The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, reviewed
ORLANDO — Universal Studios Florida's Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley resets the standard for theme park environments, creating a wildly engaging setting that rewards visitors willing to delve into the abundant detail to be found in the new land.
No other theme park land in the world offers the level of detail Universal Orlando resort has packed into its new Harry Potter-themed land. Not even the original Wizarding World over at Islands of Adventure comes close to Diagon Alley in creating such an authentically convincing experience. As actress Evanna Lynch [Luna Lovegood] noted during this morning's press event, "you don't see roller coaster tracks" in this Harry Potter land. It's a faithful creation of what J.K. Rowling described in her Harry Potter books and creative artists Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore designed for the Potter films.
Follow me for a tour:
In their conversation about Diagon Alley this morning, the Universal Creative team talked about going beyond the movie design for Diagon Alley to pack in even more detail found in the books. Don't make the mistake of reducing this land to numbers. It's far more than a couple of rides, a restaurant and some shops. Every one of the dozens of facades in Diagon Alley invites you to relive or imagine your own scenes from Rowling's world. It's a land meant to be inhabited, not simply visited. Pay attention to the details, allow your imagination to catch fire, and Diagon Alley will reward you with a trip to a land beyond your imagination. As Matthew Lewis [Neville Longbottom] said, "If we'd have filmed the movie here, we'd all been a lot better. You can't help but get brought into the role."
As a long-time newspaper reporter, of course I had to spend some time outside The Daily Prophet Fans of villains and dark arts will find themselves drawn toward Borgin & Burkes, in Knockturn Alley. Photo courtesy Universal.
Most theme parks find ways to "suggest to express," using tricks such as forced perspectives to make locations seem grander than they are. But there are few such shortcuts here. The ceiling of The Leaky Cauldron restaurant, for example, soars above its customers, a full two stories above our heads.
Too often in theme parks, the theme extends only to a restaurant's decor, while the menu sells out to presumed consumer favorites. The original Wizarding World challenged the theme park industry by enforcing its theme in its food and beverage business, even going so far as to banish products from Universal's soft-drink partner from the land. You won't find chicken nuggets and hot dogs on menus in Hogsmeade, either, and you won't find them in Diagon Alley.
Mini-pie combination of Fisherman's and Cottage pies, with a field greens salad for $12.99 at The Leaky Cauldron
Instead, Universal has provided an expanded menu of British pub favorites, including Fisherman's pie, bangers and mash, a Ploughman's platter, and a fanciful collection of new drinks to enjoy.
Yes, you'll find Butterbeer here, but you'll also find new concoctions such as Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with "fish eggs" (a blueberry boba) at the bottom. A fan waiting outside the land asked if the Fishy Green Ale I was carrying had alcohol. It doesn't. My somewhat cynical, yet accurate, rule for deciphering a Wizarding World beverage menu is: If the price of a drink is under five bucks, there's no booze in it.
Money, of course, plays a prominent role in Diagon Alley. Its centerpiece is a bank, after all. Around the corner from Gringotts Bank, in Carkitt Market, you'll find the Gringotts Money Exchange, where a goblin animatronic behind the counter interacts with guests, answering their questions about the money exchange, where you really can swap your Muggle $10s and $20s for equivalent Gringotts Bank Notes, accepted at stores throughout the Wizarding World (and elsewhere in the Universal Orlando Resort, for that matter.)
It's a gimmick Disney tried first more than two decades ago with its Disney Dollars. But it makes far more sense here, as an more authentic element to draw you into the role of a visitor to Diagon Alley. Think of it as cosplay for your wallet.
Yes, there's much for sale here, including the much-hyped $45 interactive wands that trigger animation effects in selected windows here and in Hogsmeade. But I find it richly ironic to hear Disney fans complaining that Diagon Alley's "just" a Harry Potter mall when, with their next breath, they gush about the next upcoming Disney World merchandise event.
