WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com When Worlds Collide:
How will Walt Disney World compete with
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in 2010?
Photo of “Wizarding World” sign at Islands of Adventure
A sign on a temporary bridge at Universal’s Islands of Adventure looks to the future.
 
May 31, 2007, was a “big news day” for theme park fans. The speculation and rumors gave way to an official announcement. “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” was coming to the Universal Orlando Resort.
  On the Internet, some Disney theme park fans were thrilled—not because they were glad Universal won the rights and the plans were spectacular, but because now Disney would need to make equally spectacular enhancements to Walt Disney World to remain competitive. This article looks at how Disney’s “World” is responding to the “World” of the Wizards.
  Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, March 6, 2009    

Photo of “Proclamation” sign at Islands of Adventure
A clever Ministry of Magic sign is at the construction site.
 

Let’s start by looking at what Universal announced and what’s already under construction.

The press release on May 31, 2007, made it clear that Universal’s plans were on a grand scale. It wouldn’t just be a single attraction. It would be a new land that would surpass any of the current lands (or “islands”) at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Readers of J.K. Rowling’s hugely popular books would be able to experience Harry’s world:

Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters—and faithful to the visual landscapes of the films—“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” will provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the magical world of Harry and his friends. The fully immersive, themed land will enable guests to visit some of the most iconic locations found in the books and the films including the village of Hogsmeade, the mysterious Forbidden Forest, and even Hogwarts castle itself. “The plans I’ve seen look incredibly exciting, and I don’t think fans of the books or films will be disappointed,” said J.K. Rowling.

The press release didn’t provide any real details about the attractions:

Expected to be revealed in 2010, the new environment will feature immersive rides and interactive attractions, as well as experiential shops and restaurants that will enable guests to sample fare from the wizarding world’s best known establishments. Also debuting will be a state-of-the-art attraction that will bring the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life in an exciting way that guests have never before experienced.

One paragraph in particular sent the right message to theme park fans:

“We are going to devote more time, more money, more expertise and more executive talent from throughout our entire organization and creative team—as well as from Warner Bros., our partners—to ensure that this entire environment is second-to-none,” said Tom Williams, chairman and CEO, Universal Parks and Resorts.
Conceptual rendering of Hogsmeade © Universal Studios
The creative wizards at Universal will bring the village of Hogsmeade to Orlando.
 

The press release included two conceptual renderings, a poster image, and a logo. Both renderings were spectacular. As conceptual renderings, the artwork conveys the mood and approach, but doesn’t necessarily provide an accurate representation of what will be built. In the rendering, Hogsmeade looks huge. Still, if Hogsmeade in Orlando ends up looking anything like the rendering, it will truly be “second-to-none.”

Conceptual rendering of Hogwarts © Universal Studios
Hogwarts castle is perched high atop a rugged mountain.
 

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom is huge compared to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. It appears that Hogwarts castle will be huge compared to Cinderella Castle. The rendering suggests that the rocky base on which the castle sits will serve as a show building for a major attraction.

Photo of Hogwarts construction at Islands of Adventure
The future Hogwarts, as it appeared in February 2009.
 

It’s now March 2009. There’s a construction site between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent, and part of The Lost Continent is gone. The most visible part of the construction is Hogwarts. So far, the rocky base doesn’t look rocky (at least not from angles that guests can see), and there are no signs of castle towers. They have a lot of work left to achieve a 2010 opening. So far, it just looks like a steel-and-concrete box.

But what a big box!

It’s hard to get a sense of scale from the photos. Actually, it’s hard to get a real sense of scale in person. It’s probably bigger than it looks, even in person. What the big box already shows is that Universal wasn’t kidding about the size and scope of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”

Some people have wondered if the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard has peaked and Universal is too late. However, Harry Potter isn’t just a fleeting fad. By mid-2008, sales of the seven Harry Potter books topped 400 million worldwide. Warner Bros. Pictures’ Harry Potter films are the top-grossing franchise in motion picture history, exceeding $4.5 billion for the first five films—and that doesn’t include DVD sales and rentals. Three additional films are on the way.

It’s likely that Harry Potter books will be popular for decades to come and that the films will remain staples of television, DVD, and BluRay. Not only that, if Universal delivers what they’ve promised, the new theme park land will have a timeless appeal of its own.

Photo of another view of Hogwarts construction at Islands of Adventure
Another view of the future Hogwarts castle in February 2009.
 

Ever since Universal’s announcement, Disney fans on websites, blogs, podcasts, and online forums have offered rumors, speculation, wishful thinking, and suggestions about Disney’s grand response to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” Here are some of them:

  • The plans for the Beastly Kingdom (or “Beastlie Kingdomme”) would be dusted off, and this realm of fantasy creatures would finally become a reality at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
  • Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom would become Pirateland through a massive and thorough makeover—including the Black Pearl in place of the Swiss Treehouse and a pirate takeover of the Enchanted Tiki Room!
  • Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom would be expanded—with a Little Mermaid ride—and would finally lose the tournament tent building fronts in favor of evocative façades worthy of the flagship land of the flagship park at Walt Disney World!
  • Pixar Place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be expanded into a full land of Pixar-themed shops, eateries, interactive experiences and attractions, including a Monsters, Inc. indoor roller coaster!
  • World Showcase at Epcot would gain several new countries, complete with “E” Ticket rides!

