Harry Potter and the Day That Changed Theme Parks Forever

June 17, 2020, 9:02 AM · Ten years ago this week, Universal Orlando changed the theme park industry.

Drawing a crowd that spilled out of the park and throughout Universal CityWalk, the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on June 18, 2010 established a new design standard for the theme park industry, inspiring a wave of big-budget, thematically immersive attractions, including Disney's Cars Land, Pandora: The World of Avatar, and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Potter drove the Universal theme parks to record attendance and revenue, rewarding new owner Comcast and allowing the cable-TV firm to buy out Blackstone Group's share of Universal Orlando, giving NBCUniversal full ownership of the resort. The rush to visit Universal Orlando also initiated SeaWorld's nearly decade-long attendance slide, shifting the balance of power throughout the industry.

Given all this, the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the most significant moment in the theme park industry's history between the expansion of the Walt Disney World Resort to multiple gates with the opening of Epcot on October 1, 1982 and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Theme Park Insider today presents an oral history of June 18, 2010 - the opening date of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - as told by the people who were at Universal's Islands of Adventure for that historic day. Our sources include comments submitted by Theme Park Insider readers as well as new, one-on-one interviews I conducted this spring with four Universal leaders:

Our oral history also includes comments from the stars of the Harry Potter films, from the press conference at the land's opening media event. Comments have been edited and ordered for narrative flow.

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Robert Niles: For me, the day began at sunrise, with a drive up Interstate 4 from my parents' home in Celebration - where I was staying - to Universal Orlando's team member parking lot. Universal had scheduled a 9am "opening moment" for the land, but - as is often the case - media needed to be there much earlier, to check in and board the buses at the media center soundstage that would take us over to Islands of Adventure.

As I got out of my car, I immediately heard the buzz of multiple helicopters overhead. Being an LA native, my first thought went to... "car chase." How lucky! I was just on I-4 and didn't see a sign of any traffic. They must be heading south, I thought - providing the day's first answer to the question, "how stupid could I be?"

Ric Florell: It started pretty early. We had just gone through about three days of preview stuff with media and presentations, so actually it was about five o'clock in the morning as we were heading in. We wanted to make sure that we had a chance to walk everything, to see that everything was working in the way that we wanted it. As I came driving around the corner to our parking garages here at Universal Orlando Resort, there was this extremely long line of cars waiting to get in - at five o'clock in the morning. And that was the first indication to me that this is going to be a pretty popular day with our guests.

Alan Gilmore: I came in very early this morning, super early - it was still dark - and I started to kind of hang around and chat with people, and we're all very, very excited about finally opening it and showing it to people.

I didn't know what to expect. It was my first experience ever of opening a land. Yes, I've been around the movies for a long, long time. I know the movies like the back of my hands, and the spot we'd created in the first Wizarding World is exactly what we wanted it to be. It's taking the movies and the stories and bringing them to life. It was an amazing journey to do that, to take a facsimile of our film designs and then bring that to Orlando and make it a real place where you could walk around. It was exactly what I expected, and I have to say I was very confident that people would love it.

Alyson Lundell: I'm pretty sure I was there overnight that night, working. We were hosting media from around the world, and when you're dealing with different time zones, their morning shows are on at 2am our time. I remember very vividly being out there with some of our UK media who were going live and talking about the anticipation for the opening morning, and it was pretty special to watch the sun come up knowing what we were about to do.

And also, not knowing what was about to happen to us, which was kind of interesting.

The one thing we did know was that our parking garages were planning to open around 5am, but we had people showing up at 3am, trying to get in. So we had to rush to get people out there, just to get them off the road, because they were starting to back up on the on-ramp to I-4.

Robert Niles: We entered Islands of Adventure from a side entrance, next to the old Sindbad theater, so we had no idea what kind of crowd was in the park. Universal had draped a huge banner, decorated like a Hogwarts acceptance letter, over the east arch entrance to the land, and we set up in front of that for the media event.

Hogwarts envelope banner
Photos by Robert Niles

Universal was bringing in dozens of elementary school children whose classes had won contests to be the first official guests in the land. Behind them - and us - were the regular park guests, every one of which was decked out in Hogwarts robes. But I could only see the crowd go back a little bit due to the turn of the street in the Lost Continent land.

