A closer look at plans for Universal Studios Florida's Harry Potter Diagon Alley, and an expected opening date
Published: March 23, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Fifteen months ago, we gave you your first look at the upcoming Gringotts roller coaster
that will provide the centerpiece of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. At the time, I also got a glimpse at the plans for the area that will surround Universal's Gringotts, though there wasn't nearly as much detail about those shops and restaurants for me to see and pass along to you, then.
I've now gotten a chance to get a closer look at what you'll find in Universal Studios Florida's version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am blown away.
The view down Diagon Alley, from Pottermore
If you thought that the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure raised the bar for a themed entertainment area, Universal's getting ready to raise that bar a notch higher.
You won't see Diagon Alley from the rest of the park -- it'll be hidden behind the facades of Grimmauld Place, Wyndham's Theatre and other west end London landmarks. Only when you go through the adjacent Leicester Square station will you happen upon the "secret" entrance to the land, next to the Leaky Cauldron.
The Leaky Cauldron will be the new land's restaurant. And beyond the restaurant, Diagon Alley opens up in a riot of detail from the Harry Potter books and movies. This isn't some flat theme park land -- it will unfold before you on multiple levels, with elevated train trestles, stairways and multi-story facades. If you're looking for refreshment beyond the Leaky Cauldron, wander down the alley and turn left at Gringotts to find Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.
You'll find Ollivander's in Diagon Alley, of course, and on a much larger scale than in the Hogsmeade outpost in the original Wizarding World. There appear to be multiple "theaters" for the Ollivander's show in this Wizarding World, perhaps helping to alleviate the often-long waits found in the Islands of Adventure version.
Other shops will include Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, which appears to be the gift shop at the exit from the Gringotts ride. And, yes, there are plans for a Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes as well, located near the land's exit.
For all you Slytherins out there, Universal's not forgotten you. Knockturn Alley comprises about one-third of the land, with Borgin and Burkes as its centerpiece.
The Gringotts coaster will be the land's main attraction, and there's space designated in the plans for lockers, so expect similar boarding restriction as on Revenge of the Mummy and the original Forbidden Journey ride. The land's other ride will be the Hogwarts Express train that will connect Diagon Alley with Hogsmeade and the original Wizarding World. There appears to be a ticketing hall in the works the entrance to the train station, perhaps allowing visitors who haven't upgraded to a park-to-park ticket to do so in order to board the Hogwarts Express.
Plans call for dozens of other locations in the new land, most of which I assume to be simple facades surrounding the shops, restaurants and attractions I've mentioned above. But they'll provide abundant photo ops throughout the area. (When Diagon Alley opens, look for me getting my picture taken next to the offices of the Daily Prophet!)
So, when will this new land open? When an initial source told me, I was stunned. So I dug around a little. Now, based on what I've heard and found, I believe that Universal is planning to open Diagon Alley in… July 2014.
That's right. After opening Transformers in Universal Studios Florida this July, Universal's going to follow up with a new Harry Potter land the next summer. If that sounds aggressive, let's remember that USF's Transformers is going from green light to opening in about 15 months, and Universal's well into construction on Diagon Alley already.
Of course, nothing's certain in construction, but if you're a Harry Potter or a theme park fan (and I presume that you are since you're reading this site) and you're not already saving up for a trip to Universal Orlando, start now. Fifteen months ago we first learned of this new land. And if plans hold, in just over fifteen months from now, it'll be open.
I cannot wait!
Update: We've posted some fresh aerial construction photos of Diagon Alley, provided by another Theme Park Insider reader.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Based on a July 2014 opening, I'm going to guess that Universal will announce Potter the day after Halloween Horror Nights ends this fall, just as it announced Transformers on that date last year. By the way, if you're planning a trip to Universal this summer to see Transformers and now considering holding off for Potter, don't. Transformers (which I've ridden both in Singapore and in Hollywood) is one of the world's great theme park attractions and well worth seeing. Plus, if the new Wizarding World draws anywhere near the crowds that the original did in its first summer, you might not be able to do Diagon Alley and anything else in the park on a single visit. So go this summer and get everything else out of the way so that you can devote your full time to waiting for Diagon Alley when it opens.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Nice to see Grimmauld Place as a waterfront facade, maybe there'll be a Sirius Black cameo? Definitely excited for this! I wonder if opening day will be bigger than Phase 1's!
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:14 PM
Also, what I *love* about Universal's aggressive attraction construction plans in Orlando is the apparent realization that a theme park can make more money having a great attraction open for an extra year than it can save by delaying its construction for that same year. (Please take note Disney!)
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Great plans, but has there been any idea on how/if they plan to use the unfolding brick entrance?
