Harry Potter Casts a Spell on Orlando Today

Tuesday morning's grand opening of the Diagon Alley expansion at Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida appears to be the muggle magnet that everyone knew it would be. Reports from the park show that it's a two-hour wait just to get into the Potter-themed area. If you want to ride the flagship Escape from Gringotts indoor thrill ride, the wait was up to 450 minutes early in the afternoon.

Yes, that's 450 minutes -- as long as it doesn't keep breaking down during the day as it has in limited test runs ahead of Tuesday's official debut.

I'm far away from Diagon Alley. I managed to kick most of the tires over the weekend during a technical rehearsal that was open to park guests. I knew better than to chance today's crowds. I was there four years ago, observing the queue that stretched for hours to get into the grand opening of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the adjacent Islands of Adventure park. There seems to be more control this time, the seven-and-a-half-hour line for a themed coaster ride notwithstanding. 

It remains to be seen if SeaWorld (NYSE: SEAS  ) and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) will benefit or suffer from Universal Orlando's bar-raising efforts. One can always argue that Diagon Alley will draw tourists into Central Florida in the coming months. If they come for more than a handful of days, taking a day to check out SeaWorld Orlando or a few days to see what Disney is doing isn't unreasonable. It would be incremental for the industry. However, with SeaWorld resorting to discounting seasonal passes earlier this month, it seems to be hinting that it won't be the coattail play that some may be expecting as the nearest theme park to Universal Orlando.

Disney will probably fare better. It opened a mine coaster at the Magic Kingdom in May, and kicked off some temporary Frozen summertime attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios over the weekend.

The summer will still belong to Universal. It's not just about the spike in attendance. Comcast will make it rain financially with the many ways that the expansion will get folks to spend more at its theme parks. Folks have to have paid admissions to both parks if they want to ride the Hogwarts Express, which connects the two gated theme parks. There's also the allure of buying interactive wands that enhance the experience by casting spells into window displays and outdoor props that become enchanted. 

Disney remains the class act of theme parks in the country, with the six most visited attractions in the country to show for it. However, at a time when Disney appears to be coasting along in Florida with the next major additions still a couple of years away, we see Universal Orlando relying on more than just wizard magic to get tourists to appear at its two theme parks today -- and beyond.

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Rick Munarriz

Rick has been writing for Motley Fool since 1995 where he's a Consumer and Tech Stocks Specialist. Yes, that's a long time. He's been an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and a portfolio lead analyst for Motley Fool Supernova since each newsletter service's inception. He earned his BBA and MBA from the University of Miami, and he now lives a block from his alma mater.

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