The first clue that registered for me that this crowd was much, much larger came when Daniel Radcliffe said, "Hello to everyone in the back!" during the opening ceremony. Listen for it at the 4:36 mark in the video below. There's this roar of response in the distance, which just rolls on as a wave of sound for several seconds.

Here is our video of the June 18 opening ceremony, followed by my tour of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

One moment the video did not capture was one of the students recoiling when Tom Felton came up to shake his hand. That kid wanted nothing to do with Draco Malfoy. But then Daniel Radcliffe came over and explained that Tom wasn't Draco, that he was a nice guy (which he has been at every one of the Potter media events where I've seen and spoken with him). Movies have great power. But so do movie stars.

Alyson Lundell: Watching Daniel Radcliffe grab a child's hand and walk that child into the land for the very first time and the child's eyes are wide open in disbelief - you know it was really special to witness and to see how genuine both the film talent and the guests were feeling about what we had created.

I think kids just look in wonder - they're just excited and awestruck - but there's an emotional connection for parents who have read the books to their kids, or who were kids themselves when they read them and now they're grown up. It's such a multi-generational brand and story.

Harry Potter welcomes fans to his land
Daniel Radcliffe greets the first official guests to Universal Orlando's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Alyson Lundell: It truly was not until we popped some confetti with the Harry Potter film stars and walked in the first group of kids that were there that morning to be the first guests, that someone sent me a photo from the Orlando Sentinel, and it was an aerial picture that they had captured of the guests completely surrounding the Universal CityWalk lagoon. It took us all by surprise because we had no idea what was on the other side of the Islands of Adventure gates from us, which was this huge sea of people.

[See the photos here and here. Gotta love the first source quoted in the story! - Robert]

Theme Park Insider reader "Courtney": We were in Florida for five days and knew that it was going to be crazy, but as a "Potter geek," I was willing. I had read that the garage would be open early, so I expected somewhat of a large group to be there. Even still, our hotel was only a 10-minute walk away, so for some reason I assumed that coming at 7 would be smart... pretty stupid, yeah.

When we got to the park, everyone was being directed to the right. There were groups of about a thousand people already ahead of us and shortly after, hundreds more filing in behind us. Slowly the line moved, then it stopped for about 90 minutes. It was pretty hot out, but I was optimistic.

Then, we started seeing people running on the CityWalk side and realized that they were allowing people to line up over there as well. It almost turned into a riot when we noticed they had people following closer to the entrance of Islands of Adventure behind a rope, and then BOOING erupted (from our side of course). There was no way that they were going to let a newly formed line in! That just wouldn't be right.

Soon enough (around 10), a group of us were allowed to enter IOA. Even after getting in and going around to Seuss's Landing, the line was ridiculous, and we were told the wait was estimated at a discouraging eight to nine hours. LOL. Yeah, I'm crazy, but not stupid!

The sun was unbearable, so we made the decision to take advantage of the 10-20 minute waits around the rest of the park, which we had never experienced. The only reason why we ended up back on the line, at around 2, was because we thought it was going to pour raining and we expected people to leave the line. The clouds hung around, then disappeared. So we gave in and stood on the line, which by this time was no longer around Seuss's on the right but was now from the left near Hulk, through Marvel and Jurassic Park.

Even though Universal seemed a little unprepared in the beginning, they figured out a way to place people with earpieces at certain locations, and in total we only waited four and a half hours. Once near Jurassic, we moved steadily and low and behold, we walked into Hogsmeade.

It was a tad cramped and everyone was definitely sweated out, but well worth it. The coasters only had five-minute waits, Ollivanders and Owl Post were around two hours. Forbidden Journey also had 120 minutes posted, but walk-ons for the single riders.

Overall, it was worth it if you were willing to sacrifice some time. My boyfriend is not a huge fan, but knew how badly I really wanted to experience it. As we got closer, he "geeked out" LOL.

Theme Park Insider reader "Hermione": I got to Universal at 8:30 this morning and ended up in line starting at BUBBA GUMPS to enter IOA. The line wrapped around past Universal Studios Florida and NBA City. At 9am we started to move, as they let in groups at a time, and some lady in a big hurry to go nowhere actually stepped on and broke my toe. Ouch! Also, three different people passed out from the heat and had to be rescued by the medics before we even got in.

