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Top 7 revelations we need from Universal's Harry Potter announcement tomorrow

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Published: January 22, 2014 at 2:26 PM

Tomorrow is the long-awaited webcast, hosted by the Harry Potter movies’ James Phelps (Fred Weasley), in which Universal will finally announce some specifics about its new land at Universal Studios Florida, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. The two-years-in-the-making event has Potter fans and theme park enthusiasts both atwitter with excitement, as word on the street has Diagon Alley pinned as one of the most immersive, detailed, and impressive attractions ever devised.

Diagon Alley
Concept art courtesy Universal

While there is a good chance that Universal will, indeed, reveal most, if not all, of the land’s secrets tomorrow – the new Wizarding World is opening this summer, after all – it’s also just as likely that the company will decide to only divulge the bare necessities in an effort to drag out the marketing phase as long as possible. Recognizing this, here is a list of the most pertinent or, simply, most salivating details that Universal can offer up to us, put in descending order for a little dramatic effect and theatrical flair. (Why seven? That’s how many books there are in the series and, well, why not?)

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section.

7. When is the (real world) date?

The most basic piece of information that Universal could ever cough up just so happens to also be one of the most frequently asked questions currently making the theme park rounds: just when is Diagon Alley going to open, anyway? Realistically speaking, this could be the only concrete piece of information on tomorrow’s webcast, delivered amongst a plethora of new concept art and “testimonials” from the films’ cast and crew. If so, everyone’s sky-high expectations may come crashing down hard, but at least we’d be able to walk away with something substantial to pin our hopes on – and the real countdown can begin in earnest.

6. Setting foot inside Diagon Alley

Beyond the specifics of ride names, attraction types, or food and beverage menus, there is the more ephemeral desire that keeps would-be Wizarding World tourists glued to their computer screens: a glimpse, no matter how fleeting, of just what Diagon Alley will look and feel like. We got our first glimpse just last month, and a steady stream of over-the-construction-wall photos has been keeping us buoyed since, but something more official is in order. Universal really can just show off more detailed concept art and score some major points, but rolling out the exact layout of the land, replete with every attraction and (at least) shop name, would be ideal.

5. What, if anything, will happen to Hogsmeade?

Some of the most exciting rumors from the past few weeks have absolutely nothing to do with the new Wizarding World and everything to do with the first: Hogsmeade over at Islands of Adventure is supposedly going to be seeing some changes itself, starting as soon as this summer. The biggest culprit seems to be Zonko’s Joke Shop, which has some impeccable theming (and lovely in-jokes) but not the most compelling lineup of souvenirs, as its sales have consistently lagged behind Honeydukes’s sweets and Dervish and Banges’s wands (the fact that Zonko’s offers mostly Weasleys products, and that Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is expected to open at Diagon Alley in just a few short months, doesn’t help much, either). Current scuttlebutt has the joke shop shutting down and being replaced by a brand-new venue, possibly an expanded Honeydukes.

And lest Zonko’s feel lonely, whispers indicate that Universal may also axe the Ollivander’s wand “show” there, given that (a) there is no Ollivander’s “branch location” in Hogsmeade in the novels/films and (b) the real Ollivander’s Wand Shop will be opening, bigger and better than ever, in Diagon Alley. Would anything replace the one-room experience at Hogsmeade? The webcast may tell us tomorrow.

4. When is the (in-world) date?

Hogsmeade is, according to Universal Creative, officially set “in a moment frozen in time” sometime between the start of book/movie four, Goblet of Fire, and the end of book/movie five, Order of the Phoenix (although careful analysis shows that it actually takes place during the first half of Goblet, what with dragons running around and all). It has been suggested that, due to contractual obligations, Diagon Alley will be moved to later in the timeline and be placed amongst the last two books/three movies, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 and 2), a time when the dark wizard Lord Voldemort is openly waging war in the magical community and even ultimately ascends to power over it.

Such a setting causes some excitement – Harry, Ron, and Hermione being on the run as fugitives could very well be part of the story of the Gringotts Bank ride – but also some complications, as taking a leisurely stroll down a deserted Diagon Alley with all of its shops boarded up isn’t the most ideal scenario for a theme park land. Just how the designers manage to strike a balance between these two will be fascinating to see – and exciting to experience. Here’s to hoping we’ll get our first glimpses tomorrow.

3. Shedding light on Knockturn Alley

Although never officially announced by Universal, there have been enough insider accounts and, even, possible locations on leaked blueprints to confidently say that the illicit, dark wizarding alleyway will be making some sort of appearance in the new Wizarding World. We may know where and what it is, but we have absolutely no clue as to how it will function. Borgin and Burkes, the only “visited” location at Knockturn, would seem to be the most likely presence in the sub-area, which would mean that shopping is a given (just imagine buying cursed necklaces or an animated Hand of Glory!) – but what of a walk-through experience, in which guests may make use of the store’s “confidential valuation service for unusual and ancient wizarding artifacts”? Or might some sort of show be staged there, using the location as a backdrop? Or will Universal go the Disney route and use the elaborate venue as a character meet-n-greet, possibly with the likes of Hagrid (less likely) or Mr. Borgin (very possible)? If Universal really wanted to turn some heads and kick the hype of its expansion into overdrive, it’d start right here.

