May 13, 2014

Harry Potter & the Week of Drama

My colleagues at ClickOrlando have already posted the basics Universal revealed today about "Harry Potter & the Escape from Gringotts Bank: -- the signature new ride in the new Diagon Alley land at Universal Studios Florida Theme Park.  Expect a lot of new information about the land to drop this week on the land and its surprises, big and small.  Universal's PR machine is cranking up with an entire week of revelations partnering with a network morning show. We may even find out when the grand opening will be by the end of the week or early next week.
 Universal's team is a master at this sort of thing, taking a page from Disney's playbook. And the level of detail in the new ride (and the new land) will be impressive. One reason Universal has been kind of vague about the actual date is that Gringotts features a first of its kind ride system that promises to be both thrilling and yet with a height restriction of just  42" will allow a lot of younger muggles to experience it compared to "Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey."

As you enter the ride building you will start out in the lobby.
It features the unpleasant looking goblin bankers  as seen in video Universal released last week.
The idea is that for the first time, muggles are allowed to open accounts in the bank.

After the lobby you will take a magic elevator deep into the bowels of the vault, where you will grab 3-d glasses (can't wait to hear the explanation for that. Safety goggles??) and board your 12-person ride vehicles where you will travel through real sets mixed with screens -- including one that will surround you almost 360 degrees. As you can imagine, getting the timing right on 3-d projections with a moving coaster-like car is tricky, tricky stuff.



The ride itself starts coaster-like (think Revenge of the Mummy)

But you are quickly spotted by the evil Bellatrix LeStrange who throws magic at you and the race is on.


Not to give everything away, but you'll encounter Harry, Ron, Hermoine, a handful of Weasleys and even He Who Must Not Be Named. Not to mention the innovative security features at the magic bank -- like this guy:



That's one of two dragons. That one is during the ride, and is a projection. The other is 60 foot tall and will be  mounted atop the outside of the bank building where it  will breathe fire.
 
 Here is the teaser video Universal released to tantalize us all today.



I will bring you more all week as Universal reveals details.  But the question people ask me the most (other than "When will Diagon Alley open?")  is "What is Disney going to do to respond to Universal's building boom?"   Truth is, as much as fans like to talk about "Theme Park Wars" Disney is playing by a different set of rules right now. Long gone are the days where Michael Eisner rushed Disney-MGM Studios into construction to beat Universal's opening date by a year.

Yes, Universal is grabbing more and more market share, and Diagon will lure larger crowds to their parks than ever before. And it (and Transformers & Simpsons & Cabana Bay & CityWalk's makeover) are going to make a ton of money while making a ton of happy customers.  But according to The latest estimates available  from the Themed Entertainment Association, in 2012, The Magic Kingdom alone drew 3.4 million more people than Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida combined.



That was the crowd in the middle of a "quiet" weekday earlier this month.
Disney is still the titan, and its executives (publicly at least) are saying Potter 2.0 will be good for all Central Florida theme parks (not to mention Disney's mammoth hotel & resort business, which is insanely profitable). There's also this: don't underestimate the draw of a finished Fantasyland.


The Mine Train ride officially opens May 28th, and will be a popular family-friendly addition to the Magic Kingdom's lineup. As much as I miss the old Snow White ride, the new small coaster is a lot of fun and tells a story pretty well.

For a different view on Disney's strategy, check out this thoughtful article posted today by a friend of mine, Kevin Yee of Miceage.com.
And here are a couple of my own older blog posts on the progress of Diagon Alley -- and the other new Potter ride: The Hogwarts Express linking both areas of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

That's all for today!

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