Disney has had its thunder stolen again. Just hours after it announced a major new expansion of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, in 2012, its main rival Universal Orlando unleashed a host of details about its newest area: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, created with the participation of author J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros, is a new land being constructed all at once at Universal's Islands of Adventure park. Incidentally, that's the same park that also has an entire land based on Marvel Comics characters, which also draws guests away Disney using what is now, painfully, a Disney property.
Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, was on hand to help with the announcements, which were made in a live webcast. "It's going to blow some serious minds," he gushed of the assiduously faithful project, before finally giving an official opening date: spring 2010. That's ahead of the schedule that people had been expecting, and it gets the jump on Disney's giant new project by a full two years.
That means that next spring, Universal will become the hottest destination in Orlando, leaving Disney with nothing much major to promote for another two years. If the past year is any guide, Disney will likely prop up its attendance numbers with a run of package discounts and vacation incentives. Harry Potter may just have waved his magic wand over Disney pricing.
Universal broadcast an animated walk-through of the new land, which looks nearly exactly like the Hogsmeade of the movies. Among the attractions will be a Hogsmeade Station (complete with steaming Hogwarts Express locomotive), The Owlery and Owl Post (where owls roost and where guests can send mail "with a certified Hogsmeade postmark"), and the Oliivanders wand shop ("where the wand chooses you," although Universal didn't explain just how).
Souvenirs and food will also ape the books: Zonko's joke shop for Sneakoscopes and Extendable Ears, Honeydukes sweet shop for chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans, Dervish and Banges for Quidditch equipment (read: tee-shirts), and the vaulted Three Broomsticks restaurant and The Hog's Head pub, serving Butterbeer and pumpkin juice. Expect souvenirs such as remote-controlled Golden Snitches
The land's two entangled roller coasters, Dragon Challenge, are really just a renaming of Dueling Dragons, which already exist, as is Flight of the Hippogriff, a kiddie-coaster "flight over grounds of Hogwarts" that used to be The Flying Unicorn.
Universal withheld one major aspect of Wizarding World: almost anything about the bazillion-dollar flagship ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It will be housed in a huge facsimile of Hogwarts Castle, the base of which is already towering over Islands of Adventure. Universal promises "brand-new technology" that will dazzle "in ways you've never experienced before," but it's saving the details (except for the fact that there will be a Gryffindor's Common Room inside) for later.
Some rumors say riders will travel through the cavernous building in robotic arms. But Universal is waiting to tell. Perhaps we'll hear two days after Disney makes its next big announcement.
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