Thursday, January 06, 2011

Harry Potter And The Dastardly Theme Park Rip-off

Prior to this past Christmas, the entire maven family (maven, maveness, maven-daughter, maven-son-in-law, 2 maven grandbabies) went down to Orlando Florida to enjoy the various theme parks. Our stay was to be three days, so we bought two-day Disney World passes and one day 2 park passes for Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. We planned to go to the Magic Kingdom at Disney for the grandbabies, a second Disney park to be named later, and Universal Islands of Adventure for their new “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”

Our first day, at the Magic Kingdom, was marvelous despite day-time temperatures in the 40s and intermittent drizzle. Disney just has a wonderful way of dealing with children. The grandbabies were just entranced, especially by the wandering Disney characters, the classic Magic Kingdom rides and the daily parade. Most of the rides had long lines, but Disney has taken care of this by offering reservations at rides. You can go to a ride early in the day and reserve entry later in the day. The charge for this service? Zero.

The second day we spent at Universal. Universal has built two adjacent parks with separate admission charges (or a two park pass for a slightly reduced charge). All of the maven adults and at least one of the grandbabies wanted to see the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” Universal had hyped it well and we most wanted to do “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” which, is described by Universal:

Explore the classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts™. Then soar above the castle grounds on a groundbreaking new ride that lets you join Harry Potter™ and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure.
We arrived at the ticket windows and paid an obscenely huge amount for the six of us to attend both of the Universal parks for one day. We noticed at the ticket office that they were offering an Express Pass to reduce the waiting lines at events for the ridiculously low price of $25 extra per person (An extra $150 for the six of us in the maven family). We figured it was just a come-on so we did not get Express Passes.

The weather was better than the day before (partly cloudy, temperature about 60). But the lines at Universal were mammoth. Universal is very considerate and posts the ride wait times as you enter—they ranged from 25 minutes to 120 minutes. The 120 minute wait was for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Shortly after entering the park there was a sign saying that Harry Potter was off to the left. When we finally arrived at the end of the Potter line the wait was still posted as 120 minutes. But son-in-law maven was able to get a pass that entitled us to come back at 5:30 and get on a much shorter line. We spent much of the morning and early afternoon on 45 to 60 minute lines waiting to get onto five-minute rides. We even had to wait on line to pay inflated amounts for food at one of the parks restaurants. For those of you who have your own grandbabies, you must realize how unfriendly it is to force young children to wait on long lines to get to the event they can plainly see before them.

Well, at 5:30 we got to Potter and waited about 15 minutes to get into the area. Then came the great shock. Remaining wait time for “Harry Potter and the Forbiden Journey” was 90 minutes. Wait times at other Potter rides were from 45 to 60 minutes. Lines to get into stores were equally long. To get into the candy shop was a 30 minute wait. Line for wand shop, 45 minutes. Line to purchase butter-beer, 20 minutes. We were in this medieval-looking village adjacent to the towers of Hogwarts along with thousands of other people. The Florida sun had set and it was getting colder. The kids were upset, the adults were upset. Finally, we decided to leave Universal Islands of Adventure. We never did get inside Hogwarts.

This maven is rather upset that Universal has teamed up with Voldemort and the forces of evil. They know full well the wait-time problem in their parks, especially at their Harry Potter location. They advertise quite openly that "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" is included with park admission. Yet they must be aware that to actually taste the glory of their new theme area requires someone to wait on lines for upwards of 5 hours, and to abandon the hope of frequenting any of the other areas in the theme park that you have paid hundreds of dollars to see. The mere fact that they sell Expresses Passes, so that one can wait on much shorter lines at each ride, indicates their knowledge of the problem. What they fail to advertise is that if you don’t buy the Express Pass for an additional $25 per person, you will spend most of your stay at Universal waiting on line.

The next day we spent at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We had a great time with relatively short waits. I am thinking that Animal Kingdom might be the best bargain at Disney.

So what are we to make of this, precious reader? Both Disney and Universal are in business to make money. However, Disney seems much more concerned that its customers actually enjoy themselves at their Florida theme parks. Universal puts profits ahead of everything. Even the rides that you eventually get on exit into stores, where overly priced goods beckon to your buy-me, give-me, take-me kids. But the one thing that leads me to conclude that Universal is a rip-off is the impossibly long lines at the Potter rides and the marketing of Express passes to avoid those lines. If you decide to go to Central Florida, beware of the dark side of Universal!


K.A. said...

What a bummer! I'm sorry you had such a miserable time at IoA. My comment is not meant to defend Universal, but to maybe put a bit of perspective on your story... The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is brand new... the whole land... so its kind of like one gigantic new attraction... Whenever any theme park opens a new attraction the wait times are always ridiculous. When Indiana Jones opened at Disneyland, wait times were up to 6 hours... The same thing happened when the Submarine Voyage morphed into Nemo, and when Toy Story Midway Mania opened. Unfortunately, RIDICULOUSLY long waits are par for the course when it comes to new theme park attractions. What I hope Universal takes away from this is that clearly, the demand for a Potter experience is high. I'd love to see them devote an entire park to the Harry Potter universe. I am an aspiring theme park designer myself, and before Universal even announced this park, I had (just to satifsy my own muse) planned out a multi-land, multi-resort + "downtown disney-esque" shopping district all themed to the Harry Potter universe. There is no shortage of content to fill several parks... and clearly, if you build it... they will come, in droves... lol. Happy New Year! :-)

Bert Berlin said...

