Leaving Florida this time made me wonder why I didn’t just go to Disney again. The answer, of course, was that I wanted to capstone my Harry Potter fan experience. I wanted to see the new Hogwarts, and share that love with my geeky Harry Potter friends in a small way, the four of us running around, playing like little kids.
My imagination is, apparently, better than Universal’s. And you know, I think if Disney had had this property, a few things would have been done differently.
Note the following list.
What I wanted: My own unique wand
What I got: A terrible death head’s wand that was obviously cheesy and plastic. (Later to be replaced by one that I liked better).
What Disney would have done: Made several build a wand stations at the park and its subsequent toy stores in Disney Marketplace
What I wanted: A wand that worked
What I got: A resin toy.
What Disney would have done: Set up a sort of Geocache game around the park, a la the kind of game at the Mall of America, or the Kim Possible scavenger hunt at EPCOT.
What I wanted: More wizards in the streets.
What I got: Universal employees who were holding back lines at doors.
What Disney would have done: Had a cast of roving wizard inhabitants that interacted with the visitors.
What I wanted: A nice meal at the Three Broomsticks
What I got: A mediocre cafeteria meal
What Disney would have done: Created a restaurant called The Great Hall, where the customers were sorted, and “house elves” served the food.
What my friend wanted: To put the butter beer “head” on top of a pumpkin juice
What happened: A flat out refusal
What Disney would have done: Already have thought of that, or acquiesced.
The Harry Potter park was an okay experience. Unfortunately, I kept getting pulled out of the narrative. Going to Disney is like reading a really good book. Going to Universal was more like reading a book, and occasionally noticing something the author had done. There were many reality seams.
When we were standing in line for the Hogwarts virtual reality ride, several things jogged me back to reality.
1. Crowding at the beginning of the lines was not controlled by staff.
2. It turns out there are pig chutes behind Hogwarts. Who knew?
3. There’s a big, visible plastic warehouse adjacent to the castle. Obviously,that’s where you’re going to have your “experience.”
4. The staff rushed riders through the loosely connected Hogwarts story into the ride.
5. There were lockers to put your possessions in that couldn’t hold the wands you bought. Yeah. At Hogwarts.
Now, this is all pretty standard amusement park stuff. The trick is, Disney wouldn’t have let me see these seams. The warehouse would be there. I wouldn’t see it.
Let me compare Hogwarts to the Haunted Mansion.
1. The waiting line for the Mansion can spill out into the square. Disney employees put up ropes and route overflow down by the riverboat. No one crowds the front of the line.
2. Once you are into the ride proper, the line stretches through the manor and the graveyard.
3. You enter the house. It looks like a house, but it’s really an elevator that takes you downstairs via a stretching room trick.
4. The ride is entirely hidden underground, so you don’t see the building that houses it.
5. Maids and butlers who man the ride stay in character for the whole thing.
Fewer seams. Better narrative.
I liked Universal Studios. I especially enjoyed the virtual reality rides, most of which were very well done, and didn’t kick me out of the story. While I’m not much of a roller coaster rider myself, the coasters looked fine (although Bryon, my resident coaster afficiando, is not keen on the recent architectural trend of coasters to loop more than glide). Some parts of the park were really well decorated.
There just wasn’t the attention to detail that made the visit to the park, well, er, magical.
Disneyland doesn’t have it either. I liked Disneyland, but back then, Walt Disney also had seams. He hadn’t become the master of his craft yet. Sort of like you and me, fellow newbie writers. But Walt put in his time, and we got the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.
So, I guess what works in any creative endeavor is attention to detail. Universal is a fine park to visit. I won’t go back. I’m already scheming about how to get to Disney again, because I feel like I’ve had a diet dessert when I wanted a rich piece of cheesecake.