The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming to Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, with construction to being this year with a planned 2009 opening.
Harry Potter theme park coming to Orlando's Universal Studios
Islands of Adventure theme park to feature The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Sentinel Staff Writer
May 31, 2007
Universal Orlando has secured rights to the phenomenally successful Harry Potter stories and will build a themed area of rides, shops and restaurants called "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Islands of Adventure.
Universal, author J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios, which makes the Harry Potter movies, are making a worldwide announcement of the deal today. Universal expects to break ground late this summer and have "Wizarding World" open by late 2009.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Universal Orlando Resort President Bill Davis characterized the deal as perhaps the biggest in the resort's history, and one of the biggest in theme-park business history.
The announcement ends long-simmering, unconfirmed industry speculation that both Universal and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have been bidding to acquire theme-park rights to the boy-wizard wonder. The brainchild of British author Rowling, the Harry Potter series of books and movies has grossed billions of dollars in sales over the past decade.
The news also redefines prospects for Universal Orlando. Universal has seen a slow, steady slide in attendance since 2004 -- including a drop of 2.8 percent to 2.1 million visitors in the first quarter of this year -- and has struggled to address criticism that it hasn't added much new excitement in recent years.
"We think this is the most exciting news we've ever had out here," Davis said. "We think it is going to have a huge impact on all our constituencies: our guests, our team members, our management team, everybody. This is absolutely huge. We're just thrilled and excited we were selected for the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter.' "
No terms have been disclosed of the contract between Universal, Warner Bros. and Rowling. Universal declined to reveal what it intends to invest in "Wizarding World." But the corporation's annual report released earlier this year indicated the company intended to spend up to $120 million this year on new items -- triple what was spent in 2005 or 2006 -- and Davis said the company would have high capital budgets in 2008 and '09 as well. Universal also has announced a new ride based on The Simpsons cartoon, to open next year.
In a news release, Tom Williams, chairman of Universal Parks and Resorts, vowed that the company would "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."
In the same release, Rowling declared, "The plans I've seen look incredibly exciting, and I don't think fans of the books or films will be disappointed."
In her Harry Potter books, Rowling created a fictional, magical world of witches and wizards existing parallel to -- yet largely hidden from -- ordinary, contemporary Britain. The stories center on Harry, a young wizardry student, and his friends at a boarding school called Hogwarts. Together, they struggle with schoolwork, family problems, teen angst, young love, and evil wizards and witches trying to kill them.
A 20-acre Potter 'island'
Universal plans a 20-acre "Wizarding World," a little bigger than the average size of its themed "islands" at Islands of Adventure. Part would be carved away from what is now "The Lost Continent" island, and the rest would be land now used for employee parking and park support, outside the back fence.
The new, "seventh island" would feature reconstructed and rethemed attractions, and all-new ones, Scott Trowbridge, vice president of Universal's Creative Studios, said in an interview. The Hogwarts castle and locations from Rowling's Forbidden Forest and Hogsmeade village will be created as backdrops to attractions, shops and restaurants.
Three-time Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig, who designed sets for all the Harry Potter movies, leads the "Wizarding World" design team.
Much of "The Lost Continent" island, including Universal's award-winning Mythos Restaurant, will be retained as a separate themed area, just smaller. The island is to remain open during construction as well.
Some current "Lost Continent" attractions such as The Dueling Dragons roller coasters and The Flying Unicorn coaster ride likely would be adapted to fit the Harry Potter story. Trowbridge would not discuss specific attractions, but did say that Universal intended to "leverage some existing infrastructure." He said that would have to include far more than a new paint job and a new sign, because too much is at stake.
Davis agreed, noting that the large, dedicated fan base that Universal hopes to capture could turn on the resort if fans conclude Universal cheapened the Harry Potter concept.
"We do have a responsibility to all the fans that are out there in the world that have followed the Harry Potter saga through the films and the books," Davis said. "We're taking that very, very seriously. We're going to be true to the books and the films, and make sure that when people come here they're going to be very, very happy with what they see."
The Harry Potter phenomenon has been phenomenally lucrative.
The first six books have sold more than 300 million copies, in 63 languages, according to the BBC Web site. The most recent, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold nearly 7 million copies in the United States just in its first day in print.
The four movies have pulled in more than $3.5 billion so far, according to the independent Hollywood tracking Web site boxofficemojo.com. All of the movies are among the 20 highest-grossing ever, led by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which, with a $976.5 million box office, is the fourth-biggest film of all time.
And the Harry Potter story continues.
The seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released July 21. The fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will be released July 11. The sixth and seventh films are certain to follow in coming years.
And now coming at the end of this decade: "Harry Potter and the Islands of Adventure."
If it had looked to some critics as if Universal had not brought much new to Islands of Adventure lately, it's because the company had been seeking "the right fit," then working to get Harry Potter when it became available, Trowbridge said.
"We've worked for the past couple of years to figure out how we could bring it to life," he said. "We were really looking for something that had the kind of power, the kind of transportive and immersive world of imagination that Harry Potter brings."