Let’s be honest: it’s a little disheartening – not to mention just a tad crazy – that Universal hasn’t announced the opening date of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley yet, particularly since we may only be just four weeks away from the big day.
But why is this? What kind of plan does Universal have in mind – and is it possible to divine its contents?
In a word: yes. By reading between the lines of the past month’s bigger-than-ever developments, we can start fitting together all the little myriad puzzle pieces to get the most complete picture yet of the greatest (theme park) mystery of our time.
Clue #1: The Today Show
While the much-ballyhooed Today Show filming that Al Roker did at both of the Wizarding Worlds turned out to be for a rather (let’s be honest) anticlimactic contest, and while the rules of the Diagon Alley Sweepstakes were equally disappointing in terms of shedding any additional light on a possible opening date – the fine print simply stated that the winners would have to be available to go to Orlando “at a later date” – it did help to ratchet up the overall level of buzz on Universal Studios Florida’s newest addition… a necessary first step as the company enters the home stretch.
Whether the 25 lucky winners have yet received a date for their departures – and whether this date happens to be on or after the grand opening – is still unknown, even though the contest ended over a week ago.
If it seems somewhat strange (a) for Universal to bend over backwards to not be tied down to a specific date and (b) for average individuals to be able to drop their daily lives at a moment’s notice to hop on a plane for a literally last-minute vacation, then you’re right there with us. Rather than being an illuminating affair, the whole Today stunt had left us more baffled than ever.
Just what is going on behind those construction walls at Universal Studios Florida?
Clue #2: The media preview event
This is where things start to get really interesting.
On May 14, media invites were sent out for a “sneak peek” at Diagon Alley. You may have seen some pics of these uber-fancy invitations floating around the World Wizarding Web the past few days.
If so, you may have noticed the date: June 17 to 20, 2014. These magical numbers have gotten a fair bit of attention and formed a great deal of speculation over the past two weeks, and they’ve done so for good reason: these were our hitherto best information regarding what Universal had in mind for the grand opening, if only as a possible target instead of a set-in-stone date; who would, after all, set a media preview/VIP throwdown a significant amount of time before everything was ready to be shown off (besides Disney, of course)?
There’s another element of intrigue regarding the invites’ dates, and it’s one that no one else has been discussing (if, indeed, it’s public knowledge at all): according to several of our sources, Universal’s original in-house starting date for the media/VIP event was on or around June 14. While this may not immediately seem like a big deal – does it really matter what exact day tuxedo-wearing bigwigs get to engage in cocktails and schmoozing? – it is rather telling when one considers that, as part of the shindig, attendees will be riding the Hogwarts Express over from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley as part of their grand entrance.
Although only a week later than originally intended, those seven days could literally make a world of difference when either one or both of the train stations aren’t ready to welcome guests – or if the Hogwarts Express itself still hasn’t reached the necessary number of ride cycles to welcome non-employee passengers.
Clue #3: The Tonight Show
The formidable hype train picked up even more steam on May 20, when NBC, quite out of the blue, announced that The Tonight Show would head out to Universal Orlando for “summer vacation” from June 16 to 19, providing a “first look” at Diagon Alley in the process.
While the announcement was a surprise (maybe they learned their lesson after word had leaked of the Today filming before Roker even hopped on a plane), what wasn’t terribly shocking was the fact that tickets for all the showings were sold out in a whopping 20 minutes the following day.
The important thing to note here, of course, is the overlap with the media/VIP event(s), further adding to the speculation that the end of June is, indeed, Universal’s opening timeframe – although the usage of “first look” still leaves us puzzled. Does this denote a first-ever look at the land in action? If so, that would mean late June would be the start of soft openings, not the official grand opening.
(Did you miss your chance to see Tonight in Orlando, but you’d still like to go? Don’t worry – Dan has you covered. He’s giving away two free tickets in the OI Forums at a later date. Keep your eyes peeled, and good luck!)
Clue #4: Exclusive vacation packages
Just because one stop-us-in-our-tracks reveal wasn’t enough last week, Universal went ahead and dropped another little bombshell late last week: “exclusive” vacation packages are now on sale.
While the specifics are mostly fairly standard for an Universal package – a four-night stay at an on-site hotel, three park-to-park tickets, Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World – there are a few particular items of note, mostly revolving around breakfast at either (or is that both?) Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade or Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, a welcome parcel consisting of a “souvenir owl plush” and a special “welcome letter,” and – oh, yeah – guaranteed access to Diagon Alley.
The value in terms of the accommodations may not be the best (also fairly standard for an Universal vacation package, unfortunately), it’s the “guaranteed” access to Diagon Alley that, of course, has everyone talking. With travel dates starting at June 29 – which would, presumably, be after the land’s public opening – why would the company need to guarantee one’s access to the new land? Does this have something to do with the return-time ticket system, or is it just the company referencing its Early Park Admission (think of it alternately as Legalese or Marketingese, the two most-spoken corporate languages)?