Don’t get your hopes up. There are no major construction projects at the parks of Walt Disney World. Any “Harry Potter killer” Disney project with a 2010 opening would require a construction effort similar to the Harry Potter project at Universal—which means it would have to be underway by now.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any new attractions at Walt Disney World in 2009 and 2010. The American Idol Experience recently opened. A stage show, Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration, will land in Tomorrowland in late spring 2009. A revamped Hall of Presidents will reopen in July 2009 with President Obama. Space Mountain will be rebuilt. The long-awaited new version of Star Tours is still a possibility. There will undoubtedly be other tweaks to the attraction and entertainment offerings. And if Disney can look beyond the current economic problems, perhaps they’ll start work on something bigger for 2011 or 2012. However, there’s no “Harry Potter killer” in the works for 2010.

Disney has much more effective ways to keep guests away from “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” Disney has figured out how to keep guests on-site, visiting Disney parks, without a car—and to make them feel good about it.

Photo of “Magic Your Way” pricing sign
“Magic Your Way” encourages guests to spend their entire vacation at Walt Disney World.
 

Do you want to visit one Disney theme park for one day? Then plan to spend $75 (plus tax) for everyone older than nine; ouch! A second day adds $74; not much of a break there. A third day adds another $63; yikes! A fourth day is just $7 more; hey, that’s not bad. Each additional day is just $3, up to ten days; what a bargain!

Imagine a family planning their obligatory once-in-every-American-child’s-life Walt Disney World vacation. Perhaps they originally planned to spend four days at Walt Disney World to go to each of the four parks, a day at Sea World, and a day at Universal (without realizing that Universal has two parks). After seeing Disney’s pricing, they discover that they have a choice of paying just $3 for additional Disney days or $75 (plus tax) for Sea World plus $75 (plus tax) for Universal—multiplied by the number of people in their family (with a slight price break for children three to nine).

No, Disney’s “Magic Your Way” pricing scheme, introduced in January 2005, won’t keep true Harry Potter fans from visiting “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” Then again, a $300 million addition to a Disney park also wouldn’t keep those fans from visiting Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, and the Forbidden Forest. But Disney’s pricing scheme should continue to discourage many typical guests from venturing north on Interstate 4.

Photo of Disney’s Magical Express
Disney’s Magical Express keeps on-site guests on-site.
 

It’s easy to head north on Interstate 4 if you have a car. It’s a lot harder if you don’t.

In May 2005, Disney introduced a new benefit for guests staying at Disney-owned resorts at Walt Disney World. Disney’s Magical Express provides comfortable airport transportation and convenient luggage service for Orlando International Airport passengers. The service is free. Disney resort guests pay the same room rate whether they use the Magical Express service or not. Not surprisingly, the service is wildly popular.

The catch is that from the time you board the Magical Express coach until you return to the airport at the end of your vacation, your wallet belongs to Disney. Guests use Disney buses, Monorails, boats, and footpaths as their transportation to parks, restaurants, recreation, and shopping—without leaving Disney property. Sure, even if you use Magical Express, it’s possible to rent a car, take a cab, or arrange towncar transportation to off-site locations. Most guests don’t bother.

Photo of Les Chef de France at Epcot
A great Parisian atmosphere—once you get past the “Celebrate Today!” banners.
 

If the “Magic Your Way” passes and Disney’s Magical Express aren’t enough to keep you on-site, how about a Disney Dining Plan? The plans are available for a fee or as part of the popular free dining promotions. Any Disney Dining Plan is for the entire length of your stay, so don’t plan any off-site days if you want to get your money’s worth.

Despite Disney’s efforts to keep guests on-site, some visitors to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” will be Walt Disney World guests who decide to cut a day or two out of their Disney schedule. Some guests who visit Central Florida regularly will even plan their trip around Universal instead of Disney.

Does this mean Walt Disney World attendance in 2010 and 2011 will suffer because of Harry? Probably not.

Here’s why... “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” will be a compelling reason for more people to plan trips to Central Florida—people who would not otherwise have done so. Central Florida tourism should get a noticeable boost over what the visitor numbers would otherwise have been. Some of those visitors will spend their whole vacation at Universal. Some will buy Orlando Flex Tickets, good for SeaWorld, Aquatica, Wet ’n Wild, and both Universal parks. But it’s likely that many (possibly even the majority) of those visitors will also make Walt Disney World part of their plans, and may spend more days at Disney than at Universal.

Even if Central Florida tourism is still suffering from the current recession in 2010 and 2011, it will suffer less because of Universal’s “Wizarding World,” the substantial advertising that will undoubtedly accompany it, and the proven appeal of Harry Potter.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” should send lots of guests through Disney’s turnstiles, even if the only “new” Disney attraction in 2010 is the rehab of Space Mountain. Disney might even benefit more from Harry Potter than Universal—because Disney didn’t have to make a multi-hundred-million dollar investment.

 

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© 2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated March 26, 2009.

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.
 
Photo of “Wizarding World” sign at Islands of Adventure: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of “Proclamation” sign at Islands of Adventure: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Conceptual rendering of Hogsmeade: © Universal Studios.
Conceptual rendering of Hogwarts: © Universal Studios.
Photo of Hogwarts construction: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of another view Hogwarts construction: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of “Magic Your Way” pricing sign: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Disney’s Magical Express: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Les Chef de France at Epcot: 2009 by Werner Weiss.