All aboard, Muggles, Squibs and wizard-wannabes — the Hogwarts Express is gathering steam and getting ready to roll at Universal Orlando Resort.
On Wednesday, the company announced that it would open The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in 2014. The new attraction not only capitalizes on the wild success of the original Wizarding World attraction at nearby Islands of Adventure but will connect the two parks via a working Hogwarts Express train.
“Our vision is to create two amazing theme park experiences that combine into one, complete, magical journey,” said Alice Norsworthy, executive vice president, marketing and sales for Universal Orlando Resort, in a statement.
(Universal Orlando Resort is part of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)
As announced, the new attraction will welcome visitors to Diagon Alley, the fictional London shopping area where Harry learns about his illustrious family history. Touring Gringotts bank and other retail outlets, they’ll then be able to board a train — from Platform 9¾, naturally — for the ride over to Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts School at Universal Studios.
According to Universal executives, the new addition makes the twin attractions “the world's first centrally themed, multi-park experience.”
It also capitalizes on one of the most successful franchises in theme park history. Originally opened in June 2010, the original Wizarding World is credited with the subsequent surge in attendance at the resort. In the third quarter of 2010, Universal Orlando boasted a 36-percent increase in attendance over the year before. In the first quarter of 2011, the year-over-year increase jumped to 68 percent.
The company no longer releases attendance figures and wouldn’t confirm independent estimates that the attraction cost $265 million to build.
The company is also remaining mum on more details of Diagon Alley but it’s clearly banking on the continuing popularity of the Potter franchise. Construction on a Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood will begin this summer with an expected opening in 2015 or 2016.
“It’s a very smart move on their part,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company. “They’ve done so well with it so far that they’re just going to ramp it up to the next level.”
That ramp-up, says Speigel, is also part of a larger trend that’s gaining traction throughout the industry as parks focus less on adding individual attractions and more on developing what he calls “attract-areas.”
“It’s not an attraction; it’s a whole area with multiple rides, shows, retail and food and beverage,” he told NBC News. “We’re also seeing it at Disney with the expanded Fantasyland in Orlando and Cars Land in Los Angeles.”
Given the above, you probably don’t have to take a Divination class to predict that the future looks bright for even more Potter-themed attract-areas.
“It’s the most important intellectual property that’s been introduced in the theme park industry in the last 25 to 30 years,” said Speigel. “There’s probably enough in the Harry Potter works to give them ideas for another 15 or 20 years.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.