Almost exactly a year ago, Screamscape reported on a rumor that just started to make the rounds regarding Dragon Challenge, that imposing dual roller coaster that is such a fixture of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade skyline (well, at least in Orlando; its sister sites in both Osaka and Hollywood are dragon-free, due to spatial constraints). That initial burst of scuttlebutt went a little something like this: following Universal’s demolition and rebuilding-from-the-ground-up of The Incredible Hulk Coaster, the company would apply the same treatment to the Wizarding World’s bigger coaster, given that both rides went up at the same time 17 years ago.
Now, however, the site is saying that Universal just may have changed its mind regarding the whole undertaking; rather than tearing down and then reconstructing Dragon Challenge, it’s just going to leave the coaster(s) down permanently, opting instead to build a whole new attraction on top of it.
If true, just what would the masterminds of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts come up with next? What kind of new experience not only would be a welcome addition to the six-year-old land, but would also justify getting rid of such an iconic part of Islands of Adventure?
We have some ideas and, also, some long-running rumors that have been floating about the dark recesses of the themed online community for far longer than just the past year. Let’s run them down and see which are the most likely (or exciting!), shall we?
4. The Ministry of Magic
This is both the most obvious and the most unlikely concept. The idea of a Harry Potter expansion is as old as the speculation regarding the arrival of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley itself, so, naturally, the recent news brings the now-legendary Ministry of Magic proposal immediately to mind.
What counts against it so much is a little matter of, well, geography – the ministry is located in London, the theme-park version of which just so happens to sit next-door in Universal Studios Florida. (There’s also the fact that Fear Factor Live is positioned perfectly to be the site of the eventual expansion, which doesn’t seem to have happened by accident.) By placing the magical seat of power and all of its mysteries in Hogsmeade, not only is Universal Creative breaking its own mandate of keeping real space more-or-less aligned with fictitious space, it’s also jumbling the identities of both theme park lands.
Still, never say never, particularly when magic is involved (a portkey, anyone?) and when the precedent of Ollivander’s Wand Shop is already sitting there down the road (the Hogsmeade Village location is said to be a “branch” of the original store over in Diagon). When combined with the absolute dearth of movement, both physically in the parks and linguistically in the rumor mill, regarding the Ministry of Magic in Universal Studios (most of us had expected to see construction already started by this point), this just might be the best solution for fans to get their next major Potter immersion fix.
But just what could fit inside a possible ministry show building? Why, we’ve already written at length about that very subject.
After the two central locations of Hogsmeade (and Hogwarts Castle, of course) and London/Diagon Alley, there really aren’t that many swaths of real estate left in the Potter mythology to represent in the parks. This leaves just a small handful of specific locations to potentially mine – that pesky Ministry of Magic, for example, or the personal residences of either the Weasley clan or the Malfoy family.
The most intriguing of all these standalone spots, however, would have to be Azkaban, the wizarding prison that was, before the start of either the novels or films, believed to be impossible to escape from: it exists as a bleak, solitary island in the middle of the North Sea, and it is policed by a veritable legion of Dementors. This description alone makes it almost positively divine for theme park guests to visit and stroll around in – or, at least, to take a quick jaunt through on their trusty makeshift ride vehicles – but the imposing jail faces all the same problems as its Ministry of Magic counterpart, such as lack of geographical sense. And there’s also the little fact that such an attraction would be rather frightening for children; given that Forbidden Journey is not kiddie-friendly (and even Gringotts can’t accommodate the youngest guests), Universal just might want to replace the adult-focused Dragon Challenge with something a little more accessible for the whole family (think the Hogwarts Express here).
But the thought of being able to breach Azkaban’s walls is an irresistible one, especially when compounded with the possibility of the Wizarding World playing host to an annual Halloween celebration, just like what arrived at Universal Studios Japan this year. For most Harry Potter fans, this would be just too much to bear.
2. The Triwizard Tournament
Here’s a concept that can service any type of ride (we’re talking everything from Forbidden Journey to Escape from Gringotts to Reign of Kong) and more than fits the area’s thematic mandate – after all, if Dragon Challenge was meant to honor the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and if there’s still going to be the Triwizard Spirit Rally next door, then why not continue to service the subject even further?
The possibilities here, actually, are pretty wide open. How about a romp through the Forbidden Forest to sneak a peek at the dragons, like in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Or a race through the third task’s maze, complete with a confrontation with Lord Voldemort at the climax? Or a plunge in the Black Lake to hunt down and save Ron Weasley and all the other loved ones that have been taken “hostage”? (We’re not including anything with the dragons themselves because Forbidden Journey already, essentially, takes care of that; Dragon Challenge gets away with the thematic overlap since it’s an entirely different type of ride experience.)
What’s so enticing about this particular idea is the fact that the suddenly-freed real estate can support not only an E-ticket attraction, but also an E-ticket queue (the new requirement that Universal and Harry Potter have had no small hand in making us demand of our themed attractions). What if guests made their way in line through the Triwizard Maze, and then proceeded to, say, the underwater excursion? Or – perhaps even better – the maze is its own separate attraction, with the Forbidden Forest ride sitting next to it?
1. Even more of Hogsmeade
This idea is clearly the oldest of the bunch, having been around since preparatory work began on Diagon Alley; the only difference here is that the rumored intended area for the expansion was The Lost Continent, as opposed to Dragon Challenge. Nonetheless, there should be enough land to make this concept work inside the Wizarding World proper.
Much like our Triwizard Tournament suggestion, the idea of somehow exploring more of Hogsmeade Village is a broad premise that could support multiple different attractions. The one having made the rounds the most is the Shrieking Shack, the supposedly haunted house on the outskirts of town that is revealed to be the safe transformation zone for one Remus Lupin back when he was a student at Hogwarts School. For our purposes, this could be either a walk-through attraction (like Poseidon’s Fury – only better, of course) or a screen-based ride that reenacts the climax of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
And if there’s the Shrieking Shack, then why not include a life-size, full-motion recreation of the Whomping Willow (or a kid-friendly spinner ride, which has also been bandied about in the rumor mill)? There’s also the possibility of opening a brand-new store that can have a secret trap-door entrance to the various tunnels that run throughout the village and on into Hogwarts Castle, replete with a recreation of part of Hogwarts itself (who wouldn’t want the opportunity to stroll around some of those famed corridors, even if for just a few minutes?).
These ideas, admittedly, aren’t necessarily as visceral or otherwise as exciting as some of the others listed here, but they’re nonetheless valid ways to interact with some of the most iconic locations in or moments of the Potter mythology, and what more fitting way to replace an old friend such as Dragon Challenge?