Somewhere deep within Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, magic is brewing.
As the latest expansion to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter gears up for its grand opening on July 8, members of the media (and film talent) were invited for a spectacular peek of Diagon Alley.
The entrance sits hidden to non-magic folk behind a façade of London, which is complete with a King's Cross Station, Wyndham's Theatre, and even that familiar Grimmauld Place. Guests are immediately transported and fully immersed into Harry's world once they step through the red brick walls.
Though there might not be any music playing, you will find that classic leitmotif playing in your head as you stand in the entrance of the alley. The colors, the storefronts, the window displays, the signs, the way the street bends (diagonally), and the slouching building at the end -- you truly feel as if you are inside the Wizarding World.
The initial view is utterly breathtaking, and for fans of the franchise it can be emotionally uplifting. With so much to see within Diagon Alley, we've narrowed it down to the five best things you can expect from this new land.
5. Full Immersion into the Wizarding World
Unlike Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure where you can occasionally see bits of the rest of the park, when you go inside Diagon Alley you are fully enclosed in the area. It almost feels like a quiet secret you get to keep from everyone else wandering outside.
Film stars Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), and James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) all agree that the seclusion of Diagon Alley adds to its allure.
"I don't think you could have designed the expansion any differently because it is to the book and it is also to the designs of the films as well," explains Oliver. "I don't think I would change anything about it, because especially when you're within Diagon Alley, you can't see the rest of Universal, which again, adds to the immersive experience."
4. Interactive Wands and Window Displays
You can do magic, bro -- like for real. Throughout Diagon Alley, you will notice small golden markers outside certain window displays. Using Ollivander's new interactive wands, guests can literally interact with the windows and feel as if they're performing magic. The golden floor markers will tell you how to perform each spell: point your wand at the window, say the complicated spell word, and follow the wand gesture.
"I think it's so amazing that you can literally go there and interact with the environment," says Lewis about the new window displays. "It really makes you feel like not just a visitor in this world, but you're actually a part of it and engaging."
Here's a pro tip: make the wand motion small - too large and the motion sensor won't read your movement. Also, you don't really need to recite the spell, but it makes it that much more fun if you do. These interactive markers have been added to certain spots throughout Hogsmeade as well, so guests can now experience the magic on both ends of the park.
3. Impeccable Attention to Detail
If you thought Hogsmeade was incredible and just like the films, just wait -- Universal has outdone itself with Diagon Alley. From the writings on the wall to the window displays, everything was set up and constructed with such care. They've even managed to fool the actors!
Lynch describes the details in Diagon Alley best when she says, "You can just walk through the book in this land!"
During a question and answer session, James brought up a certain tunnel that was constructed within the theme park's version of King's Cross that is "based on a proper tunnel in London's Underground system."
"The lighting in that tunnel is exactly the same as it is in the UK," he explained with a look of amazement. "They could have just put a load of light-bulbs and said 'there you go,' but those of us who have actually been to the real thing, we can't even distinguish which is in London and which is here."
Lewis chimed in and agreed that the set-up, in fact, looks better than the Diagon Alley film sets they worked with in Leavesden. "It's actually a finished product here, whereas we had very much a façade and there was only a couple of shops in them, whereas here, it's all been polished and finished off."
"We sometimes find ourselves going around the park and knocking on walls because we think it's going to be hollow like it was on the set," concluded James.
2. Plenty of New Wizard Shops and Food Stops
One of the most anticipated new shops within Diagon Alley has likely been the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop, with its towering storefront complete with Fred's face and a mechanical arm. But, let's not forget that Diagon Alley is home to many more magical shops - and dark corners.
Fans finally get a complete Ollivanders (versus the "owl post" version that's stationed in Hogsmeade), Madam Malkin's for all your dressing needs, Magical Menagerie filled with enchanting plush toys, and there's even a Quidditch supply shop. Of course, Diagon Alley would not be complete without Knockturn Alley, a sort of nod and wink to the darkness that has always loomed in the books and films.
Where there are places to shop, there has got to be places to eat. The Leaky Cauldron is delectable, serving up classic British fare with a Harry Potter flair. And for dessert, Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour will do the trick.
1. The Escape from Gringotts & The Hogwarts Express
It wouldn't be a proper expansion without the addition of a new ride or two. Whereas Hogsmeade has the Forbidden Journey ride within the Hogwarts Castle, Diagon Alley's newest attraction - and boy, is it attractive! - is the Escape from Gringotts roller coaster.
The ride was inspired by the eighth film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, in which Harry and the gang break into Gringotts and then escape on the back of a dragon. Though the ride was not operational when we visited, we did get a chance to walk through it, and if the ride itself is anything like its waiting areas, it will be amazing.
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Park guests who purchase park-to-park admission will be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between Diagon Alley in London (inside Universal Studios) and Hogsmeade in Scotland (inside Universal's Islands of Adventure). Depending on which way you are heading, there's a special video that plays during your ride.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley opens July 8, 2014. Vacation packages are available now for travel starting June 29. Visit universalorlando.com.
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