Disney still wins this round with the sheer volume of announcements it made earlier this month, but Universal definitely steals some theme park thunder with news of a new thrill ride at the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal Orlando Resort announced in a blog post Monday that a new roller coaster is coming to the Harry Potter-themed land that has been giving Disney a run for its not-insubstantial money for years now.
Since 2009, the year before the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure, attendance at that Universal park has increased 102 percent. According to the most recent estimate available, more than 9.3 million people visited Islands of Adventure in 2016.
The new ride is scheduled to open in 2019, the blog post said. It will replace Dragon Challenge, an older coaster that was repurposed with a vague Harry Potter theme. That ride will be open through Labor Day weekend.
Other than those details, not much is known about the replacement. Universal called it an “all-new thrill ride” featuring characters from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books that would “redefine the category” while still being appropriate for entire families.
The theme park will work with Warner Bros. and the production design team from Harry Potter movies, as it has for past Wizarding World additions.
“The new attraction will be one of the most highly-themed coaster experiences we’ve created,” the post said. “It will combine a new level of storytelling with an action-packed adventure…and a few surprises along the way.”
The theme park operator, which is owned by Comcast, first debuted the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. It added a second world, Diagon Alley, at the adjacent Universal Studios in 2014 and connected the two with a train ride, Hogwarts Express. Guests must pay for a two-park ticket in order to ride the train.
Universal also opened lands built around the boy wizard in Japan in 2014 and in Hollywood last year. The latest investment shows it is eager to upgrade one of the weaker parts of its original Harry Potter effort.
In 2016, while attendance at most Disney parks dropped, Universal Parks and Resorts saw overall attendance increase 5.5 percent to 47 million, according to an annual report by the Themed Entertainment Association and the economics practice at engineering firm AECOM.
But Disney has been spending across its parks to give fans new reasons to visit, with the latest announcements this month including a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at Epcot and a new Tron roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom. That’s on top of an entire land devoted to the fictional land of Pandora from the Avatar franchise at Animal Kingdom, and lands crafted around Star Wars and Toy Story at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
When the attendance report came out in June, Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, told Skift that he expects to see Disney and Universal make significant capital investments for another 10 years.
“We as an industry and they as companies are in the biggest arnaments war that we’ve ever seen in the industry, throwing capital at the market right and left, hundreds of millions and billions of dollars really just between those two companies,” Speigel said.
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Photo credit: Universal Orlando Resort announced this week that a new Harry Potter thrill ride is replacing Dragon Challenge, pictured here, at Islands of Adventure. Jeremy Thompson / Flickr