Vote of the Week: When will you visit Diagon Alley?
Published: August 1, 2014 at 10:50 AM
Things seem to be settling down at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
at Universal Studios Florida. After an initial crush of visitors, coupled with capacity and reliability issues on the land's main new attraction, pushed wait times to over eight hours, visitors are reporting much shorter waits these days.
Universal hasn't cut access to Diagon Alley in weeks. The machines Universal installed to assign return wait time cards have sat unused as the new land's higher capacity than the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure so far has handled the current level of demand. Hourly capacity on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts has improved, too, as operations crews now run seven trains on a somewhat regular basis, up from the two or three trains that ran when the ride first opened to the public last month. That's helped raised the effective hourly capacity of the ride to around 1,400 visitors, according to what we've heard from insiders. Most reports we've heard put the typical wait for Gringotts now around one to three hours, depending on downtimes. Yes, downtimes still are happening, but they're more brief delays these days than afternoon-killers. Still, Universal's been closing the ride around 7pm most nights for extended maintenance time, so don't count on enjoying a shorter wait time late in the evening as the park clears out, as you can typically on most other theme park rides.
You might still encounter brief waits to enter other Diagon Alley establishments, including the shops and dining areas. But the additional theaters in the Ollivander's wand shop in Diagon Alley mean that visitors to the new land will wait a fraction of the time for the "wand chooses the wizard" show over here than in the Islands of Adventure original.
Still, it appears that crowd levels in Diagon Alley are not up to the "worst case scenario" for which Universal Orlando planned. Everyone learned from the opening of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010. Universal learned to build a land with higher capacity and to create a standby return system that would be ready to go from day one. Yet the public learned, too. Many theme park fans, including Theme Park Insider readers, decided to delay their visit to Diagon Alley to later in the summer, or beyond, in order to avoid the anticipated crush of early visitors as well as anticipated reliability problems, given what plagued Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in its first weeks. Universal probably helped encourage delayed visits by its reticence in announcing an official opening date for Diagon Alley — not declaring that date until mid-June, just three weeks before the official opening on July 8. In contrast, Universal announced the June 18, 2010 opening of Hogsmeade in March of that year.
Which brings us to our Vote of the Week. When will you be visiting Diagon Alley? Were you among the "early adopters" who've already been, or did you decide to visit later? Or are you not planning to visit Diagon Alley at all?
If you have visited Diagon Alley, please share your observations and advice to other visitors, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for being a part of the Theme Park Insider community!
Published: August 1, 2014 at 11:01 AM
My mother, sister, and I will be going the first week in December. We were originally going just for Disney, but I have convinced them to tack on a day in the name of Harry Potter!
Published: August 1, 2014 at 11:06 AM
The goal is early next May for a return to WDW, USO, SWO, and a first time visit to BGT. We'll see how it all works out financially.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 11:12 AM
Saw it at the soft open over the 4th of July. Heading back tomorrow to stay at Cabana Bay and get on the Gringotts ride. An interactive wand is a must!
Published: August 1, 2014 at 11:18 AM
I just got back from Universal yesterday and they did a much better job with Diagon alley to allow for more visitors without it feeling as crowded as the original. Gringotts line was usually between 120 ~ 180 minutes, although if you got there at 7 AM it was much shorter. (You have to stay on property to get into the park at 7.) I was able to ride it first thing in only about 20 minutes, but once the park was open to everyone at 8, the line got long very quickly.
Also, the dragon wasn't reliably breathing fire. It didn't work at all Tuesday, and Wednesday it was only working until about 1 in the afternoon. It came back around 4:30. I don't know if it worked after that because I headed over to IOA for some coasters...
Published: August 1, 2014 at 11:51 AM
My family and friends were just there on July 24th and 25th, and our experience wasn't so great.. We had to wait 3 hours in line to get on Gringott's during which there were two shutdowns. Fortunately, we weren't too irritated as it was raining REALLY hard (think Noah's Ark), and we were under cover the entire time. The ride itself seemed short in comparison to the Hogwart's castle ride in Islands, but it was still an excellent ride. Diagon Alley was very crowded, so it was difficult to check out all the shops. Hogwart's train ride was also excellent! I will definitely return when the crowds die down some. We have a lot of shopping left to accomplish!
