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.

No comments:

Post a Comment