Armchair Imagineering – Universal Edition

There’s been a lot of discussion, online and elsewhere, regarding the upcoming changes to Universal’s Orlando theme parks. Most of the chatter revolves around where Universal has decided to add the second Harry Potter themed area – the studio park, not Islands of Adventure. Naturally, the most asked question is “Why?”.

J.K. Rowling has allegedly been very strict in regulating the look and feel of the Harry Potter land. For instance, the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley are not represented in the theme park (to the chagrin of many a fan) because it doesn’t exist in Hogwarts. They’re in London; as is platform 9-3/4. Oddly enough, Ollivander’s shop currently exists in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter… which seems to go against Rowling’s rules (but what a money-maker it’s turned out to be!). For Diagon Alley and other areas to be properly represented in the Universal theme parks they must not exist in the current Wizarding World (ie: Hogwarts).

Suddenly, the Jaws encounter area closes – leading most people to believe that this former attraction will be home to the Harry Potter expansion. It certainly is a large enough area (see photo below). Imagine the entire Amity area being transformed into London; with winding side streets, shops (including the Leaky Cauldron – complete with its rotating bookcase), restaurants, and a train platform. Specifically, a train that leads to the current Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It is this train, and the connecting of the two parks, that has fueled much of the rumor mill.

Is it even possible for Universal to connect their two parks?

Sure, they can. RFID can be embedded into park tickets. This means, as you approach the Hogwarts Express queue line, a helpful team-member can scan your ticket to determine if you had purchased a “park-hopper” ticket. If you hadn’t… well, I’m sure they would happily offer the ability to upgrade right there, on the spot. Granted, there are some serious logistics to consider – like how to best handle the moving attendance and re-evaluating maximum occupancy. What happens if 15,000 people enter the front gates of each park in the morning, a few thousand more trickle through the turnstiles all day, but by evening Islands of Adventure is suddenly at capacity while the studios have barely 7,500 in attendance (due to hopping between parks on the train)? Would the train be considered an attraction or transportation? Would that mean an “attraction” would close down when either park reaches maximum occupancy? Those questions really pose some challenges; but shouldn’t stop the project dead in its tracks.

Where would this potential train track go; down Turkey Lake Road?

By looking at Google’s aerial photo of the Universal parks one can see that the Hogwarts Express could easily navigate straight down Backlot Drive (red line) with only one obstruction. Alas, the Sinbad attraction (green polygon) would likely be destroyed to make way for the train… and what a shame THAT would be (read: sarcasm).

That’s an awful lot of backstage area the train would traverse. Ick. Who wants to look at that?

Who says you have to? Disney Cruise Line has been putting virtual portholes on the inside state rooms of the Dream and Fantasy; why couldn’t Universal put fake windows on their train? Imagine taking in the sites of the UK country-side while traveling backstage between the two parks. What if I told you that UK country-side could include special random encounters with each crossing? Examples: On your trip from London to Hogwarts Ron flies up alongside the train in his car. On your friend’s trip there’s a spirited game of Quidditch happening outside the windows. You return, hoping to see the game, but instead see Hermoine and Neville Longbottom fly alongside the train on brooms. Think: Star Tours style randomized events.

Yes, it’s all possible. The real question is will Universal, with its history of colossal hits and massive misfires, be able to pull it off? It will be especially hard because fan’s expectations will be that much higher, now.

I say, good luck! This type of rivalry between Disney’s and Universal’s park divisions can only be seen as a good thing for the fans.

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