Published: August 1, 2014 at 12:03 PM
I'm gonna shoot for February of 2016, I got some stuff I want to take care of first.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 2:13 PM
We'll be there for two weeks in September. I hate long lines and overflow crowds, and since Gringotts, Hogwarts & Forbidden Journey aren't included in Hotel Express Pass, by September the lines should be OK. .....James: That's quite an ambitious itinerary. You'll need three weeks in Florida to enjoy all of that.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 3:04 PM
I plan to visit Universal Orlando in mid-October and at the same time check out Halloween Horror Nights. I'm a bit bummed that Diagon Alley won't be open during HHN. I wanted to get a few extra rides on Gringotts.
Busch Gardens Tampa is a great park(in albeit an interesting locale of Tampa) and definitely worth the short drive. Believe me, the drive is short. If anyone tells you differently, they're lying.
Not to brag either, but I did Universal, WDW, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens in five days last October, plus HHN on top of that. It can be done.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 4:50 PM
I'll be there in late September for our annual HHN trip. Can't wait to check out all the detail in Diagon Alley!
Published: August 1, 2014 at 5:41 PM
Our trip to Universal was on the 25th & 26th. We arrived at Diagon Alley around 7:15am and went directly to Escape from Gringotts and the wait was already over 2 hours, we waited 3 hours. There were a couple of delays with the trains when we got to the loading area, but what's a few minutes when you've already waited 3 hours?
All in all, I loved Diagon Alley. The detail was amazing and it really felt magical.
They do need to work on training their staff to give correct information as a few employees in Hogsmeade were disgruntled and stated that the people in Diagon Alley had "no idea what they're doing". We were able to walk right into Ollivander's in Diagon Alley. The line was still curving around the building at the one in Hogsmeade.
I wish we could have explored Diagon Alley even more but it was ridiculously crowded and I just get easily annoyed with rude people that have no concept of personal space lol
I can't wait to return in 1-2 years. My 8-year old was very expressive in that she preferred Universal over any of the Disney parks we visited the days before.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 9:30 PM
We were there last weekend. It was crowded, but doable. It would be tricky in a wheelchair or with a stroller, especially in the shops.
You'll want to get an interactive wand. Next time I'm going to sew a wand pocket in my shirt to carry it.
The Cabana Bay Beach Resort was awesome, too.
Published: August 1, 2014 at 10:38 PM
We are going Thanksgiving thru the first week of December. We plan our trips to be several months after a new attractions expected opening. I would much rather have things running smoothly and lower crowd levels than seeing an attraction as soon as it opens.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 4:43 AM
Heading down in two weeks. The idea was to avoid the summer crowds by going the second half of August, but given the difficulty we had getting hotel rooms, I'm anticipating it to be more crowded than usual that week. Maybe all us northeasterners who had our normal vacation times truncated to make up for snow days are heading down there at the same time.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 4:53 AM
Not going 'til next February. Just booked a place to stay (Staying off property for the first time in a long while...kids are getting older, so we're going to explore Florida a bit more. Didn't seem financially prudent to stay on property the whole time).
REALLY looking forward to the Harry Potter experience. My oldest loves the books and movies - and I haven't been to Universal in ten years.
And that brings me to my only complaint about Universal: I won't be able to show my kids Jaws, or King Kong, or Back to the Future.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 5:14 AM
I will wait until airfares become more accessible from Australia to Orlando.
In December, Sydney to:
Los Angeles $1,800
New York $2,200
I understand that New York is a more populated airport, but $600 per person seems a huge difference to fly to two cities on the east coast if purchased on the one ticket.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 5:18 AM
My wife and I are headed down to Florida for a cruise to the Bahamas in October. After the cruise we have planned one day at EPCOT for the Food and Wine Festival and then two days at UNIVERSAL for Potter, Minions, Horror Nights, et al. Its funny that of all the trips we've made from the West coast to Florida this is the first time we're spending more time at Universal than with the Mouse. Steve Burke and his team MUST be doing something right.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 5:25 AM
@Rob Two full weeks is what I am planning. One week for Universal, Sea World, and Busch Gardens, and one week at Disney. Three weeks would be nice, but too expensive, and since we've visited all the parks except BGT several times previously, our vacation does not need to be comprehensive. It will be more of a "Best Of" trip!
