The Diagon Alley Effect on Orlando
From July 8th 2014, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will create a second new fantasy world for ‘muggles’ to vanish into for their magical adventures.
Last time we saw such excitement in Orlando was the summer of 2010, as Islands of Adventure and CityWalk became ‘gridlocked’ with thousands of guests just desperate to experience a ‘real life’ version of JK Rowling’s Potter movies.
While the original Hogsmeade area inside Islands of Adventure has proven to be immensely popular with theme park and Harry Potter fans from around the globe, the much larger Diagon Alley area, with its much more immersive feel, is only going to build upon Universal’s successful relationship with the ‘boy wizard’.
More guests than ever will soon appear in Orlando, and this time, Universal appears to be much better prepared.
What affect will Diagon Alley have upon the rest of Orlando?
How will Diagon Alley affect Crowds at Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure?
If the 2010 Hogsmeade opening is anything to go by, Islands of Adventure was ticking over nicely in 2009 with around 4,267,000 guests per year, according to industry data.
After opening on June 18th 2010, the yearly figures bumped massively to 5,949,000, despite only having a ‘half year’ effect of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
By the time 2011 closed, the figures soared higher still and closed at 7,674,000.
Taking account of the leap between 2009 and 2011, that’s a very impressive attendance gain of over 3,407,000 guests, which isn’t bad considering a recession had dampened the USA’s appetite to spend!
If we try to forecast the effect on attendances that Diagon Alley might have on Universal Studios, we could easily expect to see an additional 2 million guests a year or more to pass through the turnstiles. That would in fact take a full year of 2015 attendance’s up to the dizzy heights of 9 million plus.
Figures like that are most definitely within reaching distance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ ‘fourth spot’ in the Orlando theme parks attendance figures!
More interestingly, due to the Hogwarts Express, which offers an attraction ride that links two parks, more guests will wander into Islands of Adventure than ever before, effectively creating not one, but two contenders to grab fourth spot from WDW.
One thing’s for certain, is that the combined effect of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley will totally transform the crowd patterns inside Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
Long gone will be the days that you can stroll around the two peaceful lagoons, from now on, the entire parks will share a much more saturated feel.
Long gone also are the days where ‘heading to the back of the park first’ beats the crowds!
Line waits all over both Universal parks, and not just the Harry Potter areas will climb, as guests manage their day by hitting the ‘non Potter’ attractions with the lower line waits.
Express Passes are going to be a huge money spinner for Universal and a highly treasured solution to guests that don’t mind paying a little extra.
For Diagon Alley though, the Escape From Gringotts and Hogwarts Express are probably some time away from priority queuing.
It could be 2015 or 2016 before either get that Fastpass benefit.
CityWalk and the parking lots will feel the most pain and gain.
The parking lots are going to get noticeably busier and we can expect to see many more Team Members assisting parking operations to keep traffic flowing.
Unlike Disney, with their long private approach roads, Universal’s lines of waiting cars, will back up rather quickly onto the highways in busier times if not handled efficiently.
Universal’s CityWalk is rapidly transforming, with a range of higher quality dining spots that are now in the process of opening, in what we could almost call ‘Downtown Universal’.
CityWalk has always coped well with a blend of diners, hotel resort guests, and shoppers.
Unlike Downtown Disney however, CityWalk must also cope with park guests. In fact, two rather large lots of park guests. It is going to be busy in there!
This is indeed a great time to be in business at CityWalk! Universal are probably going to be able to justify Diagon Alley, just in a few year’s restaurant takings alone!
CityWalk will also be the main destination for Universal’s huge Cabana Bay Beach Resort Hotel, that is now joining the Hard Rock, Loews Royal Pacific, and Loews Portofino Hotels, all within walking distance of CityWalk.
(Note: Universal are also now planning 3 new hotels or expansions that will add another 1800 rooms to Universal Orlando).
With the sudden changes both inside and around Universal’s theme parks, we would imagine that CityWalk will be a big focal point for Universal’s crowd management experts.
Diagon Alley’s effect upon Walt Disney World
There’s no mistaking that Disney have been doing just fine with Walt Disney World.
Attendances are up and there’s a lot of ‘Disney Magic’ floating around the parks right now.
Some Forums and blogs are littered with concerns however, that Disney must invest more in the parks.
