books). They are more excited about riding Spider-Man again! One of my kids asked me why I was even "arguing about a dumb train!" Leave it to the children to give the adults some perspective.

And my stance isn't noble, just fiscally responsible. I gotta fund the Disney part of the vacation too... and that ain't cheap either, bro!

As for paying through the nose in purchasing one day tickets, I buy MULTI-DAY, one park tickets, and they are only expensive when you make them two park tickets. Without the park hopper option, I get the cheapest ticket possible!

March 15, 2014 at 3:49 PM · Then that's your choice James and I'm delighted you're happy with it and even more pleased that your kids are happy with it. For the record I'm not a Harry Potter fan either, but next time I'm in Florida there's no way I'd miss out on riding the Express. I'll just make sure I have the appropriate tickets in place.

I often find that having the option to park hop changes the sort of choices you make in a day. You may not need them. Then again you might find that if you traded up you'd find all sorts of other benefits, in addition to the $40 dollar train ride, that you and your family would enjoy and that therefore change the perceived value of that higher expense.

I guess we'll never know!

March 15, 2014 at 3:55 PM · One nice money saving option when staying on site is the AP discount. My preferred AP (no blackout dates) just saved me $210 over & above the regular 7 day discount rate for Portofino. Plus it has 10% food & merchandise discounts. Add it all together & its more than paid for itself since I bought it last fall. For someone staying for a week or so at Universal, its a great deal. You can always take a side trip to Disney or Sea World while staying at a deluxe hotel.
March 15, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Anon poster, do I really sound happy about the fact that Universal has made this horrid up-charge decision? If so, my writing is even worse that I thought.
March 15, 2014 at 8:55 PM · Hey James what if Universal just raised the price of their 2 park non park hopping ticket to $188 like Disney's is but they let you ride the train all you want to. That sounds like a decision that You and Universal would love cause you would not be forced to buy a park hopper to ride the train and Universal could make the extra money they want to make. Now everyone is happy! :-) Just kidding with you James I see your point I just wanted to keep the debate going.
March 15, 2014 at 9:29 PM · Sounds like a great idea....NOPE!

If Universal wants to charge Disney prices then they need to add at least two more parks and another water park. And about 20 more hotels. But I am game if they are!

Bed time. Later, Brent!

March 16, 2014 at 1:11 AM · Sorry James - for some reason my post appeared anonymously last night.

Do you sound happy? Actually yes you do. Your posts have gone way beyond merely stating something you don't like and have become almost Karmic in their dogged refusal to accept that the rest of us are not that wound up by this...You have stated many many times that you do not wish to buy park hopper tickets because this is not what you have traditionally done and therefore will not ride the Express. You have also stated that your kids don't care for Harry Potter so what's the big deal?

As I say,the rest of us will just get on and buy park hoppers because we find the benefits of so doing well worth the extra. I too wouldn't buy it 'just' to ride one attraction, but since we have never found either Universal Park to be a full day park out of season, which is when we visit, we wouldn't consider buying anything other than park hopper tickets.

We all get that you don't like it. We just wish that you'd accept that most of the rest of us are quite content...

March 16, 2014 at 3:38 AM · One further point:
You refer to this being a 'horrid up-charge decision'.

In case it needs stating again this attraction is not located within a single park. It starts in one park and ends in another park. Why on earth would anyone ever consider that you wouldn't need tickets for both parks to ride it? It's not an 'up charge'. Surely it's just basic common sense? :)

March 16, 2014 at 6:48 AM · Good morning, David. In this case, you have to get past the rhetoric to the truth of the matter. Universal Orlando, for whatever reason (money mostly, I am sure), has made a decision that anyone who visits for less than five days must pay $40 to ride the Hogwarts Express. It is really that simple. You can talk about logistics, crowd control, experience, theme, or whatever other lipstick you want to put on this pig, but the fact remains, a one to four day ticket to Universal Orlando just went up $40 for folks who want to experience a new train ride.