Published: August 2, 2014 at 5:46 AM
I'm here right now waiting for the ride to be operational.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 6:13 AM
@ James Rao@
My wife and I have been to Florida three times for no more than 14 days and managed all 9 theme parks in that time without any problems, (4 Disney Parks, 2 Universal, Sea World, Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland!). We even had time to relax, revisit some parks and experience everything we wanted to. So don't let anyone tell you it's not possible in two weeks or that it's too ambitious.
I would recommend carefully checking the predicted crowd calendars and trying to plan your days at the respective parks accordingly since you're likely to get just one day at most non-Disney parks so will want to maximise your chances there.
But go for it!
Published: August 2, 2014 at 7:25 AM
@David I'm thinking 4 days at Universal (two at each park, no hopper passes for this up-charge protester), 1 day at SeaWorld (just give me Kraken and Manta all day, please!), 1 day at BGT (just coasters, again, and Falcon's Fury if it is open by then), 6.5 days at Disney (2 days at MK, 2.5 days at Epcot, 1 day each at DAK and DHS), no water parks, and 1.5 rest/swim days somewhere in between all the fun!
Published: August 2, 2014 at 8:52 AM
James: Enjoy. Sounds like you'll have a great time. Two weeks is a nice time for a vacation, not too long & not two short. I did a week in May, but that was too short. I did three weeks a couple of years ago and that was a little too long to stay in hotel rooms. Two weeks is just right.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 9:36 AM
All it really takes to do it in the shorter amount of time is to be in decent health. I don't mean a health nut just capable of standing an walking all day. And to be somewhat calculated, I don't mean planning your day to a T but having a good idea of what your doing that day.
Published: August 2, 2014 at 2:07 PM
I will be there the last week of March for my class trip
Published: August 2, 2014 at 8:56 PM
Just left Universal this morning.... I am going to wait until I get home to write an unbiased trip report.
I will say this... we decided to steer clear of Diagon Alley on arrival day until a couple minutes after sunset. If you are a huge fan of the movies, which is the only visual representation of Diagon Alley to compare it to, you will be in complete awe when you walk through that jagged brick wall.
A non-Potter fan would still be impressed, but I saw grown people stop dead in their tracks, cover their mouths and well up with tears. All of them were female, and you could tell they were die hard fans.
It's an amazing site as you can imagine. The detail in Diagon Alley would be incredibly hard to one up, even for Universal.
I want to write a direct comparison between Escape From Gringotts and Forbidden Journey because they are so different from each other. Gringotts is exactly as Robert described it, a combination of the Mummy "cart" on a coaster track, but with a Spider-Man / Transformers multi-axis system added.
Universal didn't explain how early entry for on-site guests and Diagon Alley worked, so we had to find out from the concierge on the day we arrived.
I will explain it all and the best way to experience this for everyone when I return home in a couple days. There is also a huge loophole in the system that would allow anyone with a park ticket to get in early (not just on-site guests), which I noticed every time.
Just a quick update after reading all of the comments... early entry is the only way to experience Gringotts with very little trouble. You have to be pretty ambitious though. The one day, USF opened at 7 for early entry, we were at the gates by 6. There were about 25 people in front of us in our line, and there are something like 10-12 lines wide. Doing some quick math, I would say we were about 300 people inside by the time we got through.
The first day, the ride shut down several times, and the wait was about an hour and a half, even though we were a short distance from the turn where you enter the bank lobby to start with.
The second day, we were in almost exactly the same place in line at the gates, and ended up in the same place in the Gringotts queue, but it moved very quickly and we were off the ride shortly after park opened to everyone else. The wait time was already over 200 minutes by park opening. We were checking on our Universal app while in the queue, watching the number jump every minute.
I know Gringotts can operate very efficiently if all is working perfectly as we had two completely different experiences from the exact same starting point.
Published: August 3, 2014 at 4:49 AM
Looking forward to your report, N B. But based on what you posted here, navigating Gringotts at this time appears to be the antithesis of what I like about paying the big bucks to stay onsite at a Universal hotel (relaxing, worry-free, leisurely touring). It is for that reason, I am giving Universal until next May to get their house in order. Hopefully by then, I won't have to be at the park by 6 AM just to ride one ride.
