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What to expect in Universal Orlando's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

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Published: June 9, 2014 at 9:13 AM

On New Year's Eve 2011, ThemeParkInsider.com first showed you the plans for Universal Orlando's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. Now, two and a half years later, the construction walls are down and Diagon Alley's almost ready to open. So let's take another overall look at this new Wizarding World. (Updated: Here's a video preview, with all the info from this article.)

Universal's first Wizarding World recreated the village of Hogsmeade in Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park. The new Diagon Alley stands behind a London-themed facade next door in Universal Studios Florida, recreating the iconic setting from the Harry Potter books and films with two new rides, a new restaurant, and several elaborately themed stores.

Diagon Alley
The London facade this morning. Photo by @elvenage.

The highlight of the new land is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a 3D, indoor roller coaster ride through the vaults of Gringotts Bank, where you will be caught in the middle as Harry, Ron and Hermione battle trolls, dragons and dark wizards, including Bellatrix Lestrange and even Voldemort himself. As with the original Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in Islands of Adventure, the queue will be as much an attraction as the ride itself. You'll start your experience by walking through the Great Hall of Gringotts Bank, watching the animatronic Goblin tellers at work, before meeting with Bill Weasley and getting the opportunity to open your own Gringotts account. Then it's down the elevators to the underground vaults, where you will board your ride vehicle for the rest of the thrill-ride adventure.

Speaking of Gringotts, Universal's issuing special "Wizarding Bank Notes" for sale that you can use as money inside the Wizarding World, as well as elsewhere in the Universal Orlando Resort. And you'll have plenty of opportunities to spend in Diagon Alley, of course. In addition to a new, larger Ollivander's wand shop, Diagon Alley will feature a full-scale Weasley's Wizard Wheezes joke shop, and for the Slytherins in your family, there will be a Borgin and Burkes, selling all kinds of dark magic supplies. One of the merchandise highlights will be new, next-generation interactive wands that you can use to trigger special effects in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

Diagon Alley's big restaurant will be The Leaky Cauldron, serving traditional British pub food, including Bangers and Mash, Toad in the Hole, Fisherman's Pie and a Plougman's Lunch. There will be Butterbeer to drink, as well as some new beverages, including Fishy Green Ale and Gillywater. If you're a fan of Univeral's Butterbeer, you'll also want to visit Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, which will serve Butterbeer ice cream, as well as many other unique flavors, including Earl Grey and Lavender, Clotted Cream, and Chocolate Chili.

Want more? Go to Diagon Alley's Carkitt Market to watch performances by the wizarding band Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, as well as live stage performances of "The Tale of the Three Brothers" and "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" from Tales of Beetle the Bard.

Diagon Alley and the Hogsmeade Village of the original Wizarding World over in Islands of Adventure will be connected by a new ride, The Hogwarts Express. Created to look identical to the train from the Harry Potter movies, both outside and inside, the Hogwarts Express will shuttle visitors between Kings Cross Station, located next to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida, and the a new Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. You will need a park-to-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express. (That's Universal's version of a Disney park-hopper.) A one park per day ticket won't allow you to get on the Hogwarts Express ride.

While on board the Hogwarts Express, video-screen "windows" will show your journey through the English countryside and Scottish highlands. Watch out for runaway Chocolate Frogs and even Demontors. You'll find those on the Hogwarts Express, too, which will offer a different storyline in each direction between the two parks.

So how you do get in? Theme Park Insider will be there for the special media preview of Diagon Alley on June 18 and 19. We're expecting the land to be open to the public after that, though there's a chance that the land might be available on a limited, soft-open basis before the 18th. If you're a Universal Orlando annual passholder, or already planning a visit to the park before the 18th, give it a go and see if you can get in. If you do, be sure to post your photos and trip report to the Universal Studios Florida page on ThemeParkInsider.com.

