Sometimes, a topic comes along that is so large, it takes more than just one voice to fully analyze or break it down. In such cases – much like the Avengers – I have always been taught to turn to my peers (who, typically, are much more knowledgeable [and good-looking] than I) for assistance and guidance.
Such is the case with the Wizarding World of Diagon Alley, the newest land at Universal Studios Florida that is set to open – well, any week now. Given its size, scope, and undeniable impact on the rest of the theme park industry, it’s never too soon to start taking the enormity of it all in.
It’s only fitting, then, that we got some of the best of the best voices in the themed journalism world to help us with the undertaking:
- Robert Niles – editor-in-chief of Theme Park Insider.
- Seth Kubersky – columnist at Orlando Weekly and co-author of Universal Orlando 2014.
- Derek Burgan – writer at Touring Plans.
- Nick Sim – editor-in-chief of Theme Park Tourist and author of Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story.
Marc N. Kleinhenz, freelancer:
With somewhere around just one month left before the opening of Diagon Alley, and with a goodly number of facts about its attractions, shops, and experiences having already been known for quite a while now (I'm looking at you, Robert), I think we can start to get our arms around the size and scope of this project.
Which leads me to thinking: what's the depth of its immersion going to be, do you think? What will its legacy look like across the theming world? Just how much magic (no pun intended) is there to be had?
1. The live entertainment and interactive experiences
Seth Kubersky, Orlando Weekly:
The word "immersion" gets tossed around a lot in the theme park industry, but if we go with the literal definition of "surrounding you completely," I think it's impossible to argue that the original Wizarding World didn't raise the bar, not only in terms of physical design, but by stimulating all of the guest's senses – hearing, tasting, shopping – in service of creating a seamless environment.
Sure, Hogwarts has a few flaws (please pay no attention to that warehouse behind the castle), but from everything I've seen, Diagon Alley is going to refine and expand on all those elements that made phase one so successful.
While I'm certain the new area's attractions, shops, and scenery will equal or exceed anything Disney has done outside of Asia, the real game-changing breakthroughs will come from the live entertainment and interactive experiences, which have received the least public attention but (I suspect) will become the "sleeper hits" of the expansion.
If everything I'm hearing about the new wand experience pans out, it could redefine the guest’s role in crafting the narrative of their visit, and potentially recapture the sense of exploration and discovery that's been somewhat lost in today's rush towards more intense attractions.
The Wizarding World expansion's real legacy will be determined by how well they can balance the "magic" of having a unique, personal experience against meeting the operational needs of what is sure to be (at least for the near future) overwhelming attendance. If Universal can balance demand and capacity well enough to deliver both efficiency and show quality, you may see a whole new generation of interactive experiences integrated into parks.
But if technological and logistical hurdles cause too many people to turn away frustrated, or force the designers to dumb down their ambitions, then that failure could conceivably set back the entire genre for years to come.