Universal Studios wonders how and when to expand Wizarding World of Harry Potter

(Universal Studios)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

With the unprecedented success of the Harry Potter” href="">Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios executives are already wrestling with the question of Universal Orlando ponders how to take full advantage of Wizarding World’s popularity” href=",0,1982334.story">how and when to expand the perpetually congested 20-acre theme-park-within-a-theme-park at Islands of Adventure in Florida.

Photos: Top 10 Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides and attractions

Although officials won’t discuss specific plans, several signs point to preparations being made for phase two of Wizarding World:

* In January, survey markings that possibly may be mapping out the potential expansion began appearing in the backstage areas behind the Lost Continent, the themed area of the park that was partially taken over to make room for phase one of Wizarding World.

* Visitor questionnaires suggest Universal Studios is considering doubling the size of the themed land within the next year or two to make Wizarding World “twice as big with twice as much everything.”

* Universal Studios’ licensing contract with Warner Bros. requires the theme park to incorporate elements from the final Harry Potter films, the last of which will open in theaters in July.

Universal Studios Orlando saw a 36% spike in attendance after the opening of Wizarding World in June 2010, drawing an additional 1 million visitors in just three months. During the same period, merchandise sales more than doubled while food sales jumped nearly 60%. Analysts expect the attendance lift and corresponding sales uptick to continue for several years.

The wild popularity of Wizarding World, which has seen shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and hour-long lines just to enter shops, has led to speculation that Universal plans to scrap the rest of the Lost Continent attractions to make room for a phase two expansion of the Potter-verse. Among the most oft-repeated rumored plans:

* Change the “Eighth Voyage of Sinbad” stunt show into a Harry Potter-themed live show.

* Convert the Lost Continent market into Diagon Alley, complete with a Leaky Cauldron restaurant.

* Transform the “Poseidon’s Fury” special effects show into an indoor steel coaster or a dark ride themed to Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

For now though, expanding Wizarding World remains wishful thinking.