Mark that date down in your calendars because that's the day that theme parks will be changed forever, at least if you believe the folks at Universal. While it will open in some kind of "soft open" phase in late May (including a few weeks set aside just for British vacationers using Virgin Airways,) June 18 will be the official grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure. Depending on who you believe, this new "land" will not only give Universal the jolt it needs to seriously compete with Disney but it's headline attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, will exemplify the future of theme park entertainment. I tend to not believe either of these statements, both out of general apathy towards the Harry Potter franchise and based on Universal's track record.
Universal released the opening date and details on the Forbidden Journey ride this week. According to Universal, the ride itself will feature the "first-ever combination of advanced robotic ride system technology with innovative, immersive film-making." It will also feature an extraordinarily elaborate queue that takes guests through various rooms at Hogwarts and Universal is saying that the entire experience, including the queue, will last 45 minutes to an hour. I wouldn't imagine that they are figuring the wait time into that number, so I would guess the queue will feature a few pre-show elements, like the Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror, perhaps even more substantial than the latter, which would be pretty impressive. Based on the descriptions I've read, almost all of which come from Universal's press release, I would surmise that the attraction will involve first a queue that winds through a number of themed rooms and areas, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Expedition Everest. Then you will probably come to one or two pre-show areas. If I were to guess, I would say that one will be a large guest swallowing pre-show movie, like at Tower of Terror, that will include the scene where you initially "meet" Harry and the gang and get the ride's premise explained to you. Then there will probably be another queue leading up to the loading zone. The ride itself, if I were to guess, will probably be some type of hybrid of The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and The Great Movie ride or Dinosaur. What I mean by that is that, I'm guessing it will combine "real" sets with 3-D elements, like the stuff with Harry and friends. There will probably be an animatronic or two involved, the reported "dragon attack" scene comes to mind, and maybe even a few scenes involving some kind of mix of all of the above with live action. The only possible way they can drag what is essentially a thrill ride out over the course of 12 scenes and 45 minutes is if the cars come to stop a bunch of times in numerous rooms, which is where I would bet the live action comes into play (unless they have entire lengthy movie portions, like at Universe of Energy, which would be used to advance the story and calm the riders down before the next big adventure scene.) It's also possible that the ride will implore some kind of trick like at Tower of Terror, where instead of moving through scenes one after another like a traditional dark ride, the ride will move "into" scenes, becoming "immersed" in them and then back out and onto a track and then into another scene, so on and so forth. Apparently Universal has been working on some sort of new ride system to use for this. So it seems like a good bet that this is what it is. Anyway, that's all conjecture based on the little promotional material Universal has released.
In an unintentional bit of hilarity, the opening date of June 18 also happens to be the same day that Toy Story 3 opens in wide release in the United States. I have no idea if there is any significance to this but it made me chuckle.
MORE TRANSPORTATION WOES
So the banner year for Disney's transportation system continues. We have two incidents to report this week. I'll leave it up to you to decide which is more unsettling. The first incident involves the monorail. Reports indicate that a monorail was riding the Epcot line towards the TTC at the end of the night when apparently something went wrong with the suspension or perhaps an axle broke. The result was the monorail violently tipping from side to side as it went around turns. Someone submitted the following eyewitness report to John Frost and The Disney Blog:
My sister and I were riding the monorail with my two nieces, who were on a stroller. It was around 9pm when on a turn, the monorail was leaning to the left side. It was so bad that the stroller went right to the door, even with the breaks on. Then it stopped for about 10-15 min. The stop was not sudden, it made a turn and started leaning towards the left side, it must have been at least 20 degrees of inclination, as it stopped. It was pretty obvious something serious was happening.To say that this incident is somewhat unsettling is an understatement. What kind of maintenance work is Disney doing on these trains that they don't notice that the parts are un such a state that they could just "break" during routine service? Even more disconcerning is the claim that the strollers went careening INTO THE DOOR when the train tipped. Could you imagine if it was a few minutes later in the night or at peak morning rush hout and the train was packed with people? It's a scary thought indeed.
They did not say anything about what was happening. They just put the general “delay” message and said that it was going out of service after we get to the station. Then it started moving really slow and on another turn it leaned to the right side, and it stopped for a few minutes. Until we reached the station.
The next incident happened on Tuesday when a Disney bus crashed into a parked tour bus near the Epcot toll plaza. Trust me, this one is even more baffling. Reports indicate that a shuttle bus from the new Waldorf Astoria was parked in the right lane due to a mechanical problem. A Disney bus, full of guests, was approaching in the lane behind it and, for whatever reason, the driver never once hit the breaks, I guess assuming the parked bus was, in fact, moving. He was wrong. The Disney bus smashed into the back of the Waldorf bus, at around 35 miles per hour. Seven guests, including a five-year-old boy, ended up hospitalized. The driver had to be airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center, after rescuers spent fifteen minutes cutting through the front of the bus to get him out. The five-year-old was diagnosed with a broken pelvis. There was nobody in the Waldorf bus at the time, including the driver who was standing outside of the bus, indicating that it had, in fact, been parked there for some length of time without incident. How on Earth this managed to happen is completely and utterly baffling to me.
NEWS & NOTES
Concept art has been released for the two new restaurants in the works for World Showcase. The new Patina operated pizzeria going into the Italy pavilion looks to be really great, with an outdoor seating area facing the courtyard. The new Cantina de San Angel looks less promising. The vast majority of seating will be enclosed, making it into more of a Magic Kingdom style quick service location. There will still be a few coveted outdoor tables for Illuminations viewing but it looks be nowhere near as many as the current location. In fact, the restaurant is rumored to be both table service and counter service, so the outdoor tables may end up being first day ADR's now. That makes me sad because the old Cantina was an overlooked gem of Epcot.
Disney recently fitted one of the monorails with an ad decal for the Tron Legacy film coming out in December. So if you notice a crazy looking monorail zooming around on the Epcot line, that's it.
The Studios Catering Company quick service spot debuted a new menu this week. Choices are mostly sandwiches but include a Buffalo Chicken sandwich, something I love that you don't see a lot at Disney World.
In other food news, a few reports indicate that the Flying Fish Cafe at the Boardwalk is in the process of adding some kind of special "chef's counter" dining experience.
A new store called Ridemakerz opened in Downtown Disney this week. The store sells fully customizable model and remote control cars (and spells its name with a "z" at the end to show off how cool it is because, apparently, it's still 1999.) It takes over the spot formerly occupied by the Virgin Megastore. Apparently it's only a limited engagement but there is hope on both ends that it will be popular enough to open in another spot in Downtown Disney, which sounds like a great idea because the Virgin building is WAY too big a spot for it. Even with the whole store in there the building looks empty.
Disney World listed a hiring ad for lifeguards on Facebook this week, directing interested parties to their online hiring page. If you've never been there, it's kind of fun to check out for uber-Disney nerds. Among the things you can check out are the starting salaries for a great number of jobs around the World. If you've ever wondered how much the kid in the Mickey Mouse costume makes, that's the place.
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