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'Harry Potter' theme park deemed magical success

By Greg Goodsell
June 21st, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Muggles," or non-wizards sweated in 90-degree weather for six hours to enter the new Florida theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A lot is riding on this new attraction, as Universal Orlando is currently hurting. Since the "Potter" book series singlehandedly rejuvenated the publishing business - and family feature films, response to the theme park is expected to be very good.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 20-acre amusement park is based on the all-wizard village from J. K. Rowling's books. Visitors can drink butterbeer, or visit Ollivander's Wand Shop, built tiny on purpose to be authentic to Ms. Rowling's stories.

Many camped out to be among the very first to pass under the sign "Please Respect the Spell Limits" experience the excitement. It was "so much better than I could have imagined it," 18-year-old Paige Passantino says.

Passantino's 21-year-old sister Blythe followed with a tearful admission of her own: "I really wanted to live here; it was so much better than our real lives."

Universal Orlando, which includes Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, three hotels and a shopping district has suffered greatly in the recession. Years of little investment left it increasingly unable to compete with Disney, which dominates the market with four major parks.

Attendance in 2009 dropped 10 percent at Universal Studios Florida. The newer Islands of Adventure fared even worse, with attendance down 11 percent. Combined food, beverage and merchandise sales plummeted nearly 20 percent from 2007 to 2009, according to analysts.

NBC Universal hopes the Wizarding World, built at an estimated cost of $265 million, will raise annual attendance by over 10 percent.

The potential for souvenir profits is enormous, as the theme park has exclusive Potter merchandise. Items include holly-and-phoenix-feather wands. A Nimbus broomstick sells for $250.

Warner Bros., the studios behind the Harry Potter movies, is counting on Wizarding World to help keep the Harry Potter a viable franchise as it winds down at the multiplex. "It's very possible that there will be a generation of kids who will experience Harry Potter for the first time in this park," Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment and the Warner executive who manages the Potter brand says.

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