It’s been chilly and wet in Central Florida lately, but that hasn’t stopped progress on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. For this week’s edition of PotterWatch, we’ll start with the recent removal of Lost Continent games in Islands of Adventure, then take a look at the latest Diagon Alley construction in Universal Studios. Finally, we’ll finish with the newest rumor about Hogwarts Express testing.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Things We Wish Theme Park Fans Would Stop Complaining About. It’s hard to believe that in a land full of fantastical theme parks, luxurious hotels, and wonderful memories filled with pixie dust that people could have anything to complain about. But they do. In fact, after a thorough investigation the Saturday Six staff has compiled a list of 548,321 complaints, and that’s just in the Florida parks. Today we’re going to look at the six of most prevalent complaints and say “STAHP!”
If you thought Talking Mickey was a hit, wait till Barista Mickey makes his debut….
# 6 – “They are building too many Starbucks”
Out of nowhere, Starbucks has seemed to have taken over the theme park world in Florida. The first step in theme park world domination for the coffee brand? The beloved Main Street Bakery at the Magic Kingdom. Starbucks then moved over to Epcot and replaced the Fountain View Cafe, complete with a hidden Communicore logo to appease the hardcore fans. Two more Starbucks are coming to Downtown Disney, and it is rumored that locations will be opening up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well. Not to be outdone, the Starbucks location over at Universal’s CityWalk is moving from its second floor No-Man’s-Land location down onto the ground level, and Island of Adventure’s Arctic Express has been converted into a Starbucks, as well.
What’s going here? The answer is simple. People love Starbucks. Period. The Starbucks brand is strong enough that it can charge a premium price for a drink you can get almost anywhere else cheaper, and have people lining up for it. While the Main Street Bakery certainly wasn’t hurting for business before, it’s easy to see how successful the ones at Downtown Disney and Universal will be compared to what they are replacing. The new Starbucks locations are in prime real estate and will be all but printing money.
If these Starbucks locations were McDonald’s, you could make a case that there are better restaurants all over either property. If the locations were Dunkin’ Donuts you could make a case that there are better bakeries around. But no one at Disney or Universal is doing a better job than Starbucks at making good coffee and, as far as we know, the world didn’t end when the first Grande Latte went out.
New concept art of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion from today’s Diagon Alley webcast.
If you’ve been following our PotterWatch series so far, you probably already watched this morning’s Diagon Alley webcast, in which Universal Orlando revealed new details about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion opening this June at Universal Studios Florida. The 30 minute presentation, broadcast from inside a “Gringotts vault,” was hosted by Universal Creative’s Mark Woodbury, and featured appearances from Potter film actors Mathew Lewis, James Phelps, and Evanna Lynch. But just in case you were unable to sign up for a link to the live video, or were stuck at work while it was playing, here’s a quick recap of what was revealed and confirmed about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley (as the new area is known):
Regular readers of my PotterWatch blog series know that many of the juiciest details leaked about the under-construction Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida have come to us through HateToFly, a prolific poster on the Orlando United web forums. Over the weekend, I took a stroll through both Universal Orlando theme parks with the pseudonymous spy himself, and got the latest lowdown on the future of the resort. So grab a grain of salt and settle in for some of the hottest Universal Orlando rumors anywhere on the Internet.
Conversations have recently reignited (after flaring up and sputtering out a year ago) about Universal acquiring the theme park rights to The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit from the Tolkein estate, which has been notoriously difficult to negotiate with. More than one source has speculated that the Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges whitewater rafting ride could be converted into the barrel escape from the most recent Hobbit film.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Things in Orlando We’re Looking Forward To Seeing in 2014. 2013 was a great year to be a theme park fan. Just in Orlando we got the opening of Transformers: The Ride 3D and a huge Simpsons expansion in Universal Studios Florida, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin arrived at SeaWorld, while Disney introduced Princess Fairytale Hall and the incredible Tangled-themed bathrooms at the Magic Kingdom (along with starting a much needed overhaul on Downtown Disney.) But the good news is 2014 looks to be even better, yes, better. Here’s our list of the top six things we’re looking forward to the most over the next 12 months…
Will Breadbox be CityWalk’s answer to the ultra popular Earl of Sandwicht at Downtown Disney? (Photo Courtesy of Universal Orlando)
In late 2013 Universal unveiled a massive reimagining of its entertainment complex, CityWalk. In fact, the new and improved CityWalk had already started with the opening of Red Oven Pizza Bakery in November, but little did we know how much more would be coming.
