Universal Orlando affords its first sneak preview of J.K. Rowling's realm

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 15, 2009 11:40 AM
Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros

Broomstick ready? After a first announcement two years ago that J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter would make its one and only home at the Universal Orlando Resort, the Florida theme park held its first official press preview Tuesday via Webcast and revealed some elements of what’s to come – though only a few.

The biggest news, as announced by Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy (actor Tom Felton): The World will open in the spring of 2010. It will cover 20 acres within Islands of Adventure at Universal and be comprised of shops, dining facilities and several attractions, including the family-style roller coaster, the Hippogriff.

The World’s centerpiece will be a 15-story Hogwarts Castle that will house the ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” and bring to life elements from the books and movies. Park creative directors, who worked with author Rowling and Warner Bros. on their designs, described the experience on Tuesday morning as “a sweeping adventure.”

Once inside the gates, guests will be greeted by a steaming Hogwart’s Express. Beyond that, the Main Village Square offers, among other stops, the Owlery, a Three Broomsticks restaurant and Hogs Head pub (pouring Butter Beer), Ollivanders wand shop and something described as “a Dragon Challenge.”

Beware the fire-breathers.

And at Disney World

Meanwhile, across the greenery at rival Walt Disney World, the biggest facelift in the park’s 38-year history was recently announced. When the pixie dust settles, by 2013, Fantasyland will be double its current size and feature a Princesses theme highlighting the heroines of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and that eternal underdog Cinderella.

In addition, the classic Dumbo ride is set for expansion (to two sets of aerial elephants and circus games while guests stand in line), while the mid-’80s Star Tours attraction will be updated to include new 3-D effects. That will open in 2011, in both Florida and Southern California’s original Disneyland.

What won t happen, despite Internet rumors, is a return of Tomorrowland’s 3-D movie Captain Eo, starring Michael Jackson. Disney CEO Robert Iger told Mouse House fans at a convention last week there are “no definite plans to bring back” the 1986 featurette.