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Universal reveals details of new Harry Potter park

IT sounds like a new book in the Harry Potter series, but "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" will be a high-tech ride and the marquee attraction at the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter," a new theme park area opening in spring 2010 at Universal Orlando Resort.

The "Forbidden Journey" ride was named by author J.K. Rowling and described yesterday by Universal officials in a Web cast revealing details of what the Potter park will look like.

The ride will take guests through scenes and rooms from the blockbuster movies inside a richly detailed remake of Hogwarts Castle made to look 700 feet (213 meters) tall. Hogwarts is where Harry attends a boarding school for witches and wizards.

Guests will enter the "Wizarding World" through a station archway named for Hogsmeade, the magical village near Hogwarts. A plume of steam and a train whistle will sound the arrival of the Hogwarts Express. The goal is to make the experience immersive, so nothing outside is visible after guests pass the Hogsmeade station archway.

Rowling, known for carefully guarding the Potter franchise, hasn't yet journeyed to Orlando, but the design team has made several trips to London to consult with her.

Other rides include the "Dragon Challenge," a twin high-speed roller coaster themed after the "Triwizard Tournament" and the family roller coaster "Flight of the Hippogriff," named for a creature with an eagle's head and a horse's body.

"Along those journeys they're going to be swept up into the greatest parts of the movies and the books. We've pushed every technology available to us to give guests a theme park experience unlike any they've had before," said Paul Daurio, producer of the Potter area.

The Harry Potter park will be part of Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Art and set directors from the films, including Oscar-winning production designer Stuart Craig and art director Alan Gilmore, were hired to translate the movies into the park.

Every shop and eatery is Potter-themed. Honeydukes sells chocolate frogs and "Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans," Ollivander's peddles magic wands, Zonko's joke shop has Sneakoscopes, and the British restaurant Three Broomsticks pours Butterbeer.

At The Owl Post, guests can send letters with a certified Hogsmeade postmark. Magical instruments and equipment are available at Dervish and Banges, including everything needed to play Quidditch - a game like soccer played on flying broomsticks.

"The interesting thing about Harry Potter is that the stories are so rich in themselves, so deep," said Universal Creative President Mark Woodbury. "There wasn't so much difficulty of creating the look, it was, 'How do you execute at a level of authenticity that is unquestionable?'"

There could even be new footage of Potter stars shot on actual sets from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." A Universal spokesman declined comment on the issue, but the company was explicitly granted those privileges in its 2007 licensing agreement with Warner Bros. Consumer Products Inc., according to the contract filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Potter area will be Universal's third big-ticket addition in three years. SEC filings from the company estimate the combined cost of The Simpsons Ride, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Wizarding World at between US$275 million and US$310 million.

Simultaneously, the resort owned jointly by NBC Universal and private equity company The Blackstone Group finds itself on shaky financial footing. If it cannot find refinancing, US$1 billion in long-term debt may be maturing as soon as April, the company said in SEC filings.

The Potter park is sure to prove popular not just with American fans but also with visitors from the United Kingdom, Potter's home and the largest source of international tourism to Orlando, with about 1 million arrivals a year.

"It couldn't have come at a better time," said Danielle Saba Courtenay, spokeswoman for the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There is such an affinity for the characters, particularly in the United Kingdom, and we do expect that the pent-up demand and having such a strong name will drive traffic to the area.

"It's such a huge worldwide brand, and the only place in the world you're going to be able to experience it is in Orlando," she said.


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