2. Riding the Hogwarts Express

Once both Wizarding Worlds are open and the Hogwarts Express shuttles visitors back and forth between them, it will be literally the only game of its kind in town, offering a unique, seamless experience between multiple locations. And, indeed, the King’s Cross Station show building is already a mammoth structure, hinting at an impeccably immersive queue (if Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is anything to go by) and even promising some sort of magic at the entry point to Platform 9¾. Just how Universal is going to pull all this off – and, even more importantly, just what type of adventures will be had once aboard the train – is a complete unknown. Rumors hold that there will be a possible Dementor attack on the way to Hogsmeade, but what could happen on the way back is a blank slate. And will the revolutionary attraction really employ a randomized ride experience, like Star Tours: The Adventures Continue? It’s hard to imagine a more explosive announcement during the webcast, which means smart money should go here.

1. Opening Gringotts’s vault

If Universal wants to have the best possible reveal it can, maximizing press coverage and enthusiast chatter for the next five (or so) months until opening day, it only needs to do one thing: talk about Gringotts Bank.

It’s been over two years since the Gringotts ride was initially leaked, and we still have more questions than answers on what will not only be the centerpiece of the new Wizarding World, but will also easily become the flagship ride of all of Universal Orlando Resort (and all of Orlando, as well? Just possibly). Rotating ride vehicles, massive 3D projection screens on giant KUKA robotic arms, and the most breathtaking queue ever devised are all in the works, but what of the narrative that will tie them all together into one (hopefully) cohesive whole? It’s been suggested that visiting Muggles will be on the market for a subterranean bank vault of their very own when something goes terribly wrong, but the story could just as easily be lifted directly from Deathly Hallows (Part 2), when Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak into the Voldemort-controlled bank to steal away one of his precious Horcruxes. If Universal can confirm even just a few of the details just listed, hint at the ride’s premise, and then – best of all – grandly announce its name (the latest intel points to “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts,” which is, all things considered, rather bland), it’ll have a slam dunk on its hands, regardless of whatever other tidbits it may (or may not) have announced.

Sound good? We’ll find out in less than 24 hours…

Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for 22 sites, including The Huffington Post, Orlando Informer, and Orlando Attractions magazine. He’s co-created and -hosted two podcasts and has even taught English in Japan. He also likes mittens.

Readers' Opinions

From J Baksy on January 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM
Sounds fantastic. I agree about the train ride aspect, I dont have a great feel for how that will play out. The other big worry would be wait times for getting on the train. If it isnt somewhat swift people will just say forget it and just walk around to the other entrance. Should be interesting.

Also Disney... are you seeing this!?!?....hello!?

From Anon Mouse on January 22, 2014 at 3:02 PM
I don't understand the date restrictions of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I don't think it matters. The buildings are supposed to be timeless (old). The moment in time may suggest the narrow experiences in the book, but why not look beyond a mere story plot.

I guess the latest developments are interesting to behold. What's missing is what I regard as Disney style filler that keeps people in the park. Meet and greets, walkabout characters, shows, nighttime spectaculars.

From TH Creative on January 22, 2014 at 3:54 PM
Will there really be a dragon?
From Annette Forrest on January 22, 2014 at 5:15 PM
OMG! TPI just keeps getting bigger and better. I was blown away by this column by Marc! It got me so bumped to hear more about this expansion. Along with all of Robert Niles' excellent reports and the terrific columns by Amanda Jenkins (whom I hope writes a new one soon!), I hope Marc becomes a regular feature here. I LOVE his stuff!
From James Trexen on January 22, 2014 at 6:08 PM
7. One thing to consider is that Universal didn't announce the original opening date until March 2010 and that project had three years in the making. Given the accelerated schedule for Diagon Alley, getting an opening date tomorrow might be a bit of a stretch. We'll probably just hear an expected time frame.
PS: I'd love to be there for when they officially open the land. It'd be a great day to get on the other rides.

4. While it seems like Gringotts itself will be set during Deathly Hallows, I can't ever imagine Universal opting to feature Diagon Alley to be the desolate wasteland it appeared during that time. I'm willing to bet that they'll just feature it the way it appeared in Sorceror's Stone and Chamber of Secrets while adding in places like Weasley's.

From N B on January 23, 2014 at 1:21 AM
There will be a dragon....
From Marc Kleinhenz on January 23, 2014 at 10:49 AM
@Annette: Thank you so incredibly much for your kind words. I'm currently averaging one post per year for TPI, as most of my energies go to my weekly gigs: Orlando Informer and HuffPost. I'll try to crank up that rate to every six months, though. =)

@James: Excellent analysis. I actually couldn't agree more with you.

~M.

From Seth Kubersky on January 23, 2014 at 8:04 AM
Great roundup Marc!
One clarification: the setting of Hogsmeade can't be during the beginning of book 4 because Harry & co know about the room of requirement, which isn't discovered until the beginning of book 5.
The "moment in time" concept was so they could combine settings without violating canon. And the dragon challenge is intended to be a tribute to the Triwizard champions, not the championship itself. Confusing, I know...
From Marc Kleinhenz on January 23, 2014 at 10:50 AM
The Room of Requirement -- drats! Curse you, Seth, and your impeccable logic!

:P

~M.

From James Rao on January 23, 2014 at 10:11 PM
I think we got maybe two or three out of seven during the announcement, right?
From Marc Kleinhenz on January 24, 2014 at 5:16 PM
Three-and-a-half, I'd say. =)

Either way, it's not a bad tally -- and more than I expected, to be honest.

~M.

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