On July 8th, muggles will get to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Pottter – Diagon Alley at the Universal Orlando Resort. Those who make the trip are in for an astounding treat!  For the past few days we emersed ourselves in all the amazing attractions, restaurants and experiences that can be had at the Universal Orlando Resort.

Now that we have been to Diagon Alley, everything else pales in comparison. The new wizarding land is the absolute best thing at Universal Orlando Resort, or any other Florida park for that matter. This might just be the best theme park experience in the world.  So grab your broomstick, and your wand, and join me in the full review of Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort.

London

For the past two years, London has been rising along Universal’s lagoon with Diagon Alley brewing just behind this massive façade.  Now that construction has been completed, and the media party done, we can finally have a clear view of London with all of the beautiful buildings which make up this area.  With some great elements like Kreacher, and the Knight Bus, you’ll be tempted to linger here.

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Knight Bus

Before guests even enter the Wizarding World, they can engage with some magical characters.  Out in front of London is the Knight Bus with an actor and a talking shrunken head.  This experience will intrigue and delight kids similarly to the Mystic Fountain at the Lost Continent, but for fans of the movies and books, you can now converse with one of the most colorful characters in the series.

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Kingscross Station

One iconic part of the Harry Potter series is the journey from London to Hogsmeade by train on the Hogwarts Express.  Every attention to detail was made to make this location evoke the feeling of the one across the pond.

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To enter the attraction you need your park hopper ticket.
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A long, low-ceiling tunnel leads gives a subterranean feel.
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Mock billboards throw out subtle jokes.
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A larger area opens up to a switchback.
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treats are available to buy, much like the vendors you would run into at the actual Kings Cross.

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While Muggles might start off in the regular Kingscross Station, they eventually have to run through a wall in order to get to platform 9 3/4.  Universal has employed some great classic illusions to accomplish this effect in a fun and creative way that will have kids running through walls.  Check out the video of James running through the wall to get to the station.

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Here we are!

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Once on the station platform, you are assigned an area to wait for your cabin.  The train pulls in with steam and all. There is a real air of excitement as you and your party get ready to journey to Hogsmeade.

Hogwarts Express Journey to Hogsmeade

Once on board the Hogwarts Express, we were stunned by the attention to detail found at every possible location on the train.  Worn wood, and tired colors, convince that these trains have been in operation for decades. This IS the Hogwarts Express, it’s totally convincing.

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Once boarded, guests sit in their cabin with a full sized window and translucent door and panels.  As the train takes off, the motion and experience feel authentic.  The story unfolding outside the window is amazing and you can see and hear wizards from the series walking by and talking in the hallways.  On the way to Hogsmeade you might encounter a Death Eater or two, but have no fear because Harry, Ron and Hermoine are in the corridor and can handle this.

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There are truly amazing visuals on both sides of you and in cabin effects that add to the authenticity of the experience. You will get off at the Hogsmeade Station feeling like you actually took a steam engine trip to a remote village in Scottland.

Hogsmeade Station

Back where it all started at Hogsmeade. The train arrives at a much simpler station inside Islands of Adventure where guests disembark and can then go visit all the amazing offerings from the original Wizarding World: Hogwarts Castle, Dragon Challenge, the Flying Unicorn, and the shops at Hogsmeade.  When you are ready to head back to London, you scan your ticket and prepare to board the train again.

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Hogwarts Express Journey to London
The return trip to London is a completely different experience.  While you are still riding in the comfortable cabins, you now have a new set of characters and things happening as you ride back.  There are some moments when you might truly believe Harry, Ron and Herminie are standing right outside your cabin door.

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Entering Diagon Alley

In the book and movie, Diagon Alley is hidden from the Muggle World, so in order to get to Diagon Alley a brick wall had to open up.  Universal Creative has simulated this by having a brick wall that looks like it is in the midst of twisting, turning and moving, along with sound effects that help you to feel like it opened up just for you.