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Love Universal Orlando so much. Cannot wait.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:24 PM
James, I don't know if a brick wall entrance would be possible. You can already see construction in the land entrance, and it's not that wide.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Of course Dom, but that doesn't stop one from hearing tidbits here and there every now and again. ; )
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Stagecraft is one of those things that parks can keep secret, even as they have to file umpteen public documents on other aspects of major construction projects. So I don't know how the entrance to the new land will work. But having worked in a theme park before, I know that guest capacity is a major issue and that there doesn't appear to be an obvious permanent queue area in front of the entrance. So I expect that whatever the new entrance is, it won't be something that will cause a major delay in entering the land.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:39 PM
July 2014!!! Thats insane but a really good thing. I love how Universal is really moving fast with their construction in Orlando.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Is there anymore information on Gringotts??
Published: March 23, 2013 at 1:25 PM
We published a scene-by-scene description of the Gringotts ride at http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201112/2824/
, in case anyone missed that.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 1:57 PM
One question. What's going to happen Halloween Horror Nights after all this Potter attractions open? Will both parks be open during their Rated-R event. Will Universal discounting HHN (I hope not). Will there be a family HHN for IOA to complete with Mickey not so scar Halloween. I remember hearing that HHN makes up 1/3 of there operation cost. So, how will Universal handle HHN after Potter opening is a big question.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 2:03 PM
Sorry, Robert, but I am definitely going to put off a trip until after this work is done! There is so much that will be completed in the Orlando area by mid to late 2014 at the various parks that one would have to be rich and/or foolish NOT to wait.
Having said that...waiting is the hardest part!
Published: March 23, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Universal will open the new Harry Potter land the same year Disney is opening the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! And that project has more years in the making than HP. While Avatar land will be ready in the afterlife of most of us. Shame on Disney for not spending more on their projects which take forever to be built.
These news should change Disney's timidity. I hope.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 2:35 PM
Great question about HHN.
First, I can't imagine that Potter would ever be used as part of HHN. So assuming that, the easiest thing for Universal to do would be to close the entrance and exit between Diagon Alley from USF during HHN and have that event proceed as is now in the rest of the park.
That doesn't mean that Universal has to keep Diagon Alley closed during HHN, though. It could leave the land open, accessible only via the Hogwarts Express train from IOA. That way, Universal could eat its cake and have it too, keeping Diagon Alley open for the Potter fans during fall evenings, while leaving the rest of USF for the HHN crowd.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 3:30 PM
Heck Yeah! I'm looking forward to a greatly updated Universal Studios and if this is at least as good at the other half, the park will be better. When I visited last, May, this park felt very weak, but with the new parade, show, Despicable me, Transformers, simpsons, and this, the park wil likely be more fun to visit than DHS and maybe IOA.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 3:30 PM
Robert, can you elaborate what you meant in your comment "a theme park can make more money having a great attraction open for an extra year than it can save by delaying its construction for that same year". I don't get how that works. Thanks in advance!
Published: March 23, 2013 at 4:07 PM
Orlando Universal rocks.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 4:19 PM
When do you think soft openings will start?
Published: March 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM
You have to figure all the HP nuts who showed up for IOA's HP grand opening will return for phase 2. Universal will be a madhouse for months.
This time the line will stretch across the CityWalk to the opposite way. I think they have learned a few lessons from the chaos that ensued for weeks at IOA and will apply it to Universal this time around.
Early entry to both parks will be the only savior for our family. I figure we check out phase 2 until the mayhem starts, then head over to a wide open Universal and IOA for hours on end.
If the increase in attendance at IOA is any indicator, you could excpect to see the same, if not more at Universal.
The trade off for the Jaws ride to a fully realized secondary HP land connected to the other is pure genuis.
The new numbers will be staggering.... I guarantee it. Why do you think the Cabana Bay is going up at a 24/7 pace? Add in Transformers, the new Krustyland restaurants, a possible new JP attraction at IOA, the dual HP train stations, Hogwarts Express and all the other yet-to-be-disclosed permits for new additions and I would say these people have thier proverbial ---- together.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Fear Factor come down this Summer and the former / unused Matt Hoffman show building at IOA as well.
Are you listening Disney? Get your Star Wars land and Avatar projects going already....
Maybe they could combine Cars and Star Wars for a land called Car Wars. Darth Mater, anyone?
Published: March 23, 2013 at 4:25 PM
p.s. I would love to be at Universal for the new HP night time lagoon show reveal.... I'll have to settle for a YouTube video like with Transformers, but the place went wild.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 7:05 PM
With Diagon Alley openning in 2014, I hope IOA gets some attention in 2015 and '16. A lagoon show and jurassic park expansion respectively?
Published: March 23, 2013 at 7:25 PM
Universal actually wants the Jurassic Park expansion to open next year to coincide with the release of JP 4 in movie theaters & to offset the expected huge crowds to Potter Phase 2.
The current rumors going around for recreating the brick wall effect to the entrance to the new PotterLand involve using a similar mist screen that you can see on Pirates of the Caribbean.
