Hogwarts: A History (Japanese Edition)April 17 in Japan
If you are in Japan, you should go to Universal Studios Japan just for it's Harry Potter land. In fact, start saving for it now, get a mortgage or rob a bank, it's totally worth it.
Harry Potter nearly ended up in the Disney theme parks. But when you take an unstoppable force (Disney) and send it at an immovable object (JK Rowling), it's never going to work.
Disney really like to control their intellectual property, and they have a lot of "rules" they live by when it comes to translating them to the theme parks. One of which is the "weenie" concept - every land has a "weenie" or iconic focal point that is viewable from within that land. e.g. Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Matterhorn, the Tower of Terror - all are "weenies" for their respective lands in the park. Each park also has an icon for the whole park - e.g. DisneySea has Mount Prometheus (giant volcano in the middle), but the Disneyland's all have a castle.
JK Rowling has always retained a lot of control over how her intellectual property is translated - not surprisingly since she put a lot of effort into creating a rediculously detailed universe to set her stories in with a crap load of back stories and "rules" in terms of how that universe works. One of those rules is that Hogwarts is a major character in it's own right - it's not just a school in a castle, it has it's own personality and role to play.
So the legend goes, Disney wanted to build a Harry Potter world in a Disney Park, JK Rowling insisted that there be a Hogwarts. Disney said they already had an iconic castle and didn't want to detract from it, so she could have a forest instead. JK Rowling apparently killed the deal with Disney and that very same day marched over to Universal to offer up the rights to create Harry Potter in the Universal parks instead. Universal, being a distant second to Disney, said she could have as much veto control over it she liked.
This was actually a really awesome deal for Universal, and a really smart move by JK Rowling. Turns out JK Rowling is better at creating immersive theme parks than Universal is, so they effectively imported the talent to design a perfect them park concept. JK Rowling got the complete creative freedom to ensure it was done right, and not diluted by the Disney monolith.
The result is pretty close to perfect - but even better, it really upped the ante for Disney as a demonstration of how a really immersive experience is a really profitable one, and now we're getting Star Wars lands rolled out with immersive hotels, so everyone wins.
The Japanese Harry Potter experience isn't as large as the one in Hollywood, so it doesn't have the equally awesome Diagon Alley or Hogwarts Express attraction, but it still has a lot going for it (aside from the Japanese spirit of cosplay) that really demonstrate how well the Harry Potter franchise translates to a theme park:
Universal usually opts to cram more rides in rather than get to fixated on sight lines, but they really made an exception for Harry Potter - the sight lines are about 90% spot on. Once you enter the land, you actually feel like like you are in Hogsmeade - you can't see any other rides or buildings from within. There's also an impressive attention to detail and a bunch of easter eggs referencing the Harry Potter universe for the ultra fans.
It's a forced perspective version, but it's large enough and of a really good quality to make it feel like it really is Hogwarts up on the hill in the background. This thing is awesome. You can go inside and do a mini tour of a lot of the real rooms from Hogwarts - albeit in more modest sized versions (the moving stairwells was always going to be impossible - but the portraits they have are pretty darn cool).
Now that Disney is building a Star Wars Hotel, Universal should totally come back with a Hogwarts Hotel - people would beg borrow and steal to stay in a hotel that felt like staying at Hogwarts and gave direct access to Hogsmeade. They would possibly even sell their soul to a dementor.
3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey:
Probably missed out on a lot of the context since this ride is all dubbed in Japanese, but the ride itself is pretty darn awesome anyway. No description could really do it justice, it's just frackin awesome, even though you are in a flying chair with 3 other people, it does sometimes feel like you are actually riding a broomstick.
They should totally create a broomstick ride.
Extra bonus is to go on it with someone who doesn't know what a dementor is - those things are really freaky up close in "life sized" proportions that make them a lot more intimidating than on a screen or in a book. Really awesome/immersive ride.
4. Flight of the Hippogriff:
There are only two "rides" in USJ Harry Potter, this is the other one. It's probably the only "meh" part of the place - it's actually just a themed kiddie coaster - short and tame, if they need to demolish it to expand the Harry Potter part of the park then I don't think anyone would mind.
5. Three Broomsticks:
It's actually just a standard theme park cafeteria designed to serve mass servings of British-like food, but by Dumbledor's beard it is a really cool place to eat for ambiance alone - go with a group of people dressed up and I think it would be even better.
Somewhat oddly, although this is pretty popular, it often doesn't open till later in the day and closes early well before the rest of the park does. If they had a Hogwarts hotel with access to the Harry Potter part of the park however, they should totally keep it open for hotel guests - they'd make a killing.
The wand purchase experience is crazy popular even in low times. It's not a bad routine per se, but I can see why people might get frustrated with it in busy periods. Personally I just think it's kinda strange that you can't buy the same wands you get allocated on pottermore. i.e. my "official" wand is a black walnut with a unicorn hair core (super geek alert), but I had to get a plain oak one in Ollivander's because I know Oak is my celtic birth tree (super geek alert).
7. Wand Magic:
If you get the wand with sensor in the end you also get a map that shows you were in Hogsmeade you can cast spells. Follow the instructions on the map on how to cast the spell, something appropriate to the spell cast happens where you are pointing.
It's a pretty cool attraction - really adds to the ambiance. There are also "helpers" stationed to help if you have trouble. Ravenclaws don't need help casting spells though, we always do our homework...
There is a reason you have to be 11 to be accepted into Hogwarts though, hand eye coordination. Harry Potter is really young adult fiction at least, but a lot of parents seemed to think it was "kids stuff" and gave their four year olds a wand, gave them the expectation they could cast spells.
No four year old madly waving a stick at a wall is going to cast a spell.
It's like a creaming soda spider, only the froth on the top is *really* frothy/smooth. It's not too bad - but I found it a bit too sweet to drink more than a fancy mug's worth. Fancy mug is cool though.
9. Street Entertainers:
Three shows a day from the students of Hogwarts. They are ok - a bit like an episode from Glee at times though. IP rules prevent the use of "real" characters from Harry Potter doing meet and greets (e.g. you can't get Snape's autograph), but they could totally have some made up themed characters roaming around being... wizard-y... There is a train conductor you can take photos with, which is kinda weird when the train doesn't go anywhere.
10. Hogsmeade (everything else):
I know it's just a merchandise strip in a theme park, but gawd it's cool. They've turned the purcahse of merchandise into an attraction in itself. But more importantly (and due to JK Rowling) the merchandise is really good. A lot of it is themed to the world, not to the manufacturer - people buy stuff because it helps them get more immersed.
You can buy the same lollies and drinks they characters in Harry Potter did, you can buy the same kinds of clothes the students wore. Rather wisely, you *can't* buy owls, cats or pets.
The toilets are also themed.
This place looks glorious at night - again, build a hotel, let the guests stay after the rest of the park closes.
Butterbeer, Bertie Botts, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Juice - and a perfect score on casting spells with my temporary wand.Read more