But I am a dedicated Potter fan, so I limped on all day. I got into IOA at about 10 and saw how insane the line was, so I 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 four hours to be let into the Wizarding World. (Plus two hours for Forbidden Journey and about an hour each for each individual shop.)

It turned out to be a six-hour wait, but we finally got in. We did single rider on FJ and got in within 20 minutes... but halfway through, it shut down (right by the dementors! Dementors in the absolute darkness is waaay scarier than the actual intended ride.) The ride started up again after about 10 minutes and it was great as always. Yes, I've been in WWoHP five times before today [during its soft opening] and came anyway. Like I said, dedicated Potter fan!

We managed to eat at The Three Broomsticks (yum!) and ride Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff just before they cut the lines at 10pm. The lines for the shops were still going strong, but you could clearly see that everything had been picked over and not much was really left so we agreed to come back another (quieter!) time.

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 that people were lined up for - the rest of the park had 5-10 minutes waits all day, and we just did essentially our own version of child swap as we came to each ride in the line.

Sorry this is so long, but I just thought people might be interested in the insanity.

Alyson Lundell: You saw our system was completely overtaxed. We were not prepared for the people that were upon us. Having really tightly woven plans of how the day was going to go from a media standpoint and a guest standpoint, and then all of that being turned upside down was something that I think really threw us for a loop in the moment.

Those moments can get really intense where you're trying to make real-time decisions that are going to benefit everyone. You've got to accomplish your goals. We had well over 200 media with us, and we needed to make sure they had a great experience, but then we had thousands upon thousands of guests who needed to have an equally great experience, and we were concerned. We didn't know how we could possibly process that many people through a 20-acre land in one single day, so there was a lot that I think, in hindsight, if we had been able to prepare for that, maybe it would have gone a little bit smoother on our internal side.

Thierry Coup: The frustration was, 'how are we going to get everyone through this?' We stayed open extended hours for anyone who had been waiting in line. Then in the course of the following days, we established a ticketing system where people could come back with the reservation times, which really helped to control the crowd - to make sure everybody had a great experience and not overcrowding.

With Harry Potter, for authenticity, the village, the stores, the restaurants - all that could not be gigantic. They had to be the scale that fits. That presented new challenges, but it also creates excitement as people were waiting to get into stores - there were still a lot of things to look at. We managed, and it turned out to be a success. We kind of went all out, even though operations was not in agreement at first - like, 'why are we doing we do this? It's not the way we normally design attractions.' But this kind of reset the whole clock, and of course, as you know, it's changed a lot of the following attractions and lands that were designed beyond that. It really was a revolutionary way that changed the theme park world forever.

Ric Florell: The biggest problem we had is that we didn't have a place big enough to put everything that we would like.

Alan Gilmore: The shops are tiny. We deliberately kept them correct to the history of the time. So I remember when we were talking about how big the shops should be, and we went back in history - we're real detail nerds in the film world. We explained the shops can only be as wide as a beam of wood. So that's how it was built - one beam would have been the width of the shop.

Ric Florell: Fanatical belief in the authenticity of the fiction - that's what drove us. Everything that we did, we talked about 'is it authentic?' I went through [the books] - they are dog eared, there are flagged pages that are food or merchandise or whatever. Every meeting that we had - and I mean every meeting that we had - we always had a set of the books, in case someone would come up with an idea, and we'd scratch our head and ask 'is authentic, is that in the book, or is not?'

That fanaticism you only get by studying it, by researching it, by believing it and making sure that you don't compromise what's there. So it was a fanatical focus on the authenticity of the fiction.

Alan Gilmore: We worked with Ric Florell at Universal for many, many months designing the food. When I first met him, he had a copy of the first Harry Potter book, and he had every single page marked with little Post-it notes of all the different foods and beverages. I spent, gosh, months with him - even traveled to London and visited many restaurants. We sampled food and that's bringing us authentic flavor, because, yes, your eyes can tell a story, but your sense of smell and taste can, too. Tasting the liquids - the Butterbeers, the ales - and the amazing food in The Three Broomsticks, that all adds that extra perception and understanding of the world.

