Disney is set to open the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser sometime in 2021, making it home to what may be the most immersive hotel experience in the world when it opens. However, there’s another insanely popular IP that we’d love to see a hotel for in Orlando, as well.
We’re talking, of course, about Harry Potter, the franchise that gives Disney a run for its money when it comes to immersive theme parks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure set the standard for immersive theme parks, but what would a hotel look like?
Here’s Our Wishlist for a Harry Potter Hotel at Universal Studios
A Time-Twisting Story
So, let’s just address something. Compared to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora: The World of Avatar, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a major, MAJOR disadvantage. See, when you go to Batuu, or the Valley of Mo’ara, you’re visiting a specific point in that franchises timeline.
Everything that happens in Black Spire Outpost takes place on a single day between The Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker, to the point where it’s referenced in the official timeline. The whole “Spy in the First Order” subplot in the final film specifically arose because of the events on Batuu. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t any when in particular.
So, when you ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the ride is boarded inside the Room of Requirement, and Quidditch matches are being played. That would likely put it sometime in or after Order of the Phoenix, as Harry didn’t know the Room of Requirement existed until then.
However, if you step outside you can see the Triwizard Tournament pep rally, which is explicitly set during Goblet of Fire, and Sirius Black’s wanted poster is still up, implying he hasn’t died yet. Not only did Harry not know about the Room of Requirement then, but Quidditch was suspended for the entirely of the fourth book (not to mention most of the fifth).
Then we can board the Hogwarts Express and hear Harry and friends riding it, which places the timeline at the beginning or end of the school year. Weasley Wizard Wheezes being open in Diagon Alley puts that section in Half Blood Prince, but the ride Escape from Gringotts is explicitly set during a specific chapter in Deathly Hallows.
Plus, if Universal Orlando ever adds elements of their Fantastic Beasts film series, that would add a different period of time altogether. So, the point we’re trying to make is…during what time period would you would you put a hotel? Different attractions in the same park contradict each other, making a coherent point in the timeline impossible to pick, so the only options are to…
- If Universal Studios ever adds a Fantastic Beasts-focused section, that could be the focus of the hotel.
- Make the hotel entirely self-contained, lacking any interactivity with the larger Wizarding World Complex.
- Just lean into the different timelines.
It’s that third option that is potentially the most interesting. There have been cases of time-twisting weirdness in Harry Potter before, particularly in Prisoner of Azkaban and The Cursed Child stage play. However, the most appropriate example may well come from a mobile game.
Wizards Unite is a GPS-Enabled Mixed Reality from the same studio as Pokémon GO and Ingress. Players are wizards, drafted into the International Statute of Secrecy Taskforce after a magical calamity causes creatures, characters, and objects from the Wizarding World’s past to begin appearing around the world. These “Foundables” are literally elements of the books and movies that have been ripped from their native times, threatening to expose the Wizarding World.
So, it’s basically a “save the Harry Potter character from a magical mishap so you can collect stickers” game, but the story provides a framework that can make an interactive hotel work. Guests are wizards on vacation, perhaps taking a tour of a historic Wizarding landmark. Suddenly a magical calamity hits, and you’re tasked with stopping a nefarious plot while going through the magically mixed up Wizarding World!
Or, you know… they could just keep the timeline vague too. That also works.
The Perfect Setting
There’s a formula for Harry Potter locations. Take something normal, like a school, a cottage, a shopping arcade, a government office. Then imagine what would happen if a society of eccentric reality warpers built it.
The result is something familiar yet alien. Larger than life in the way a young child would imagine the world to be like. A hidden layer of the world you didn’t know existed. It’s part of the series’ charm.
So, a Harry Potter hotel would need to be similarly larger than life. It’s tempting to simply take an existing setting like Hogwarts and turn it into a hotel, but that’s wasting some of the setting’s potential. Not only does Hogwarts already exist, but there’s so much lore associated with it that the concessions needed to make it into a hotel would be, well, distracting.
A hotel in New York or London specifically for the Wizarding World would have a lot more potential, and free Universal Creative from having to hedge too closely to J.K. Rowling’s IP. Galactic Starcruiser will be doing something similar, inventing a new place in the world’s lore rather than replicating something that already exists.
A Compelling Cast
When you go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you may notice a distinct absence of Harry Potter. That is to say, you’ll never meet a walk around version of Harry, Ron, Hermoine, or really any major character from the books. This isn’t just a lack of casting — it’s a hard-coded rule of the park.
This is because J.K. Rowling has very strict controls over how her IP can be used in the parks. Every costume, every piece of merchandise, even the food has to be approved by her. It’s why you can’t buy Coke products in either Wizarding World — wizards don’t drink Muggle soda!
