Diagon Alley is almost here. Last week, Universal Orlando opened the brick walls leading from the Muggle city of London into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion at Universal Studios Florida in a preview of the new area, set to officially open July 8, 2014.
It’s been just over a year since Diagon Alley was first announced and since then “Harry Potter” fans have been hanging on to every tiny detail that’s been released. Now that the new area has been fully unveiled during the special press preview event, the videos, photos, and information below offer a complete overview of the impressively detailed and immersive new area, with links to take a closer look at each section.
Warning: The rest of this post contains an in-depth look at Diagon Alley, including many spoilers!
Traveling to and from Diagon Alley can be achieved by foot, simply walking around Universal Studios Florida. But the best way to be completely immersed in the Wizarding World experience is to ride the new, real-life Hogwarts Express train that now connects that park with Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure.
Guests can board the Hogwarts Express in the new Hogsmeade train station to travel to Diagon Alley or get on at King’s Cross Station to make the trip to Hogwarts. Each direction offers a different experience, with special effects and visuals offering a believable trip aboard the train. There are close encounters with familiar “Harry Potter” characters during the comfortable 4.5-minute ride.
Video: Hogwarts Express full ride POV – Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando
Video: Platform 9 3/4 wall effect for Hogwarts Express
Video: Hedwig animatronic in Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Video: Hogwarts Express train pulls into Hogsmeade Station at Universal Orlando
Video: Hogwarts Express full ride POV – Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
Click here for a closer look at the Hogwarts Express experience.
London waterfront embankment & Knight Bus
After getting off the Hogwarts Express, guests do not enter directly into Diagon Alley. Instead, the first view comes of the new London waterfront embankment, a row of facades replicating real London locations. There are “Harry Potter” references throughout the area, some more subtle than others.
Grimmauld Place features Kreacher the house elf peeking out of a window occasionally. The big purple Knight Bus is permanently parked out front, featuring an interactive moment between its conductor and the shrunken head hanging inside.
There is also merchandise and food available around this new London area as well as some street performers to make it feel faithful to the real-life location.
Video: Interactive Knight Bus Shrunken Head & Conductor + London embankment tour at Universal Orlando
Entering Diagon Alley
Passing through jagged brick walls reveals the grandeur of Diagon Alley, a huge wow moment as guests first see the massive buildings that hide behind the London facades. Eyes are immediately drawn upward across the highly detailed storefronts, then down the street toward the area’s focal point, Gringotts Bank – home of the new Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride (more on that below).
Video: Detailed Diagon Alley daytime walkthrough at Universal Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Video: Diagon Alley walk through in Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando
Diagon Alley is rich with detail. Whether a storefront actually leads into a store or is simply a facade hiding something behind, there’s no shortage of interesting artwork and window dressings to take in. It’s even bigger and more immersive than Hogsmeade Village, completely hiding the outside world and rest of the theme park, offering believability and authenticity throughout.
Find many more photos of the detailed streets of Diagon Alley (along with Horizont Alley and Carkitt Market) in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
The highlight of all of Diagon Alley is the new Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Sitting atop the Gringotts Bank building is a massive, realistic looking dragon. It may not move, but it is incredibly detailed to the point where it looks like a real creature, menacingly resting as a focal point of Diagon Alley. And it commands attention every time it breaths fire, roaring loudly to be heard throughout the area.
Video: Diagon Alley Dragon breathing fire in Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts a next generation of thrill ride, combining elements of Revenge of The Mummy, Transformers: The Ride 3D, along with plenty of new innovations. Its elaborate queue is even an attraction unto itself, with huge themed rooms to pass through, filled with special effects and lifelike characters. And then there’s the elevator ride down to the Gringotts vaults, a ride-within-a-ride.
Video: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts full queue walkthrough at Universal Orlando
The ride itself puts passengers face-to-face with Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange along with larger than life creatures, all in realistic 3D.
Video – On-ride scene: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – Bellatrix Lestrange at Universal Orlando
For a much closer and more detailed look, click here for spoiler-free and spoiler-filled reviews of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
The darkest corner of the Diagon Alley expansion lies in Knockturn Alley, where the evils of “Harry Potter” go to gather and shop. It’s much larger than expected, with winding dark and foreboding passageways making it easy to get lost. The temperature drops as storm clouds gather overhead at all hours of the day within Knockturn Alley, a great escape from the hot sun. Several interactions can be enjoyed via magic wands and there’s plenty of shopping in Borgin and Burkes.