Tom Felton: It [The Wizarding World of Harry Potter] was a rumor for a long time. I didn’t know if it was true. Then Thierry came down (to the set) at the end of six [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince], and then it was on.

Daniel Radcliffe: We had a big meeting where we talked through the plans for the park. My reaction when we heard that this was going to be a thing was, 'Well, that’s, okay.' You don’t know what that’s going to entail, how that’s going to end up.

When we were filming it [the scenes for Forbidden Journey], we were very much aware of the depth, the attention to detail — and the care that was taken over the building of this place is equal to what we do for the films. That’s what’s been very gratifying to come here and see. Being so involved in it, it is really nice to see that it is in such safe hands. It’s very much authentic, and wonderful.

We did about a month or so of extra filming at the end of Harry Potter 6, which was known brilliantly as the “Strong Arm Unit.” [That’s a reference to the Kuka robot arms that carry each ride vehicle.] It was very weird because it was treated in a way that we’re not used to — we were told to talk into the camera and stuff you’re generally encouraged not to do. And yeah, it was a kind of new experience. The technology they are using in this is quite amazing, I mean we are kind of physically there, particularly in Dumbledore’s office.

And I always have to point out the irony of having Michael Gambon do any safety instructions or information.

Michael Gambon (aka Albus Dumbledore): I don’t abide by them myself. I just say what they tell me to say.

Alan Gilmore: In the movie world, we have visual effects, and we have many other tricks we can use to tell a story. In the theme park world, it's real. It actually happens in front of you. I have to say we had amazing confidence when we first met with Universal Creative, because we could tell that they had the best of the best in the industry. The ideas are amazing. They're so advanced in how they do things. Even when we started discussing the Forbidden Journey - how do you create a place where you can fly over Hogwarts? How you visit all these amazing places in the Wizarding World and the stories? They had a plan for everything and brilliant ideas. It just was right, and worked every time.

Thierry Coup: I was literally getting up from sleeping at night for many months trying to solve this.

We were in development, working with the robotic arms - the ride system's vehicle - and of course it presents some major challenges because you have a seven-second dispatch time for your vehicle. So you only have seven seconds in each story beat on the ride before you have to get out of the way, so that the next vehicle experiences the same story.

So how do we fly along with Harry Potter in a Quidditch match, for example, without being interrupted every seven seconds by something else that you have to transition to, and then to the next thing, and the next thing?

I remember vividly being in a meeting and all of a sudden sketching out on the whiteboard like a dry cleaning system, with screens traveling. Basically, you'd ride along and follow this overhead track along with the screens traveling with projectors. This could give us the ability now to have a moment that can stretch for as long as we can figure out the mechanics of this. It turned to a different mechanism, but basically this was one of the major hurdles that we overcame by, you know, all of a sudden coming up with idea.

I came up with the idea of the of the overhead track with the dry cleaning system, and then other team members jumped in. It has been a wonderful thing about working as a team - everybody pitched in and it turned into the system that it is today. It was definitely groundbreaking - the combination of these moving domes and with projection and the media and all that stuff which allowed us to now get enough time to really fly.

Alyson Lundell: We had obligation to the fans to make sure they understood how seriously we were taking this from a design and storytelling standpoint, because they were going to be our biggest critics, and they needed to know so that they could feel good - and frankly advocate on our behalf - that we were doing this the right way.

Thierry Coup: We had been talking about committing from the very first book - back in 1999, 2000. Initially we all thought, wouldn't that be a great theme park IP? You could just picture everything. So we were in discussions for many years on this, but 2005 is really when we started the real design.

So I came on board from the very beginning, and interestingly enough, it was certainly not the scale that it turned out to be. Originally, we just started out taking a section of the Lost Continent, with the Dueling Dragons, and just kind of re-theming the existing buildings. I don't want to say it was a small project, but it was much more minimalistic than what it turned out to be. And then we started to meet with Warner Bros., and that was part of all the meetings with JK Rowling in Scotland, and it just turned into a much bigger project, for which we're all very glad.

