UPDATE: See our coverage with exclusive pics and video of the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with picture of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and JK Rowling herself and see our video tour of the Harry Potter world at the Orlando theme park!
It's the hottest new theme park opening in a decade: Universal Orlando Resort's Islands of Adventure park is putting the finishing touches on its feverishly anticipated The Wizarding World of Harry Potter section. This Sunday, Feb. 7, the world gets a sneak peek at the new 20-acre attraction when a top secret commercial airs during the Saints-Colts Super Bowl battle. Among the surprises: Daniel Radcliffe himself appears as Harry Potter to promote the opening, which was designed with the full cooperation and approval of series author J.K. Rowling. Guess what, Potterheads? WalletPop.com has an exclusive first online look at the entire spot.
Universal Orlando is one of the elite group of American businesses that have been able to pay $2.5 million to $3 million for a 30-second ad on this year's Super Bowl. That's a pretty big chunk of change, and it doesn't include what it cost to secure Radcliffe or produce the ad itself. But it's nothing when you consider the fact that millions of American families are likely to visit the new Harry Potter land on one of their upcoming vacations. It's officially the biggest new draw in Orlando.
Super Bowl ads are a marker for where we're spending our money. This year, Orlando is fervently praying that means more of us will be spending our money there. It desperately needs the magic Harry may bring: New York City recently toppled the city from the top of the list of the most-visited American tourist cities.
The arrival of Harry Potter also gives Universal a huge lead on its biggest rival, because Walt Disney World's next big expansion doesn't come for another three years. That's when Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom balloons to incorporate a new Little Mermaid ride and two Dumbo rides.
Florida's tourism industry is overjoyed at President Obama's promise of high-speed rail, which would deliver huge numbers of foreign tourists from Miami, a major international air gateway, to Orlando. That may be just the magic wand Harry Potter needs to create new jobs and beef up spending again.
Clues in the Ad
So what's in this ad to entice you to visit? Although the spires of Hogwarts Castle already rise high on the Central Florida skyline, details on what is contained within are so far sparse. Like Willy Wonka's factory, any morsel that escapes its gates is instantly devoured by eager fans. Poise your mouse over that "pause" button -- there are a lot of clues to decipher in this 30-second tease.
But what does it all mean? The awestruck children in the ad are riding broomsticks. That's probably a hint at the vehicles of the so-far-secret indoor ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It's reputed to be one of the most technologically advanced rides ever created, and the enormous "show building" beneath the Castle is the talk of Orlando. The ride technology is widely speculated to be a "robo-arm" system, in which vehicles are mounted on extended robot arms, provided by RoboCoaster. Cast members from the Potter movies have shot appearances for the ride.
We glimpse a roller coaster car as it flits across the screen. That's the former Dueling Dragons, two existing intertwined hanging coasters that will be reborn as the Dragon Challenge.
We also do a fly-through of snow-sheathed, chimney-spiked Hogsmeade Village, where the Hogwarts Express belches steam into a winter sky. Even though the village is in tropical Florida, the snow on the eaves looks as real as it does in Edinburgh. Last week, we learned more details about Ollivander's wand shop, too, in which visitors can pick up magic wands and test out their effects with the help of actors-cum-shopkeepers.
The construction has cost as much as a reported $310 million, and costs are slightly higher than initially projected.
Last week, Universal also released a mind-blowing "augmented reality" 3-D panorama of the new land, which becomes miraculously visible when you hold a special map (you can download the version you need here) in front of your computer's camera (click here for instructions).
For more Super Bowl ad coverage see:
Fanhouse Super Bowl HQ
Super Bowl Ads on Fanhouse
Universal Orlando's secret Harry Potter Super Bowl ad with Daniel Radcliffe