Of course, Disney can get away with that because Disney owns Star Wars outright. The Harry Potter films are distributed by Warner Bros, but J.K. Rowling maintains the rights to the intellectual property. So, while Disney can do whatever they want in the interests of their themed entertainment experiences, Universal has to go through several layers of approval. And, as experiences like Galactic Starcruiser are so insanely interactive, that means a Harry Potter equivalent would need to approve any interaction with a canon character.
That means that every canon character would have very strict guidelines to follow in terms of appearance, behavior. If J.K. Rowling didn’t approve of a single thing, down to an actor’s appearance, no dice. It’s not even that she’s abnormally strict — it’s just the nature of licensing such a major IP. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t characters.
You can meet characters like students, shopkeepers, and even the conductor of the Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World, but these aren’t specific characters from the books or films. As such, there are slightly more relaxed guidelines for how they look and act.
Any interactive Harry Potter attraction would need to rely on characters like this to carry the entire experience. We couldn’t rely on Molly Weasley or Severus Snape to carry the experience — we’d need entirely new, original characters. More importantly, we’d need to care about them enough to make for a compelling experience.
When it comes to accommodations, Disney has a big advantage with the Galactic Starcruiser. Star Wars technology, in terms of what a hotel guest would interface with, is rooted in the real world. It does help that technology has caught up to what was previously science fiction, so things like portable computers and articulate robots can exist.
However, Harry Potter is explicitly a low tech setting. Things like cell phones and computers don’t work at Hogwarts, and the few muggle artifacts that exist have been enchanted to function in completely non-realistic ways. This means that Universal has a bigger challenge than Disney does, as they can’t use off the shelf technology for creature comforts.
To make things more complicated, Harry Potter features some explicitly magical tricks, like having food magically appear on a plate, or candles levitate in midair. To create a truly immersive experience, Universal would need to do a little magic of their own. That means building a high-tech resort of state-of-the-art accommodations, while making sure everything looks low-tech.
Of course, it’s easy enough to do this in the parks, as guests only interact with a few things. The machinery that makes stuff go is largely hidden, and guests can only do magic at designated locations. To really simulate the wizarding experience, guests would not only need to feel surrounded by magic, they’d need to feel magical. And, in the wizarding world, everything is done with magic.
Even something as simple as a light switch or a thermostat doesn’t exist in a wizarding household. You need to turn on the lights, you either turn on a gas lamp, light a candle, or wave a wand. Too hot or cold? Magic. Need to make a long-distance call? Either send an owl or stick your head into a fireplace. Concessions would obviously need to be made, but walking into a hotel room filled with muggle accouterments would detract from the whole experience.
However, like with Star Wars, technology has improved somewhat. Technology like smart-assistants and motion-tracking could be used to emulate a functional magic wand. As hotel rooms are a controlled space, a wand with an IR remote or an internal gyroscope could be accurately tracked, allowing the room to know where it was pointing at all times. Simply saying “Lumos!” or “Aguamenti!” while aiming it at the appropriate object would cause the room to spring to life, as a hidden smart speaker listened for those keywords. You could even use it as a room key, though lugging around a whole wand is a bit impractical.
Finally, any Harry Potter experience needs magical activities — not just drinking butterbeer, but casting spells, making potions, and going on adventures! Part of the Harry Potter experience involves discovery, and this is true for both the core series and Fantastic Beasts.
For Harry, it’s learning more about the Wizarding World that he’s an integral part of, but has been kept from his entire life. In Fantastic Beasts, it’s the threat of the Wizarding World and the Muggle World intersecting, either due to the escape of Newt’s menagerie or the schemes of Grindelwald. Every entry in the franchise reveals a new wrinkle to the Wizarding World, and a hotel would have to provide such an experience (without simply sending us to class).
Wizards Unite, again, offers a framework. As part of the game’s response to the Calamity, the Ministry of Magic offers courses to wizards similar to those you would take at Hogwarts, but with a much more focused scale. Fans of the books would note that, when news of Voldemort’s return started to spread definitively, many wizards couldn’t even cast a basic shield charm. Hogwarts professors and members of the Order of the Phoenix could, and members of Dumbledore’s Army were taught by Harry. But, the average wizard couldn’t duel to save their lives. This gives guests the perfect reason to take courses on Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potion Making, and Care of Magical Creatures, as you could safely assume guests drawn into some sort of intrigue plot could use a refresher.
Of course, recreational spellcasting is also perfectly valid. Cooking workshops and fencing courses exist in real life, so even if there’s no pressing storyline, one could still enjoy a workshop. Still, it would be amazing if the lessons you learned during your stay could somehow apply in the parks proper…
What would you want to see in a Harry Potter hotel? Is there anything critical we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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