Though family-oriented tourist attractions based on popular movie and television franchises are not new — Orlando, Florida’s Disney World and Anaheim, California’s Disneyland have been in operation since 1971 and 1955, respectively — the recent surge in immersive experiences for hardcore franchise fans is. These immersive experiences often include big bucks dropped on virtual reality rides and activities.
The following are five of the coolest attractions from around the world that fans of the biggest global TV and movie franchises cannot get enough of.
1. Game of Thrones set and location tours (Dubrovnik, Croatia)
The amphitheater near the abandoned Belvedere Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Last month, Bisnow explored the real-life real estate behind HBO’s wildly popular “Game of Thrones.” The bulk of the show’s sets are built in Croatia and northern towns and beaches in Ireland, but it is Dubrovnik, Croatia, that has truly capitalized on the tourism dollars Game of Thrones fans can bring with them. The Eastern European city has served as the backdrop for King’s Landing, and visitors can sail the Adriatic Sea around the walled city on a boat used in the series.
2. Wizarding World Of Harry Potter (Orlando, Florida; Anaheim, California; and Osaka, Japan)
Hogwarts Castle replica at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure
The Universal Orlando Resort is home to the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios parks, both of which contain a separate Wizarding World-themed environments. The parks are connected by a replica of the Hogwarts Express from the films, allowing ticket holders to both parks to ride between parks. The Islands of Adventure park, which opened in June 2010, offers two roller coasters and a 3D ride — Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — inside an enormous re-creation of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Fans can purchase merchandise and prop replicas from Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and even eat and drink signature foods and beverages at restaurants found within the Potter universe, including butterbeer, wacky flavored ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlor and classic British fare at The Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head. The Universal Studios park, which opened in 2014, offers a recreation of the Wizarding shopping district Diagon Alley, complete with a replica of Gringotts bank (and indoor roller coaster) as well as live shows from characters from the book series.
The Anaheim Park in Universal Studios Hollywood opened in April 2016 and also features a 2D iteration of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Visitors can shop at Ollivander’s and eat at The Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head. Fans visiting the Osaka, Japan, location of the park will find a man-made version of Hogwarts’ Black Lake, and are accompanied by live owls.
3. Harry Potter WB studio (London, UK)
Entrance to the Making of Harry Potter studio tour, Leavesden
The set of one of the most beloved film series was originally an airplane factory that manufactured such aircraft as Halifax Bombers and Mosquitos. Visitors tour the studio’s backlot, which houses the film franchise’s outdoor sets, such as the Hogwarts bridge and the Dursley family’s Surrey home at number four, Privet Drive, examining iconic costumes and props from the movies as they wander through. The lot contains two soundstages, animatronic critters and creatures and numerous special effects.
Potter fans are known for their eagerness to collect every possible crumb of information. For a premium, tourists can take advantage of digital guides that include interviews with the stars and behind-the-scenes glimpses.
The Harry Potter universe is also a quintessentially British one, and even the relatively more “distant” studio tour offers visitors the chance to engage with British culture through food. Tourists can grab a bite to eat before or after the tour at the Studio Cafe, with such treats as truffles, scones with clotted cream and, of course, plenty of tea.
4. Lord of the Rings (North Island, New Zealand)
Hobbiton mill and double-arched bridge
Fans seeking more traditional tours can embark on one of dozens of daily Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, the only set left fully intact from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Visitors can immerse themselves in the 12 acres that make up Bilbo Baggins’ hometown with a regular guided tour or a banquet feast at a replica of the Green Dragon Inn consisting of Hobbit-inspired fare from the novels. Fans who choose not to purchase a banquet can still drink franchise-inspired beers at the inn.
5. Star Wars immersive hotel (Orlando, Florida)
A rendering of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts’ Star Wars-themed hotel in Orlando, Fla.
Star Wars fans are eagerly anticipating next-level story immersions at the Star Wars hotel at the Disney Orlando resort, planned to open in 2019.
“Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories and adventures that unfold all around you,” Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek said at the Disney fan conference D23 Expo. “It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your stay with us.”
Chapek is hardly exaggerating. Early sneak peeks at the hotel plans include a completely involved experience in which guests will get to pick out costumes and stay in a starship cabin room with realistic space views.