And this loophole you mention.... I sure hope it closes soon - as folks pay a premium for that early entry privilege. It would be yet another slam on Universal Orlando's already suspect park operations if things continue as is (did you all see that picture of all the trash lining the Gringotts queue Mr. Niles retweeted yesterday? Come on Universal, get it together!).
The only time I almost pulled a Clark Griswold and cried at a theme park was when I first entered Disneyland with my whole family in tow last September. It was quite a moment as a lifelong dream was realized. I do not have anywhere near the same level of attachment to Harry Potter or even Universal, but come next May, it will certainly be a true joy to experience the Spider-Man attraction once again. Is it okay for a grown man to ball over a ride based on a guy dressed in red and blue spandex? ;)
Published: August 3, 2014 at 5:01 AM
These comments have set me thinking.
I've never really been one for comic books, so Spiderman and the rest kind of leave me cold, even though I enjoy the rides. Equally I am not a fan of Harry Potter, so whilst I appreciate the work that goes into the Wizarding Worlds I don't get excited or teary at the thought of them.
My childhood was very much based around Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and all the rest of the Disney characters which maybe accounts for the fact that the only time I have ever come close to welling up was at the Magic Kingdom as we stood outside waiting for the park to open and the train pulled into the station with all the characters on board, waving at it. Pathetically it was magical, but probably because of my own particular background and history.
We each of us bring our own history to bear on our theme park experiences which is why different attractions resonate so strongly for different people. Maybe we need to remember that when we are either being critical of an attraction or praising it to the ultimate. It's just our personal view and it's probably all down to our upbringing!
Published: August 3, 2014 at 10:38 AM
NB here, posting from the beach in Ft Myers.... The "loophole" I mentioned has to do with them not checking for room keys near the Lucy Tribute checkpoint. This may have only been due to the initial rush of guests at gate opening... There are so many people rushing towards Diagon Alley in a mad sprint, they just wave everyone through, regardless of whether you show your key or not. They may crack down after the first wall of people make it through.
Published: August 3, 2014 at 1:52 PM
NB: You did exactly what I planned to do with Diagon Alley, namely wait till sunset for our first encounter. Glad that you confirmed what I anticipated to be a wow moment. I'm not a Harry Potter fan of the books or movies but I love what Universal has done to create believable lands with great attractions, shows, restaurants & shows. Hopefully, come September, the crowd flow for Gringotts will be a bit more customer friendly, and the down times will be less. It's kind of significant that both new summer of 2014 major attractions, Gringotts & 7 Dwarfs, continue to be plagued with daily breakdowns. Guess that's the price of new untested technology.
Published: August 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM
James Rao, you are staying 2 weeks and going 4 days to UOR, Seaworld and Busch Gardens but say you aren't getting the UOR park-to-park tickets? There is a 14-day Orlando Flex ticket for all the non-Disney parks that is less expensive than individually purchased tickets and the UOR portion is park-to-park. Did you check that out?
I was at the soft-open for Hogwarts Express July 1 & 2, and the soft-open for Diagon Alley July 3. On August 1, I returned and rode Escape from Gringott's twice. I arrived in the afternoon and my first ride had a posted 120 min wait but it took only 95 min. I rerode EFG through the single rider line and it took about 45 min whereas the standby posted 75 min. The SRL probably went slower than the standby line because I saw very little waiting at the end on the standby line (each line has its own stairway to the load area and you can see everything). My hint would be to take the standby when it is posted at less than 90 min since it seemed to move much faster. The SRL was an almost complete standstill the whole time.
The Hogwarts Express is a great ride with great story telling but it is at its core just a way to go from one park to another. It loads 180 per train and is less than 9 min between trains. That is a lot of capacity so don't expect massive waits, maybe 2 or 3 trains full which is still less than 30 minutes. Walking between WWoHP areas would take as long. The story doesn't change so you don't feel the need to re-ride it after your initial couple of times.
Carkitt Market has 2 shows alternating, Celestina and the Banshees music show and the Story of the 3 Brothers play. They alternate at the half hour. A new play is in the works so maybe 3 different shows alternating soon.
