"Escape From Gringotts" Is the New Banking Crisis

Comcast's Universal Orlando has a reliability issue on its hands with its new star attraction.

Jul 10, 2014 at 6:05PM

There's a crisis of confidence at the star attraction of the otherwise-brilliant Diagon Alley expansion at Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NASDAQ:CMCSK) Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida this week. The new section of the park opened on Tuesday, but for the third day in a row, it's facing a pronounced outage.

The highly themed indoor roller coaster has been buggy to say the least in its first three days of official operation, just as it was in the week leading up to Tuesday's grand opening for the handful of bloggers and vacation-package buyers who attempted to experience the attraction.

It's a winner by most accounts. You won't find too many coasters where strapping on 3-D glasses is part of the immersive experience. However, for a park attraction that is already opening later in the pivotal summer season than Comcast would have probably liked, it's the one thing outside of crowd-control issues that hangs a sinister cloud over this week's opening.

Universal Orlando has learned a lot about opening a Potter-themed area since the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened four years ago. Some frustrated guests had to stand in line for roughly 10 hours just to enter the Hogsmeade section of the adjacent Islands of Adventure the day it opened in 2010. Waits to enter Diagon Alley this time around have been kept at an hour or two, largely because Universal Studios Florida is offering tickets with return times to get into the area later in the day.

Universal Orlando has put in more shops and richer details in the expansion. It also put in the high-capacity Hogwarts Express attraction that connects both theme parks with a short yet richly engaging train ride. As I pointed out earlier in the week, it's a smart way to drum up attendance and pricier dual-park ticket sales since admission to the neighboring park is required and registered before entering either train station.

However, a marquee attraction -- the only ride outside of the train being added here -- having reliability issues is going to be a problem. It's the one thing that can smear the otherwise-glowing reports of the enchanting train ride, fire-breathing dragon, and butterbeer ice cream that are trickling in this week.

Universal Orlando's expansion raises the bar in many ways. It puts the other major local addition to the theme park landscape -- Disney's modest Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom -- to shame. However, in scaling the wall of ambition, it seems as if it dropped the ball in reliability. Laugh all you want at Disney's simple family coaster, but at least it's been running fairly consistently since its late May opening.

Comcast took a gamble here with this thrill ride set in a goblin-manned banking institution. It was "too big to fail," but it's failing. A lot. Does any of this sound familiar? Let's hope that Universal Orlando gets the bugs fixed faster than our own global banking crisis a few years ago.

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Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

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