Mystery surrounds opening date of Universal’s Harry Potter attraction

 

Here’s one for the Harry Potter books’ Department of Mysteries: When will Diagon Alley open?

Many hints point to an opening sometime this month for the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Construction walls came down Monday, and media previews are planned for next week. As of Thursday, though, Universal still had not announced an opening date.

The uncertainty is frustrating for Potter fans such as 20-year-old Jonathan Reyes, a University of Central Florida student who wants to experience the attraction on its first day. Without knowing a date well in advance, he said, he might have trouble getting a day off from his part-time job.

“I’m not at all happy with it,” he said. “I’m not sure what they’re doing.”

Universal has said only that the attraction will open this summer.

“We announce grand-opening dates when we’re ready … when we’re able to provide a perfect guest experience,” Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder said.

The company is taking a much different tack than it did when the original Wizarding World opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in 2010. Then, Potter fans knew the opening date about three months in advance. Universal used the same lead time when announcing a July 15 grand opening for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan.

“I don’t know that there’s the necessity to do something the same way each time,” Schroder said.

Theories abound about why Universal hasn’t been specific this time around. One is that the company may be trying to avoid a repeat of the original Wizarding World opening in 2010. The park was packed. There were long, snaking lines through several areas of the park and out into Universal CityWalk. Guests had to wait hours for the attractions.

Then, many Potter fans from outside Florida planned trips around the opening date.

This time, “since there isn’t a date to focus on, that helps encourage people to distribute their trips a bit more evenly throughout the summer,” said Robert Niles, publisher of ThemeParkInsider.com.

“It seems with the … system they’re setting up for this, they’re really trying to avoid a situation where you’ve got thousands of people upset because they’re waiting in an eight-hour line,” Niles said.

Some fans are speculating the Potter attraction will open June 20. That would be at the end of the media previews scheduled for next week. It would also be right after Jimmy Fallon tapes four “Tonight” shows at Universal Studios. Variety has reported a June 20 opening without attribution, and Universal says it doesn’t know where the magazine got that date.

There are other reasons to expect an opening later this month: Universal’s parent company, Comcast Corp., told analysts earlier this year it expects the new Wizarding World land to boost its April-through-June financial performance. And it’s selling Diagon Alley-themed packages for which travel begins June 29. Still, the starting date of a vacation package and a grand opening are not the same thing. Last time around, hotel-package buyers got to experience the Harry Potter land weeks before its opening on June 18, 2010.

The first Harry Potter attraction was a game-changer for Universal’s Islands of Adventure, sending attendance skyrocketing. The new Wizarding World will be themed around the street where witches and wizards do their shopping. A signature attraction will be Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which Universal has described as “an entirely new type of ride that propels guests into the story like never before.” It will have new projector technology and a nearly 360-degree screen.

A Hogwarts Express train will shuttle visitors between the new Wizarding World at Universal Studios and the original one in Islands of Adventure. That’s expected to fuel park-to-park ticket sales, because only visitors buying those tickets or holding annual passes can ride the train.

Some speculate that Universal may have not wanted to promise a date too far in advance because of concerns about new-ride technology. Ride openings at theme parks have been delayed in the past, noted John Gerner, founder of Leisure Business Advisors in Richmond, Va.

“The last thing they want to do is to promise a certain opening date and then have to disappoint.”

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