The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
On May 31, 2007, Universal Studios made the announcement that they had signed a deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. to bring Harry Potter to Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort.
At one time it was thought that Disney might licence Harry Potter, the famous character from the J.K. Rowling's books and films but Universal pulled off a major coup in securing a deal with Warner Bros.
Originally Universal said that the new The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would open in the Spring of 2010 but the official opening date was pushed back to June 18, 2010.
Rather than just a Harry Potter themed ride, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is billed as a theme park within a theme park and covers a 20 acre site inside Universal's Islands of Adventure. Universal have built it by re-theming part of the existing Lost Continent and utilising adjoining unused land (previously an employee car park).
Total costs are put at between $230 million to $265 million (including the new Simpsons ride) and work started in 2007.
It is expected that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will help Universal claw back some of their lost visitor numbers of late.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions
Universal promised "a state-of-the-art attraction that brings the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life in an exciting way that guests have never before experienced".
Visitors are able to immerse themselves in the world of Harry Potter and visit the village of Hogsmeade, the mysterious Forbidden Forest and parts of Hogwarts Castle and grounds.
The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter also includes what are described as "experiential shops and restaurants" which allow guests to purchase all manner of Harry Potter merchandise and sample food based on the J.K. Rowling's books and films.
Two of the original roller coasters from the Lost Continent have been re-engineered to fit into the new environment. "Dragon Challenge" (formerly Duelling Dragons) features a twin high-speed roller coaster themed around the Triwizard Tournament.
Next door is the "Flight of the Hippogriff" (formerly the Flying Unicorn) which is a family coaster where you can experience a Hippogriff training flight over the grounds of Hogwarts castle.
The iconic new structure is of course Hogwarts Castle. Inside is a brand new ride attraction called "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey". Universal kept the details of the type of ride under wraps until the last minute, only saying that "it will be a thrilling new state-of-the-art attraction that uses entirely new technology to bring the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life in ways never before experienced".
Harry Potter Merchandising
No theme park would be complete without merchandising and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is no exception with a whole host of shops!
These include "Zonko's" joke shop where you can buy Extendable Ears, Boxing Telescopes and Sneakoscopes. Next door is "Honeydukes" selling treats including Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans.
At "Ollivanders" wand shop you can enjoy an amazing interactive experience where the wand chooses the wizard.
"Dervish and Banges" sell magical instruments and sports equipment including Quidditch equipment, Triwizard apparel, Spectrespecs and Remembralls.
Finally there is "Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods" which is full of Ministry of Magic and magical creatures merchandise, Omnioculars and remote control Golden Snitches.
Restaurants and other attractions
At "The Three Broomsticks" and adjoining "Hog's Head" pub you will be able to sample traditional British fare and drinks including Butterbeer and pumpkin juice.
Also in Hogsmeade village is a calm resting area called "The Owlery" where you can see owls roosting awaiting their next delivery. You can also get a letter stamped with a certified Hogsmeade postmark and buy official stamps from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Harry Potter Books and Films
Harry Potter books have sold over 325 million copies in over 200 territories around the world and the films have grossed a staggering $3.5 billion at the box office.
Harry Potter is a hit with both young and old and Universal will be hoping that the Harry Potter character will win over fans of a famous mouse not that far away.
The official Universal Harry Potter website can be found here.