With 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter,' Orlando hopes for a boost

Friday's grand opening of 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,' the theme park based on the popular books, could bring sell-out crowds to an industry crimped by the global economic downturn.

Scott Audette/Reuters
Hogwarts Castle at Universal's new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park, as it appeared at a gala opening Wednesday night in Orlando.

It’s more than just a theme park. It’s a fantasy world that Harry Potter fans have been imagining for more than a decade, now brought to life.

A world of flying broomsticks, moving paintings, invisibility cloaks, and talking snakes will be revealed to Muggles (people without any magical abilities) at Friday’s grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort.

Potter fans have been waiting for this day since 2007 when Warner Bros. and Universal Orlando Resort first announced their decision to create a world based on the bestselling books by J.K. Rowling and the blockbuster films that followed.

The 20-acre park is a detailed recreation of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the village of Hogsmeade, two of the main settings for the adventures of Potter and his friends.

The new park could rejuvenate ticket sales for Universal Studios, which, like many other theme parks, has seen a decline in attendance in the past two years. Estimates calculated by the Theme Entertainment Association, a non-profit organization based in California, show that park attendance for Universal Studios declined 13 percent in 2009.

Three-day vacation packages for the park start at $285 per adult, and one-day passes cost $79.

Park officials said Thursday they would not cap ticket sales for Friday's opening even if they oversell the park's 30,000 person capacity.

Nearby hotel bookings have been solid. Abdul Jama, an employee of a Holiday Inn near Universal Studios, said Potter fans have sold-out all the rooms at the hotel through the opening weekend.

Some fans got a glimpse of the magic at the park’s private grand opening celebration Wednesday night, complete with a star-studded unveiling that included Potter actors Daniel Radclife, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.

The theme park is a way for the Pottermania to continue even after the release of all the books and the movies. The series has sold more than 400 million copies around the world, and the films have grossed more than $5.3 billion in worldwide box office, making Harry Potter the largest-grossing film franchise in history.

The park has just three rides: "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," "Flight of the Hippogriff," and "Dragon Challenge."

But besides the rides, fans will also be able to see the iconic Hogwarts Express arrive at the Hogsmeade station, buy the latest trick at Zonko’s joke shop, eat Chocolate Frogs at Honeydukes, drink a cup of Butterbeer, and visit Ollivander’s wand shop.


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