Bigger on the Inside?

Nestled between a land that time forgot and one overrun by dinosaurs, sits a magical, literary world come to life- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade. Located within Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Hogsmeade opened in 2010 to much anticipation. Hogsmeade is a dream come true for theme park buffs, a place that pushed the boundaries of innovation and creativity, and finally gave Disney a run for its money. Never has a more themed area been attempted, and Hogsmeade set the theme park bar pretty high. But despite it’s glory and crowning achievements, Hogsmeade has one glaring problem that can hardly be overlooked by anyone venturing into this wizard fantasy- it’s too small.

Hogsmeade is a fictional hidden wizard community first described in the third book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This wizard town is described as being the only of its kind to exist in Britain. It is located nearby to Hogwarts castle, and students may visit there on select weekends starting in their third year, so long as they have their permission slips. Among the quaint pseudo-Victorian stores, wizards can go shopping for all of their wizarding needs, from food and supplies to jokes and sweets.img_8605

Universal Creative pulled out all the stops when imagining this theme park dream. Teaming up with the Harry Potter film creative directors, Alan Gilmore and Stuart Craig, Universal was able to faithfully (as possible, save transplanting straight to the British countryside) recreate the tiny wizarding village. Down the cobblestone street, guests can purchase a butterbeer (a popular wizard treat that is described as a butterscotch soda with shortbread-flavored cream topping), buy some wizard robes (Ravenclaw for me), and head to Ollivander’s so their wand may choose them (the wand chooses the wizard, never the other way around). It is a Harry Potter fan’s fantasy come to life. Restaurants like the Three Broomsticks or the Hogs Head Pub delight guests with not only their immersive ambiance, but their chance to try real British and wizard foods. Honeydukes delights guests with magical candies direct from author J.K. Rowling’s imagination, and shopping throughout the area is a fan’s dream come true. The main attraction in this highly immersive environment is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a first of it’s kind ride located within a scaled-recreation of Hogwarts castle. This ride takes guests on a fantastical journey through Hogwarts Castle and its surrounding areas for a one-of-kind adventure straight into the story.

There is only one small hiccup in the beauty that is Hogsmeade. When building this area, Universal made it far too small. This area was designed at a time when creating this in-depth of an immersive themed environment was taking a gamble. This was a time before Diagon Alley, Star Wars lands, Cars land, or the new Avatar world. The first of its kind, Universal was unsure about this themed area, and carved out only a small area to hold the Harry Potter theme park. Without knowing if this area would work (afterall, it’s really an area based on a book series), Universal held back and tried to incorporate much of the already built areas (made for a much smaller crowd) in order to save costs. They could never have imagined that it would become what it is today.

Hogsmeade was carved out of an area between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent. Large portions of The Lost Continent area were taken over by the boy wizard including two previous rides that were rethemed for Harry Potter. The Flying Unicorn, a small children’s roller coaster, was rethemed as the Flight of the Hippogriff, and Dueling Dragons became the Triwizard Dragon Challenge. An old restaurant was redressed to become Three Broomsticks. Add in a few new buildings and shops, and Hogsmeade emerged. Since they were using existing rides and structures, there was little room to expand outwards from the tight corridor that was roomy enough for a rather vacant area of the park known as The Lost Continent. This area is largely the same size as the previous alleyway that was The Lost Continent, with the addition of Hogwarts Castle to the back. Despite that addition, there is no difference in the size of space for guests to enjoy, a problem that the now super popular Hogsmeade can hardly handle.

Since it’s opening day, Hogsmeade has been crowded, and has remained so ever since. Lines as long as six hours just to get in stretched around Universal on its first day. Universal had to issue return time tickets so that people could actually return later in the day to experience it, and during times of intense foot traffic, these tickets are still being issued. Universal can hardly continue to overlook this growing problem.  With the inclusion of new franchises in the Harry Potter universe (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them released this year to much success and fans are already chomping for its inclusion into the Wizarding World), the popularity of this original theme park space is hardly going to die down. In fact, it’s only going to get worse.

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Since opening this area, Universal has expanded to add a second Wizarding World area in Universal Studios Orlando, called Diagon Alley. Another Wizarding World opened up in Universal Hollywood and Universal Japan. These parks are rapidly competing with Disney for numbers, and have pushed Universal ahead of many of the Disney resorts, a concept unheard of prior to the conception of the Wizarding World.

