The entire world is closely watching Universal Orlando. Something is lurking behind walls and in the trees of the Orlando theme park, something magical, something that the world is waiting to have revealed. Rumors are circulating, like a Dementor around the eternal spot of happiness, that Universal is not ready to deal with what they have created and while the whole world is going to be watching, they are going to drop the ball and have a large crowd walking away from their parks in disappointment.
A Theme Park Within a Theme Park
Ever since it’s inception, Universal has billed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a “Theme Park within a Theme Park”. While most of us who go to theme parks on a regular basis know this simply means a new section of the park, we have been inundated with questions about the “New Harry Potter theme park”. Most of the people going for Harry Potter are not traditionally park folk. Sure they love the mouse, and they enjoy their regional amusement park, but they hardly live and breathe theme parks like a lot do. We have received questions from several readers, and newspapers(read here, here and here) asking all about the new theme park. “Where is the new theme park?” “What is the cost?” and “How many new rides will the new park have?” are all among the questions we’ve been getting. Universal has the world sold on the image of a whole big theme park filled to the brim with wizards and witches, dragons and butterbeer. The truth couldn’t be further from that image. The Wizarding World of Hary Potter(WWOHP) will be a new themed area that used to sit on another themed area. WWoHP sits on the site of the old Lost Continent area that Universal ripped apart to make room for this new area. The whole area is about a 1/4 mile long and you can walk through it in about two minutes…that is you COULD walk through it if the streets weren’t going to be filled with people. The area will host three rides, only one of which is new. The other two are going to be existing rides that have be re-themed. The main attraction will be “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” which will be housed in a building underneath Hogwarts castle. The tagline “theme park within a theme park” has sold Harry Potter, but it has sold it as something it’s not, and it may end up backfiring on the park.
Laws of Attraction
While we are on the subject of the attractions, let’s go over what people will see when they arrive in the “theme park within a theme park”. Universal boasts there will be several new shops and three new attractions. Three new attractions. Actually if you want to get technical about it, one new attraction and two rethemed coasters. Universal is hoping to lure over the mouse crowd with what is the biggest selling book series and one of the largest movie franchises of all time. It’s actually working as Universal has been giving tours of the area and exclusive invites to Disney fansites. This gets the webmasters to talk highly of the new area and therefore get their readers excited about it. Traditionally a lot of the folks who love the mouse stay around the Magic Kingdom because of the “family friendly attractions that accomodate Pooh size guests”. Very rarely do they step out of this comfort zone because for them, it’s about things they can do as a family. With two coasters and a ride on a robot arm that swirls you around every which way, these people are going to go running with mouse ears firmly in hand back to the land of pixie dust.
And more to the rides, Hogwarts Castle is the centerpiece of the park. Many guests can be overheard saying “I can’t wait to go inside that castle.” Sure, it looks amazing, and after all the concept art shows you walking right through the front gates and into the courtyard of the castle. Reality of it is, it’s just a shell sitting ontop of a larger building. Unlike the other Orlando Castle (Cinderellas Castle at Magic Kingdom) you will not be able to browse through it. The ride will empty out into a gift shop but like Cinderellas castle you won’t be able to have dinner, browse swords or (for the super select) stay the night in the castle.
Dragons Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff are rethemes of existing rides. From what we’ve seen they’ve taken and somewhat improved upon Flying Unicorn, going from just a stable with a box and some speakers to a full blown hut with all kinds of magical creatures inside. Dragons, however, is a different story. From what we’ve seen of the new “Dragons Challenge” they’ve taken all the skulls, melted nights, spiderwebs and frozen horses out of it. We are told that it will be appropriate to the ride, but somehow I doubt that. The queue line for Dueling Dragons made you sad that you were going to ride a coaster instead of a living breathing dragon.
