Lets get the first thing out of the way... Diagon Alley is AMAZING!!!! I was impressed beyond my expectations just entering the land, all the while knowing I wouldn't be able to experience Gringotts until the following morning.
The feeling (especially for die-hard Potter fans who have seen the movies multiple times or have read the books) is actually quite overwhelming and very emotional from what I witnessed. Watching the reactions to the Hogwarts robed fans is an experience all by itself.
Lets start from the beginning. Hard Rock Hotel - Upon arrival, I specifically asked for a room on a floor that had a laundry room, per my wife's request. They informed me that the 4th and 6th floor had just been renovated and offered us a room on either one, even though they did not have a laundry room, to which we agreed.
I guess I never noticed the peach colored paint and overall drab look of the hallways until we got off the elevator on the 6th floor. All new paint, new carpeting, and newly themed rooms. They almost looked like the photos I have seen of the Cabana Bay. Sort of a retro look and the smell of fresh paint and carpeting that was cleaned daily.
The newly done rooms have a wide work desk with multiple USB ports, all new artwork, brand new paint, and decor. I was impressed at the difference between the old look and the new.
I apologize for not taking pictures of the room decor, I though my wife had taken pictures with her professional camera, but she had forgotten to do so as well.
Next Morning - Early Entry to Diagon Alley. If you are staying on-site, you should be prepared to be at the park at least one hour before early entry (6AM some days and 7 on others). The gates actually open a half hour ealry to get everyone queued up into the new area.
As I mentioned in the Diagon Alley thread on the main page of TPI, they do not check for room keys with the initial wave of people, so as far as I am concerned, anyone can enter early with a park ticket.
Upon your arrival in front of the Expo (MIB and Fear Factor) you will be funneled into a single file queue that takes you directly into Diagon Alley through the main entrance. I also want to mention we were able to enter the Diagon Alley at any time without having to use to use the return ticket kiosks.
HP and the Escape From Gringotts - I promised to give an unbiased opinion of the new land and both of the new rides, so here it goes.... I loved the Grongotts ride, but it is all 3D screens and some physical props, just like Spidey and Tranformers. A couple of the screens seemed blurry, which took away from the ride a bit. The scene where Valdemort blows the fire was the same on both rides. A bit out of focus, which seemed to bother me a bit.
The screens are a lot closer than the other rides, so the depth percetion seemed a bit off and you can plainly see where the screen opens for the 45 degree tilt that takes you directly through it.
Hogwarts Express - A very relaxing ride that keeps you looking out the "windows" and at the action in the train car hallway. My only gripe is Hermoine's voice was not done by Emma Watson, but a sound alike who they could have done a better job in their selection.
In all honesty, the best part of Diagon Alley is the land itself and exploring all of the detail. If I had to compare Gringotts to Forbidden Journey, I would give FJ the better score out of the two. The physical props of FJ is what makes the ride completely different.
I can now see why people are saying that OUR is relying on screen based rides a bit too much lately.
I still think FJ is a 9.5 star ride and Gringotts would score a bit lower at 8.5 to 9 out of 10. The queues of both rides are amazing, but Gringotts is much more tame with regards to the actual ride.
I understand that Universal took the advice of most people and wanted to create something that was much less intense than FJ for the new ride.
Don't get me wrong, the Gringotts queue and ride are both top notch, but I have to give FJ the edge simply because I like the intensity.
IOA - Well, the park has not not gone through the rapid transformation that USF has gone through in the last few years, and it is clear that Diagon Alley is the new darling of the resort. Hogsmeade doesn't see the early morning crowds like DA does. FJ was basically a walk on for early entry (on our second day) but it does get extremely crowded about 3-4 hours after the crowds are done exploring DA.
The JP "gate" (arch with the JP logo and torches) has been removed on the side that leads from the main entrance after the dead zone near the BMX stadium, presumably to be moved to the new entry that will be near the new King Kong attraction so it seems like it is part of the new expansion.
The Universal Studios park is without a doubt, the new darling of the resort. What I dubbed "The Harry Potter effect" is in full swing at the sister park due to Diagon Alley.
Every ride, with the exception of Despicable Me is virtually a walk on until 11 to noon at Universal, which is the same thing that happened at IOA as of our last visit. IOA is a ghost town except for the early entry guests and people riding the HW Express a couple hours after Universal opens to everyone. Basically, the reverse of last year since Hogsmeade was the must see land at IOA.
Ollivanders (Universal) - The addition of three rooms takes the wait time down to 10-15 minutes even at peak times compared to the single room at IOA. It is basically the same show, but in a larger room. A much easier attraction to visit in DA.
Interactive Wands - This is a tough one. If you have multiple children that are young, you would be better off purchasing one wand and letting them take turns (since they have to go one at a time anyways) than buying one wand for each child at close to $50 a pop with tax.
My youngest daughter wanted to do all of this where as my oldest (16) had no interest other than texting her BF the entire time.
I am convinced these wands contain no batteries, but simply a reflector on the tip of the wand that the IR sensors emit to track the movement. The interactive wands are completely different than the ones based on the HP characters. They all have a unique design that is not based on any of the other HP wands.
In short, the real star of Diagon Alley is the land itself, and not the Gringotts ride, IMO. The Hogwarts Express is pure genius as it is a quick ride ride from one park to the other. Both train stations are amazingly detailed and look completely different. The ride has a unique presentation in each direction, so you should take the time to ride them both.
CityWalk - It seems like a whole new experience due to all of the new additions, unfortunately, we did not get to visit a couple of the new restaurants due to wait times and the time of day we tried to get in, so we relied on our old favorites (Margaritaville and Pat O'Brien's) as they were virtually no wait.
If you are going to visit Diagon Alley on your arrival day, wait until after sunset to get your first glimpse and plan on getting there as early as possible the following day.
Now that I have seen the new land, and rode both of the new attractions, I can finally vote on both of them objectively. Gringotts is a must ride and I think a lot of poeple who found FJ a bit to rough would vote it higher in the TPI polls. My whole family agreed that Grongotts was a bit tame by comparison, but still a great ride that puts UOR at the top of the theme park world.
Lastly, my wife, Lisa, was one of those people who was very angry to see Jaws go away for the new expansion. So, I asked her after entering DA "If the trade-off for DA was good move"... she completely agreed.Tweet
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