By the summer of 2014, Coldstone Creamery (ice cream), Menchies (frozen yogurt), Bread Box (sandwiches), Antojitos (Mexican), Hotdog Hall of Fame, and The Cowfish (burgers/sushi) will be joining the list of eateries in CityWalk. Pastamore, which is shutting down this week, will also be reopening as yet-unamed Italian restaurant (rumored to be Pranzo) in which guests will be able to see their pasta made from scratch in front of them. Starbucks, currently on the second level of CityWalk, will also be moving downstairs and assume a more prominent position as guests make their way from the Universal parking garages to the theme parks. Lastly, the Universal Studios Store will undergo a major retheming.
I’ve never participated in the running of the bulls in Spain, nor rung in the New Year in New York’s Times Square, because I don’t need to: I’ve been engulfed by the Christmas week crowd in Orlando’s theme parks. In the spirit of “taking one for the team,” I took on the challenge of visiting Universal Orlando Resort’sIslands of Adventure on two of the busiest days of the year — Christmas Eve (December 24, 2013) and the Friday after Christmas (December 27, 2013) — to give you idea of what guests face during 8 to 10 days on our crowd index.
We maintain our Crowd Calendar to help you avoid days like these, and Tourimg Plans to help you navigate should you be meshuggenah enough to ignore the following photos. These Islands of Adventure Christmas week crowd photos should also serve as great advertisement for the unlimited Universal Express access included with an on-site hotel room. And remember, these mob scenes are just a hint of hordes certain to swarm when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley opens at Universal Studios Florida next summer.
Christmas Eve (12/24/2013)
We’ll start with my mid-afternoon stroll around Islands of Adventure on Christmas Eve:
Wait times are substantial with Forbidden Journey posted at 100 minutes.
Grinchmas transforms Seuss Landing in IOA in almost every way possible, with new characters appearing within the area, a new stage show, and decorations seemingly on everything (and we mean everything). Meanwhile, USF displays gigantic balloons throughout the park, has several incredible musical offerings, and delivers the goods with the signature Macy’s Holiday Parade. There is a lot of stuff to choose from, but today we’re going to narrow the list down and look at our six favorite things from this year’s holiday celebration.
(Remember, you can click on any picture to see it in full size.)
While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and other seasonal entertainment at Walt Disney World seem to get the lion’s share of publicity this time of year, visitors to Orlando shouldn’t overlook Universal Orlando‘s holiday offerings. Universal Orlando holidays might not have quite the nostalgic lure of Mickey’s merrymaking, but Universal’s options are every bit as expertly produced, and have the benefit of all being included with regular park admission (unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at the Magic Kingdom).
Universal Orlando’s holiday lineup, which kicks off the first weekend each December (unlike Disney, which starts Christmas almost before Halloween is over) and continues through the Saturday after New Year’s Eve, consists of two main components, described in detail below.
Slow-speed Hogwarts Express testing has begun at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (photo by Seth Kubersky)
Exciting news, Harry Potter fans: Hogwarts Express testing has commenced at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort! The iconic Hogwarts Express trains, which were lifted onto their elevated rails in late October, began slow-speed movement tests over the weekend.
It will still be many months before guests get to ride the Hogwarts Express attraction, which is expected to officially debut in June 2014. When complete, the Hogwarts Express will provide transportation between the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley expansion in Universal Studios Florida, and the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
Ordinarily, the Touring Plans team would be the first to bring you footage of the Hogwarts Express testing, but this time our friends at Orlando Attractions Magazine have beat us to the punch (blame our post-Thanksgivukha turkey & latke hangovers). Check out their video below, which also includes some shots of the London Waterfront construction, and check back here often for further PotterWatch progress updates on Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.