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Shrouded in secrecy, Harry Potter-themed "Wizarding World" project takes shape at Universal Orlando

Harry Potter BuildingEach of Orlando's theme-park resorts is promoting new attractions this year, but it's something that won't open until next year that really has people talking.

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," the $200million-plus "theme park within a theme park" that is scheduled to open by next summer in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, has sparked a near-constant stream of speculation about just how the resort will bring Harry Potter's universe to life.

"The industry scuttlebutt is that it will be fabulous," said Bob Rogers, founder of BRC Imagination Arts, a Burbank, Calif.-based attractions-design company. "I see the gleam in the eyes of the people who are working on it. They think they've got a real winner here."

Universal has kept the project — based on the wildly lucrative, seven-book series by British author J.K. Rowling and the movies it inspired — largely shrouded in secrecy. Contractors working on the project have been required to sign confidentiality agreements, and the resort has offered few clues beyond a handful of artist renderings. Universal has also fueled the hype with a series of Potter-themed Internet polls asking fans questions such as what dragon they would like to ride (a Chinese Fireball beat out a Hungarian Horntail) and what they would like to drink (butterbeer bested pumpkin juice).

Shops, eatery, more

But interviews with people in and around the project, and a review of public records, offer some details about what to expect.

Plans for the 20-acre Wizarding World show more than a dozen buildings, including at least three shops, a restaurant and multiple forced-perspective decorative buildings. The centerpiece will be the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the iconic castle and keep from the Potter books and movies.

Universal's Hogwarts, records show, will be 150 feet, or 15 stories, high.Harry Potter Building

The castle will also house what is expected to be the Wizarding World's signature attraction. Several people familiar with the project, including one person directly involved, said the ride will be what's known as a "robocoaster" — a ride system in which guests sit in seats suspended from a robotic arm that can swivel and swoop in multiple directions while it advances along a track.

Plans show the track snaking through more than a dozen scenes, though what those scenes will be remains a mystery. The attraction, according to the people familiar with it, will also feature an elaborate pre-show queue with special effects such as floating candles and snow falling indoors.

Before they arrive at Hogwarts, guests entering the Wizarding World will pass through Hogsmeade Village, an old-Europe-style town from the Potter novels. Universal's plans for Hogsmeade include The Three Broomsticks restaurant, shops and stylized locker and stroller-parking areas. The few clues Universal has provided indicate the stores will include Dervish & Banges, which sells and repairs magical equipment, and Honeydukes, a sweet shop whose treats include chocolate-covered frogs.

In between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, Universal is building Hagrid's Hut, home of the friendly half-giant. It has also said it plans to re-create the Forbidden Forest, an ominous setting from the books that's home to creatures such as centaurs, unicorns and spiderlike "acromantulas."

Re-themed coasters?

There is little yet to indicate what rides will be included in the Wizarding World beyond the Hogwarts "dark" ride. Part of the Wizarding World is being built in the Lost Continent section of Islands of Adventure, and documents indicate that two existing attractions there — Dueling Dragons, where riders choose between two intertwined roller coasters, and the Flying Unicorn, a children's coaster closed last year as part of the Potter construction — will be incorporated into Harry Potter's world.

Harry Potter BuildingBoth rides are expected to be re-themed with Potter story lines. Records show, for instance, that Universal plans to add a large tent at the entrance of Dueling Dragons, which fans have speculated will ultimately be converted into a re-creation of a wizarding tournament from one of the books in which one of the events involves stealing eggs from dragons.

Of course, the rides are almost secondary for fans when it comes to the Wizarding World, said Robert Niles, publisher of the Web site themeparkinsider.com.

"People are expecting to immerse themselves in the whole Harry Potter universe," Niles said. "Really, a lot more than other attractions, people are going to be paying a lot of attention to the theming, the attention to detail and the atmosphere of the place, more so than the rides."

Universal would not elaborate on any of its plans last week.

"We will be excited to talk about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — when we are ready to do so," spokesman Tom Schroder said.

The off-the-charts anticipation surrounding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter comes with some risk for Universal, said Rogers, of BRC Imagination Arts. "If you're dealing with one of the great intellectual properties like, for example, Star Trek or Harry Potter, you have to work very hard to make sure that you don't disappoint the fan base," he said.

Whatever is ultimately included when the Wizarding World opens next year, newer additions will soon follow. Universal's licensing contract with Warner Bros. requires the resort to add elements from the final movies in the series — the last of which isn't scheduled to arrive in theaters until 2011.

The contract even states that the later movies must be represented "in generally similar per-movie proportion" as the first five films.


Lucy Clark

Marketing Director and Photographer for Realtors, Jane and Alan LaFrance

'Mickey Homes - Central Florida Real Estate Agents - Your source for Homes for sale near Disney World'

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Posted: Sunday, July 5, 2009 1:43 PM by Jane and Alan LaFrance


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