By Brady MacDonald, Los Angeles Times staff writer
7:45 AM PDT, May 9, 2013
After a year of construction, Universal Orlando has finally admitted that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will expand in 2014 with a detailed re-creation of London's Diagon Alley from the wildly popular series of books and movies.
The highly anticipated expansion of the Wizarding World themed land at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., will see the introduction of a Gringotts Bank attraction in a second land at the adjacent Universal Studios Florida theme park.
A Hogwarts Express train will transport visitors between the existing Hogsmeade Village at Islands of Adventure and the new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.
The second Harry Potter land will be built on the location of the former Jaws attraction, which was demolished more than a year ago.
Of course, as with all things related to Wizarding World, we've known most of this for months if not years. Only now it's finally official.
Which leaves us with what we still don't know - and that's plenty. As you might expect, Internet sleuths have been busy digging for details on Diagon Alley and the new land's planned attractions, restaurants and shops ever since the launch of Project 772 (the codename for the expansion).
Keeping in mind that much of what follows is informed conjecture and speculation, let's take a look at what might be in store for Potter 2.0 at Universal Orlando.
Gringotts Bank coaster
The Gringotts Bank attraction is widely expected to be a first-of-its-kind indoor attraction that combines roller coaster elements with a dark ride experience.
The 3D dark ride will combine a Premier Rides roller coaster track with motion-based ride vehicles, according to Theme Park Insider, according to Theme Park Insider. An elaborate queue will take visitors through a banker's hall, vault display, reading room and Bill Weasley's office.
Expect an appearance by villainess Bellatrix Lestrange as well. The London press reported that Helena Bonham Carter, who played the pure-blood witch in the movies, returned to the Warner Bros. Leavesden studios to film scenes for the Gringotts attraction.
Visitors will enter the ride under a fire-breathing dragon perilously perched atop the Gringotts bank tower, according to an artist rendering.
After passing through the extensive queue, visitors will be transported via elevator into the Gringotts vault. The special effects journey into the underground bank vault is expected to be part of the attraction experience, with the elevator ride simulating both vertical and horizontal movements.
Riders will then board a 24-seat vehicle that features a motion-based platform on top of a roller coaster track. The special effects-laden ride begins with a free-fall drop track section before traveling through scenes with names like Thief's Downfall and Sirius Black's Vault, according to Theme Park Insider.
Hogwarts Express attraction
From the outside, the Hogwarts Express attraction will look like a locomotive with a coal car and three passenger cars, according to Screamscape. Once inside, visitors will sit in individual compartments just like Harry, Ron and Hermione did in the movies.
But rather than windows, the interior of the train will be outfitted with 3-D video screens that create the illusion of passing through the English countryside between Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley.
In reality, two identical trains will each simultaneously depart from their respective stations and travel through a backstage area between the two parks along an elevated track. Unbeknown to the riders inside, the two trains will pass at the midpoint along parallel tracks much like a funicular.
The virtual journey is expected to employ multiple storylines based on the direction riders are traveling, according to Spins the World. The cabins will be equipped with special effects such as heat blasts, flickering lights and leg ticklers. One storyline is expected to include a Dementor attack on the train.
At the Diagon Alley terminus, passengers will embark and disembark at Platform 9 3/4 in a replica of King's Cross station.
Diagon Alley shops and restaurants
Outside the new land, an artist rendering shows the triple-decker Knight Bus parked along the waterfront facades of Grimmauld Place, Wyndham Theater and other west end London locations.
Visitors arriving by foot at Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida will pass through a single "secret entrance" that empties out near a Leaky Cauldron restaurant and a full-scale re-creation of the hidden London village seen in the movies, according to Theme Park Insider.
Universal's version of Diagon Alley is expected to include a number of shops frequented by the young wizards in the movies.
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, a glimpse of which can be spotted in the artist rendering, would combine a walk-through experience and retail shop selling magic tricks and practical jokes like Pygmy Puffs and Wildfire Whiz-Bangs, according to Spins the World. Twin brothers Fred and George Weasley are expected to make virtual appearances in the shop.
In another walk-through experience, visitors will interact with dark magic artifacts in the Borgin & Burkes shop on Knockturn Alley, according to Spins the World.
While the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure already has a wildly popular Ollivanders Wand Shop, the combination walk-through experience and retail store will be replicated in its proper Diagon Alley home at Universal Studios Florida. To increase capacity, the Diagon Alley location is expected to feature a single Ollivanders facade that cleverly hides three separate wand selection experiences inside.
Other shops will include Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment and Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, according to Theme Park Insider.
And, of course, what Wizarding World experience would be complete without Butterbeer? An indoor beverage service location is expected in Diagon Alley.
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