A sneak peek at Harry Potter Diagon Alley, opening July 8 at Universal
By Peter Covino
Unless you have fallen under the spell of Harry Potter’s magic wand, you probably already know that the Wizarding World of Diagon Alley finally will open to the public on July 8.
National and local media went through a fairly intensive three-day schedule of events this week, highlighting all the new things Universal Orlando Resort has to offer before the main event Wednesday night and Thursday morning – the long awaited preview of Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley, the expansion of the Wizarding World Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure, does not disappoint. The 20-acre attraction seems even larger than it is with its winding streets, shops and restaurants.
The main focus, of course, is the latest not-to-miss thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. It has one of the most memorable interiors of any ride, only the setting of Disney’s Tower of Terror at the Disney Studios compares. Thrill-seekers enter the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the place where all wizards and witches store their money and valuables. The bank, owned and operated by goblins, is fully-staffed with animatronic creations. And it does look like a bank wizards would patronage, with its huge chandeliers and long entry hall.
Getting on the ride itself, is still several steps away. There are winding halls, a place to pose for a magical photo (which you can check out at the end of the ride) and finally, a staging area with a short presentation by some favorite Potter animated characters.
Then it is down, way down on an elevator, to the deep underground of the Gringotts vault. But we are not there yet. There is still a long, winding stairway that takes you to the ride itself.
Somewhere along the route, you also pick up a pair of 3D glasses. Yes, it’s a 3D thrill ride.
Eventually, (the wait for this ride will easily exceed two hours on busy days) you board the four-person-across, high-speed coaster. The adventure zips and dives and turns as you face the bank’s formidable security measures, as the cars travel through the numerous vaults.
There are some friendly faces, such as Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione, but the going gets a lot more perilous with the likes of the series best loved villains Voldermort and Bellatrix, as well as other not so nice creatures of the underground.
While the ride was operating Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Universal officials could not give any kind of definite word on whether there will be a soft opening for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the rest of Diagon Alley before the official opening, July 8. If you have a trip scheduled to Universal Orlando Resort before the opening, you might just get lucky.
The other major ride at Diagon Alley is Hogswart Express, the train that links Diagon Alley with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. At Diagon Alley, you board at King’s Cross Station. And this is more than just a train ride. It is an adventure with all sorts of trick mirrors when boarding, and lots to see as you pass the countryside. And the journeys are completely different leaving Diagon Alley and returning from Hogsmeade.
But the really good news for Potter fans, is Diagon Alley is an adventure onto itself.
Diagon Alley is only the main street of the new attraction. For those who are not part of the Harry Potter fandom Diagon Alley is the center of wizarding London, completely hidden from the Muggle world and the place where wizards do there wizard-type shopping and more.
Off of Diagon Alley are other streets and areas including places such as Garkitt Market; Horizont Alley and Knockturn Alley.
While media explored the area at night, some of the attraction is enclosed, so even in daytime, it can still be on the dark side. And it is pretty easy to get lost, especially at night, until you get your bearings.
Diagon Alley is very much about shopping and eating, so be prepared to spend a lot more money that the theme park admission price.
Fans will find all sorts of unique gifts including a wizard’s robe at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions; everything for the avid quidditch player at Quality Quidditch Supplies and Scribbulus, the place to buy paper, pen and ink. And Borgin and Burkes sells skulls and Death Eater masks are more for those who want to explore the dark side.
There is lots of window shopping too, with stores that are just more or less fronts, so it is just really window shopping.
But Diagon Alley is also about eating and drinking.
Butterbeer caused a sensation when it was first introduced at the original Wizarding World, and at Diagon Alley, there are several new concoctions that will make you want to open up your wallet.
There are several new drinks including a few amazing ones such as Tongue Tying Lemon Squash and Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice.
Other new drink items include Fishey Green Ale and Peachtree Fizzing Tea.
If you are hungry, the Leaky Cauldron restaurant awaits with lots of standard English pub grub including fish and chips, chicken pie and more. The restaurant is nicely designed with both smaller tables and long, large tables for a group experience.
One of the new experiences is an interactive wand game, which, of course, requires the purchase of a wand. The special wand does do tricks at designated areas of the park. You can make things appear or change with a wave of the wand and the shout of a command. There are 34 different areas that interact with the wand.
And just one more little thing — there really is a fire-breathing dragon who heats things up dramatically when you least expect it.
Universal kicked off the big night Wednesday with a red carpet event featuring executives from Universal, NBC and Warner Bros. But the crowd behind the barricade was there to see Harry Potter stars and while there was no Daniel Radcliffe, there were several stars from the films including villians Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).
Other Harry Potter cast members walking the red carpet included Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley); Domhall Gleeson (Bill Weasley); James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid); Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom).
To experience all of Harry Potter, you will now need to buy a two-park ticket, which will cost about $136 for adults.
If fans want to see both Harry Potter areas, a two-park ticket is required. For adults, a two-park ticket for one day costs $136; for children, it’s $130. Florida residents can save money on multi-day passes and annual passes. For more information on tickets and the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley attraction, go to www.universalorlando.com.