Universal Studios first graced Potterheads with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 when they opened a themed area in their Islands of Adventure park in Orlando. It did so well that they followed it up in 2014 with an expansion in Universal Studios Florida and a completely new attraction in Universal Studios Japan. Unsurprisingly, fans of the iconic book and film franchise flocked to the parks, which spent a lot of money to meticulously recreate areas from the story (like Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle).
Fittingly, Hollywood is next, with a brand new Wizarding World opening on April 7. Not only did we get an early sneak peek at the park (yes, I cried a little), we also tracked the actual numbers of visitors to the above parks to figure out just how much Harry Potter has been contributing to Universal’s overall income. Let’s just say, we hope J.K. Rowling is seeing some of the profits.
If you have been to the other locations, there will definitely be some familiar sights and experiences at Hollywood's Harry Potter land, like its two rides (Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) and shows (the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally). It also replicates Hogsmeade and many of its stores, like Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Owl Post, Gladrags Wizardwear, Honeydukes (which includes Zonko’s) and Finch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Plus, when you get hungry, you can grab a table at the Three Broomsticks and Hogshead Bar, and when you're thirsty you can grab an ice-cold Butterbeer.
Dervish and Banges' window display
The attention to detail is pretty remarkable, with snow-capped roofs, mossy facades, cobblestone streets and employees that act as villagers. A conductor stands beside a full-size Hogwarts Express train and will greet you upon entering, where you can snap pictures inside a replica car that features a luggage rack from the films (though you can’t hide up there like Harry did). When visiting the shops, you can also find several costumes that the cast wore, like Hermione's Yull Ball gown.
Flight of the Hippogriff
The land is surprisingly small, so my advice is to get there early and head straight for Hogwarts Castle to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Not only will waiting in line be fun (since you move through different themed zones like the Gryffindor common room and Defense Against the Dark Arts class), you can enjoy the 3D-HD experience without a belly full of Butterbeer (very important for anyone who gets queasy on roller coasters). Then head to the Flight of the Hippogriff, where you can see Hagrid’s cottage and the real motorcycle from the movies. The roller coaster is a blast, but incredibly short, so don’t be surprised when it ends all too soon.
While the Harry Potter world doesn’t have its own VIP offering, the Universal Studios Hollywood does. The full-day experience gives you behind-the-scenes access to the onsite studios, unlimited front-of-line privileges for all attractions and rides, access to a VIP lounge and a lunch prepared by the park’s award-winning Executive Chef, Eric Kopelow (who was awarded Chef of the Year 2010 by Chef Magazine). You will also get your own guide, who will take you around the entire park on a special trolley and point out cool details other visitors won’t know. In terms of Harry Potter, this means that you’ll be able to learn about the effort that went into making the area as authentic as possible—from the animatronic owls in the owlery rafters to the secret alley behind shops. When it opens on April 7, the VIP Experience will run between $379 and $399, depending on when you visit (for you wizards out there, that's 78-82 Galleons)
Story-themed areas in theme parks may not be a new idea, but Universal’s Potter offerings have raised the bar. Islands of Adventure (which cost $200 million to build) saw 4,627,000 visitors in 2009 (which was 11.3 percent lower than the prior year). But after opening the first Potter area in 2010, the number spiked 30.2 percent to 5,949,000. It did so well that by 2011, it had helped North America’s overall theme park attendance numbers increase by 2.9 percent (1.9 percent of which was solely from Universal’s Potter land). In 2013, Bloomberg Business reported that parks had become the “highest-margin business at Universal’s parent, Comcast, generating $953 million in operating cash flow on sales of $2.1 billion” in 2012. The company expanded the land in 2014 to include Universal Studios Orlando (the two areas are connected by a functioning Hogwarts Express train), which brought tourists flocking to the state and actually broke recession behavior in terms of theme parks.
Ollivander's Wand Shop
“The Harry Potter attractions represent two dominant elements in our contemporary industry: the sophisticated application of technology and of intellectual property (IP),” wrote Brian Sands (Vice President, Economics, Americas) in the 2014 Theme Index from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM. In that same year, Universal also opened a new area in their Japan location and after being open for only six months, it had already hit the previous year’s attendance numbers. By the end of 2014, Japan’s park saw a 16.8 percent increase and Orlando’s two parks saw a combined 28 percent increase.
According to the Daily News, Universal put $1.6 billion into expanding their Hollywood location. The plans include a lot more than just The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (like two hotels and a riverfront park) and the company is expecting to see $15 million in new revenue every year. As the 17th most popular theme park in the world, the Hollywood location can really use an extra boost, especially with Disneyland as its major competitor. But considering the park has already been steadily rising in popularity (going from 6,148,000 attendees in 2013 to 6,824,000 in 2014), the opening of Harry Potter land on April 7 will only add to that.