Now from your perspective, and the perspective of many others who are used to paying the up-charge related to park to park touring, this requirement is no big deal. I get that you are not "wound up" and I am not trying in any way to change your touring habits. You do what is best for you. However, for the segment of the population that already viewed Universal Orlando as a mutli day destination with enough experiences in either park to occupy a full day of exploration, this $40 up-charge is a completely unnecessary expense that does NOT fit into their touring habits. As one anonymous poster already noted in this thread, he or she will go ahead and pay the up-charge to ride the train on one visit, and then never again. Is that what Universal wants? If so, their business model is flawed for the long term.

Again, it is your choice to do what you will, but I am extremely unhappy about this decision by Universal, because it is a decision that specifically targets my vacation budget for $200 ($40 X 5 people). And it is a decision I believe Universal did not have to make. Ultimately, a few years from now when the Harry Potter junkies go back to their own wizarding world basements, and back to their LARPing conventions, and defense against the dark arts training, when the crowds have died down sufficiently and the train is mostly empty even on busy days, you will find that Universal will make changes to their policy. And suddenly, the round trip ride on the Hogwarts Express that folks are saying is a logistical nightmare, will become a day to day reality. I am patient and I can wait them out. But I am definitely NOT happy about having to wait.

In the meantime, I will continue to express my disappointment about this horrid (yes, HORRID) decision in every thread in which folks want to speak glowingly about a $40 up-charge attraction.

And don't worry, I have expressed my disappointment directly to Universal as well. Customer feedback is what drives companies like Universal and Disney, and it won't take many folks who feel the same way as I do to get Universal to make a change. That ground swell of support is not coming from folks in this discussion, but there are other fiscally responsible, budget minded people out there like me, and eventually the dam will break.

As for my kids and their general disinterest of Harry Potter, they are not the ones paying for the vacation - I am. And while the HP movies are among my least favorite book-to-movie translations, I found the novels to be extremely entertaining. And as a fan of those novels (and, I confess, an adult who reads kids books, as my kids put it), why wouldn't I want to experience a round trip ride on the Hogwarts Express as part of my Universal visit?

So it is with great misgiving that I take my stance. And while it is unpopular among annual pass holders, flex pass buyers, many of the folks on this site, and Universal groupies, that extra $200 in my pocket will come in real handy when one of my kids asks for a photo with Spider-Man, or another round of dessert sushi at Mythos, or when I am paying the $18 per night self parking fee at the Royal Pacific. $200 may not seem like a lot of dough to people with large disposable incomes, but to me, it is a few days of incidentals that help make a theme park visit a success that fits within my vacation budget. And that success is much more valuable to me than a train ride.

Still, it stinks I have to make this decision. And as a long time fan and defender of Universal Orlando, I am not happy about it, to be sure.

Are we at the 'Nuff Said point of this discussion yet? N B would say we are long past it. And I would tend to agree. Enjoy the day, fellow Theme Park Insiders, I'll catch you in another discussion thread!

March 16, 2014 at 5:32 PM · Parkhopping has always seemed sort of stupid to me, but I understand that other people enjoy it. It's just such a waste of money in my eyes, because when my family enters a park, we go to that park and do all the things in it and have never once thought "let's leave and go to EPCOT!". Parkhopping is such a hassle in my eyes and always seemed just for people who have attention deficit problems and have trouble staying in one place for long. Even if a parkhopper was just $5 or even $10 more, I never thought my family would buy parkhoppers. To me it feels like ordering bottled water in a restaurant when there is tap available that's totally fine...just a silly thing to spend money on needlessly.

But, I have to say, because of the Hogwart's Express my family will never NOT buy a parkhopper at Universal. They got us, hook line and sinker. Before Harry Potter, I would have probably not even taken free tickets to Universal because those parks were, in my eyes, a waste of a day in Orlando. But Harry Potter is worth a day over at Universal, for sure. It just wasn't a full day with only Hogsmeade. My family would go, and have a wonderful time all morning and into maybe 3 or 4 in the afternoon...and then we'd have enough Potter and maybe go over to Jurassic Park for a minute...and then go back to the hotel and crash.

