Theme Park Ranger
April 2, 2010
For months, I have skulked around the edges of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, peeking over fences, peering through cracks in the construction walls, standing on ledges to get better camera angles, slithering up the exit of Dueling Dragons and watching for slight changes in Hogsmeade architecture.
If Harry Potter were a real-life boy wizard, I'd be arrested for stalking or turned into a toad by now.
So when Universal Orlando invited me inside for a guided look-see last week, it felt … well, wrong. Could I be arrested for this? Am I embarking on my own personal Forbidden Journey?
Then it felt … well, right exciting. Unfolding before us was another world, getting ready to transport us to a fantastical place. Although the addition to Islands of Adventure remains a work in progress — an army of construction workers hammers away — enough details are in place to give the village a sense of place already.
For instance, next to the Hogwarts Express train engine are a suitcase and an owl cage, ready to board. The shop windows display all manner of magical merchandise, and there are establishments that guests won't be able to enter, but they'll be engaged by the exteriors. A butterbeer wagon in the center of the village will sell the exclusive beverage. The rafters of the Owlery look worn and discolored from years of bird droppings.
That's merely a sliver of the eye candy of Wizarding World, which is being prepped for a June 18 grand opening. Universal is taking good advantage of the thousands of details that J.K. Rowling created in her Harry Potter universe, captured in seven best-sellers.
Seeing the enormity of it all made me understand better why information coming out of Universal has been so selective, which can be maddening to the curious blogger crowd.
"This is such a detailed universe that J.K. Rowling has created that inevitably it was going to take them a long time to put this together," says Robert Niles, editor of the Theme Park Insider Web site.
"There really wasn't any benefit to Universal taking a different approach in trying to explain everything up front because that just leaves people frustrated that they can't see it for two years," he says.
As with all projects, things change along the way.
"You discover site issues you didn't know you had. You discover technologies don't work the way you thought they would work. You find other things that present opportunities you didn't know you had," Niles says. "It's almost an organic thing."
Even granting creative license with their promotions can be misinterpreted by potential guests. A reader said she was disappointed that passengers on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey dark ride would not be aboard broomsticks as portrayed in Universal's commercials. (Really? Seems uncomfortable to me. I'll take my chances on the approved "enchanted benches.")
Inside Universal's Hogwarts castle, home of Forbidden Journey, the detailing continues. My advice is to absorb it all. You'll be there awhile. The queue will be a long, long stroll, even if no one is in line. (Dream on.) Remember the Dueling Dragons castle queue? It's longer than that, roams from chamber to chamber, outdoors through a greenhouse, passing all sorts of Potter memorabilia and movie moments.
Universal officials are prone to lumping the queue into the entire experience rather than considering it a prelude to the ride.
Niles thinks that's a smart move.
"This is not really an unprecedented thing. Think about the [Swiss Family] Treehouse at the Magic Kingdom. What's that? It's a line. The whole attraction is basically a walk-through," he says. "Any type of walk-through attraction is ultimately just a themed line. [With Hogwarts] you've combined a walk-through attraction with a filmed-motion-ride-attraction, so you're kind of getting a two-for-one here."
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