Video: Knockturn Alley with interactive wands in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
Click here for a closer look at Knockturn Alley.
There is no shortage of shopping available throughout Diagon Alley, with a little something for every “Harry Potter” fan. Ollivanders Wand Shop is certainly a highlight, similar to the one already found in Hogsmeade, but with more opportunities to be part of show.
Video: Ollivanders Wand Shop show in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
The rest of Diagon Alley features many more alliterative stores including Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Madam Malkin’s, Magical Menagerie, and Quality Quidditch.
Video: Diagon Alley stores tour at Universal Orlando
Those looking for an extra fun way to spend their money can visit Gringotts Bank Exchange, where an interactive animatronic goblin can help guests trade in their Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes.
Video: Gringotts Money Exchange interactive animatronic goblin in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
Click here for a closer look at the shops of Diagon Alley.
Food and Drinks
To keep guests going while spending time in Diagon Alley, there are several establishments for unique food and drinks, each keeping with the theme of the Wizarding World. The Leaky Cauldron serves British fare and specialty drinks, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour dishes out Butterbeer ice cream and other unique new flavors, Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment adds a bit of magic by pouring Gillywater, and the Fountain of Fair Fortune has new wizarding beers plus other favorite drinks.
Video: Diagon Alley dining tour – Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor, and more
Click here for a closer look at the dining in Diagon Alley.
Entertainment and Interactivity
In addition to rides, shopping, and dining, Diagon Alley also features new entertainment to Universal Orlando. Two live shows plus a magical bit of interactivity help bring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion to life.
Throughout both Diagon Alley and retrofitted into Hogsmeade Village, interactive wands now enable Muggles to truly act as wizards by swishing and flicking around the area, causing animated special effects to spring to life in and around many storefronts and windows. The magical moments include making it rain, lighting up the night, causing a little chaos in Knockturn Alley, triggering jokes around Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and much more.
Video: Interactive wands hands-on in Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando
Singing Sorceress: Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees
In a toe-tapping jazzy show, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees sing and dance their way through newly-composed tunes based on song titles written by JK Rowling herself. The lyrics reference plenty of wizarding fun but aren’t so obvious about it to be silly. It’s a highly entertaining act that livens up the Carkitt Market stage.
Video: Singing Sorceress – Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
Fables from “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”
Through elaborately crafted puppets, a quartet tells the Tale of Three Brothers and one other story with special effects. There are both a bit of humor and seriousness to these performances, each directly tying in to the stories of “Harry Potter.”
Video: Tale of the Three Brothers puppet show in Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
Click here for a closer look at the entertainment offerings of Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley has set the new standard for themed entertainment. Universal Orlando has gone above and beyond the simple act of recreating movie sets, truly making this new “Harry Potter” area feel real, as if guests have actually traveled to a magical place. There is no corner left untouched with an endless amount of detail to take in throughout the streets alone. Add to that the surplus of shopping, dining, entertainment, and attractions and Diagon Alley is now the gold standard that all other theme parks will need to live up to. Expectations have been exceeded, even appealing to those who aren’t “Harry Potter” fans.
Diagon Alley is filled with details that Universal didn’t have to add to make an enjoyable attraction, but did to make it feel complete. There are staircases and paths that lead to nowhere, blocked off but giving a feeling of a bigger world than what is really built. There are lights and decorations in every window up and down its massive facades, making it seem like each building is fully occupied and in use.
For all of this to debut at once is a feat unto itself. It was merely 2.5 years ago that the Jaws ride closed on the very footprint where Diagon Alley exists today. Universal demolished and flattened that area and built this massive expansion in that timeframe, maintaining high quality craftsmanship at a staggering pace.
And Universal Orlando isn’t done. While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is about to open in Universal Studios Japan in July followed by another version in Universal Studios Hollywood in a couple years, the Orlando parks will continue to add high-quality experiences that believably immerse guests in other worlds. They have described their drive as “relentless,” reinventing what we know as themed entertainment, making theme parks better than ever.
Diagon Alley is truly among the most immersive, impressive, and believable theme park experiences ever created.
More photos from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando: