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Universal Orlando announces Harry Potter theme park expansion

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    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley will include a marquee ride, a new restaurant and shops, and an iconic train trip.Universal

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    The expanded theme park attraction is designed to follow the journey of Harry Potter, from London to Diagon Alley.Universal

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    Coup confirm the dragon perched atop Gringotts Bank is not just artistc flair, stating "the illustration is pretty accurate."Universal

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    In response to the building at Wizarding World being too small, Coup said: "We're not going to drift away from being faithful to what the stories and the visuals were in the films."Universal

More magic is on the way for Muggles at Universal Orlando next year.  

The theme park announced Wednesday the expansion of the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a new area based on the books' fictional scenes in Diagon Alley.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, as it's officially named, which will include a new marquee ride, new restaurant and shops, and an iconic train trip, will mirror the journey that a young Harry Potter took to become a wizard.  

"He started his journey in London, going to Diagon Alley to get his wand, and going on the Hogwarts Express, going to Gringotts Bank to get the money from his parents.  That was such a huge part of the stories and we had to bring it to life," said senior vice president of Universal Creative Thierry Coup.

When the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010, lines snaked beyond park boundaries just to get a glimpse of Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle.  Since then, its unprecedented success has allowed Universal Orlando to dream up huge new projects, including this expansion.

The new area is taking the place of the former Jaws ride, which closed in January 2012.  While the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, the new Diagon Alley expansion is being built in neighboring Universal Studios Florida.  It's the first time a major theme park will have two connecting but separate parks. A working Hogwarts Express train will be built to transport guests between the areas.

"Now how fantastic is that to, yourself, be able to get on the Hogwarts Express and go from London to Hogsmeade or come back from there and live along the way what the journey these children, these students, lived as they went," said Coup.

Universal will employ special visual effects to block backstage areas as the train passes between parks.  It's expected to be a popular attraction, but Coup insists their train will be enough to accommodate the crowds.

Just like in the Harry Potter books and films, Diagon Alley will be hidden in plain sight.  A row of facades elaborately themed to London buildings --based on the Harry Potter stories --will disguise the new area's entrance, separating the real-life "studio" theme from that of wizards.  

"We want to be true to what happened in the stories. Diagon Alley wasn't an obvious thing to anyone," said Coup. "You kind of have to be a wizard to find and to get into Diagon Alley, so we want to be true to that."  

Much as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the signature attraction of the first Wizarding World, a ride housed within Gringotts Bank, the fictitious bank owned by goblins, will be the star of Diagon Alley.  

Coup promises it will be a family-friendly ride designed to take guests on adventure that follows one seen in the movies.  "I think when Stuart Craig designed the visuals for the first film in the Gringotts Bank, the journey that Harry took going down to the vault, he knew that one day this was going to be a great attraction."

Fans will also be able to step inside other long-desired locations from the "Harry Potter" series, though Universal is keeping tight-lipped on which they will be, only noting all the "signature" locations fans want will all be there, plus a few more invented for the park.  

It wasn't long after the first Wizarding World opened that Universal saw the immediate demand for more Harry Potter.  "We realized, I'd say, within a couple of months that we had to do the next level - the other section of it," stated Coup. "We listened to our guests, who asked us the questions many times, 'Are you going to do Diagon Alley?' 'Are you going to do London?' We couldn't quite answer then, but yes it's been in the works for a while."

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling is once again on board, but this time, the notoriously meticulous author has left more creative control in Universal's hands. 

"I'm so pleased that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has proved so popular to date, and I'm sure that the attention to detail in creating the new Diagon Alley area will make this an even better experience," said Rowling in a statement.  

"There's a lot more trust, obviously because we've proven ourselves," said Coup. Universal is also closely working with Warner Brothers and the production design team from the "Harry Potter" films.

There are many logistical issues Universal has had to plan for before the opening of the expansion. The theme park is still working out the details regarding how guests will board the Hogwarts Express train and travel between two separate theme parks.  It's not clear whether the train trip will require admission to both parks.

Those looking to make travel plans to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion next year will need to wait.  Universal has not released the opening date.  

Meanwhile, Universal Studios Florida is preparing for the official opening of the Transformers: The Ride 3D on June 20. 

"There's a whole year before Potter comes and I think when Diagon Alley and London open up, it's going to be, again, something you want to come back for," said Coup.

Ricky Brigante is a theme park expert and fan who edits InsideTheMagic, a blog focusing on Disney and theme park news and entertainment.  He's also host of the award-winning "Inside the Magic" podcast.