Alan Gilmore: I worked on the second, third and fourth movies in the art department and set design and worked with Stuart Craig, who was the production designer. But before that, I'd actually worked with Stuart Craig on several other movies in the past. So we have a great working relationship. We're friends as well as colleagues, and he had brought me on to the movies back then. So when the situation arose to bring the Wizarding World to life and make it a real place, he contacted me immediately. He said, 'Alan, we're going to do something very different here,' and when he explained the ideas, I said, 'Yes, I'm on the board. You don't even have to ask twice. I'm there.'

Once you're in The Wizarding World, you're deep in it and nothing else exists. We transport you to Scotland - to the location of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts - and make you completely believe you're there. That you are in the Scottish mountains, in this amazing place, and you are in the world of Harry and his friends. That was our main driving goal - to completely seal you and enclose you in this lovely world and once you're in, you don't see anything else and you get lost in that emotional experience.

Thierry Coup: We are all very much fans of Harry Potter, but also it's scary to bring a magical world to life without using sets and visual effects. You have to build the real thing. How do you bring the magic together? How do you deliver on super-high expectations of Potter fans and their awareness for every detail, for every style? And so it was a daunting task. Fortunately, we were surrounded by and we partnered with the best of the best. The filmmakers and Stuart Craig and JK Rowling were part of the process. It was very fortunate that we had such a great team on board.

How do you create a sequence in the discovery of this world? The layout of the land itself was very well calculated to offer that entry through the arch, [where you're] getting a glimpse of Hogwarts in the distance, above the rooftops of Hogsmeade. Then, as you come around the bend, you come around with the full view of Hogwarts. That was not done by accident, obviously - that was very well calculated, very well designed to create the emotional reveal and the progression through the village. And along your way, of course, you see all the vendors, you see the Three Broomsticks - really selecting some of the most iconic places that truly meant a lot to the Harry Potter fans.

Alan Gilmore: It's all about revealing moments because, again, this is not a movie, it's a real place, and we wanted the visitors to have their own little movie journey. In a way, they're telling their own story. They are the camera. They're making their own movie in their own minds, and it's very important that that's the atmosphere you convey.

Ric Florell: Watching people skip - literally, adults skip - through the Hogsmeade gate as they come in, you can see the anticipation. 'Where do I go? Honeydukes is immediately here on the left. Should I go in and get some Bertie Bots? Do you think they have earwax? Do you think they have mashed potatoes? Or should I go to this big Butterbeer barrel right here and get some Butterbeer and then start to see all the other things?'

It was the amazement in their eyes that you saw, wide open. They would walk in and there's snow in this place, for crying out loud. This is June 18 in Florida, and I'm walking into a place that's got snow, and, oh, by the way, it actually feels a little bit cooler.

Alan Gilmore: It's a piece of ground in the middle of Florida, but when you walk in there, you feel it's been there for 1,000 years. It really has that level of history and detail. The colors, the textures, the patina, and the architecture are very different. It evokes beautiful British and Scottish architecture. We made this place feel really old. The buildings are leaning, twisting. It feels like it's been there for a long time.

For us Europeans, we experience American culture through movies and television shows. So when we first visit America, it all feels very familiar. It's a very odd experience. I think the reverse happens for people when they visit the Wizarding World. They go, 'Oh my gosh, this is as it should be.' It's not even a different version, but it's exactly right. And that's the comments I've had many, many times from fans and guests who come to visit. They go, 'Wow, I'm in Scotland.'

Thierry Coup: The moment I saw the first group of guests walk through the arch... the amazement. I remember vividly seeing a few people get on their knees and get really emotional. So that was moment number one for me. And then, of course, there were surprises, such as seeing how many people started to cheer for the Butterbeer.

Let's turn it over to Ric to tell the story of the development of Butterbeer.

Ric Florell: One thing I constantly point out is when you read through the books, and this goes to the movies as well, whenever there is a reference to Butterbeer, it's usually during a pretty comfortable time. They're with their pals or celebrating. Whenever you see them having one, it's a good time. So our responsibility is to bring those moments to life, and to bring it in a way that is authentic.