Look, people spend money on the stuff they love. Whether it's cars, cosplay, or theme park souvenirs, many of us love to express our passions through purchases. We buy this stuff because we want to feel authentic, and all this stuff around us helps to feel that. Harry Potter fans want their wands, their robes, their house scarves, and their Butterbeers. Universal (or some other theme park company) could have slapped some posters on a wall, piled stock-ordered desks with merchandise, ordered an off-the-shelf ride system with a Harry Potter skin, and raked in the cash.
But Universal didn't do that. Instead of letting us into Harry Potter's world to meet its needs of selling stuff, Universal sells stuff because it met our need to get into Harry Potter's world. Ask the thousands of cosplaying fans who lined up for hours to get into Hogsmeade and who will line up for hours to get into Diagon Alley when it opens officially on July 8. Ask the actors who stand slack-jawed on a Diagon Alley street, awed by the complete physical realization of what their films had tried to portray. There's a magic here in the feeling that Matthew Lewis began to describe, of being in a place that transports your imagination into something it even more easily accepts as reality.
To call this a theme park land diminishes it, for Diagon Alley exceeds anything ever before carrying that label. To fans longing to become part of the stories of their dreams, this is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Your move, Avatar Land.
Thank you, Robert, for your thorough coverage of Diagon Alley over the past few days both here and on Twitter. I have tried hard not to get too many spoilers, and you have done a fine job of arranging your articles so I can easily skip the things I don't want to know, but still get the gist of your feelings for this expansion.
We're trying. I think the video does a really good job of showing an overview that's pretty spoiler-free, so I hope people spread that around. Thanks for reading, everyone!
Excellent article, and I love your enthusiasm in the video! Great job! :D
I am loving the updates! It has been a whirlwind of information these past few days. Thanks Robert for covering it so thoroughly. Nothing gets me more excited than to hear that a theme park has taken a land, attraction, etc. to another level. Here's hoping and believing that this will be just the beginning of more amazing things to come from our theme parks.
In regards to the amount of retail - someone correct me if I'm wrong - but the whole reason Diagon Alley exists and Witches and Wizards go there in the story to buy stuff. The Universal version is really sticking very much true to the story in every way.
Love to hear all the great stuff Robert. After this, Kong really has to shine so that it won't seem like Universal hit their peak. I love to just take in sights at parks and Diagon will definitely not disappoint. Sadly, my family (specifically my brother) only sees parks for rides, so it'll be nice to do things at my own pace for a change.
^Agreed. Between the $45 wands and the $40 up-charge to ride the train, my family of five's cost just went through the roof ($85 * 5 people = $425 + tax = YIKES). So, we'll share one wand (taking turns with it, of course), and skip the train entirely (at least until Universal embraces the concept of the
It's not only Robert who is praising Diagon Alley. Every single theme park blogger who was there this week is praising it to the skies. I'm particularly pleased that Universal seem have learnt the lessons of incoherence from Forbidden Journey and crafted a much stronger, coherent narrative. It sounds as if Universal have created the Holy Grail of theme park experiences and I look forward to visiting it in a few year's time when the crowds have died down a bit!
One further question.
@david The ride is 3d. Pictures I've seen and descriptions show that people pick the glasses up after the elevator ride..
@O T Paint it any color you like, or spread the days around any way you want, but $485 + tax is $485 + tax, and $485 + tax is a big chunk of a vacation budget. For reference, $400 is enough money for my whole family to visit Busch Gardens Tampa for two days. Knowing this fact, and because I have some fiscal restraint, I have to make a choice. Do I spend two days at a high quality thrill park with a half dozen world class coaster experiences, or do I buy a wand and ride a train?
Robert, do you think Diagon Alley will cause Universal Studios Florida to pass Islands of Adventure in attendance?
Excellent Job Robert...(And Brian)..