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Yes folks, that’s real fire the dragon is breathing!

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Once past this obstacle, you will need to be prepared to have your breath taken away.  The size and scale of Diagon Alley is probably one of the most shocking things you will feel once inside.  At the end of the street in front of you is Gringotts Bank, at the top of which is a giant fire breathing dragon whose roar will strike a primal fear into your heart.

Weasley’s Joke Shop

When you first enter Diagon Alley the shop that will catch your attention is the Weasley brother’s joke shop. There is an animated top hat above the window which is lifted on and off Fred’s (or is it George’s) head with a disappearing and reappearing rabbit underneath.  Inside the shop is a visual feast as there are so many moving elements. It is almost overwhelming. If you look to the ceiling you can see fireworks going off!  Universal took what was at Zonkos in Hogsmeade and turned it up to 11 in Diagon Alley.

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Leaky Cauldron

Across from Weasley’s is the Leaky Cauldron, where guests can dine on some great English food and enjoy a nice butter beer. You’ll also find some new signature drinks such as Fishy Green Ale with Blueberry Fish Eggs, and the Tongue Tied Lemon Squash. Universal has once again elevated theme park dining with this establishment.

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The meat pies are delicious.

The food is authentic English pub style

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Olivanders

When Hogsmeade opened, one of the surprise hits was Olivander’s Wand shop, where guests could have a wand choose them.  The problem was this shop/show was so popular that it often led to waits exceeding a few hours. Universal has figured out a work around for this issue by moving the shop to Diagon Alley, where guests will now move much more quickly through the queue so they too can have a wand choose them.

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Knockturn Alley

For guests wanting to practice some dark magic, you can take a stroll down Knockturn Alley where it is always night, and where trouble is around every corner.  Here guests can experience Borgin & Burkes, where wizards can acquire items for dark magic. This fun walk-through area (you might even think of it as an attraction of sorts like Disneyland’s castle walk-through) is a fantastic place to explore and adds depth to Diagon Alley.

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The Hopping Pot

Guests who are wishing to try out any of the new custom beers and drinks can head over to The Hopping Pot to grab a drink and enjoy it in the covered area while watching one of the new entertainment offerings.

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Magical Menagerie

Probably the cutest, and most endearing new store is the Magical Menagerie, which is filled with animatronics and magical creatures of all types. This is a really fun store where you can get lots of different plush animals.

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Scribbulous

Hardcore Harry Potter fans will love this store. You can buy some really unique quills, stationary, and other interesting merchandise in this shop.

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Wisacres

Escape From Gringotts let’s out in this shop and it’s a place where you can get all the gear you need to be a respectable Wizard.

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Fountain of Fair Fortune

You can go inside of a nice pub and get yourself a butter beer or any one of the new signature Diagon Alley Drinks… Get that Fishey Green Ale with Blue Berry Fish Eggs you will love it!

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Florean Forfescue’s Ice Cream Parlor

Probably the most speculated about venue, besides Gringotts, has been Florean’s Ice Cream Parlor.  Here they have brought some delicious flavors to life (tip: try the Butter Beer flavored Ice Cream – it’s fantastic).

 

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Eternelle’s

At Eternelle’s, you can pick up a number of flavored potions that you can add to water.  These potions have Fruit Punch, Water Melon and Berry Flavors.

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Large covered areas help cast the right mood for the land and protect guests from Orlando’s extreme weather.

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Gringotts Money Exchange and Entertainment

Diagon Alley has a lot more entertainment offerings than Hogsmeade did when it opened.  The first is Gringotts Money Exchange, where guests can have a personal interaction with a Goblin and buy Gringotts Bank Notes, which are now accepted everywhere in the Wizarding World, and at Universal owned venues throughout the resort.

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Outside Gringotts Bank

Now it is time to talk about the headlining attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s.  The exterior is the Gringotts Bank location with a fire-breathing Dragon on top.  During the Q&A with the creative talent at Universal, they said that adding the dragon to the top of Gringott’s was one of the most complex issues to figure out.  The architecture is surreal, and beautiful.

