Oh, The Prices You'll Pay

And we can charge anything we want, $2,000 a day, $10,000 a day, and people will pay it. And then there's the merchandise...

Right now, at this very minute, as I sit here in front of my laptop typing these words, there is a Diagon Alley attraction at Universal Studios Orlando.  I only bring it up due to the incredibly aggravating fact that I AM NOT THERE!

Yet thinking about this new addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions at Universal brings to mind the line from Donald Gennaro in Jurassic Park that I quoted at the beginning of this post (Coincidentally, there is also a Jurassic Park section in the Universal Islands of Adventure Park, which is located right next door to the Universal Studios park.  Islands of Adventure is home to the original part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.).

To borrow a term that has been used in other places to describe these Harry Potter attractions, Universal basically has a license to print money.  People have flocked to Orlando from across  the country and around the world to step inside the world of the Harry Potter films.  But really the portion of the Islands of Adventure park devoted to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t that large.  There are shops, The Three Broomsticks restaurant, and three rides.  Two of the rides are roller coasters that were in this section of the park before Harry Potter took it over.  They have been re-themed to fit the Potter-verse. 

The third ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is really the main attraction.  The queue for the line is a walking tour through Hogwarts Castle leading to the ride itself, which involves a mix of filmed elements and set pieces as the riders follow Harry, Ron, and Hermione around the castle grounds.  The ride is a great deal of fun, but I imagine non-Potter fans would be completely confused by it.

While Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is very entertaining and technologically impressive, the original Hogsmeade/Hogwarts Castle section of the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is really about immersion in that world rather than the rides.  The new Diagon Alley expansion located over in the Universal Studios park takes this philosophy one step further by reducing the number of rides to one: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

“But what about the Hogwarts Express?” you cry.  We’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s talk about what’s really insidious about all of this.  As of this writing, a one-day pass to Universal Studios will cost you $96 (But it’s only $90 if you’re ages 3-9).  If all you care about is Harry Potter, what are you really paying for when you buy that ticket?  You are buying the right to go to a place to spend more money.  That’s all Diagon Alley is.  It’s a Harry Potter-themed mall. 

And I readily grant that the folks at Universal have done a tremendous job in that theming.  I visited the Islands of Adventure park two years ago and really had a hard time dragging myself away from the Harry Potter section.  The butterbeer was wonderful (I recommend the frozen kind), the wand experience made me want to buy a fancy stick that does nothing, and I loved all of the little details of the world.  I’m certain that Diagon Alley is equally well-done.  I can feel like I’m inside a Harry Potter film as I pay for t-shirts, trinkets, and more butterbeer.

Now I’m sure that I will also enjoy the Gringotts ride.  I expect there will be an expertly-themed bank interior to look at as I make my way through the queue, and a technologically-impressive ride at the end of it that will dump me out in a gift shop.  But once the ride is over and I don’t feel like shopping anymore, what is there to do?

Well, I could take the Hogwarts Express, which is a train ride that takes guests from the Diagon Alley section to the Hogsmeade section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  While the actual trip involves passing by a lot of unattractive behind-the-scenes buildings and such, riders on the train are seeing London, the English countryside and Harry Potter characters and locations.  It’s a clever way to move park patrons from one section to another without disrupting their immersion in the world of Harry Potter.

That sounds cool.  I’ll hop on that.

Not so fast, pal.

You see, there’s a large gotcha here.  The two Harry Potter lands are located in two different Universal theme parks.  That $96 ticket I talked about earlier only covers one park.  If you want to be able to ride the train, you need to have purchased the $136 park-to-park ticket (Only $130 for kids!).  Don’t worry, though.  Universal will allow you to pay for the upgrade at the train station.

But that’s what it takes if you want the full Harry Potter experience at Universal Orlando.  For $136, you get access to two sections, four rides, the train (which is really a nicely-themed people mover), and all of the shopping you can handle.

Here’s the thing, though, as Mr. Gennaro indicated in the opening quote, I will pay it.  Actually, I will pay for a multiple day ticket, which really reduces the per-day cost (although, you’re paying for accommodations, more meals, and such), so that I can go back again and again.  I want to immerse myself in the world of Harry Potter.  I had a great time doing so at the Islands of Adventure park two years ago, and I’m sure Diagon Alley will be equally amazing…if not more so, since Universal has been able to learn from the original attraction.

So I will go.  Even if it means that Universal will be casting Avada Kedavra on my bank account.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter.com