Now, when Diagon Alley opens, I see us spending a whole day going back and forth a few times on the train. I see us getting there at rope drop and staying until close, easily.

I kind of see Universal getting the following spending increases from my family because of Diagon Alley/Hogwarts Express:

* We will be buying the parkhopper (so that's 4 of us, now spending around an extra $160 on tickets for the day)

* Instead of having dinner back at the hotel or downtown Disney, we will be staying all day in the Potter areas and eating dinner there too. That's probably another $100 right there that we never spent in the Universal parks before.

* No doubt, if it's true all the unique merchandise they are going to sell, I better budget to spend something on souvenirs in Diagon Alley. I have to say that we have not bought much more than magnets and pencils/erasers at Disney parks in years just because the items for sale seemed so generic and junky. Conservatively, I think we might be spending $100 on souvenirs at Diagon Alley.

* Butterbeer and other snacks, especially if they have the candies and things for the train. I bet we'll spend $60 on snacks.

So, I bet that this addition to Universal is going to get somewhere between $400 and $500 more out of my family than we would have spent otherwise there. At least for the first time we do it, as I just know we are going to want to do everything and go wild.

I am not a big spender, so this will be a big splurge for us. I can't even remember the last time I splurged like this at Disney. The only thing they have there now that I will splurge on will be Be Our Guest for dinner. I really want to do that. But I don't see any souvenirs we would want and I don't see anything they've built making us stay longer than we would have otherwise, but MK was always a full day for us, as with all the other Disney parks.

Universal really needed to build this addition to create a full day experience for people like my family, who weren't much interested in Universal before.

March 16, 2014 at 5:54 PM · One thing I want to add, and it's that I see this totally different from James.

James has been saying that Universal is charging "$40 for a train ride" because he's choosing not to see anything beyond the train that's connecting the two parks.

To me, that's like saying that Disney charges $40 for the monorail ride between MK and EPCOT or $40 for the boat ride between DHS and EPCOT.

In reality, the $40 extra is to go into both parks...and the Hogwarts Express is just a really, really plussed "monorail" or "bus" or whatever you want to call it as a mode of transportation to get you into the other park.

If the train was not there, James would be complaining there was no train, and that he'd have to buy a parkhopper to visit both sets of Potter attractions in two different parks.

So, the complaint would be that Universal was "greedy" by building Potter attractions in two different parks, instead of one, so he either had to go to two parks over two days or buy a one day parkhopper.

If Universal built all the attractions in one park, James would complain that Universal made things lopsided and should have spread the attractions over two different parks. For balance.

So, James seems to be someone who will find a complaint no matter what, just because there is a lot of attention that comes with complaining.

I have two little boys, and I can anticipate when they do things like this. James reminds me of my younger son (aged 7). He has a very "James" take on life that I hope he grows out of.

March 16, 2014 at 6:28 PM · No not what James means, he like myself buy a 2 or 3 day pass that does not include a park hopper, you go to one park first day and spend all day enjoying that park including that sides HP world, then the next
Day you do park two and spend all day enjoying that one including the other HP side. The only thing you can't do is the "train ride" unless you pay the extra money. I have never park hopped nor do I like to. I had planned a trip this summer but the prices have gone up so high. I really wanted to see the new rides but the cost is so high and special rates now expire May 22nd so decided to just do Disney because a 4 day magic your way base ticklers is same price and has 4 parks, a park a day. I will have to wait until they run specials again, and not require a park hopper for so much more.
March 16, 2014 at 7:18 PM · Annette, your second of two very long winded, meandering, incomprehensible posts, is insulting, rude, and a complete and utter misrepresentation of me, my posts, and my stance on theme parks in general and Universal in particular. Moreover, your post is just one more example of your penchant for hate filled attacks against faithful TPI members who happen to disagree with your opinion. I for one appreciate a good rebuttal, and a strong debate, but personal attacks such as your latest tirade are unconscionable. If you truly are a mother of two, then you should be adult enough to be ashamed of yourself.