The shops, well, we’ve seen this area before and the shops look to be a bit on the crowded together side. We’ve heard that most of the shops are going to be interactive, and that means a lot of people standing around trying to wait for things to happen. The wand shop will be the most cramped with tons of people trying to let their “wands choose the wizard” to the tune of $30(ish) to upwards around $100 dollars. This interactive experience is said to be an intimate one, so expect the lines for this to be huge. While we’re on the subject of lines.
Express and Discounts
This part has been 100% confirmed with the hotel reservations line. Prior to this article I did call the hotel line to ask what the prices were, and more specifically about the Express situation, doesn’t mean exactly this is what they’ll do but this is what they are being told to say for now. Universal Orlando has their version of Disney’s “Fastpass” system which allows you to skip the lines and gain entry through your own special entrance. Unlike Disney’s system, you have no time frame that you have to do this in. Also unlike Disney’s system, this is not free. You have to pay for the “privilege” of not waiting in line. You also only get to use it once per ride. The price ranges depending on how busy it is expected to be with prices starting at $20 for the slow days to as much as $50 on the busy days. You call it price gouging, Universal calls it supply and demand. Here’s where the staying at the hotels has their advantage. If you stay at one of the three onsite hotels your room key acts as an unlimited Express Pass. While on the phone, I asked about the Wizarding World attractions and I was informed “you’re going to be able to use your express on two attractions, not on Forbidden Journey”. Not Forbidden Journey? That will be the one attraction everyone is staying on site to see. Let’s face it, you have a bunch of shops and two coasters that have been rethemed, and you’re not letting your paying customers use their “privilege” for your most anticipated ride? Wow.
That’s not where it ends either. Upon further asking we were told that Passholder and Florida resident rates were not available for the time of grand opening either. Even more, we have heard rumors that if you are a passholder (or thinking about becoming one) you will not receive a discount on anything within in the Wizarding World. No 10% off on wands, Butterbeer or chocolate frogs for you. Like Disney, Universal seems to be shrinking the amount of items they offer discounts for.
Grand Opening Closed
While on the phone with the hotel reservations line, we learned that Royal Pacific was sold out and Hard Rock was close to selling out on the 17th of June, and they expected the same for the 18th as well. The whole world will be watching and many of them will be in the park trying to get a glimpse at all of the celebrities and have a first ride on the new attraction. There’s just one problem. We’ve heard that while there will be a grand opening celebration, the general public will not be allowed into the Wizarding World to view it. Only select members of the media including a few websites were invited and will have the chance to rub elbows with the entire cast of all the films, and the area will also be closed for most of the day if not all day. If you stop and think about it, this makes a lot of sense as there will be so many people in that area that you’re not going to be able to breathe let alone ride anything, watch any of the shows or talk to any of the VIPs. Try again on the 19th.
I know what you’re thinking, “Universal couldn’t do that, so many people will be disappointed!”
They can, and most likely will. Case in point, they started selling Grand Opening Weekend packages for the last weekend in May. Then the June 18th announcement came and no one gave word to the thousands of people who already purchased their packages, until of course one of the very select groups of media went through and one of them asked.
“Visitors who have purchased those will receive everything that was promised”, Tom Schroder, head of PR at Universal has said in an article from the Orlando Sentinel.
But they were being sold as being “GRAND OPENING” packages. It doesn’t really matter though, as long as they get what they are promised. If you think about it though, this is the first time the area will be open to the public. You know what they call that? Soft Openings. They will still have bugs and will try and work them out. Not something that is indicitave of a Grand Opening to me.
We are not trying to discourage you from going to the park or to avoid it altogether. We are just trying to inform everyone who has been taken in by the hype of the whole grand event to what you may expect. At this point these are just rumors and could possibly be simply that, but too many times parks have done things like this. In fact we’ve tried to allow Universal a chance to either confirm or deny and clear up these rumors, but our queries have gone unanswered.
Regardless the full Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is scheduled to start daily operations on June 19th, aside from the huge Grand Opening.
If you have any questions, comments or would like to submit any pictures Erik can be contacted by emailing him at Staff@behindthethrills.com