Unfortunately, now that New Fantasyland is complete, we are a few years away from Pandora: The Land of Avatar appearing in Animal Kingdom.
Interestingly, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, although a huge success for Universal, didn’t harm Disney’s attendances one bit.
If anything, the entire attractions industry appears to have thrived as a result of additional visitors, including tourists from many new markets, including Brazil and the Harry Potter crazy; Japan.
Disney are however, masters at planning, and we don’t see Diagon Alley being anything but good news as far as park attendance at WDW goes.
Expect to see plenty of big incentives to visit WDW, even during busier months of the year.
Examples like this in theory reduce the Disney margin, but draw more guests to Orlando, which is good for everyone, particularly as Disney experiment with more and more ways to ‘up-sell’ to guests with special events and upgrades once they are booked.
What Disney may suffer from however, could be a fall in demand for the Disney Dining Plan. Right now, the Disney Dining Plan needs to be paid for the entire stay in your Disney accommodation if you choose to dine at a fixed price deal.
If you opt to take a few days ‘off property’ however, the advantages of the DDP unravel rapidly, as guests spend mealtimes that they’ve already paid for, away from WDW.
It will be interesting to see just how much the DDP might need to change as Universal ‘borrow’ DIsney guests for a few vacation days.
On the other hand, the DDP is a hugely powerful booking incentive. Perhaps we can expect to see more ‘free DDP deals’ for vacationers.
WDW Resort bookings could also take a dent if traditional Disney guests still aim to make full use of their DDP without losing money. Unless Disney come up with a solution, guests may well decide to split their vacation over two hotels, to make the best use of both parks.
The Diagon Alley effect on vacation rental homes
The 1800 room Cabana Bay Beach Resort will nicely soak up a lot of the additional 2 million guests per year that are expected to be drawn to Orlando by Diagon Alley.
Nice deals and incentives will definitely attract first timers and guests that don’t like to drive on vacation.
For guests that love to visit a variety of parks, Diagon Alley could be the catalyst that tempts loyal Disney resort guests into adopting new ways of planning their vacations.
Instead of spending seven days on Disney Property, visiting mainly Disney parks, Diagon Alley does look set to change a few accommodation profiles for visitors.
One of the areas that offers a good balance of flexibility will is the luxury vacation home market, that is predominately located in the family friendly 192 area, just south of Disney.
While the Universal Resort area is predominantly commercial and residential, the neighbouring I-4 connects nicely with the Kissimmee and Davenport areas that make home to the lion’s share of Orlando’s luxury vacation rental stock.
There’s never been a better time to choose a vacation home over a resort hotel.
How will Diagon Alley affect the I-Drive area?
Overshadowed for years by the popularity of Downtown Disney, the last thing that the I-Drive stores, restaurants and attractions might have needed was the ‘super development’ of Disney Springs.
Diagon Alley may well be the saviour.
With average stays of 5 or 6 days, the thousands of Universal hotel guests will almost certainly feel the urge to explore beyond the Universal parks and CityWalk at least once or twice per vacation.
Great news for the huge investments that the Orlando Eye, Polercoaster and Fun Spot have already made, following predictions that good times are on the way again.
In a kind of way, what Downtown Disney is to WDW, I-Drive could be to Universal as families look for a fun space beyond the regular Resort scene.
I-Drive’s independent hotels also look set to benefit from being right on the doorstep of Universal, and we might see the need for a much higher level of service from transportation systems such as the popular I-Ride Trolley.
How will Diagon Alley affect SeaWorld, Busch and LEGOLAND?
This is perhaps the biggest question of all.
Each guest group arrives in Orlando with a finite number of vacation days.
It’s no surprise, looking at attendance figures that Disney and Universal look set to take the largest slice of our time in Florida.
With Universal clearly poised to grab an extra day or more from most visitors, someone has to lose out.
To avoid a downturn, the three smaller parks must either hope for a substantial rise in Orlando visitor numbers each year, or longer stays in Orlando than currently (USA domestic guests average 4 nights, overseas guests average 9 nights), and pray that a fair percentage of them will seek out their parks during their stay.
Also, the need to market the Orlando Flex Ticket has never been greater for SeaWorld as they hope to cash in on the 14 day bundle deal that offers unlimited access to Universal Studios®, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Wet ‘n Wild®, SeaWorld® SeaWorld’s new water park Aquatica® and Busch Gardens®