As far as HHN goes, since both Potter lands are in the rear of both parks, I wonder if Universal will return to the split park event that they implemented in 2005.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 7:47 PM
I can see WWOHP II and the JP expansion being a joint grand opening like Disneyland did with Star Tours and The Little Mermaid.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 9:55 PM
"First, I can't imagine that Potter would ever be used as part of HHN."
I don't think there will be any problem if they keep some of the attractions open (as they do with other rides) as long as there aren't scareactors roaming the Wizarding World.
Also, the hole in this plan is that they would have to check to see that everyone on the London side had a two park ticket before closing the entrance for HHN. It would be pretty easy to legitimately sneak by while in line or in a bathroom. Are they going to tell someone "oh you were stuck in line an missed the exit closing. You have to upgrade your ticket to physically get out of the park via Hogwarts Express"
My guess is that Hogwarts Express will close at 5 for both parks. Diagon Alley would remain open during HHN with basically Gringotts and Leaky Couldren open to increase the events' capacity but the scaractors would only be on the London (muggle)side.
Published: March 23, 2013 at 11:37 PM
I'm skeptical about the supposed opening date. Sure, they built Transformers in 15 months, but that's just one ride, and a clone as well. This is a whole new land and ride, built from scratch. Don't be surprised if we have to wait until 2015.
Published: March 24, 2013 at 5:45 AM
this is great news i've just booked up for sept 2014.
Published: March 24, 2013 at 5:49 AM
Is it July 2014 yet!?!? LOL Well bravo Robert for another great article! I immediately checked a few other sites to see their reaction and they were very jealous. This is the exact reason why I check here first for themepark news and why TPI is my #1 themepark site! Keep up the good work!!!
Published: March 24, 2013 at 6:27 AM
Another plea for Disney to drop the awful Avatar idea and go forward with Carsland and Star Wars!!
I think for me, a trip to Universal is in the cards for this year. Get a trip in to see the current HP before extra crowds descend next year. Then see the upgrades in a couple years after that. I am also hoping that maybe there will be a little lessening of crowds for this year with people holding off on a trip until 2014. Yeah, maybe wishful thinking, but still.
Published: March 24, 2013 at 9:27 AM
WOW! Universal has been THE theme park resort to watch in the past few years - the momentum the park is gathering is astounding. The idea of connecting the two parks by something as iconic as the Hogwarts Express, is as N B mentioned - genius!
Great article. I was beginning to wonder what details we would next hear about the expansion. Now for the official announcement...
Published: March 24, 2013 at 4:15 PM
I love what Universal has been doing lately. A lot of money is going into the park because the powers that be at Comcast realize that the theme park business is profitable if done right.
I'm not entirely sure Disney understands this as well, which is a shame. I'd never go as far as to say Disney should be scared, but they need to get with the program.
Hopefully, the rumors of DHS possibly getting ready for a Star Wars Land come to fruition because that park in particular is going to slide into oblivion if they're not careful.
Published: March 25, 2013 at 10:28 AM
I wonder why they are neglecting rides for the whole family. The new ride sounds like a roller coaster. Hardly a ride for young kids.
Published: March 25, 2013 at 12:06 PM
I am glad they are ignoring (or deliberatly not making) rides for young kids. Keep all those screaming tots and those obnoxious strollers over at Disney World.
As for the future. I can imagine a time when HHN at USF can be run concurrently with a hard ticket WWOHP night based in IOA. With Hogwarts Express operating between parks and the entrances between Diagon Alley and USF closed, the two events never need to interact.
Published: March 25, 2013 at 1:52 PM
To Anon Mouse:
Except, from what's been said by insiders on various forums, this isn't really a 'thrill' coaster, in that it won't be doing extreme dips or banking turns. It's been described as more of a dark ride, with much more 'show elements' and sets than Forbidden Journey. So I think this will be quite family friendly. And even if it isn't, don't forget that the Hogwarts Express is supposed to be an incredibly immersive ride also (an insider on one forum described it as an E-Ticket). And The Express will certainly be family friendly. Universal is also building a spinner, in the expanded Simpsons land.
Published: March 25, 2013 at 2:57 PM
A whole third of the area is dedicated to Knockturn Alley? Really? The only shop we know of there is Borgin & Burkes. What else would they do there with that much room?
Published: March 25, 2013 at 3:57 PM
I'm glad to hear the ride is a gentle coaster. Harry Potter is largely a children's book. The rides should appeal to the target audience. Otherwise, the thrill aspect ruin a kid's enjoyment if they can't get on it. The movies were more family friendly in the beginning. The last two movies were extremely dark and not suitable for young kids.
Published: March 26, 2013 at 11:04 AM
So excited for this news!! I guess I should start planning for May 2015. Hopefully I get lucky with the crowds like I did for phase 1!!
Published: March 26, 2013 at 4:27 PM
What? Harry Potter mainly a children's book? Maybe at the beginning - why else would you have a groaner like Diagon Alley - but certainly not by the end of the series! And if you're talking Gringott's (at least inside the catycombs) you're certainly talking about the end of the series.
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