Home » 3 Attractions That Could Have Rescued Disney’s Plans for Harry Potter Land

3 Attractions That Could Have Rescued Disney’s Plans for Harry Potter Land

Diagon Alley

A long, long time ago—all the way back in 2006—the world as we knew it was fully caught up in Harry Potter mania. The sixth installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had just been released the year prior, while fans of the film adaptations were eagerly anticipating a 2007 movie release date for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Series creator J.K. Rowling, meanwhile, was in negotiations with Disney to bring Harry Potter and his ilk to the Happiest Place on Earth.

According to theme park insider Jim Hill, Rowling signed a letter of intent with the company as they began preliminary negotiations to convert a small parcel of Fantasyland into a handful of wizarding world-themed attractions. These super-secret plans were never realized, as Rowling later struck up an immensely-successful partnership with Universal Studios, but Hill recently revealed that Disney’s ideas had been… small in scope and vision, to say the least:

“This was tiny,” Hill said. “Itty bitty. There were two attractions. Basically it was going to be Buzz Lightyear. You were going to be in an Omnimover attraction with a wand instead of a gun, and you were moving through basically a Dark Arts teaching class. The other aspect was going to be a Care of Magical Creatures Petting Zoo.”

In other words, what Disney had envisioned paled in comparison to the immersive and multi-faceted world Universal Studios created for Rowling and her characters in 2010. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter not only did justice to an incredibly popular and heartily-defended franchise, but it raised the stakes for theme parks around the world. It wasn’t enough to create beautiful landscapes and innovative attractions and high-quality tech anymore—guests wanted to step through the turnstiles and feel utterly transported to another reality.

But let’s turn back the clock for a (hypothetical) moment and imagine that Universal Studios never developed the Wizarding World. What could Disney have done to improve on the two meager attractions it originally proposed? Could they have stopped Rowling from walking away from the project entirely… and just how would they have managed to pull that off? Let’s take a look.

Attraction #1: A one-on-one battle against Voldemort

Diagon Alley

Image: Amy, Flickr (license)

If you grew up with Harry Potter, chances are you also harbored a secret hope that one day, an invitation to Hogwarts would come fluttering down your chimney by owl post. While it might have been impractical for Disney to replace Cinderella Castle with Hogwarts and make those dreams come true, that’s not to say Disney couldn’t have found a way to bring the Wizarding World to life on a smaller scale.

Since the 1980s, if not earlier, the Disney Parks have played host to several interactive experiences geared toward their younger demographic. A seasonal show themed to The Sword in the Stone debuted alongside Disneyland’s newly-refurbished Fantasyland in 1983, where children were invited to try their hand at pulling Arthur’s sword out of the stone in front of King Arthur Carrousel. Adult participants were frequently selected and always failed the task, while the magic touch was bestowed on whatever child was “destined” to become Fantasyland’s temporary ruler (their reign—in title only—was often limited to just a few hours on days when multiple shows were scheduled).

Nearly 25 years later, the Jedi Training Academy was incorporated at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Terrace and, later, in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland as well. In its various iterations, the training sessions allow 16+ children to study under a Jedi master and his apprentice, the latter of whom is struggling to conquer her fear of the Dark Side. The experience isn’t particularly personalized to each individual padawan, but still gives kids the opportunity to don their own Jedi robes, wield their own lightsabers, and participate in a one-on-one battle with an iconic Star Wars villain.

It’s not difficult to imagine how Disney might have incorporated a similar Harry Potter experience in their parks. Instead of zapping Darth Vader with a lightsaber, kids could have practiced spells (think “Expelliarmus,” not “Avada Kedavra”) with their own wands before beating back dementors and Death Eaters… or perhaps even Voldemort himself. And, just as the Jedi younglings learned at the Temple, the young witches and wizards might have gotten the opportunity to not only step into Harry Potter’s shoes and test their mettle against dark magic, but come together as a group to learn the value of standing together in the face of fear. In other words, it would’ve looked a little something like an invasion of Dumbledore’s Army in Fantasyland—not entirely in keeping with either Rowling’s fantasy universe or the Disney brand, but undeniably captivating for younger guests and the young-at-heart alike.

