Hey, lookit that, it's 2012!
Crazy how time flies and all that. How was your holiday? Me, I ended up visiting sunny Orlando Florida and the greatest amusement park I've ever been to: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
No wait. That's not how it looked. Lemme try that again, this time with a non-promotional picture.
Yeah, that's more like it. Because it ain't Harry Potter Land - Yes, that's what I'm going to call it from now on - without at least 10 people per square foot. But before I get into all that, allow me to introduce another 'land' from the same park for some perspective on just how cool Harry Potter Land is: The Marvel Super-Heroes Island of Adventure!
Since it was announced sometime in the late 90s, Marvel Land - at least I'm consistent with my naming conventions - has been a dream destination of mine. Seriously, what could be cooler than an entire section of an amusement park dedicated to my favorite four-color heroes? (don't answer that) Suffice to say, after a decade and a half, I had kind of built the place up in my mind to be the best thing ever. Unfortunately, the reality of the place didn't quite live up.
"Are you sure this wasn't something else before it was Marvel Land," I continuously asked the Florida-native FutureWife to her constant denials.
To be honest, there was nothing really bad about Marvel Land, there just wasn't anything special. Sure, there were cool little easter eggs here and there (a random Nelson and Murdock sign, Daily Bugle Newspaper dispensers, among other things), but on a whole the place looked like Tomorrowland with Marvel Heroes cut and pasted onto the buildings. Simply put, everything was very surface.
If Universal lost the rights to Marvel amusement parks tomorrow (which could happen now that they have Disney behind them), that land could be easily and quickly altered to something new. Tear down those giant cutouts of Dr. Doom and Magneto and you're left with just another futuristic looking city street ready to be anything from... uh... well, something futuristic. You get my point, it's generic looking.
Where Marvel Land was everything you expect from a typical amusement park, Harry Potter Land was the complete opposite. Where Marvel was all surface with random shoutouts here and there as an afterthought, Harry Potter was a fully immersive environment with everything in a very specific place to evoke a very specific feel. It was amazing.
Walking through the gates, you're immediately transported to the cobblestone streets of Hogsmead with it's quaint, and decidedly British, feel. All of the major shops from the books are represented, becoming more rides than shopping experiences with their attention to detail, movie-accurate merchandise - aside from the ubiquitous T-shirts and such that are readily available at almost every shop, of course - and completely in character staff throughout. However, while all this immersion is totally awesome, it only acerbates the worst part of amusement parks: Lines.
As cool as it is that every store, bathroom, and eatery in Harry Potter Land is it's own unique experience, it kind of hard to enjoy it when you're packed in like sardines. I honestly don't think I was able to take a full step forward the entire time I was at the park. Everything thing from Olivander's to the streets of Hogsmead were was full of shuffling and shoulder bumping as we attempted to get from one awesome sight to the next, but never enjoying the stroll down those cobblestone streets. And then there's the huge lines outside each and every store, requiring a solid 20 minute wait to do anything from entering Honey Dukes to buying Butterbeer (which is amazing BTW). While the whole land was amazing, it was certainly a test of my patience after an hour or so.
Seeing Harry Potter Land opened up my thinking to how awesome amusement parks can be. Hopefully the lessons that are learned from this money machine isn't that the kids want more literary lands - The FutureWife seems convinced that they'll use this success as a reason to make a Twilight amusement park. I hope against hope she's wrong - and instead are more interested in totally immersive parks. Imagine a Star Wars park decked out like Tatooine, A Lord of the Rings park made out to be part Minas Tirith and part Mt. Doom...
Or a Marvel Park decked out to look like a New York Street destroyed in a superhuman fight with very specific easter eggs and a real reason for the 'face' characters to run around. Now that's the park I wanted to see when I was 11. Here's hoping that's not too far off, now that Harry Potter has shown that it's possible.