When the Universal Orlando resort brought Harry Potter into their Islands of Adventure theme park, everyone finally sat up and took notice.  The theme park community stood in awe of this brand new attraction.  Uni is just about to take that up a few notches with an expansion more than doubling the size of the Potter World and some big new attractions in the rest of the resort as well. We have some surprising and very welcome news to share at the end of this resort update which would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.

We begin our Universal Orlando Resort update in Islands of Adventure this week.  It seems that Universal is doing right by this once overlooked park and going headlong into a refurbishment renaissance. When the park opened to less than anticipated attendance, cutbacks became the name of the game. Certain lands, such as the Toon Lagoon, were left to slowly fade away.

But since the massive crowds of Potter, all that has changed. Extensive sandblasting and repainting of the park is occurring. What’s really exciting about all this is that day guests are not seeing the work happening.  Universal is being very careful to maintain the “show” aspect of the park as much as possible and the bulk of the work is being done overnight. That is something that only Disney used to pride itself on.

Port of entry dome fully repainted.

We swing through Toon Lagoon and notice that the bright, cartoonish buildings have a fresh coat of paint that really makes them pop.

The foam surface treatment near some of the water features is being prepped for replacement too. Everything old and dingy is being spruced up.

The aggressively prismatic tones of Suess Landing are also being cared for.  While most of the buildings have been painted, they have also started to repaint the walkways.  

Here we see the extent to which the nightly maintenance crews are stripping the concrete and then painting large surfaces.

Vast areas of paint have been sandblasted away to prepare for repainting, rather than just applying paint on top of the previous coat.

You can clearly see the painted and unpainted sections here.

It really makes a difference.

What sets Suess Landing apart is the continuity of its convincing cartoon world.  Swirling reds and yellows clash playfully with aquas and whites.  It is evident that Universal understands that while particularly high maintenance, this color palette is essential to creating a convincing atmosphere here. Kudos to Uni for maintaining the land as the designers intended it, rather than painting it all with blacktop after a season or two of wear.

Meanwhile, work continues on the Hogwart’s Express station between the Lost Continent area and Dragon Challenge.

SPOILER ALERT: We’ve heard some very encouraging news about this attraction, which will be much more than just transportation between the parks. Apparently, the train will be an immersive experience hauling you between London and Hogwarts. You’ll encounter students on the train and see elements of the Potter world play out in front of you through the windows of the train (such as the Weasley’s flying car and a Dementor attack). Rides will offer variation, so if you make the trip between the parks more than once, you won’t experience the same exact story.  There’s a whole lot more to the attraction that we won’t spoil for you, but the more we hear about the Potter expansion, the more excited we are about it.

Hopping over to Universal Studios Orlando we see that the two major construction projects are coming along nicely.

The Harry Potter expansion inside of the Universal Studios Park is becoming much more visible as it rises above the construction fences.  This area of the park will be depicting the London side of the wizarding world.  It will include many of the familiar facades from the story and will be anchored by a new, major attraction, through Gringott’s Bank.

We hear that Ollivander’s Wand Shop may be moving to a larger location in the Diagon Alley section of the new land and finally resolve the overcrowding problem with the current shop in Hogsmead (they’ll accomplish this with dual wand selection theaters).

As you can see, the frame of the Transformers show building is coming along quickly.  With crews literally working around the clock, They are attempting to have a major, new attraction in place for the 2013 Summer season. Obviously, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Outside the park in CityWalk, the newly opened gift store got a quick name change.  Formerly known as PYQ, it seemed that too many people were pronouncing it “pike.”  The name is actually pronounced “pick.”  So, out went the clever use of the letter Y and in went the exclamation mark. Let’s hope this works or else they may start spelling it with numbers.

The Blue Man Group theatre was recently stripped of its mural on the facade.  We hear that there will be a new piece installed here soon.

Universal Orlando is really trying hard to be seen as the premiere tourist destination in Central Florida.  Since the initial success of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando has been granted a massive expansion budget. We hear that an estimated 1.5 Billion dollars has been allocated to spend on capital investments over the next 10 years. That’s approximately the amount of money that Disney recently spent on the renovation of California Adventure (including Cars Land and Little Mermaid).

The spending began with the fast tracking of a Transformers ride.  At an estimated 40 million, the attraction will easily be the major new attraction in Orlando for the Summer of 2013 and will be marketed as the high energy alternative to what is perceived as a lackluster offering from Disney.  But further down the road is the big prize – the massive Harry Potter expansion.  This expansion will tie the two parks together with a Hogwarts train system and include a major E-Ticket, family rides and attractions, shops and dining and comes at an estimated total price of around 600 million.  That still leaves another 850 million to spend.  Think of it.  A resort that was already doing well, is seeing a Disney California Adventure sized investment being poured into it. This is the theme park equivalent of a dream come true.

Compare all of this to Disney World’s lovely but attraction deficient Fantasyland expansion and Universal Orlando is obviously feeling very confident. Which is why so many new projects have recently been green-lit. Universal sees opportunity and they aren’t going to waste their chance to steal the spotlight. By the time Disney gets around to building Avatar Land, Potter will be dominating the theme park universe with a series of additions planned to keep that fire burning for as long as possible.

Universal Orlando wants more than just one day out of the average tourist visit – with the budgets, creativity and success-at-all-costs attitude to make it happen.