Attraction #2: A Sorting Hat-based adventure

Hogwarts Express

Image: Joel, Flickr (license)

As sprawling and diverse as Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter has become, there’s still nothing that offers guests the opportunity to take advantage of another quintessential Hogwarts tradition: The Sorting Hat ceremony. While any Harry Potter fan can log onto Rowling’s official Pottermore website and get sorted into Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff, an online quiz pales in comparison to having a “real” magic hat read out your fate to a gaggle of enthusiastic Hogwarts students in the Great Hall.

Granted, such an experience would likely be far too complicated and drawn-out to be feasible for the thousands of guests that come pouring into Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley every day, but given today’s advanced technology, it’s not an entirely impossible endeavor. In recent years, virtual reality (VR) tech has been outfitted on various roller coasters around the country, from Six Flags to SeaWorld, and some of the overlays have even allowed for customized experiences.

Had Disney been able to devote more space to a Harry Potter attraction—something akin to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, maybe—it’s conceivable that they could have combined the choose-your-own-adventure style of Star Tours – The Adventures Continue and a VR-enhanced roller coaster to create a truly unique experience. After donning VR headsets, guests boarding the coaster might have started the ride with the Sorting Hat selection process, then been whisked away on an adventure specific to their Hogwarts house: evading the Whomping Willow in a stolen car, taking on the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, or even competing in the Triwizard Tournament.

Such an attraction would not only have given guests access to some iconic moments in Harry Potter canon (most of which, it should be noted, befell Gryffindor students) but would also have remained flexible enough to allow Rowling and Disney to expand the storylines with the addition of the Fantastic Beasts series, among other tangentially-related stories. Or, to put it in words Walt Disney might have used, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

Attraction #3: The Quidditch match of a lifetime


Image: Alexandre Breveglieri, Flickr (license)

Long before Harry Potter and his wizarding pals enchanted theme park guests at Universal Studios, Walt Disney and his Imagineers demonstrated their understanding of the elements needed to bring fairy stories to life in the real world. When Disneyland opened to visitors in the summer of 1955, it offered them an opportunity to hop aboard mine carts and pirate ships as they skirted the Old Hag in Snow White’s Adventures and sailed high above Neverland with Wendy, John, and Michael Darling.

The key to a truly immersive experience, Walt discovered, was making guests feel like the hero in their own story. That’s why those first dark rides seldom featured any known protagonists; you never saw Snow White dashing away from her evil stepmother or Peter Pan leading his troupe of Lost Boys through the pirate-infested island. You, the rider, were expected to step into the protagonist’s shoes and play out the adventure yourself.

Had Disney applied that same logic to their Harry Potter attraction proposal, they might have brainstormed other rides and experiences where parkgoers got to move through the Wizarding World as the boy wizard and/or his friends. Combined with the technology found in, say, Soarin’ Around the World or Avatar Flight of Passage, guests could have stepped into the cleats of a Quidditch player and been thrust into the starring role during a cutthroat match between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Instead of jumping on banshees and soaring through sunset-colored vistas over the Valley of Mo’ara, riders would step astride a Firebolt and take to the skies above the pitch. After all, have you truly stepped foot in the Wizarding World without feeling what it’s like to fly above the spires of Hogwarts?


As much fun as it is to speculate about the kind of attractions and experiences Disney could’ve used to bring Rowling’s creations to life, it’s worth mentioning that the original ideas they proposed still had some merit. According to Hill, the Care of Magical Creatures Petting Zoo would have incorporated at least a few Audio-Animatronics, making it the perfect vehicle to later showcase Newt Scamander’s bizarre and lovable creatures from his adventures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And while we don’t have further details about the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin-esque ride through a Defence Against the Dark Arts class, it would undoubtedly have been more thrilling to practice casting spells against Boggarts, Cornish Pixies, or Dementors than to take down Evil Emperor Zurg with toy laser pistols.

In the end, however, it’s a good thing Universal got ahold of Harry Potter when it did. The Disney Parks simply didn’t have the space or drive to build out the Wizarding World on such an extensive level. More than that, Disney’s own movie-based areas like Cars Land, Pandora – The World of Avatar, and the still-forthcoming Star Wars Land were at least partially inspired by the desire to outdo Universal’s Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Had Rowling not abandoned a potential partnership with Disney, we might not have seen theme parks enter into the celebrated era of fully-immersive, story-based environments this quickly—if at all.