The Universal Orlando Resort has finally announced that all the speculations and rumors about the Harry Potter expansion in Universal Studios Florida are true. The area that once belonged to Amity will indeed become London and Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series.
Though there isn’t a lot of surprise coming from fans at this long-anticipated announcement, there is a lot of excitement at the prospect of finally getting some details about what this area will offer. The Harry Potter expansion is scheduled to open sometime in 2014. As you can see, a great deal of the construction is already underway in this area. With many buildings nearing completion, it would have been nearly impossible for Universal to conceal their not-so-well-kept secret much longer.
If you’re not familiar with Harry Potter’s story, Diagon Alley is the center of the Wizarding World in London. It’s concealed within the city itself, behind a pub called the Leaky Cauldron on Charing Cross Road. Muggles (that’s wizard-speak for non-magical people) pass right by the pub seemingly unaware of its existence. In the books, wizards enter Diagon Alley via a courtyard behind the Leaky Cauldron. When the correct brick is tapped, an entryway appears to the streets of Diagon Alley. It’s not clear yet how guests will make the transition from London to Diagon Alley in the parks. It’s been hinted that the transition will be similar to the movies, but realistically it will take something much larger to accommodate the number of guests who will surely clamor to get into this area.
Concept art for the area (above) does show a London façade that conceals the mysterious Diagon Alley behind it. In Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is set back from the rest of the park so that access can be restricted on busy days. When the park is particularly full, guests are turned away at the entrance to the Wizarding World and given a return time later in the day. A bridge allows guests to bypass the Wizarding World and go directly from Jurassic Park to the Lost Continent. Separating the new Harry Potter expansion from the rest of the park with this London façade would provide an effective way to keep guests from flooding the area beyond capacity, while still allowing traffic to pass along this part of the lagoon.
One of the most anticipated features of Diagon Alley was confirmed with the announcement for this part of the park’s expansion. The Hogwarts Express will connect Diagon Alley to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure. This feature makes the expansion the first “centrally themed multi-park experience.” In the books, students take the Hogwarts Express from platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts. Guests to Universal will now have the chance to have a similar experience.
One of the stand-out features of the Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure has always been the full size steam engine that sits at the station just inside in the gates to Hogsmeade. The conductor stands outside the train greeting guests and making friendly conversation, but the impressive prop has always been just that – a prop. Now the station will become a bustling port of activity as it transports guests from one park to another. How ticketing will work with this innovative change remains to be seen.
The only other confirmed feature of Diagon Alley is the new ride that will be based on Gringotts Bank. This will undoubtedly go in the giant show building that’s been taking shape in the space that once belonged to Jaws. For those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, Gringotts Wizarding Bank is the only bank available to wizards. It’s run by goblins and protected by numerous enchantments meant to make it one of the safest places in the world for wizards to keep their valuables.
Wizards travel in small carts similar to mine cars when they wish to visit their underground vaults. It’s a fair bet that the attraction will feature similar cars and take guests on a harrowing ride throughout the bank. The exact ride system that will be used for this has yet to be announced.
Diagon Alley will feature at least one restaurant and a number of shops, but no names have been released for these as yet. In the books and movies, the Leaky Cauldron is the restaurant that’s featured most prominently. Some other spots that exist in the Diagon Alley of the Harry Potter books include:
- Flourish and Blotts (a bookstore)
- Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour
- Eeylops Owl Emporium
- Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions
- Ollivanders Wand Shop
- Quality Quidditch Supplies
- Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes
The recreation of Diagon Alley at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London (seen above) offers an idea of what guests can expect to see in Orlando next year.
With the official opening date still a vague day in 2014, guests will have to wait a little longer to make their vacation reservations. If you’re thinking about booking your vacation for the park’s opening weekend, you may want to consider what the opening of the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter was like. A blogger who was in line at 6am had to wait an hour to enter the theme park and another four hours just to get into the Wizarding World itself. This doesn’t include the wait times for any of the attractions. That was just to step through the gates of Hogsmeade. Just waiting for admission to the Wizarding World could take all day if you weren’t in line early enough, and there was no possible way to include anything else in the park in your vacation if you wanted to be sure you didn’t miss your chance to experience Pottermania at its greatest.
Whether you’re there the moment Diagon Alley is unveiled to see the momentous opening, or you wait for the crowds to thin out a bit after a year or so, this is one upcoming attraction that’s sure to surpass all of Universal’s previous expansions in the past year. Transformers may have center stage for now, but those bots don’t have any idea what’s coming.