I was just wondering how it felt to be walking through something that you broke the news about
NOOOOOO!!! Do not start the price of Universal "upcharge" augment with James again. James has already made it clear he does not mind paying Disneyland's $178 two day base ticket but will not be paying Universal's $177 two day park hopper. So no need to start that up again. :)
It looks absolutely phenomenal. When WWOHP opened we waited a year, stayed onsite and went -- it was still so incredibly crowded that it was difficult to spend the time to truly appreciate the level of detail that went into the land and therefore, it felt less immersive. That is my fear with Diagon Alley. When it is shoulder to shoulder Muggles as far as the eye can see, who will be able to truly appreciate the magic? I'll get slammed for saying it, but I really feel as though this (and the orginal Hogsmede for that matter) should have been a reservations only attraction and crowds limited to a certain number of patrons per hour to maintain the atmosphere they have worked so hard to create. As cool as your video looked, that isn't how the land is going to be experienced by those of us who visit after July 8th. Instead it will be hours of waiting, bustling, and pushing. Not saying I won't be among those waiting, bustling, and pushing Muggles... I will (in a year or two), but I'll be wishing that I had a spell to clear the way for a few minutes!
Entry into Diagon Alley will be by reservation only, with return times available from machines near Men in Black.
This looks incredible! I can't wait to get there (it may be a few years), and I really hope this pushes Disney to take their own shot at doing something amazing. If not, I expect that Universal will keep pushing the envelope. Either way, we win.
Awesome job, Universal! Here's hoping the two Universal parks finally overtake Epcot, AK, and HS in attendance. We need to reward the parks that invest in new attractions!
@Brent Your post is simply not true. Please find one example of when I wrote that I would ever go to a Disney Resort for ONLY two days. That's crazy talk, brother.
Hi I'm going here under the vacation package so I'll be in the park July 1st. My question is how much do other things cost in diagon alley? For example how much is the wizard robes or regular wand etc, just I have no idea how much money I'm going to need to bring.
I wonder if Diagon Alley will ever arrive at USH. Maybe it will only be exclusive at Orlando.
Sorry James your right but I thought I was giving the you benefit of the doubt because if you start comparing 4 day tickets it gets worse for Disneyland. $250 for a 4 day base ticket compared to $196 for a 4 day park hopper to Universal. And Disneyland may have more total rides than Universal does but in my opinion they don't have any more E-ticket rides than Universal does.
Four days at WDW... perish the thought. My last visit we got ten day tickets, I can't imagine staying for less than seven days.
I was comparing ticket prices to Disneyland not Disneyworld because I knew you had gone there recently and I also think Disneyland and Universal Orlando compare better anyways. Plus a 4 day base to Disneyworld is much higher than $250.
You should not compare Disneyland and Universal Orlando. It makes no sense. The Orlando and Southern California markets are completely different.
@Brent I got the five day, one-park-per-day ticket for DLR....about $50/day. Regardless, one does not go to Disney or Universal to save money, but some of us have to make hard choices to maximize the fun and minimize the gouging.
@ David Brown I think you make great points about Universal setting the bar high...even for themselves. It will no doubt be tough for them to top Diagon Alley (although I hope they do and continue with this level of detail). But I must say that I love this competition between Disney and Universal (or even the competition to top their own selves) because it only makes experiences better for us, the customers. We are starting to see some incredible things that I never thought would come to life and it's truly amazing!
@ Robert Niles or anyone - Could you please explain to me how the reservation system works for Diagon Alley? The last time I was at Universal was before Hogsmeade opened. Are there time limits? Will it always be reservation based? Thank you!
Universal's set up machines over by Men in Black. They will work like the old Disney Fastpass machines -- you put in your ticket and it spits back a slip of paper with your return time to Diagon Alley. At your return time, you'll enter the line near the Fear Factor theater for entry into Diagon Alley.
I don't understand this upcharge for the train. Universal has always said that you can only ride the train if you have a park-to-park ticket. Now that's not good enough, you also need to pony up an extra $40??
^There is no upcharge. Some people just see needing park to park as an upcharge itself compared to base tickets. If you have park to park, you'll get on for free.
Yeah, I'm not sure as to why it is being called an upcharge. Just get a two-park ticket and experience both parks over two days.
Robert, can you confirm or offer any insight into whether the Express pass will be available right away for Gringotts and/or the Hogwarts Express?
I now see why the entry / exit to Kings Cross is not inside DA, but on the "river bank". Everyone would be jumping on the train from the less crowded IOA to get directly into DA.