Thank you for giving me one more reason to avoid Hogwarts Express: you might be on it.

March 16, 2014 at 7:27 PM · James: I am laughing so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. You made some great points that I agree with completely (Except for the Park Hopper).
March 16, 2014 at 7:40 PM · Rob, I am so glad my taking it on the chin for no apparent reason can provide you with so much amusement! ;)
March 16, 2014 at 7:48 PM · James: That's not what made me laugh. Your comments to that person were hilarious and so right on. I couldn't have said it better. And, you've been a really good sport through this whole discussion, and held up your arguments pretty well. Sorry if I phrased it the wrong way. You have a jaw of granite.
March 16, 2014 at 7:54 PM · Thanks, Rob, you are a gentleman, a scholar, and someone who knows just the right things to say to diffuse an explosive situation. Bravo!
March 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM · James: You're welcome. Keep up the good work. You're a great contributor to this site & a class act. It's that old adage that we always discussed in labor/management talks, "we can agree to disagree". Your comments are well intentioned with respect for other's opinions. Unfortunately, there's one or two people who post that couldn't spell class if you spotted them the clas.
March 16, 2014 at 8:32 PM · Too funny, bro. Although, now that I think about it, Annette has me pegged. I am a petulant little child who loves to complain.

But I am way more mature than a seven year old! Gosh, I gotta be like 13 or 14 at least! Jeez....

March 17, 2014 at 6:33 AM · I'd like to chime in a bit here.... Firstly Annette, while I understand you don't see the point of park hoppers, the reasoning you put behind it is a bit flawed. For people who do not necassarily have the time to enjoy each park on separate days, it gives them a chance to enjoy the highlights of each park durin their stay. Also, park hopper tickets allow you to make the most of your vacation... Take Disney for example, say you have the dining plan, and Epcot has extra magic hours. Well, park hopper enables you to basically get a full day at Hollywood studios from rope drop to say 5, AND have dinner at Epcot at say 6, then still have 3-4 hours to enjoy Epcots attractions. It's not for people with an attention deficit but for people who are either on a time constraint, or want to make the MOST out of their stay.

Secondly, and more on topic, the hogwarts express. While James I do see your points, the park to park tickets are for much more than just that. Beyond being able to enjoy both parks in the same day(for te same reason I said to anette), this allows guests to get the authentic Harry potter experience, shopping in diagon, then taking the express to hogsmeade and seeing the castle. You said that you read and enjoyed the Harry potter books, universal is bringing that experience to life, so the value added in the extra 40 bucks IMO surpasses just the additional train ride. Then again, I also like several other attractions in both the studios and ioa.

The final reasoning is that at the end of the day it's a business, and people will be chomping at the bit to get on this train, so the extra 40 dollars will add up quickly for comcast. At that point I can't really blame them. It isn't like they have eliminated the base ticket option, they are just enticing you to spend more. Business 101.

March 17, 2014 at 8:53 AM · Anon poster Exactly my point. Thank you.

Anon poster You get it too, and I totally understand your point. However, I do not see the $40 value add of actually getting off the train in a different park. Riding the train does indeed add value to my park ticket, but I could take a round trip and be quite satisfied with the experience. Maybe even more satisfied since I get the longer ride and the more complete experience. And I do understand Comcast wants to make money. There's nothing wrong with them wanting to make money. And they will get my $40 one way or another. I would just rather they get it in a way that does not single out the non-park hopping crowd.

And to no one in particular:
Kick horse.
Horse dead.
Kick horse.
Still dead.

