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Kai Ryssdal: An amazing thing happened at Universal Studios Orlando during the second quarter. The theme park reported its first bump in attendance in two years. It then promptly raised ticket prices, but that’s not the story we’ve got for you today. What we’ve got is the why. Why more people are schlepping to Central Florida to be separated from their hard-earned dollars, and more importantly what happens once they get there.
From Orlando, Katie Ball, has more.
Katie Ball: I need to make a confession: I live in Orlando, and I don’t do theme parks. I’m claustrophobic, so the crowds? Not my thing. But then Harry Potter came to town, and like the rest of the world, I couldn’t wait.
Ball, in a crowd: Oh boy, you can get in, but you can’t move. Holy moly.
It’s been two months since Universal opened “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” and people are still coming in droves. Robert Niles is the editor of Theme Park Insider and he actually braved opening day.
Robert Niles: Well, I knew it was going to be an unusual day when I showed up three hours before the park was supposed to open, and the air was just littered with news helicopters hovering over the area. I’m sure that at its height that line was probably approaching a mile long.
John DeHaz is an avid theme-parker who’s been several times since opening. And when he went to buy a souvenir butter beer mug, an employee said they had gone through their two-year supply in two weeks.
John DeHaz: I’m sure they’re thrilled that the crowds are there, but I think they were just really blindsided by how intense people would be about this and how many people would show up, and the crowds and the lines. It’s just — I’ve never seen anything like this.
No matter how busy, people keep coming back to “The Wizarding World,” and Universal’s had to come up with some crowd control solutions on the fly — like a mile-long aisle made out of masking tape to temporary signs deliberately sending people the long way around the park. Small stuff, according to Robert Niles.
Niles: The only shortcoming that I would give them is that they didn’t have some type of, you know, fairly intricately designed special queue area with entertainment, but that’s asking for a lot.
But no detail was spared in the attraction itself. Narrow cobbled streets, low-beamed ceilings — the design is way more authentic than regular theme park fare.
Niles: Not like you’re in some type of blown up cartoon approximation of Harry’s world. They took a longer view of it and said, “There needs to be some intimacy with this.” And if that means longer lines up front, I think the trade off there is it’s going to be a more enduring attraction for people in the years to come.
Even now, in 95 degree heat, it’s pretty awesome to see the looks on people’s faces. Yeah, some have the “standing-in-line” glazed look and have wondered aloud if it’s worth it, but for the most part guests are thrilled.
Man 1: It was brilliant. I’m sure it’s just as J.K. Rowling must have thought it was. It was absolutely as per the books.
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is habit-forming. My buddy Seth actually goes in a couple times a week to ride a ride and have a butter beer. And when I asked Universal what they’re doing to deal with the crowds, they said they’ve made changes to make wait times an hour or less. I figure if “Harry Potter” is giving Universal a few growing pains, it’s a small price for making it all so good — and this is from me, a confirmed anti-parker. Well, reformed anti-parker. Yeah, I’m going back.
I’m Katie Ball for Marketplace.
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