Scott Audette / Reuters
Daniel Radcliffe, center, and members of the cast of "Harry Potter" wave their wands during the grand opening celebration for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studio Resort in Orlando in 2010. The attraction has been a huge success, and is changing the way theme parks operate.
Cue the foreboding movie music: Da-dum, daa-dum, daa-dum da-dum da dum ...
This time, though, it’s not a swimmer that’s about to go under but rather the great white shark itself. On Jan. 2, Jaws, one of the original and most iconic rides at Universal Studios Florida, will kick the proverbial chum bucket.
In the end, the cause of death wasn’t a rocket-propelled grenade — as in the ride’s original incarnation — or electrocution — as in subsequent years — but rather a combination of low-tech effects, changing tastes and a drift toward irrelevance.
Ah, Bruce, as the mechanical shark was affectionately known, they hardly knew ye.
“The ride has sentimental value, but beyond that it’s time had come,” said John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors LLC. “The movie was huge in the ‘70s but there a lot of people now who weren’t even born when it came out.”
While Universal executives are not revealing what will take the place of Jaws, it doesn’t take a boy wizard to figure out that theme parks are increasingly changing their focus from their own brands to other creative properties that come with their own built-in audiences.
“In the past, parks would make a ride of the movie they owned simply to help the movie,” said Gerner. “Now it’s more important to link to a strong brand than to promote their own.”
For proof, one need only look a half-mile south to Universal’s Islands of Adventure park where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has reinvigorated attendance and revenues. Wildly popular, the attraction has boosted admissions to the park 40 to 50 percent since opening 18 months ago, reports the Associated Press.
Tourists overwhelmed Disney World, Legoland and other top Florida theme parks this week, forcing them to temporarily deny entry to incoming visitors. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.
That success also explains NBC Universal's announcement in early December that it would build a second Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood and expand the attraction in Orlando.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Park officials have offered no details on either development, but the latter already has Potter fans fantasizing about a Hogwarts Express train running between Islands of Adventure and the erstwhile Jaws site, presumably reconfigured as a bit of London or Little Whinging.
Whether the Jaws site will, indeed, boast a Diagon Alley or the Dursleys’ hometown is unknown, but whatever takes the big fish’s place will no doubt adhere to the new rules of theme-park development: Boosting admission is a good thing, but boosting the sale of food, beverage and merchandise is where the real magic happens.
“The real success story with Harry Potter is not necessarily the increase in admissions but rather the increase in merchandise sales for Universal,” said Chad Emerson, the author of several books on theme parks. “The wands and butterbeer are driving the popularity of that attraction.
“If they replace Jaws with an attraction that can sell widgets that people want to buy, that’ll go a long way toward the balance sheet of investing in it,” he told msnbc.com.
More stories you might like:
- Harry Potter Park may be coming to Calif. theme park
- Tired of theme parks? Try a trip for a young reader
- Leaf through a library on your next trip
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.