On a recent visit to Orlando, Florida, I finally went to the much-publicized, much-acclaimed Harry Potter exhibit at Universal Studios' "Islands of Adventure", and was much-dismayed by what I saw. To me, this mini-themepark of its own was 90% shops and stores, and only 10% exhibits and rides using the Harry Potter theme. And the main exhibit, a violent ride (almost like a horizontal roller coaster) that caused nausea and dizziness to anyone over the age of 16, was so extreme in its lurches and swoops that it left me sick for the remainder of the day; it had nothing to do with Harry Potter, although brief flashes of scenes inside Hogwarts Castle were occasionally displayed.
I was startled by the lack of imagination shown by the persons who designed this Harry Potter park. The well-known images of Harry and his friends, their adventures and challenges, were mainly on sale only in the many stores that dominated the scene. You could buy magic wands of the sort described in the Harry Potter books, you could buy "butterbeer" of the sort that Harry and friends drank, you could buy black capes of the sort worn by the students at Hogwarts, and you could buy a myriad of other Harry Potter souvenirs, adding major expenditures to your outlay of admission to Islands of Adventure. But in terms of enjoying memories of the unforgettable Harry Potter plots and themes, there was precious little. And I--who loved the Harry Potter books--felt let down and angered by the many journalists who have raved about this competitor to Disney, without (in all probability) having ever visited this commercial center designed to extract as much money as possible from the people who frequented it.
I must admit that I was nearly alone in my disappointment. As I wandered through the area, I saw bands of teenagers exulting over the fact that they had survived the violent, roller-coaster-like ride through Hogwarts Castle. It seemed, in fact, that teenagers were the predominant audience for that Harry Potter exhibit, and in this regard it's obvious that Universal Studios has triumphed. If they were attempting to lure the teenage crowd from the joyful, childlike themes of Walt Disney World, its lovely depiction of fairy-tale-like stories, its gentle exhibits and rides (for the most part), they--the Universal Studios execs--have triumphed.
These thoughts were provoked by the recent news that by the time you read this blog, a second Harry Potter theme park--"Diagon Alley"--will have opened adjacent to the first Harry Potter exhibit in Orlando. And though i haven't yet seen it, I have heard enough about its workings and policies to be absolutely certain that Universal has again been motivated by the most crass and selfish urges. From an associate of mine who has visited the new Diagon Alley, comes the following:
Visitors to Diagon Alley will need to pay a second admission in order to follow up their tour of the initial Harry Potter park with this new attraction. All told, you will pay a total of about $140 per person for both of the Harry Potter parks. Once there, you will be constantly, incessantly, urged to spend money on souvenirs and drinks. Butterbeer will be offered in a number of different forms, including on ice cream. Everywhere you look will be stores and shops selling Harry Potter souvenirs, like an interactive magic wand for $45. The great majority of the structures will be stores and shops, and the potential for spending is apparently several hundred dollars.
As for those nausea-inducing rides, there will be one at the new Diagon Alley, though it has not yet been made available to journalists. But if I know the planners of Universal Studios' theme parks, it will again be a roller-coaster-like experience, designed primarily for teenagers and their cast-iron stomachs.
You can well-imagine that I'm not planning an early trip to Diagon Alley.