By Brady MacDonald
Los Angeles Times staff writer
12:26 PM PST, December 6, 2011
With frosty mugs of Butterbeer raised in a toast, Universal Studios Hollywood officials announced plans Tuesday to bring the wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the California theme park.
Details were limited but officials did say the California park would see a Hogwarts Castle and visitors would ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the marquee attraction at the Florida park. Wizarding World will be built within the existing California theme park, but it was unclear if the new land might be located at least partially on the studio's back lot.
> Photos: Top 10 Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides and attractions
Wizarding World proved an instant hit when it opened in June 2010 at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park. Crowds often grow so thick in the detailed 20-acre land that visitors are slowed to a shoulder-to-shoulder crawl.
The Harry Potter-themed land in Florida includes three attractions: the new Forbidden Journey motion-based simulator ride and a pair of re-themed coasters, the dueling twin-track Dragon Challenge and the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff.
While some answers will be revealed soon and others much later, let's tackle a few questions about what's in store for fans when Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood.
When will Wizarding World open in California?
Announced in 2007, the Florida WWHP was originally scheduled to debut in 2009 but ended up taking three years to complete. Universal officials wouldn't get more specific on an opening date for the California land but Wizarding World isn't expected to debut before 2016.
Where will the land be?
Universal Studios Hollywood doesn't have much wiggle room, which means planners will have to tear down existing attractions or expand outside the theme park's traditional boundaries to make space for Wizarding World. Universal's 20-year vision plan calls for the replacement of the Terminator 2: 3D attraction and the Water World stunt show. And then there's always the possibility of taking over a part of the studio back lot.
What will the new land include?
Conventional wisdom holds that the California park will feature a replica of the Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts castle found in Florida. Forbidden Journey is generally considered to be the best ride in the amusement industry and a likely addition. Hogwarts was purposely built a few feet taller than the castle down the road at the Magic Kingdom. Expect a similar nose-thumbing in the general direction of Anaheim.
How will the two Wizarding Worlds be different?
The California park has no existing outdoor coasters, so the Hippogriff and Dragon overlays won't work here. There's a good chance some existing attraction will be repurposed with a new Harry Potter theme (like, for example, an action-adventure show in the Water World theater).
Will we see any new Wizarding World attractions or locations in California?
It's possible the California Wizarding World could be completely different from the Florida version. One possibility: an authentic re-creation of Diagon Alley complete with a Leaky Cauldron restaurant, a Gringotts Wizarding Bank indoor roller coaster and an Ollivander's wand shop (misplaced in Hogsmeade village at the Florida park).
How will the California expansion affect Florida?
Theme park fans have been expecting Universal Orlando to expand the wildly popular Wizarding World since the day it opened. Those hopes may have to be put on hold while plans are developed for the California expansion. The California addition is unlikely to substantially affect attendance in Florida. On Tuesday, officials also announced plans to expand Wizarding World in Orlando.
How will Wizarding World change the Southern California theme park landscape?
Like an 8.0 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. Wizarding World altered the competitive Orlando marketplace, cutting into attendance at virtually every rival park and forcing Disney to unveil two massive counterattacks: a reinvention of Fantasyland for 2012 and the creation of Avatar Land for 2016. Expect the Boy Wizard to steal second-day visitors away from Disney California Adventure and force Mickey Mouse to respond with some new magic of his own. Second-tier parks such as SeaWorld San Diego, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm will have to step up the competition.
How much will the new land cost to build?
Universal reportedly spent between $200 million and $265 million on the Florida Wizarding World. Presumably there will be fewer start-up costs this time around, assuming the West Coast gets a carbon copy of the East Coast version. Officials said the California Wizarding World will cost more than $200 million.
Any hope for Muggles outside the United States?
Universal has indicated that the Harry Potter brand could eventually spread to its theme parks in Japan, Korea and Singapore. The key question is whether the most popular book series and movie franchise in history has the staying power to draw visitors to Universal's theme parks for decades and generations to come.
Just how good is the Butterbeer?
The frothy shortbread and butterscotch flavored drink is the most popular food item sold at Wizarding World. And at $10 a pop with a souvenir mug ($11 frozen), a certified money-making phenomenon for Universal. No trip to the Potterverse is complete without a creamy pint of Butterbeer goodness.
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