To K.A.
I guess what I am asking for is some disclosure. All Universal had to do when we bought our park tickets is to inform us that without the Express pass we were likely to spend many hours on line for the Potter exhibits. Then I could make an intelligent decision whether I want to spend the extra money for the Express passes or decide to spend my time on other exhibits and forget the Potter or even not spend my money on Universal at all. But, I guess that is not in Universal's interest.

Anonymous said...

While I sympathize with your plight, you have to realize several things:

WWoHP is THE most popular part of any theme park anywhere in the WORLD right now.

You decided to visit IOA during the MOST crowded time of the year. If you tried to go to Magic Kingdom during Christmas week, I am sure you would have had the same experience.

You then decided to leave when the sun went down. That was YOUR choice. If you had planned ahead and decided to stay, you would have found smaller crowds and the ability to do all of the attractions.

Anonymous said...

The Express Pass wouldn't have done you any good in getting into the Wizarding World any quicker or getting you on Forbidden Journey. The Express Pass is not vailid for Forbidden Journey. You should have arrived at the park when it opened and you wouldn't have been so disappointed with the wait times. Did you think that you were the only person who was gonna be visiting this new attraction? A little research and planning on your part would have gone a long ways and probably would have prevented this article from being written.

Anonymous said...

You could have purchased Express Passes anyitme after that, so I do not understand the part where you had only that chance to decide.

I am sorry your time at Universal was not as enjoyable as you hoped.

That being said I would expect a travel blogger to know enough to do some research before visiting places to know what the wait times will be like.

Anonymous said...

You do realize $25 is the CHEAPEST Express are? In peak seasons, they're $50-60.

OH - They're not valid at Forbidden Journey either.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that your Universal/IOA experience was not good. The parks are actually very enjoyable, even with little ones. You probably went on one of the days it was so busy that they had to shut the park down to many others trying to get in. You should of gotten the express passes that day (even though they are not valid in the HP section) that is very very cheap for express passes!!!! You have to remember HP just opened 6 months ago and is very very new and still the main attraction in IOA. It is very worth it to go back and experience it when it is less crowed. I am a huge Disney fan myself but find Universal/IOA more accomidating.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but you have to expect lines because right now no one really wants to go to the Disney Parks in Magic Kingdom and everyone wants to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I only waited 15 minutes for Forbidden Journey because I went at a good time. If you go in Winter Break, expect long lines. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a hit so it has huge lines. I am sorry for your lack of enjoyment. Personally, I liked both Universal Parks better than Disney Parks, but that is just me.

Stacey063 said...

I can totally relate - had the identical experience that you had two weeks ago - a nightmare of crying children (and adults) mostly due to the physical pain over 5 hrs of standing - only got to ride one ride. Wrote a very detailed letter of complaint to Universal - we'll see........

Anonymous said...

ummmm....theme parks have LOOOONG waits...this is almost always the case. Put on your big boy pants, stop whining, and either ride the damned thing or don't. Even if the wait was 90 minutes for Harry Potter, the queue is fantastic and I'm sure the time most likely would have flown by. What a wasted opportunity on your part. Whatever, your loss.

Anonymous said...

Those of you who are defending the crowds by saying "well, it is a new attraction", are not addressing the real problem. The problem, all you Disney and Universal fans, is that both parks are putting profits over your vacation experience.
They should drastically cut down on the number of people they allow into the park each day. I would think that it would even be a fire or safety hazard to allow that many many people into the park at one time. If there was an emergency, you would be killed in a stampede of people trying to protect your little ones.
We have been once and felt very taken advantage of. For the kind of money they charge, you should feel catered to and pampered, not feel like herded cattle. Never again!
To pay that kind of money for a family of four and then spend OVER HALF of your time standing in lines for three minute rides, who in their right mind finds that fun? Are you just brainwashed with the whole Disney thing? What kid these days even likes Mickey Mouse?

Anonymous said...

You are right on with your perspective. It is your other bloggers who are misguided.

I do not understand the mentality of the Disney masses who think that is a great idea of a vacation.

But if they are willing to pay outrageous prices to have their children stand in a line for 45 minutes to 2 hours for a three minute ride, to pay for incredibly over priced, mediocre food and Mickey Mouse t-shirts (really, who wears Mickey Mouse?),there is really nothing you can say.

The masses keep going and paying and standing in line and then defending the whole miserable experience. And as long as they do, Disney will never change. They are making billions by treating their customers like cattle.

And the cattle keep coming back for more. My opinion, sorry.

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