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.
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.Tweet
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.
Having said that...waiting is the hardest part!
These news should change Disney's timidity. I hope.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Great article. I was beginning to wonder what details we would next hear about the expansion. Now for the official announcement...
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.
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.
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