Casting a spell: Will Universal's Diagon Alley be the most interactive theme park land EVER?By Nick Sim, Friday, January 17, 2014 10:59
The spring 2014 debut of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley is fast approaching, and excitement among Potter fans is reaching feverish levels. Most of the discussion has been centered around the new land's two headline rides - the Hogwarts Express and a roller coaster themed around Gringotts Bank, as well as the various shops and restaurants that will form part of its line-up.
The rides will draw in guests, and the shops will get them spending. But Universal wants to go much further to make Diagon Alley a truly immersive experience. The original Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure is full of "easter eggs" that guests can discover and watch passively (such as the mandrake plants in the window of the Dogweed and Deathcap storefront). In Diagon Alley, though, these hidden secrets are widely expected to become interactive.
Rumors have been circulating for months that the most popular merchandise item from the original Wizarding World - the wands sold by Ollivanders and the Owl Post - will be taken to a new level in the Wizarding World. According to Theme Park Insider's Robert Niles (the source of several reliable previous leaks about the land), they will be equipped with RFID chips, enabling them to trigger effects and animations at various different points in the land.
Walt Disney World, of course, has already pioneered the use of RFID in its parks with its MagicBands. Niles, though, claims that Universal will push the boundaries further, going beyond simple triggers and enabling the wands to perform additional functions at home, too.
We'll learn more from Universal very soon, but it's not difficult to imagine the possibilities. Different wands could trigger different "spells" - making collecting a range of them even more desirable. The Ollivanders show in Diagon Alley, meanwhile, could be far more exciting and unique to each guest than the existing show in Hogsmeade. A rumored walkthrough recreation of Borgin & Burkes in Knockturn Alley could also make use of the new wands.
Another rumor that has gained traction is that the Knight Bus, a prominent feature on the waterfront of the new Diagon Alley, will feature talking heads that will converse with guests. That has been all-but-confirmed by a recent casting call, in which Universal Orlando invited people to: "Prepare a one-minute monologue in a British or Caribbean accent." The call for British, as well as Caribbean, accents suggests that other characters will be brought to life, too.
The setup is likely to be similar to that for the fountain in Islands of Adventure's Lost Continent area, with the actors being located in a hidden control room and using cameras and microphones to enable the interaction with guests.
Of course, all of these elements are just rumored for now - although there is fairly hefty evidence that at least some of them will come to pass. With Universal due to make some major Diagon Alley announcements on January 23, though, expect more details very soon.
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