Harry Potter fans, get ready to be blown away.
On Thursday Universal Orlando unveiled new details for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, currently under construction in its Florida theme park. Slated to open sometime this summer, it’s an impressive expansion of the already hugely popular attraction inspired by author JK Rowling's "Harry Potter" stories that opened in 2010.
"It looks absolutely spot on. The architecture is uncanny. I think that whole moment going from real life Muggle London into Diagon Alley is going to blow people away,"
- Actor Matthew Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom
Universal creative senior vice president Thierry Coup said the company’s creative team began working almost immediately on the expansion following the instant success of the park’s first Wizarding World.
"There were requests already from the beginning,” Coup said. “People thought, 'Why didn't you bring Diagon Alley?' 'Why didn't you do Gringotts?' We said, 'Well, just wait.' And now it's coming."
The massive addition will include a Hogwarts Express train, a ride based on Gringotts Wizarding Bank, a Leaky Cauldron restaurant, shops—and more.
The Hogwarts Express train will take visitors from Hogsmeade Village in the Islands of Adventure to the new London area at Universal Studios. Universal didn’t give details other than that the journey will feature views of London and the British countryside, as well some surprise appearances by familiar characters and creatures. To ride the train, guests will be required to purchase park-to-park tickets that allow admission to each side.
"It's so fantastic for us to be able to link [the existing area] to Diagon Alley through the Hogwarts Express - being able to go on this magical journey and recreate what we saw in the films, and we'll be able to go along just like Harry Potter did, just like Hermione and all the other kids," said Coup.
The main attraction for Universal Studios guests will be the newly designed Diagon Alley. Even before stepping inside, guests will recognize locations from the film series, including Charing Cross Road, Grimmauld Place, Leicester Square Station and Wyndham's Theatre. Also, most importantly, will be King's Cross Station, where the Hogwarts Express will arrive.
It's what struck "Harry Potter" film star Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) most during a recent tour. "It looks absolutely spot on. The architecture is uncanny. I think that whole moment going from real life Muggle London into Diagon Alley is going to blow people away," he said.
Once inside, park guests will be astonished by the size of this expansion. It's taller, wider and more detailed than anything seen in the original Wizarding World. Ancient architecture styles, from Medieval to Victorian, mix with those of modern day.
"We've gone further than Hogsmeade, where you're going to be absolutely enclosed," said Alan Gilmore, art director of the "Harry Potter" films and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. "There'll be no sight or sound of the outside world. You will be in the magical world in every direction."
The star of the expansion is a new ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. On the outside, the entrance will be a crooked stack of columns marking the entrance to Gringotts Bank, complete with a large fire-breathing dragon perched on top. Inside, guests will walk through a queue filled with entertainment, which Coup says will be on an even bigger scale than Hogwarts Castle, built in the original Wizarding World as the home to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The new ride will take guests on a mine car ride through the Gringotts vault, encountering perils along the way. But Coup notes that it will be more family-friendly than Forbidden Journey, inviting a wider audience.
And there is much more to Diagon Alley. Immediately to the left is the Leaky Cauldron restaurant, where guests will sample traditional British fare, including fish and chips and bangers and mash – recipes designed by Universal's head chef, Steve Jaysen, one of the men responsible for creating the hugely popular Butterbeer soda drink. To the right is Weasley's Wizard Wheases, a three-story joke shop straight out of the films. Bizarre products advertised on its colorfully painted exterior walls include Dung Bombs, Instant Darkness Powder and Screaming Yo-Yos.
Continuing through Diagon Alley there are a number of equally odd stores, including Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, offering apparel; Magical Menagerie, featuring plush toys; Quality Quidditch Supplies, providing Golden Snitches, Quaffles, and Bludgers; and Scribbulus, which sells writing implements. The original Ollivanders wand shop, where guests can have a wand selected for them, similar to the experience in Hogsmeade Village (which will remain), is there too.
At the end of the street is another eatery, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, which will serve unique treats like strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice cream. Around the right side of Diagon Alley is another street featuring even more shops, all part of a massive covered area newly named Carkitt Market by JK Rowling.
But the biggest surprises await guests just off of Diagon Alley. Near the Leaky Cauldron sits the small, dark entrance to Knockturn Alley, the shady side of the Wizarding World that specializes in selling the dark arts of magic. This dark alleyway is home to Borgin and Burkes, a shop specializing in selling Death Eater masks, skulls and other sinister items.
Diagon Alley is just part of a larger park expansion this year that includes a host of new CityWalk restaurants and an 1,800-room hotel. It’s the latest project for Universal, which follows on last year’s multimillion-dollar Transformers: The Ride 3D Simpsons Springfield expansion.
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.