We want everybody to be able to enjoy it: we want kids to enjoy it, parents to enjoy it, families to enjoy it. So the first thing is, when anybody asked, no, it's not alcoholic. However, it still does have the name 'beer' in it, so it should probably look like a beer, with an amber bottom and a frothy top. And we wanted it to be fun to drink. We wanted it to be very, very tasty. So that's how we came up with the kind of first statement - that it's smooth like shortbread and a fun and tasty little butterscotch-type of thing.

We hadn't even come up with a Butterbeer mustache by that time. That came a little bit later, but it took us a while to play with. How do I get that taste? How do I get that look? How do I get a frothy top on this thing? So we started playing with it in our kitchens, and our chefs and our culinary team kept doing iterations of things until we came up with a very reasonable facsimile of what we thought the end result would be.

Our presentation was September of 2007, and once we got that approval, we started working on all the things that we wanted: the taste, the structure, the way that it looks, the kind of mug that we would put it in. We wanted to make sure that we put in the right kind of vessel, so if we're going to work really hard to have those key looks, you want to be able to see them. We just continued to work on it until we got perfection.

Then we had to figure out how we're gonna be able to make a lot of it.

Thierry Coup: We learned quickly that the Butterbeer was like an attraction. And pretty much every shop we had in the land became an attraction.

People wanted to see every detail. Just looking at the shop windows, you could tell the richness, the amount of detail that never was done to this level on any attraction before. There was always a fear that if you put that many high-detail props - some of them are authentic props from the films, and if they're not, the others are reproductions to the highest level, almost like they're museum pieces - but there's a level of respect and appreciation from our guests, the Potter fans, so there was no issue with vandalism or any of that such destruction. It was amazing how people just were appreciative and respectful and feeling like they were a part of this world that was so special. So everything became an attraction.

Alan Gilmore: People told me how they traveled, they'd waited for years, they'd read all the books. Then they were even more astounded when they saw the place and realized that was exactly what they thought it should be. The movie had come to life.

Ric Florell: I was sitting in Three Broomsticks, and I was in one of the corner tables talking with one of our partners and being excited about the things that we're doing. There was a lady that was sitting next to me, listening to the things that we were talking about, and she just kind of stopped, turned to me, touched my arm and said, 'You know I can't tell you how wonderful this place is. Thank you for making it what it is,' and she got up and left.

Alyson Lundell: You know, Islands of Adventure was a huge investment for the parks at the time that it came online in '99, but it has been a long time since that level of development, creativity, and investment has been made.

We went through years where there wasn't a ton of investment into the park. But that all changed with Comcast purchasing us, and frankly, becoming fully owned by them and NBC was the best thing that could have happened. They believed in what we're doing when they saw what we had created, and then saw what we were benefiting from financially from that creation.

Thierry Coup: It changed the company, for sure. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed not just the theme park business, but Universal internally. Just before that - in 2008, 2009 - the economy was really poor, and people thought Universal was crazy to invest into such a big IP and to invest so much into this big project. And of course, we were owned by General Electric at the time, and it was very bold, but part of what Universal is so good at is taking some calculated risk and really pushing the envelope.

From the moment we opened, our attendance spiked, I can tell you that, by more than we anticipated. [Attendance at Universal's Islands of Adventure jumped 66 percent from the year before Potter opened to the year after, according to the TEA/AECOM Theme Index report - Robert.] So within a couple of weeks, we started to think, okay, what's the next one? So Diagon Alley come on the drawing board pretty quickly after that. We thought that we need something here that keeps the momentum going.

It was beyond expectations when it came on, not just for emotional reaction but also attendance and overall per cap [spending]. You know people love to buy souvenirs, but the quality of the Harry Potter merchandise that we have in our land - the custom wands and the robes and the Chocolate Frogs, which became the highest seller in the land - all those wonderful things that are really high quality, that fans have to bring one home for their friends and family. It certainly helps revenues tremendously.

Ric Florell: Well, one of the things that it helps with is that when we come up with a crazy idea now, they don't look at us like we're insane. Maybe there is something to this idea of what you want to do.

Thierry Coup: Personally, this opened my eyes - and it's not just me, it's my team's eyes - as to what works really well in creating a fully immersive world, and even it's a single attraction, in creating a seamless immersion that just transports the guest. It allowed us to create what you're going to see once we open Super Nintendo World in Japan - the next level of that immersion.

