Exclusive: We preview Diagon Alley from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
For fans of Harry Potter there's nothing quite like being able to experience the sights, sounds, tastes, and attractions firsthand, which is what many were able to do when Universal Orlando unveiled the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in June 2010. The park features a number of rides and attractions centered around Hogwarts, as well as the village of Hogsmeade, where visitors can pick up everything from chocolate frogs, wizard robes, butterbeers, and a host of all things Harry Potter. With the massive success of this first attraction, the creative team behind it, as well as many of the cast and crew from the film series, took it upon themselves to expand the park and what better place to do that than Diagon Alley. For those not in the know, Diagon Alley is the wizarding hub that is first introduced in author J.K. Rowlings book and also the film version of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. Hidden inside London, Diagon Alley is a bit of an economic hub for the wizarding community. It houses numerous shops, eateries, and of course, the famous goblin-run bank, Gringotts. It's the first time we see the wizarding world in the film series and serves as the "eye opener" for young Harry Potter as he begins his journey to becoming a great wizard.
We were invited to attend the red-carpet premiere and media preview of Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando and jumped at the chance to see what they had in store. The 8-film series is one of the most successful film franchises in history (and that's not even taking the books into account) and has a fan following that continues to grow year by year. As a fan of both the books and films myself, the opportunity to see Diagon Alley come to life was very exciting and I'm happy to say that it did not disappoint by any means. The all-encompasing experience is one that every Harry Potter fan should partake in and features more notable items than we could ever cover in a single article.
The opening of Diagon Alley kicked off with a red-carpet affair as stars from the films series came out to show their support, including Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), Domhnall Gleason (Bill Weasley), and James & Oliver Phelps (The Weasley Twins). The doors opened with fireworks and fanfare, before everyone filed in for the preview night of the next step of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley.
From the moment you walk in there are hundreds of sights and details to soak in. Passing through the familiar brick opening you see the alley much like Harry Potter and Hagrid did as they first entered the throughway in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. The sights and sounds are all there, shops stacked up one after the other leading to Gringotts bank, looking like it's about to topple under its odd architecture, especially with a large, white menacing-looking dragon sitting atop it.
Making your way around Diagon Alley you'll find all manner of shops and eateries made famous from the films where you can relive a number of Harry Potter's adventures while there. Each shop has themed gifts that obviously fit its title, but most importantly, features the look and feel of the locations, brought vibrantly to life from the books and films. Stock up on gear at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, down some Puking Pastilles from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, go through the wand-buying experience at Ollivanders, refresh yourself at Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment, pick up some wizard robes at Madam Malkin's, scoop up some strawberry and peanut butter ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, adopt a pet at Magical Menagerie, get writing supplies at Scibbulus, grab a Nimbus 2000 at Quality Quidditch, toss down a butterbear at The Leaky Cauldron, or if you're a death eater, head into Knockturn Alley to Borgin and Burkes for some dark magic goods; it's an endless adventure. And that's just the shops!
There's plenty of interactive experience to be had at Diagon Alley as well. Wizarding role players are present to add some charm and all of the staff at each venue are well-versed in their own role as workers in a "Wizarding World." Don't be put off if you're addressed as a "muggle." Once you pick up your wand at Ollivanders, you can take the experience further and practice your own magic when wandering the area as there are markers throughout that allow your wand to "create" some magic in various shop windows and set ups. Then, of course, there's Gringotts bank, which houses working animatronic goblins that will both look and speak to you as you get closer to them. They're remarkably realistic and will lead you to the Escape From Gringotts ride, an immersive rollercoaster/motion simulator hybrid ride leads you through a heist of sorts with many players from the films. Although I was unable to ride due to a few kinks and setbacks throughout the day, everyone that was able to enjoyed it immensely.
The other cool attraction that I did get to experience was riding on Hogwarts Express, which takes you from King's Cross to Hogsmeade, where you can disembark and explore the other part of the Wizarding World (as long as you have tickets for both parks). The train looks fantastic and once ushered into your car there's a video screen for a window that recreates the various journeys that Harry Potter has taken on Hogwarts Express throughout his adventures. But, that's not all. Outside your booth there is a simulation of sorts where you see Harry, Ron, and Hermoine battle a death eater, complete with lights, sounds, and "shadows" on your booth window, including a chocolate frog hopping along towards the end. It's exceptionally clever and perfect for the journey that lasts about 10 minutes.
For me, Diagon Alley really brought the magic of Harry Potter to life. Ever since seeing it in the first film (and reading about it in the books), it's been a location that seemed ripe for something like this. There's so much to see, hear, taste, and touch that it would take days to take it all in. Given the massive amount of detail, care, and innovation that's gone into Diagon Alley, it's absolutely a trip worth taking. Below we've put together a short video tour and nearly 90 images for your parusal. Click through and enjoy!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley opens to the public on July 8, 2014. For more details, click here!