I was also wondering one more thing... and this is not a jab at Disney... Do you think there are Disney people attending this event by one means or another to get a good look at the level of detail and see what they are up against?
OK James, thanks for the clarification above.
@NB: Yes, Disney will see it. You kidding me? Like they can't afford to buy a ticket and just visit the thing.
N B, I am sure Disney and Universal (and SeaWorld) all visit each others' parks. They'd be foolish not to. I know Tony Baxter (retired Imagineer par excellence) spoke very highly of his visit to WWOHP.
Disney does not upcharge to use the transportation system if you park hop or visit the resorts. I wonder if they can consider such an option to prevent people who are not resort guests or don't have the park hopping option to use the transportation system. It would seem like a logical solution to the loophole, but this will require changes to ticket policy and require the bus/monorail operators to verify everyone's pass or magicband.
I guess my point was HP is a perfect vessel for a theme park land. They have faithfully re-created an entire movie set which also lends itself to integrating shops and restaurants seamlessly with hundreds of merchandise possibilities.
It looks amazing. Thanks Robert.
It's a super simple concept folks. This is not an up-charge like you have to pay to ride go-karts at Six Flags. Because the Hogwarts Express takes you from one park to another, you must be in possession of a two park ticket. Disney transportation does takes you from park to park for free, but you are not inside the parks. It would be sort of like going for a ride on the Disneyland Monorail from DTD without a ticket and expecting to get off in Tomorrowland for a free visit to DL.
I just really want to be able to go on the Hogwarts Express without buying a park-hopper ticket. There is just too much to do in each of the Universal theme parks for me to want to go to the other on the same day.
Use of the word "upcharge" had me worried too, because my understanding was that it was just a requirement for a two-park-same-day ticket and access Hogsmeade-Diagon bypassing the main gate. I'd call it an "up-sell" rather than an upcharge.
I think Diagon Alley USF will be better then Harry Potter in IOA and I am looking forward to the new roller coaster I just hope it's like the mummy
Such stunning craftsmanship and artistry on display here by Universal Creative. Anybody who thinks the mouse isn't taking notice, or doesn't feel the slightest bit shown up by such an unveiling is fooling themselves. I could only hope it lights a fire over at WDW and they decide to open Avatar in one grand spectacle like Diagon, instead of the lame phased approach, as well as open up the money faucet and allow the imagineers to go hog wild over at DHS with Star Wars Land. Bravo Universal...you're a modern day theme park company Uncle Walt would actually be proud of for pushing the limits.
As to the "upcharge." I am in it for the full experience, so my family will not go until we can afford to stay on site with the express passes. When we go, we are all in. Also, the park hopper makes a lot of sense due to how close the parks are.
I have a couple of thoughts about Diagon Alley and TPI.
Also seen on Fox35 that at launch you will only be able to travel one way on the Hogwarts express per day so you will have to visit twice to experience both journeys only for a while until the crowds get smaller
I hope the ride will not break down all the time like the Harry potter ride in IOA.
While I'm not a big fan of HP, this is exciting to see, because it takes the parks to another level. Honestly, for me, I want to see a scale Beauty and the Beast Castle. I WANT to go to the west wing, to eat in the dining room or ballroom. I want to go into the library. Disney has done alot in NF, but I want to see something big. Anpther idea is to do the mythical kingdom idea in AK. I'm just not that excited anout Avatar.
Great article. I do think Disney will get some benefits from this: I'll be going in July to Orlando, because of Diagon Alley, but of course I'll go to WDW once I'm in Orlando...
Look I always buy the park to park tickets. It is really no that much of a difference since I always go for three days anyway. Honestly Universal has a lot to offer and this was a big investment for them. If it were my park I would do something to discourage the family that wants only to see the new Expansion then spend the rest of their time at Disney. Disney does the same with their magic your way tickets or whatever they are called. When you go to Orlando just accept the fact you are not going to spean a week there and be able to see everything you want. I get that people want to be able to hit only the higlights from each park but that is unrealistic and honestly if you focus on a couple of park a trip you will have a much better time.
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