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Universal's Harry Potter park to include Hogwarts

15 September 2009 by By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Creators of the highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando revealed some details of three major Potter-themed attractions on Tuesday, including a "Forbidden Journey" ride set in the iconic Hogwart's Castle.

"(It is) brand new, extremely exciting, never been done, never been seen before. I can't say big enough words. It's going to be absolutely mind-blowing," said Alan

Gilmore, the project's supervising art director and art director on two Harry Potter films.

Paul Daurio, show producer for the Wizarding World, said the attraction "couldn't be further from a roller coaster."

The 20-acre "park within a park" is due to open next spring. In a Webcast, descriptions of the attractions were generalized, and questions submitted via the Internet about ticket price and the effect on park attendance were ignored.

The Webcast included a short animated video but no actual photography of the park.

Mark Woodbury, head of Universal Creative, said Wizarding World scenery, attractions and souvenirs were faithful to British author J.K. Rowlings' seven-book Harry Potter series.

Woodbury said visitors would be able to sample butter beer and pumpkin juice at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant, relax in the Owlery and be fitted for a magical wand in Ollivander's Wand Shop, all of which are familiar to Potter fans.

Major attractions include the Dragon Challenge, a high-speed ride described as "definitely for the brave." It is based on the Triwizard Tournament, a fictional 13th century contest between students of the three most prestigious magical schools of Europe.

Another is Flight of the Hippogriff, a coaster based on Rowlings' magical creature with the head, wings and front legs of a giant eagle and body, hind legs and tail of a horse.

Actor Tom Felton, cast as Draco Malfoy in the film versions of the Harry Potter novels, participated in the Webcast and said of the park: "It's going to blow some serious minds."

Woodbury said the Wizarding World had been under development for five years. Park details have been tightly held since the project was announced in 2007.

Universal Orlando is co-owned by the Blackstone Group private equity firm and NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.

Universal's Webcast capped two-and-a-half weeks of headline announcements by Orlando's two biggest theme parks.

On August 31, the Walt Disney Co agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment Inc for $4 billion in the biggest media deal of the year. And on September 12, Disney announced a major expansion of Fantasyland at Orlando's Disney World to break ground in 2010 and open in two stages in 2012 and 2013.

Entertainment and travel industry analyst Harold Vogel of Vogel Capital Management said both Universal's and Disney's theme parks are in need of refreshment, and the announced projects will help maintain interest.

"It (Harry Potter) is the kind of story that can keep them (Universal) going for at least five to 10 years in terms of worldwide interest," said Vogel who also teaches at Columbia Business School.

He said Disney's Orlando parks are likely to see a dip in attendance during the one or two quarters after the opening of Wizarding World, which he said likely figured in the timing of Disney's Fantasyland expansion plans.

Vogel said he doubts the opening of Wizarding World will significantly change the tourism outlook next year for the Orlando area, which has seen the number of visitors plummet during the recession, since large numbers of people likely will remain unemployed.

"I am not a long-term optimist about this (theme park) sort of business. I think it is capital intensive and it will not face the same type of environment that is has for the last 40 or 50 years. This is a different world that we're in," Vogel said.


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