April 11, 2014
Harry Potter & the Building Boom
Universal's building boom is hitting its stride. Just off the opening of the first half of its extremely-well-reviewed Cabana Bay Beach Resort, crews are hard at work hoping to have the rest of the mammoth motor-inn ready soon.
Universal needs the hotel space for millions of muggles making the pilgrimage to the property off of Kirkman Rd. Yes, a wide range of people are asking and pleading and begging to know when Universal Studios will open The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Officially, Universal will only say this Summer sometime. There are good reasons for that.
For while the London facade on the outside of the new land looks like it is nearly finished, with new details being added every day, the level of that detail promises to be jaw-dropping.
That kind of detail takes time and effort and money. And, from Sky 6 you can see the typically pointy roofs are popping up, but there is still a lot of structural steel to cover.
Not seen in today's shots: a large berm is being put in place to block the wizarding area of Diagon Alley from view unless you are in the new land.
There are also unprecedented special effects and interactive elements being worked on and installed in the restaurants, streets and shops. Another reason the timetable is being kept quiet: the land involves two groundbreaking rides: the Hogwarts Express.and "Harry Potter & The Escape From Gringott's."
The entrance to Gringott's is dead center-left in the photo above. The circular area is not just the front of the bank, it will be the base for a ginormous fire-breathing dragon.
Gringott's is going to dazzle people. But, as with Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey, innovation means headaches while trying to get everything to time out right.
To give you an idea of the size of the whole land, it pretty much fills that entire picture right above. The large white building is the Gringott's show building (theme park-speak for the place where the ride track weaves through). It is one of the largest I have ever seen. The long rectangle coming off of it is the King's Cross train station for the Hogwart's Express. As I told you last time I addressed Diagon Alley, JK Rowling, Warner Bros (owners of the movie imagery) and Universal Creative are all insisting on recreating it to the nth degree, including a trip to Platform 9 3/4.
When will we all get to explore?? As a betting man, I'd say the first guests will be allowed in late May, provided there are no more major setbacks in making all of this work.
That jives with what I have heard from people working on the project, anyway. The usually well-informed team at Orlando Informer has even put together a chart on your odds of being dazzled by Diagon by date.
The building boom won't end with Diagon. Here in central Florida, we know that 8 restaurants and clubs are being added to CityWalk. There are also pretty persistent rumblings that King Kong is coming back, this time at Islands of Adventure. While that's unofficial, I'd place a bet on it being true. Also look for more hotel rooms, and I am quite sure Universal didn't buy the "Wet n Wild" property if it didn't have plans.
Out in Hollywood, their version of "Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem" opened today. In 2016, their version of Hogwarts & Hogsmeade will open with some new surprises.
Between those two projects, Universal Hollywood will add its version of Springfield.
And a "Fast and the Furious" attraction will become the climax of that park's world-famous tram tour.
Comcast (Universal's parent company) is committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to add new attractions at its parks every year. I'll do my best to keep you up to date on what is coming and when.
Speaking of rides, a quick shout-out to Disney. They sent out new video of the animatronic dwarfs who will soon inhabit the new Mine Train ride at the heart of Fantasyland. Look for it to open in a few weeks.
Keep your emails, questions, tips and comments coming! I always appreciate the feedback. You can always find all of my blog entries atwww.clickorlando.com/themeparks