I'm not a Harry Potter fanatic, saw all the movies but haven't read any of the books. I would say that Diagon Alley is a wonderful theme park accomplishment but Harry Potter fans just react more emotionally about it than I did. Also, I think Harry Potter fans are less interested in theme parks in general. It almost seems like 2 different crowds of people inhabiting the same place. Each drawing what they consider enjoyable from the experience.
Published: August 3, 2014 at 6:43 PM
@Tony I will check out all ticket options when the time comes and select the best value. If the Orlando Flex ticket turns out to be a better value than the other options, it will definitely be what I get.
Published: August 3, 2014 at 7:13 PM
It's true Rob, Potter fan or not, that first glimpse is a stunner. When you start exploring, you will see how much work went into that area.
Knockturn Alley is dark, even in the daytime and it is air conditioned. The interactive wand plaques are everywhere and all of them worked except for the chimney sweep.
If anyone is interested, I will scan and post the two sided map that comes with the new wands. It shows every plaque location and the spell used to activate it.
At first, I though just pointing the wand at the hidden sensors would activate them, but you do have to waive your wand in the correct pattern, which is really cool.
There is a dedicated store for Butterbeer and all of the new drinks, it is very efficient since there are a half dozen registers. Virtually no wait at all no matter the time of day.
The Hogwarts Express was much easier than I expected in both directions. People know that it more than just a "ride" since most of them are committing to visit the other park and not just hop on to ride it in both directions.
Wait times were always less than that 20 minutes, we had a walk on from Diagon to Hogsmeade at 10AM and about a 10 minute wait going from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley at 6PM.
Published: August 4, 2014 at 3:35 AM
@Tony, Anon Poster 220.127.116.11 is me... sorry I forgot to log in!
Published: August 4, 2014 at 6:03 AM
NB: I've been reading that Hogwart's Express gets busiest during the middle of the day when people are moving between parks. Did you notice if that was the case when you were there?
Published: August 4, 2014 at 8:51 AM
Making my visit to Orlando this October for Wedding Anniversary with my wife for visits to USO and IoA on 2 days and visits to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on another 2 days. So looking forward to visiting UO and Walt Disney World. Its been 20 years since my last visit to Disney and 10 years since my last visit to UO. No doubt anticipating tasting Butterbeer for the 1st time (both fozen and non-frozen) and experiencing both Wizarding Worlds at UO (not a huge HP fan tho but just a huge theme park/amusement park fan in general). Also Springfield and the foods there. Last but not least, Dole Whips at MK. I wish October will hurry up and get here. Cant wait. Hope lines from EFG aren't too bad (under 3 hour wait). I will have to see when we get there. Nevertheless, come on October!!!!!!
Published: August 4, 2014 at 10:41 AM
I just commented via FaceBook but wanted to make just a couple more having recently returned from both Universal parks. The walk from the standard parking lot to the Universal Globe which is essentially the main entrance after you've walked through restaurant-land, oh I mean City Walk, is .57 miles. Not so bad going in but after a long day the feet start complaining. I prefer a shuttle any day.
Those who are delaying their trip to hopefully avoid the crowds are doing the right thing. The long waits and extreme heat spoiled it for us. To the point that I won't go back for at least another 10 years. Maybe Universal will spend more money then and make the newer rides longer than 60 seconds. So disappointed.
Published: August 4, 2014 at 11:46 AM
60 seconds? Both Gringotts & Hogwarts Express are 4 minutes, which is kind of a standard length for attractions of that sort. Much longer than a 90 second coaster ride, or the 2 minutes and a few seconds of the 7 Dwarfs. Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, Simpsons, Transformers all top world attractions and all 4 to 5 minutes long. I can understand the disgust with the heat, but that goes part & parcel with traveling to Florida in the middle of summer. Sorry, but I just don't understand this anonymous post. In the middle of busy season summer with new attractions opening best to stay on site and get Express passes for short stays in line for most of the attractions. What did you expect for lines at this time of year? They're long everywhere, even the coaster parks.
Published: August 5, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Going first week in September. Can't wait.
Published: August 7, 2014 at 9:25 PM
There are only a handful of rides less than a minute.... and only one of them is at Universal. Dr Doom's Fear Fall is the only one that falls into that category.
The only others I can think of are Top Thrill Dragster and clones, maybe the Giant Drop.
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