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“Trust me, I can 100% guarantee we will not be opening to the general public. If you stand here all day, you will go home disappointed.”
It’s early morning June 2, and Universal’s Harry Potter attraction won’t officially open for more than two weeks. But a Twitter tidal wave has dragged me from bed to Island of Adventure’s Lost Continent, only to be barked at by a teen dressed in a yellow polo shirt. Rampant re-Tweeted #potterwatch rumors persist: “Today is the day.” So despite the urging for immediate departure, I dally. Just as I’m about to abandon ship, the magic word comes. A short sprint, some sharp elbows, and suddenly three years of anticipation are over: I’m inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The kind of theme park fanaticism that inspires adults to line up at dawn in the face of outright denial usually is reserved for Walt Disney World. This summer, its competition up Interstate 4 has the bulk of the buzz, but the Mouse isn’t taking it lying down. Without the debut of a blockbuster attraction to promote, nor any brand-new rides on the drawing board until 2012, Mickey is slapping a shiny coat of paint on familiar favorites. The marketing department christens the campaign “Summer Nightastic!” but you might call it “This Old Park” or “Antiques Sideshow.”
The summer-long Nightastic! (through Aug. 14) was imported from a similar program at Disneyland and basically consists of touting the refurbished or resurrected attractions in three Disney parks. At Hollywood Studios, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has been downgraded with half-assed new effects, making the park’s best ride marginally worse. Epcot’s “Sounds Like Summer” cover-band concert series is back, under the Nightastic! banner. And the Animal Kingdom is allowed to stay up a little past its usual bedtime.
The headliner additions are both at the Magic Kingdom and were previewed to a packed audience during Gay Days last Saturday (June 5). “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular,” the fireworks show that has run nightly since 2003, is being put out of its misery – at least temporarily – to make room for the “Summer Nightastic! Fireworks Spectacular.” Ordinarily this is where I’d complain about the “new” show, but this is one of the best Disney has ever done. Even though the display is a tweaked rehash of “Magic, Music, and Mayhem” from 2007’s Pirates and Princess Party, few people attended those extra-cost/after-hour events; so instead I applaud the revival.
Descended from Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration, the “Fireworks Spectacular” features custom-designed fireworks shells launched from all around the park, creating a 180-degree experience for viewers in the central hub. (My recommended viewing spot is the rose garden near Tomorrowland.) Projections and fireworks explosions simulate a pirate attack on Cinderella’s Castle, and then a fairy battle paints it blue and pink. Best of all, you aren’t subjected to treacly ballads (like “IllumiNations” and “Wishes”) or embarrassing pop remixes (like the Halloween fireworks), thanks to the classic orchestral score with minimal scene-setting chatter.
The rest of Nightastic! is even longer in the tooth, but the nostalgic revival reawakened the 1970s-80s child in me. The Main Street Electrical Parade, which ran here from 1977-1991 and 1999-2001, has returned in all its cheesy glory, and I adore every Lite-Brite second. I’m thrilled to report that the vintage Moog-synth sound of the music is intact, contrary to early reports that the orchestral Tokyo “Dreamlights” soundtrack would be heard instead. Even the robotic voice introducing the “spectacular pageant of nighttime magic and imagination in thousands of sparkling lights and electro-syntho-magnetic musical sounds” is just like I remember.
The classic parade floats are back too, more or less. A few, like Dumbo’s circus train, are gone, but the replacements are even shinier, particularly Tinkerbell’s giant garden and Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island (sorry, no Mannequins or Adventurers Club). Even old floats got upgrades, like a digital mouth on “Wonderland Caterpillar’s” and LED pixie-dust effects for all.
“Baroque Hoedown,” the parade’s ritualistic theme tune by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, bores deep into my brain, bringing back beautiful memories of what it was like to be a pre-cynical child at Disney. Shame it ever has to end, but that big “To Honor America” eagle float has to come eventually.
Oh, and about that Harry Potter thing that’s got the world on edge? For now, here’s the magic formula you’ll need to replicate the bleeding-edge new Forbidden Journey dark ride in a format even a Muggle can follow: Take two parts Spiderman, plus one part Soarin’, add a big dash of Haunted Mansion, then shake until awesome. P.S. Butterbeer rocks, and tastes even better frozen.