Universal had been hit hard by the economic downturn, and attendance had plunged by double digits.
"It has great potential to show that what they did with the original Harry Potter-themed area was not a fluke," said
On the other hand, Gerner said, "now they have the potential to disappoint more than they ever had before. ... It works both ways."
Many visitors who were enthralled by
"I would say my expectations are a little higher, just from all the news that has come out, all the updates, that level of excitement," said
"Our standards are very high. We want to give our guests an incredible experience," he said.
"That kind of pressure is always there. But we've created a very different environment from what we created in 2010 -- and we are sure our guests will love it."
The new signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, is being billed as an entirely different type of ride, with new projector technology and an almost 360-degree screen. On Tuesday, Universal announced that it will kick its trademark souvenir wands up a notch, too. This time, customers can buy wands that can "cast spells" around the park -- lighting chandeliers and making marionettes move, for example.
There also will be a unique feature expected to spur the purchase of two-park tickets and annual passes: Hogwarts Express, a re-creation of the train that carries Harry and friends to the wizarding academy. It will shuttle visitors between the two Harry Potter lands, and customers must have either a park-to-park ticket, starting at
The train is a smart revenue move, experts say -- but it carries with it the pressure to impress.
"They're saying, essentially, if you really want to enjoy it [the Harry Potter experience] completely, you've got to buy two-park tickets. That's a lot of money," Gerner said. "If they [visitors] don't feel like they got enough for that, there's going to be a lot of bitterness as well."
Adding an element of uncertainty to the opening of
Still, branding and children's book experts consider Potter a classic that can remain a strong draw for generations.
"It's a cultural phenomenon," said
The possibility remains, too, of extending the series with prequels or sequels. A movie trilogy of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is in the works. Written by "Potter" author
Universal sees so much promise in Potter that it will open Wizarding Worlds in its
After Potter opened, Universal's increased attendance gave it a record-setting fourth quarter in 2010, with operating profit nearly quadrupling from
This time, "they don't necessarily have to duplicate it to the same level," Gerner said. "Even if it comes up short in attendance or financials, it can still be hugely successful. I wouldn't say they have to beat the original one. The goal is to show they can repeat, and that will give confidence that ... this and similar efforts can work."
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