When the original Wizarding World opened in 2010, fans lined up for nearly a mile, creating an eight-hour wait to get into the new land. To keep that from happening again, Universal's set up a new timed-entry system for Diagon Alley. Like Disney's old Fastpass system, you'll need to get return tickets with an assigned visit time from machines Universal has set up near the Men in Black ride, inside Universal Studios Florida. That's going to be the only way to get into Diagon Alley. Remember, even if you're riding the Hogwarts Express over from Islands of Adventure, that drops you off outside Diagon Alley, You'll still need a return time ticket to get into the new land. We're expecting these return times to be claimed quickly, so if you want to visit Diagon Alley, be sure to get your return ticket first thing in the morning after the park opens.

Universal Orlando hotel guests also can get early access to the Wizarding World as part of their stay in one of the resort's on-site hotels, which might make the extra cost worth the investment this summer.

If you want to see more from Diagon Alley, join us online at ThemeParkInsider.com on June 18 and 19, when we'll have complete coverage of the new land, the rides, and all the celebrity appearances from the Harry Potter movie stars who'll be attending the opening ceremonies. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates as we get ready for the opening of Diagon Alley.

Readers' Opinions

From Nick McKaig on June 9, 2014 at 10:10 AM
I think it is very smart of Universal to offer an official return time system. I was there on opening day in 2010 and it was a total overload of people. The park employed a return time function later on during busy days, but it was never built in to the park like the booths they have built over in USO.

Now people won't have to wait in a line for their entire visit to the park! They can enjoy other attractions and come back at a certain time. And assuming they will be doing crowd control like before, the lines inside of the park shouldn't be ridiculous even on the most popular days.

Any bets on how late the park will stay open on opening day?

From 66.87.127.65 on June 9, 2014 at 11:53 AM
Hi Robert, I am a big fan of your website and i been following it for almost a year. I always look forward to read any of your future post. I thought that if you were at IOA you are able to ride the Train WITHOUT a park to park access to Diagon Alley but if you are at USF and want to acces Diagon Alley then you need a Park to Park access ticket to enter.Could you verify that? We are planning a trip for September or October and just want to make sure we buy the right tickets. Thank you so much

Jon in Denver CO

From Robert Niles on June 9, 2014 at 12:21 PM
As of now, the policy is that you will need a valid park-to-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express in either direction.
From Brian Emery on June 9, 2014 at 12:35 PM
This is so damn exciting....
Krecher has been Watching...

From Daniel Etcheberry on June 9, 2014 at 12:59 PM
Are the return tickets for Diagon Alley a temporary policy or is it going to be the permanent way to access that area?
From Robert Niles on June 9, 2014 at 1:33 PM
Daniel, I'd suspect the return tickets will be in place so long as demand requires them. When crowds thin to a walk-up basis and there's no need for return tix, they'll go away. I suspect they'll be back at peak times, though, for at least the first couple summers and a Christmas.
From luca ferracuti on June 9, 2014 at 1:53 PM
can you get return tickets online?
From Robert Niles on June 9, 2014 at 10:51 PM
Nothing suggests that Universal will be doing that - at least not for now.
From Dan Glynn on June 10, 2014 at 2:24 AM
Fascinating!! I like the idea of the return ticket for crowd control. I'd hate to be the closest staff member when return times run out. Will also be interesting how they'll estimate how long guests will stay in Diagon Alley. I bet at the start, some people will be there all day.
From 78.149.45.145 on June 10, 2014 at 3:44 AM
All well and good but what if you want to stay longer ir not seen everything
From Melissa Donahue on June 10, 2014 at 6:07 AM
Nice job on the re-cap video, Robert!

I would imagine that once you're in DA, they can't kick you out. Most guests that are staying for multiple days or who have already experienced the other park attractions will "camp out" for the day in Diagon Alley -- or at least, that's what I would do!

From 76.168.13.113 on June 10, 2014 at 6:56 AM
I can't wait to see it all and will be there in August, but this ridiculous thing about the first ride ever that REQUIRES park-hopper ticket is just a mess. For a family of six it's going to cost us about $240 just to go on that ride. We're already planning a 3-night stay at UO and ideally would have done a 2- or 3- day 1-park-per-day ticket. Of course we're going all that way so will likely drop the $240 for the upgrades to that ticket but it strikes me as totally unfair - and it's definitely never been done before in any situation that I've ever heard of. I really hope they change it!
From O T on June 10, 2014 at 7:30 AM
It's shocking how much stuff Universal was able to put in one attraction area (the former Jaws lot). Even on the IOA side the station and the track are all on unused land.
From Eric Orlando on June 10, 2014 at 7:41 AM
Though you will need a park to park ticket to ride the train, it does not mean that you are guaranteed entry in to the park in very rare situations.