Gringotts Lockers

One thing they learned with the Forbidden Journey over at Hogsmeade was that the locker area can not be a bottle neck.  As incredible as that ride is, the bottle neck with the lockers has been a major issue.  With Escape from Gringotts they have made sure that isn’t issue again.

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Gringotts Queue

Once you step inside Gringotts there is another jaw dropping moment where you instantly feel like you are in an alternate reality where Harry Potter is real!  I was overcome with emotion when I first stepped into the bank, it was stunning and overpowering.

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All the single riders…
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All the single riders.

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In the queue, there are goblins working on bank statements and accounting. At the head of the queue is the goblin who is going to send you to get your Gringotts photo ID so you can open an account.  We are about to take a mind blowing journey.

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These anamatronics really look alive.

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Once you pass the goblins you go down to get a photo, you then proceed to the first preshow that uses an advance version of the glassless 3-D technology that is used in the Forbidden Journey queue, and in Disaster.

After that you are sent onto an elevator to go 9 miles below ground.  This isn’t your dad’s Hydrolator. These elevators have amazing glass roofs that allow you to see the miles of earth you passing by, along with some great comic and tense moments.

Escape from Gringotts the Ride

Sadly this is where we are going to be leaving you with some mystery.  During our event, while we were riding this brand new attraction (that non-team members had only been able to ride for less than 48 hours) shut down.  So we were only able to see 2 scenes. Without giving you any spoilers, the first two scenes we experienced were already the most mind blowing scenes on a theme park attraction I have ever ridden.

Now don’t take this shut down as a bad sign.  It is perfectly normal for new rides that are in “soft openings” or “technical rehearsals” to experience some challenges (even long after that for complex attractions such as Radiator Springs Racers or the Forbidden Journey), and a ride as amazing and complex as this one is going to have its fair share of bugs to work out.

My mind has been consumed with wanting to find out how it all ends!  But I am resisting spoilers, as I patiently wait to experience the ride from beginning to end.

Diagon Alley Facades

One thing you will notice when you are in Diagon Alley is how everywhere you look there is something to take in.  Every nook and cranny of this new land is hyper themed with a story to tell.  After the 16+ hours I spent just in this land alone, I still feel like I am missing large chunks of it.  Every shop and restaurant in this land is an attraction.  You can’t just think of these as places where you buy things, each of these places have amazing animatronics, gags, interactive elements and backstory, this is what sets Diagon Alley apart from anything else I’ve ever seen in a theme park.  It truly is escapism,

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Interactive Wands

One thing that we have to share is how much we loved the interactive wands.  When Hogsmeade opened in 2010 and people were waiting in line for Olivanders, I personally thought the wands were cute, but not really a must. But now the wands at the Wizarding World can function, and make magic in the lands, these wands are going to be flying off the shelves!

My inner 10 year old self was awakened, as I dashed about the land casting spells, making it rain, making trolls dance, stars shine, feathers float, and unlocking doors. Again… this was pure magic.

After following this project every week from the day JAWS closed to now watching this new world open, I had incredibly high expectations.  After hearing from some friends internally how they were blown away, I kept on ramping up my expectations.  I was worried that the bar I set would never be possible to hit.  I can honestly say that I was truly astounded when I first walked in.  I have never been so dumbfounded in all my life, and upon my second visit, that surreal other worldly feeling persisted.  This land is unmatched by any other themed space I’ve experienced. After having spent two long days in Diagon Alley, all I want to do is go back.

Does the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley live up to expectations? YES. Are you already checking your calendar and adjusting your travel plans?

I’ll of course have more for you from the Wizarding World soon. But Universal isn’t resting here. There are MANY huge new projects still to come from Universal Orlando. This is just the start folks. A really amazing start. We’ll be exploring more of Universal shortly.

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