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Universal does not have many options as to how to remedy the space situation. With its expansion into Universal Studios, the theme park hoped to curb some of the crowding within Hogsmeade. However, it had the opposite effect. While we may be stuck with a sardine-can of a theme park area, it is a small price to pay for such a place.

Despite the small beauty of this area, there is an area of Hogsmeade that is positively ripe for change. The Dragon Challenge coaster has been the seat of much controversy as of late. The coasters can no longer run together, as one guest threw a coin at the other coaster during the ride operation, injuring another rider’s eye. Now, guests must place all objects into a locker and submit to a metal detector prior to riding to ensure that no further guests be injured due to falling debris. Removing this liability of a ride (a ride that rarely has greater than a ten minute wait time despite high attendance in the parks), Universal can expand Diagon Alley and perhaps add a few new areas to this wizarding wonder of a town.

In designing a new area, Universal has to take into account relative accuracy to the books (within reason). For example, Malfoy Manor or the Ministry of Magic are not located anywhere near Hogwarts or Hogsmeade. These locales are better left to other areas of the theme park (and perhaps a topic for future discussion in a later post- I’m looking at you, Fear Factor). Considering what can potentially go into this new area, save adding more restaurants or shops, the options become limited to three potential rethemes.

One option is the addition of the Shrieking Shack. In the book and movie series, the Shrieking Shack is a supposed haunted house on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. This shack was used by the Marauders (Harry’s father and his friends) to hide their friend Remus (Harry’s future Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor) during his monthly (spoiler alert) transformation into a werewolf. However, locals in Hogsmeade believed the house to be haunted, a rumor that was spread by none other than the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, himself. A ride or walk through attraction of this infamous shack would be a welcome and authentic addition to the Hogsmeade town, perhaps even something akin to Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Further, by expanding outward into this area for the Shrieking Shack, Universal can add additional alleyway much like they did in Diagon Alley with shops and food kiosks for guests to enjoy.

 

Option two is to recreate a (scaled) version of the quidditch pitch. In Harry Potter, quidditch is their football, soccer and basketball all wrapped up into one. Played high above on broomsticks, this game offers the supreme challenge to broomstick flyers. The game features three types of balls (four in all) and seven players who race around the pitch to score points in one of three golden hoops. The quidditch pitch, however, is the least likely of options, as this would mainly be a simulation, and not a regular built attraction. Though, it is possible that technology may increase to make this a reality, the fact that the quidditch pitch exists in some fashion within Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey makes this a less likely choice for Universal.

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Forbidden Forest concept art for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London

The third and final option is the Forbidden Forest. The Forbidden Forest is an area on the outside of Hogwarts, just past Hagrid’s hut. Students were forbidden to go there. However, this decree didn’t stop Harry and his friends on several occasions, and was once used as a form of punishment in the first book. Most memorable, it is the place where Harry and Ron survived a spider attack and also the area where Umbridge finally got her comeuppance. This is an area so pivotal to the storyline that on Wednesday the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London announced the inclusion of the Forbidden Forest into their exhibits. It seems that this inclusion would be a welcome one into the theme parks, as well, considering it is a fan favorite from the book series. This area would blend nicely into the former location of the Dragon Challenge because Hagrid’s hut is currently on the outskirts of this ride area. A walk-around area akin to Camp Mickey -Minnie, this area could add areas for groups to roam and explore while interacting with magic in the forest. As an alternative, this area can also be flipped into the Triwizard Tournament final challenge, the maze. Much like the Forbidden Forest, this challenge can be a race between teams to beat the magic and win the goblet of fire in the middle, with wizard wand challenges located throughout the maze.

Given the complete immersiveness of the Wizarding World, it is hard to come up with any real issues with its current inception. It really is an incredible locale. However, given how popular the area is, Hogsmeade really is too small for the number of people who enter its gates every day. And on days when there is a celebration, such as this weekend’s Celebration of Harry Potter Weekend, it is downright gridlock just to get into the front gates. Pulling some ideas from the series, and maybe taking a hint or two from next door’s Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade will truly be the most magical place on earth. Now that’s something you can toast a butterbeer to! Cheers!

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