Or, most disappointingly of all, does it denote the start of the soft opening period? If so, it would all but mean that the only way to get into Diagon Alley before it officially opens is to book a vacation package – filling Universal’s 4,000 hotel rooms and ensuring that its coffers are well and truly stuffed before they’re packed even more with the advent of the summer season.
And the answer is…
Based upon our putting our Sherlock Holmes caps on and using elementary logic, we feel there really is one inescapable conclusion to the thorny riddle that is Diagon Alley’s opening date:
Universal really doesn’t have a clue itself as to when everything will be ready.
With architectural work yet to be completed and with repeated concerns regarding the amount of time it will take to reach the requisite ride cycles for both Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express, it well and truly seems that Universal just doesn’t know when, exactly, it’ll be able to initiate soft opens. And without that obligatory technical rehearsal time – for Team Members to get accustomed to their new roles and for the attractions themselves to be put more fully through their paces – the date of the grand opening itself would likewise be put into question.
If there’s one indisputable fact, it’s this: if Universal could get its new money-printing land open today, it would, as there’s literally no reason to delay; after all, the opening date for Hogsmeade was announced some two months before it officially opened its doors (even though there were still some minor delays afterwards). However, as an equally potent corollary, if there’s a way to still make money (and headlines) off of a protracted, indefinite situation – by selling vacation packages and trotting out various TV personalities, for example – it will.
Echoes of whispers
What’s that? You’ve heard rumors that June 26 is the exact date for Diagon Alley’s grand opening? Yes, we’ve heard that, too – along with some whispers from our very own sources that don’t seem to line up with this.
We’ll have more this Friday, when we finally get back to our Rumor Round-Up column. In the meantime, to help keep the anticipation at bay, you can discuss the very latest developments in the OI Forums or start back at the beginning and visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.
Soft opening schedule & FAQs
In case you hadn’t heard, Orlando Informer has officially kicked off our watch for Diagon Alley’s soft openings.
What is a soft opening?
A soft opening, referred to by the parks as a technical rehearsal, is an opportunity for Universal Team Members to become fully trained in running attractions in a live environment. Soft openings happen before an attraction (or group of attractions, in this case) officially open, and their schedule is never announced or published by the parks. In addition, there is no guarantee that attractions will be running to their full potential, or even running at all.
By their very nature, soft openings are sporadic: they can be for 10 minutes, two hours, or the full day. When they first start happening, they usually begin during the last few operating hours of each day, and then slowly expand from there, day by day.
When is Diagon Alley likely to soft open?
Simply due to the scale and ever-changing attributes of the project, this is challenging to predict – but it’s a challenge we’re up for. So below you will find our current prediction at the odds of soft openings occurring in the upcoming weeks.
May 25 – 31 = 20%
June 1 – 7 = 70%
June 8 – 14 = 85%
June 15 – 21 = >90% (excluding June 17 – 20, keep reading to learn why)
June 22 – 28 = >95% (if not officially open)
And here is the likelihood of Diagon Alley being officially opened to the general public:
June 8 – 14 = <1%
June 15 – 21 = 75%
June 22 – 28 = 90%
June 29 – July 5 = >95%
The reader may deduce from these numbers that, yes, we are back to anticipating a Diagon Alley grand opening by the end of June.
Reminder: We have not, cannot, and will never make any guarantees with regard to Diagon Alley soft openings or the grand opening date. At this point, you assume all risk making plans to attend them. Unless your travel plans can be easily modified or refunded, we strongly recommend that you do not finalize anything until after Universal makes the official announcement for the Diagon Alley grand opening.
How do I sign up to participate in a soft opening?
In general, there are no sign-up methods or other ways to guarantee admission to a soft opening. Essentially, you just need to be standing at the entrance to Diagon Alley when Universal decides it’s time to open up the area for testing with the general public. If you’re not at the entrance right away, then get there as soon as you can – but be aware that the area could close down before you arrive. Remember, soft openings are unscheduled, unofficial, unannounced, and may last anywhere from 10 minutes to all-day long. That’s just the nature of the beast. If you don’t like all this uncertainty, please don’t plan on visiting until after the grand opening date (which we’re still waiting for).
It’s worth noting that Universal could potentially offer a formal way to access soft openings – for example, by only allowing on-site hotel guests access in the mornings – but they haven’t announced anything like this for Diagon Alley, and it’s not typically how the parks operate soft openings.
How can I be among the first to hear that Diagon Alley has soft opened?
We have dozens of fans visiting Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure each day (we love you, fans!). While we hope to be present the very first time Diagon Alley soft opens for the general public, we’re certain at least a few of our fans will be – they’ll let us know, and then we’ll let you know instantly via Twitter. We’ll also post updates on our site and elsewhere, but the very first news will come via Twitter.
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