Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Harry Potter expansion plans "leaked"

The folks over at Theme Park Insider appear to have obtained copies of the expansion plans for Harry Potter Phase II at Universal. Forgive me for being a bit cynical, but it seems too much of a coincidence that these expansion plans are suddenly leaked on the same day that Disney had scheduled a "major announcement." If you follow the interwebs at all, you know Disney's big announcement was another massive fail (the Magic Kingdom is staying open for 24 hours on February 29, for 2 weeks if you buy a non-discounted vacation package for 3 days, you get the 4th free, and they're giving away 60 free vacations between now and the 29th of February). Perhaps Universal knew what this announcement was going to be (everyone else in the online community sure did), and wanted to one up Disney without being obvious about it. So, they leak the plans to a trusted source. For reasons you'll see in a moment, this easily trumps Disney's announcement. In essence, Universal has (once again) one-upped Disney, this time without actually (at least on the record) doing anything. It's a brilliant coup by Universal, and the kind of bold move that once upon a time, Disney used to make.

So what was leaked, you wonder? The plans for Potter Phase II are almost identical to what I described in an earlier post leaking the story. This new land, themed after Diagon Alley, will occupy the land where the soon to be closed Jaws/Amity section of the park currently sits. In addition to shopping destinations (and the likely relocation of Ollivanders), there is space for a restaurant (the Leaky Cauldron, perhaps?) and a major indoor attraction. The land appears to be accessible only by a single entry point, which seems to suggest you'll enter the same way the gang does in the books and films (how cool will it be to actually travel by Floo Powder?). There is also a train station planned, and the Hogwarts Express will connect Diagon Alley to the Hogwarts/Hogsmeade land at Islands of Adventure. I'm guessing you'll board the train in Diagon Alley on Platform 9 3/4 and emerge at Hogwarts somewhere.

As for that major indoor attraction (the show building is apparently going to be massive) it is yet another game-changer from the folks who already changed the game once with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It's an indoor roller-coaster/dark ride set inside the vaults of Gringott's bank.

Out of respect for the good folks at Theme Park Insider, who have legitimately broken this story, I'm not going to describe the Gringott's attraction here, but instead link you to their article, which includes a detailed description and sketches of the ride vehicles. Take a look:


I'm sure Mike will want to weigh in himself, but I'll just say this: assuming everything goes according to plan, this ride system sounds SICK. If Universal can pull this off (and given how well they pulled off Forbidden Journey, I believe they will), they've once again out-Disneyed Disney.

Perhaps the most significant part of all of this? Potter Phase II is still slated to open in late 2013, a full 4 years ahead of Disney's Avatarland, a project which appears to have not even gotten off the ground yet (and has already had its budget slashed)...but that's for another post!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pixar Stamps - sweet!

For those of you who are belatedly thinking about sending out your holiday cards this year, it might interest you to know that there are actually Pixar stamps available through the USPS.

I did not even know that these existed until I went to my local post office the other day, to buy stamps for my Christmas cards.  Now obviously they are not holiday stamps, so some people might not want them for their holiday cards - but they are Forever stamps, so you can stock up and use them year round, even when the price of stamps go up.

Imagine the surprise and joy I had walking into my post office and seeing these as an option for stamps.  And I figured if I didn't know about it, a lot of you might not have known about it, so here it is...Pixar stamps, love it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

And so, it begins...

I have been working on a lovely piece for this blog about the Disney Vacation Club that I had intended to be my next post on here. However, recent developments have necessitated that getting put on the back burner for the time being.

Last week, Universal Orlando announced on their facebook page (in yet another nod to the importance of social media) that the entire Amityville section of the Universal Studios Park (and with it, Jaws, one of the last remaining opening day attractions) would be closing as of January 2, saying:

Jaws won't be smiling for long.
"Hey fans, we want you to be the first to know… JAWS! and the Amity area will officially close on January 2 to make room for an exciting, NEW, experience we’re planning for you.

We know you love JAWS! and we do too. It has been an amazing attraction and after terrorizing the waters of Amity here at Universal Orlando for 20 years, it’s a VERY important part of our history. So, we’ve got a couple things planned to ensure we always remember and honor it. We know it’s hard to say goodbye, but we can’t express how EXCITED we are about the new, innovative & amazing experience we’re going to be bringing you."

While it's sad that Jaws is closing (it was always my favorite USF attraction), it was to be expected. The attraction cost a bundle to run (employing anywhere between 15-25 cast members at a time, depending on how many boats were out) and was frequently prone to mechanical problems. It used to be the park's signature attraction, but attendance dipped significantly, and it's days have actually been numbered for a couple of years now.

In any case, the thing to do with that article is to read between the lines. Universal is not going to close a whole section of its older, less popular, park without plans in place for the replacement. And then of course, you have to hone in on the "new, innovative, and amazing experiences" line. Clearly, there's something in the works here. The question is, what, exactly does Universal Orlando have planned for that fairly signifcant space?

I wondered this myself for a few days, trying to come up with franchises/ lands the park could stick in there. I kept coming back to Shrek, much as I didn't want to. I never saw the appeal of those films, but I was always in the minority.