Then the next thing will be Epic Universe. It really all came from the influence of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade and the ability to know and understand that if you invest more time, and more budget, and put more details into a really great intellectual property and deliver on that level beyond expectation, you will see the results. It's worked for us really well, and we're going to continue down the same path.

Alan Gilmore: I was there all the way to close, and I was back again the next morning. I made sure I stayed in one of the local hotels, as close as I could. And I was straight in again the next morning. I had to be there all the time. It was the birth of a child and the birth of a great creation, and we wanted to see how it would be enjoyed, and learn from it.

Alyson Lundell: I was probably home somewhere around five o'clock, so not that late actually, but I had no idea when I actually slept prior to that.

I truly came down off that high and the energy of everything that we had done, and my body said, 'you know what - you're gonna take a break.' And I did. I don't usually consider myself a lengthy sleeper. I can get by with about six hours of sleep, and that night I went to bed pretty much as soon as I got home - I think I ate something, then went to bed, and I didn't wake up until that early evening the following day.

There's a kind of the sadness at the end of all of that experience at first, because you've spent so much time thinking and strategizing and making sure that the messaging is correct and keeping things on point for months and, frankly for this project, it had been years. And the thought of, 'well now what do I do now?' - that was really a kind of somber moment.

Then it was very quickly on the heels of it that we learned that Diagon Alley would be a part of our future, so that kind of reenergized us, because we're not done yet. We can take it easy a little bit for now, but we're going to get to do this again.

Ric Florell: We still share stories to this day, as a matter of fact. 'Do you remember this? Do you remember that?'

It was just about the best day I've ever had in my life.

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Thank you for reading our oral history of the opening day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you enjoyed this work, please support Theme Park Insider by subscribing to our email newsletter and sharing this post through our Facebook and Twitter links, below.

And if you want to buy Robert a Butterbeer for doing this, it would be appreciated.

Replies (7)

June 17, 2020 at 11:06 AM

I was at Islands of Adventure when Wizarding World first soft opened (Thank you, #PotterWatch) and I remember seeing Mark Woodbury in the queue inspecting the room with the fossils and Hermione in it...huge geek out moment! It was really awesome having a Butterbeer and enjoying it with practically nobody there. I'm really glad they took it to the next level with Diagon Alley, because I can't imagine enjoying Hogsmead on a super crowded day.

June 17, 2020 at 11:08 AM

Thanks for posting this, Robert! It was a fun read -- happy memories!

June 17, 2020 at 11:26 AM

Took me until 2012 to get on this but well worth it. I love Disney but always give props to how well Universal pulled this off and even inspiring Disney to up the game with own attractions down the road so worth it.

June 17, 2020 at 12:28 PM

Fantastic article! Thank you for this.

June 17, 2020 at 2:49 PM

Wow 10 years, time flies by. I was there that opening day! One of my fave theme park memories ever. After a 9 hour wait(7 for the land, 2 for the ride) my fam and I were able to board Forbidden Journey and we were thrilled. I'll never forget being in the spider-man queue... to ride Forbidden Journey lol. The way to handle the wait is to divide and conquer. Out of our 6 party group, two would be in line while the other 4 experienced the park. Then after an hour and a half or so shifts would switch. It was very hot as well so the breaks between waiting were welcomed. Anyway by the time the queue reached the JP Discovery Center all 6 of us were in line ready to go in and voila! People balk at the idea of waiting that long but even if it was just me, or 2 people, in which different shifts wasnt an option I would still do it again. I'd rather wait 9 hours than years to experience an attraction!

I get downright cranky knowing I haven't experienced Avatar yet at AK. Its been open for years now. Next time Im at a park and the wait is long as heck, I'll line up no matter what because waiting years sucks. So yes I would do the 9 hour line again if need be.

June 17, 2020 at 3:05 PM

That story is a perfect example of why I hope Disney stays with the reservation system from here on out, and why new attractions in Orlando need substantial AP previews before opening to the public. I can't imagine the impression the random GP families from out of town got after spending thousands of dollars on tickets and hotels, just to have that happen. Sadly I bet a lot of families swore off Orlando forever after dealing with that.

June 17, 2020 at 3:05 PM

Just lovely Robert, thanks.

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