Universal Orlando has revealed details about its much-anticipated expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It will open in 2014 at Universal Studios, the company said today.
The new area, under construction atop the old Jaws ride and Amity area, will be London-themed, and it will have a Hogwarts Express connector to the original Wizarding World, which opened at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in June 2010.
The Studios side will be named Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley. It will include a "marquee attraction" based on Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Universal said, along with shops and a restaurant based on creations by J.K. Rowling's series of books and films.
Specifics about the attractions, including the Gringotts ride, were not released.
“Gringotts bank in the film was just a natural as a ride, so you can imagine what the possibilities are for our guests," said Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative. "It just lends itself so perfectly. So, take a look at the films again and guess."
On the big-screen version of Gringotts, "Potter" characters speed in carts through a labyrinth of passageways leading to vaults. Goblins and dragons are involved.
Universal is working with Warner Bros. Pictures and the design team from the Potter films, just as it did to create the look for the town of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle for the original Wizarding World.
“We have the right team on board and support from Warner Bros. This is going to complete the whole journey, the whole adventure," Coup said. "It’s another exciting way that the fans can experience the incredible stories for years to come.”
Releasing an opening date, even a broad one, will encourage potential tourists to make plans to visit Universal Orlando, said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider website, which covers the attractions industry.
"Having all these unofficial reports on websites out there, that’s one thing, but having the official word from the park that this is coming, that will help push people who may have been on the fence on whether or not they wanted to commit to making a trip to Universal Orlando or not," Niles said. "When they get more specific, that will push even more people to book."
Universal did not release details on how park-to-park access would operate after Diagon Alley opens or if guests would have to buy a two-park pass to enter both sections of Wizarding World. Those logistics will be announced later, a Universal spokeswoman said today.
"It’s going to be extraordinary to be able to travel between London and Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. Things will happen along the way,” Coup said.
Universal executives may not have settled on a ticketing plan yet, Niles said.
“I think it makes sense to let people ride it [Hogwarts Express] with a single-park ticket and once you’re there sitting 5 feet from the new thing, upsell them then … as opposed to saying 'No, you can’t get on this unless you have the two-park pass.' " he said. "Whatever the way is that will make them the most money, they will do it that way."
Rowling's seven novels about the boy wizard sold more than 400 million copies. The books were turned into eight motion pictures that earned a total of more than $7 billion worldwide. Universal will not comment on how much it will spend on its Potter projects.
Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World is "undersized," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a trade organization. The expansion will increase elbow room.
"There was a lot of pressure on the existing attraction, the retail and food and beverage outlets. This way the guests are going to have a greater menu of attractions to pick from to enjoy," Speigel said. "I don’t think they care if they have to move from side to side or not."
Universal announced it would expand Wizarding World in late 2011, but it never released details about where or when until this morning. The demolition of Jaws and Amity began in early 2012, and obvious construction started soon thereafter.
The amount of time between Potter announcements is not unusual in the theme-park industry, Speigel said.
“They like to keep it under wraps until they’re sure of their budgets and they’re sure of their timetables," he said. "So they know when they announce they’re going to hit their targets."
Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions also are in the works for Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan.
The next attraction to open at Universal Studios in Orlando will be Transformers: The Ride -- 3D. The company announced last week that the thrill ride will have a grand opening on June 20. Other new rides and attractions set to open in Central Florida theme parks include Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld Orlando on May 24 and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster, set to open at Magic Kingdom sometime in 2014.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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