There is a section of the overflow crowd procedures that if the land is closed due to capacity, there is a special waiting section at both train stations where they will put you. You can either go back on the train or wait for the land to reopen again.

It will also be interesting to see how they handle HHN. My thought is that they may close entry to Diagon Alley from USF but they could keep it open for people coming on the train from IOA.

From Robert Niles on June 10, 2014 at 9:42 AM
Eric,

DA will be closed for HHN. There's no good way to keep the pathway in front of London open while restricting access into DA from people riding over on the Hogwarts Express.

From 65.61.89.149 on June 10, 2014 at 9:47 AM
Once again my thanks to Robert for his continued coverage of the Diagon Alley project. I find it interesting to look back at the original story a few years ago and see all the comments about how the park wasn't needed or couldn't work.
From Eric Orlando on June 10, 2014 at 10:21 AM
Hahaha! After I posted that I saw the details for HHN 2014 and it was in the announcement. Oh well. It was just a thought from months ago.
From Kris V on June 10, 2014 at 2:20 PM
You know what this means? There will only be one place serving British pub food during HHN. How will we be able to cope?
From 173.189.15.134 on June 10, 2014 at 8:19 PM
So basically the train is an upcharge attraction because if you don't pay for park hopping you can't ride.
From 74.221.191.153 on June 11, 2014 at 11:38 AM
Robert -- Any knowledge of what HP film actors are showing up for the grand opening??
From Robert Niles on June 13, 2014 at 8:24 AM
We haven't been told yet. I know nothing about any of the performers' availability next week, but last time we got:
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley)
Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)
Michael Gambon (Dumbledore)
James Phelps (Fred Weasley)
Oliver Phelps (George Weasley)
Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley)
Warwick Davis (Griphook/Professor Flitwick)
Update: Forgot about Matthew Lewis (Neville) Sorry!

Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) showed up for pre-event photo ops in May 2010, but not for the June press event. J.K. Rowling was at the celebrity opening ceremony, but did not do a press conference.

Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) has done a promo video for Diagon Alley and was at the Japan announcement event, so I'd include her on the possibility list for next week, too. Domhnall Gleeson is in the Gringotts preshow as Bill Weasley, so I'd put him on the list of possibles, too.

I'd love to see Helena Bonham Carter, since she appears in the ride as Bellatrix, as well as Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort). But I'd be surprised if either were there.

And if Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith were to show up, my life would be complete. :^)

From 67.80.10.235 on June 11, 2014 at 5:58 PM
The cost for my family of four to ride the Hogwarts Express would be about $160, because of the multi-park pass requirement. We are huge HP fans but enough's enough. I fold!
From James Rao on June 11, 2014 at 8:11 PM
Alan Rickman would be awesome... But I would rather he showed up as Hans Gruber!!

And yes, to the four anonymous posters who are wise to Universal's nefarious scheme, the train is indeed an upcharge attraction and yes, a very expensive one at that. :(

From Mitchell Brouillard on June 12, 2014 at 4:33 AM
Snitch seeker reported last week that Helena bonham carter is confirmed to attend the event
From Patti Morris on June 13, 2014 at 10:03 AM
I am staying at the Royal Pacific for one night on August 16th solely to be able use the early opening perk. My question is this....assuming both parks will open at the same time for early opening, do I start at Diagon Alley? If one opens before the other, it's a moot point but....

If they do open at the same time, by the time I've done the ride, (that being the first go-to after arrival, of course), would there be any time left in the early opening window to try to make it to IOA to do the Forbidden Journey? Would it even be possible to fit both in that first hour? Then maybe return to Diagon Alley before the masses arrive? Naturally, my priority would be Diagon Alley having done IOA, but I'm just curious.

Many thanks for all your very useful information.

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