March 17, 2014 at 5:01 PM · So James I am confused. Are for or against paying the $40.00 for park hoppers to ride the train? Please elaborate!
March 17, 2014 at 7:19 PM · You know, I'm not sure anymore! ;)
March 18, 2014 at 8:46 AM · Haha, well this thread just got booted off the front page by a story about water. So my hope of keeping this going and getting to 100 comments just disappeared. Oh well :)
March 18, 2014 at 6:26 AM · It was a worthy goal, Brent, and really, continuing would be easy for me since I could simply cut and paste responses for anyone still confused about the point I was trying and failing to make.

On the other hand, I hear the Elmer's Glue-All folks want their dead horse back.

March 18, 2014 at 3:31 PM · We can keep this going! I'd like to alter the topic though...

I'm not asking for the source to be revealed, but what makes Robert's source more credible from all the other "insider" sources? I apologize if I sound rude, not intended. The majority of the Orlando based sites(Orlando Informer, Orlando United and others) are saying the Diagon Alley opening seems to be pushed back to July/August. Don't get me wrong, I want May softs! Sooner the better as far as I'm concerned.
Thanks in advance for any additional info.

March 19, 2014 at 10:53 AM · I have been following this post for the last two days. I actually agree with all parties in some fashion . However when I pay for a park admission I expect to get access to all of the rides and attractions within that park. I have watched this change dramatically since being there for Disney World opening and having supplier passes for the Epcot opening.. A lot of time has passed and the sheer volume of persons waiting at both ends of the ride make it impossible for a round trip. My favorite ride is and always will be the Disney Monorail at Fireworks time going from hotel to hotel and for that I don't even have to have a park admission just pay parking or eat at the hotels.
March 19, 2014 at 4:29 PM · As a Potter fan whose adolescent children adore both the HP books and the movies, I will buy the park hopper pass for at least one day, and perhaps more, during our next trip to Orlando to guarantee an immersive experience in the WWOHP and multiple opportunities to ride the HE. And believe me, as much money as I'll be spending, I'm hoping a lot of the locals will decide the park hopper is too expensive and will either skip the Hogwarts Express entirely or better yet, protest by staying home. Because I'm utterly convinced that the lines for HE will be insane, and the fewer Potter haters and park hopper dissenters aboard, the better.

But from a marketing standpoint, you have to admit that splitting up the WWOHP between two parks and turning the transportation that connects the two parks into an actual ride is bloody brilliant. Especially given Universal's limited space, dividing up WWOHP between parks results in higher revenues and more guest distribution. And as crazy as the crowds are going to be for the first few years, a more evenly distributed crowd is reason enough for me to shell out those additional bucks.

But if you want to talk about being really inconvenienced, having to pay for airplane tickets for my entire family is way more costly that the additional price bump for park to park tickets. So unfair! Why doesn't Universal build a WWOHP in all the states to appease all its customers?! (I can dream, can't I?) But actually, the guys who should be really mad are the Brits. They have to cross the pond to visit the fantasy world dreamt up by one of their own. (At least you chaps have the WB studio tour.)

March 19, 2014 at 7:22 PM · Connecting parks via some sort of "cool" transportation system is brilliant. I loved when Disney did it with Magic Kingdom and Epcot and when they did it with Disneyland and Downtown Disney. And, I think it is great that Universal is copying Disney's idea for their own parks. I only wish Universal had also copied Disney's no-charge policy for the monorail and applied it to the Hogwarts Express. Sadly they did not.


You do make a great point about crowd dispersal, anon poster, one I had not previously realized. While all the Potter lovers and park-to-park ticket conformers are taking "multiple opportunities" to ride HE, thereby "guaranteeing an immersive experience" (and justifying their up-charge), the lines for the Forbidden Journey and the Gringott's family coaster will be less by about 2,000 people an hour!!! I won't have to wait as long for the really good stuff! Not buying a park hopper will make my day so much more relaxing and enjoyable, and I'll still have money in my pocket to spend on things like Butterbeer and Spider-Man T-shirts!!! Wow, there is a silver lining to this debacle!!!

@anon poster, I have no idea about Robert's sources. However, when it comes to theme park "secrets", he is right far more often than he is wrong.

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