Then, over the weekend, Universal announced the Wizarding World was headed west, to its Hollywood park. This was not unexpected, but the announcement seemed to imply that would be the extent of Potter expansions for now. So I still had no idea what would be coming to Universal Studios to replace Jaws.

I got my answer early this morning. A reliable source sent me a series of frenzied text messages giving me a heads up on what to expect when the announcement is made (and I don't know when said announcement will come). All of this is subject to change, of course, but here's a general outline about what to expect:

Diagon Alley
-A major expansion of the Potter world, this time at Universal Studios Florida (USF), not Islands of Adventure (IOA). Potter will now occupy 2 parks, not one.
-The Potter land at USF will focus on the London realm of the Potter universe, whereas IOA focused on the Hogwarts/Wizarding World realm. Expect a dining experience at The Leaky Cauldron, shopping in Diagon Alley, etc.
-Ollivander's Wand Shop, which is located in Diagon Alley, will be moving to the new land, so it's placed in the correct location. The popular experience will also be much larger, allowing more people to experience the "Wand Chooses You" show (not sure how they intend to do this, but my guess is something similar to the way Mickey is able to meet and greet hundreds of guests an hour at the Magic Kingdom).
-The centerpiece of the expansion will be an innovative, indoor roller-coaster, through the vaults of Gringotts Bank. Anyone who's read the books or seen the films knows that this location is ripe for a roller-coaster.
-Finally, connecting the two worlds will be the Hogwart's Express, complete with Platform 9 3/4, which is where you'll board in the London part of the Potter world. The train will then take you to the Wizarding World.

That last part is most interesting, because it's where Universal will make it's big push to steal some business from Disney. If what I'm hearing is true (and Universal will have a couple of years to sort this out, mind you), the only patrons who will be allowed to board and ride the Hogwart's Express are those who have purchased multi-day Universal tickets. Meaning, you can't take one day out of your Disney vacation anymore to see all that Universal has to offer. This has been my recent strategy, mind you. I spend one day at Universal, most of it in the Wizarding World. However, when this experience opens, if this happens to be true, I'll be buying that two day ticket (Nick is just the kind of sucker Universal is banking on - Mike). It's a brilliant move by Universal; I have to hand it to them.

Of course, at this point, this is all unconfirmed rumor, but if it turns out to be true, things are really starting to get interesting in Central Florida.

Oh, one more thing. Universal has apparently fast-tracked this Potter expansion and hopes to have it up and running within 2 years, meaning it will open a full 5 years BEFORE Disney's Avatar Land does. How's that for getting ahead of the competition?!

Stay tuned to the blog...we'll keep updating it with information about these developments as we hear them.

Mike:: I think this is a really interesting development, and of course we'll know more in the coming months; but it is intriguing to think about the differences in Universal and Disney thinking.  As I heard this news I wondered, would Disney Imagineers do the same thing? I feel like expanding the same world to both of their parks is kind of a cheap cash grab.  Create more interesting content and people will want to spend multiple days at your resort, force HP lovers into forking over for multiple day tickets - just to experience all you are offering to them, just seems wrong.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another game changer....

Universal is about to change the game again....if what I'm hearing is true, the competition for Central Florida Theme Park dominance just got a lot more intense.

Stay tuned for details....

I'll give you just a little hint, though. Expect to see a lot more of:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy birthday, Walt

A great big happy birthday goes out to the man who started it all...Walt would have been 110 years old today.

Happy birthday, Walt!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Here come the Muppets!

Well, that title is a bit of a misnomer, since it applies that the Muppets are something new. They are, of course, not new at all. Perhaps a better title for this review should have been "Here come the Muppets again!" since they're just now making their (triumphant) return to the big screen after an 11 year absence. They were last seen in movie theaters in 2004 with Muppets in Space. During the 7 year hiatus, they made a series of mostly forgettable TV specials including The Muppets Wizard of Oz, starring an inept Ashanti as Dorothy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Has Disney Consumer Products Finally Gotten It?

Now what is 'it'? you ask. 

Why can't the Disneyland logo be enough?
For years now Nick and I have been complaining, all be it amongst ourselves, about the products available to a Disney lover.  Now this is going to seem harsh to some of you who absolutely love these types of things, but in my personal opinion a lot of the products that Disney release are REALLY dorky (I would even take it a step further and say TACKY. -Nick).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Avatar Blooming - fun idea

To Start with lets watch this quick Coca-Cola/AMC Theaters advertisement. And pause it right around the 38 or 39 second mark.

What I imagine would be kind of a neat experience for the upcoming AVATAR Land would be a nightly show or experience that kind of happened organically in the park every dusk to early evening.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival: Passport to a World of Flavors

I had the pleasure of spending a long Colombus Day weekend down in Walt Disney World. I make a trip at this time of year annually, and though it's one of my quicker trips, it's one of my favorites, mostly because of the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Avatar Land - Where will it be?

When Animal Kingdom was originally announced, it contained plans for a land/area called Beastly Kingdom, which would feature mythical creatures.  However the plans were eventually modified for opening day to include what is now Camp Minnie Mickey, with plans to eventually add Beastly Kingdom after the park opened (and started making some money).