As spending goes up at the major theme parks, this summer's new rides are getting taller, faster and far more intricate. Big openings include the Harry Potter experience in Florida and a record-breaking but classic-style wooden roller coaster in Illinois.
One of the big additions for the summer, the opening of the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort, is set for July 8 in Florida. The Diagon Alley installation will essentially double the size of Universal's Islands of Adventure with a re-creation of the London found in the "Harry Potter" books and films, including a Hogwarts Express train, restaurants and shops.
An early review at the Theme Park Insider blog says it "resets the standard for theme park environments, creating a wildly engaging setting that rewards visitors willing to delve into the abundant detail to be found in the new land."
Yet, a report at Reuters notes the main roller-coaster ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, experienced glitches during the media preview and has been out of service.
The new attractions at parks seek to build on the strong growth the industry saw last year. Globally, the major theme park operators posted 5.4 percent growth overall, according to the Themed Entertainment Association's annual report released earlier this month in conjunction with AECOM engineering design firm.
In the survey, Walt Disney Attractions maintains the top spot with an estimated 133 million visitors in 2013, a 4.8 percent increase over 2012. In second, Merlin Entertainments Group was up 10.7 percent with 59.8 million visitors, followed by Universal Parks and Resorts' 5.3 percent increase to 36.4 million visitors.
Among the top 10, the only percentage declines were seen at Madrid-based Parques Reunidos, a 4.1 percent drop, to 26 million, while Sea World Parks & Entertainment had an estimated loss of 4.1 percent, to 23.4 million.
"We estimate that the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida grew by nearly 6 percent, maintaining its position as the most visited theme park in the world with a total of 18.6 million visits," the report states. Less than a month ago, Walt Disney World opened the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, its the first new roller coaster since 2006.
The numbers are calculated from a variety of sources, including statistics from the operators, historical numbers, financial reports, the investment banking community and local tourism organizations, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
A major theme of the growth is the "new level of attention being paid to intellectual properties and international brands in our attractions," John Robinett, the Senior Vice President Economics at AECOM, said in the Theme Index and Museum Index report. "Many of the most successful new rides and shows are themed around popular media products, in addition to which many of the global media companies are actively pursuing major projects around the world. Notable examples are Fox's new project in Malaysia, Warner Bros. in Abu Dhabi, and plans at Dreamworks for attractions based on their popular animated features. And then of course Disney and Universal continue to expand."