Today Universal Orlando has revealed an impressive set of new details for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley expansion. Though a specific opening date has not yet been announced, progress is moving steadily behind the London waterfront facades to create an impressively large addition to the world of “Harry Potter” that will span both Universal parks.
In fact, Diagon Alley is so huge that while Universal has released quite a lot of information about Diagon Alley, it’s nowhere near fully unveiled, leaving many surprises for the coming months leading up to its summer 2014 opening date. Along with today’s announcements arrives new concept art showing off what many areas of the finished expansion will look like.
Video: Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley artwork and preview
In addition to hosting nationwide press on site, Universal streamed a webcast online showing off the latest details to fans.
Video: Highlights of the Diagon Alley webcast
Enough excitement has been offered to warrant two articles on the subject, this one covering the newly-named restaurants, shops, and attractions and a second article offering a closer look via a behind-the-walls, first-person account of what it’s like to step into Diagon Alley along with interviews with the creatives folks behind it all.
Take a quick look at what’s been announced for Diagon Alley below. And for more information and a few interviews, read my Fox News article.
London Waterfront and Facades
There will be nearly no indication of the world of “Harry Potter” outside Diagon Alley. A row of waterfront facades are inspired by London locations seen in the films, but no signs will be posted specifically pointing guests into the new area – though there will be one hard-to-miss clue that things aren’t quite what they seem around this area.
The London facades are King’s Cross Station, Charing Cross Road (leading to Leaky Cauldron), Grimmauld Place (home of the Black family), Leicester Square Station for the London Underground, and Wyndham’s Theatre. The Eros Fountain from Piccadilly Circus is also being recreated in the area.
Parked alongside the fountain will be the big blue Knight Bus, complete with an interactive inside featuring a talking shrunken head (with Caribbean accent). But peering into Diagon Alley won’t be easy from this vantage point, as any entrance into the Wizarding World is marked by a bit of magic. (More on that below.)
The original Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village is located in Islands of Adventure, whereas the Diagon Alley expansion is built upon the former site of the Jaws ride in Universal Studios Florida. As such, guests may soon travel between the parks using the Hogwarts Express train system. It will load and unload from new train stations on both ends.
In Hogsmeade Village, a new train station is being constructed just to the right of the current entrance to the area. A path will lead guests around the extremities of the Dragon Challenge roller coaster and to the new station, which will mirror the look of the existing one, complete with a snow-capped roof. The existing train station and stationary train will remain as photo ops.
For the Diagon Alley expansion, King’s Cross Station is a near replica of the real station in London and will feature the famous track 9 3/4, offering a magical entrance into the Wizarding World.
A park-to-park ticket will be required to take a trip on the Hogwarts Express.
During the webcast, Senior Vice President of Universal Creative Thierry Coup offered a first look inside the Hogwarts Express train, joined within one of the train’s cabins by Luna Lovegood actress Evanna Lynch:
Universal isn’t ready to disclose all the details about the actual Hogwarts Express ride itself just yet, but has noted that each trip will feature scenic views of London and the British countryside, along with surprises that include familiar characters and creatures. (Dementors, perhaps?) None of the backstage areas that the train physically passes through will be visible from within, as all views will be virtual. And Universal is going to try hard to block most views of the train traveling the elevated tracks from guests walking the parks, though it will still be visible at times.
The main entrance to Diagon Alley from the London waterfront area will be disguised with a special pathway, intended to represent the parting of bricks as seen in the films when Hagrid first lets Harry Potter into the area. The full details on how this special pathway will appear are not yet apparent, but jagged, crooked walls are definitely part of it as a representation of the moving wall.
Once inside, Diagon Alley is impressively tall, far larger than Hogsmeade Village. Its main street is lined with shops and eateries including:
Due to Weasley’s Wizard Wheases opening in Diagon Alley, Zonko’s will be closing in Hogsmeade Village and Honeydukes will be expanding in to that spot.
Diagon Alley will be filled with other yet-to-be announced stores along with many facades and windows to browse, including the Daily Prophet, Dr Filibuster’s Fabulous Wet-Start, No-Heat Fireworks, Obscurus Books, and House Elf Placement.
Just to the right of the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron is a small, dark archway leading into Knockturn Alley. Here it will always be nighttime, covered from the sunlight. Borgin and Burkes is the main shop, specializing in the Dark Arts that will offer a wide variety of Dark objects, such as Death Eater masks, skulls, and other sinister items.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
The ride housed within the Gringotts Bank finally has a name: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Universal was not ready to dish out all the details for this attraction yet, though they promise that will happen in the coming months.
Outside, Gringotts will tower over the rest of the already-tall Diagon Alley, with a huge fire-breathing dragon on top of the building.
They did say Escape from Gringotts will be a “multi-sensory, multi- dimensional journey that will take theme park attractions to a new level.” Guests will first walk through an elaborate experience inside Gringotts Bank, complete with goblins seen working inside. It’s said this walkthrough will be even more immersive than Hogwarts Castle at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Ultimately aboard the mine car ride, passengers will navigate their way through the perils of the Gringotts vaults. The ride will be less intense than Forbidden Journey and more family-friendly, but still thrilling. It will feature characters seen in the parks before as well as ones that have not been included yet.
The biggest surprise revealed in the Diagon Alley announcements is an entirely second street running parallel, effectively doubling the area of the expansion. There are two paths into this additional area, one at the front of Diagon Alley near Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and the other accessible via a street passing by Gringotts called Horizont Alley. That new street name came from author JK Rowling.
The big new area is called Carkitt Market, also named by Rowling. It’s inspired real-life London locations like Leadenhall Market, but given a wizarding twist. It’s a huge covered space linking the backside of Diagon Alley to the far right borders of the expansion. Within Carkitt Market will be live entertainment, shopping, and other surprises yet to be announced.
The most important piece of information to take away from today’s announcements is that they are just a sliver of what the Diagon Alley project will offer. The scope of this expansion is massive with many more stores and surprises yet to be revealed. To the left of Gringotts is an entire side of the new Horizont Alley street that Universal wouldn’t comment on. And while construction is moving along briskly, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the details of what types of interactive experiences will be included throughout the new area.
Be sure to check back here soon for a much more in-depth look what it’s like to step inside Diagon Alley, including interviews with its creators.