The battle for tourists in the theme park hotbed of Orlando is starting to intensify. Comcast's (UNKNOWN:CMCSK.DL) Universal Orlando announced Wednesday that its ambitious Diagon Alley expansion to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open officially on July 8.
The expansion to its Universal Studios Florida theme park will connect it to the original Potter attraction at the adjacent Islands of Adventure through a richly themed Hogwarts Express train ride. I saw the train running in the afternoon ahead of a media event that was hosted after the park closed, and it's more than likely that the attractions will have soft openings for guests ahead of the official debut.
As a seasonal local -- I'm spending the next few weeks in Celebration, Florida -- I'll get to kick the tires eventually. I wasn't at last night's event. My request for media credentials last month was ignored by the same corporate communications department that took me to task for comparing the resort's holiday ad to Apple's "Misunderstood" spot back in January. I wasn't alone. Many of the YouTube comments posted after my article pointed out the same thing. If my opinions are unsavory enough to get blackballed (if I didn't just slip through the cracks), it's probably best that I get around to it as an annual pass-wielding civilian in the coming weeks.
Either way, I may have dodged a bullet. The Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts indoor coaster broke down during last night's media preview, with press and bloggers escorted off their vehicles after being stuck on the track for 30 minutes.
Welp, my first ride on Gringotts also marks my first time ever being evac'd off a ride.— Banks Lee (@BanksLee) June 19, 2014
These hiccups happen. There's a reason that Universal is pushing the opening into July despite a media frenzy this week with fellow NBC properties Today and Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show that led many to believe that Diagon Alley would be opening this weekend. This is far more ambitious than Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which opened without a hitch as expected late last month.
Comcast probably didn't need this week's flurry of NBC coverage. The original expansion attracted crowds that were stacked several hours deep outside of the park.
This is going to be a big summer for Central Florida's leading theme parks. Disney's Magic Kingdom has been a blur of tourists since the family-friendly mine coaster opened, and that's on top of being tapped as the world's most visited theme park last year by industry tracker TEA/AECOM. Comcast saw its two Florida theme parks gain in attendance last year, and there's clearly going to be a dramatic spike this year. Between the goblins at Gringotts and the dwarfs at New Fantasyland, there's a big battle between small bodies brewing in Central Florida. Don't be surprised if they all wind up winning.