A double dose of Harry Potter coming to Universal Orlando
The much-anticipated expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is expected to be unveiled in late June with a dark ride through the cavernous vaults of Gringotts Bank, a virtual journey on the Hogwarts Express train and a faithful re-creation of London’s Diagon Alley.
The original Wizarding World with its towering Hogwarts Castle and intricately reimagined Hogsmeade village opened in 2010 at Islands of Adventure to massive crowds and rave reviews, leading Universal to conjure up a Diagon Alley sequel for its sister theme park.
The second Harry Potter land will be built next door at Universal Studios Florida on the location of the former Jaws attraction. Visitors will need a two-park ticket to visit both lands and ride the train, which connects the adjacent theme parks in Orlando, Fla.
While many details have been revealed about Diagon Alley, some key elements of the expansion remain shrouded in mystery. What follows are the facts as we know them about Potter 2.0, along with some informed conjecture.
Gringotts Bank coaster
The Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction is widely expected to be a first-of-its-kind indoor attraction that combines roller coaster elements with a 3D dark ride experience.
An elaborate queue will take visitors through a grand marble lobby with animatronic goblin bankers as well as a vault display, reading room and Bill Weasley’s office.
Riders will then board a 24-seat vehicle that features a motion-based platform on top of a roller coaster track with high-definition animation and special effects.
Expect appearances by Harry, Ron and Hermione as well as the villainess Bellatrix Lestrange and He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Hogwarts Express attraction
From the outside, the Hogwarts Express attraction will look like a locomotive with a coal car and three passenger cars. 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 is expected to be outfitted with video screens that create the illusion of passing through London and the English countryside during the journey 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 will feature two different storylines depending on which direction riders are traveling -- from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley or from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. The cabins will be equipped with special effects such as heat blasts, flickering lights and leg ticklers.
Expect to see Hagrid on a flying motorcycle, the Weasley twins on their brooms, the Knight Bus in London, a Dementors attack and Buckbeak the Hippogriff as well as Harry, Ron and Hermione.
In a replica of King’s Cross station at the Diagon Alley terminus, passengers will reach Platform 9 3/4 by appearing to walk through a solid brick wall via a “transition” illusion.
Diagon Alley shops and restaurants
Outside the new land, an artist’s rendering shows the triple-decker Knight Bus parked along the waterfront facades of Grimmauld Place, Wyndham Theatre and other West End London locations.
Visitors arriving by foot at Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida are expected to pass through a single “secret entrance” that empties into a full-scale re-creation of the hidden London village seen in the movies.
Near the entrance, the Leaky Cauldron buffeteria restaurant will offer British fare such as cottage pie, fish and chips, Scotch eggs, stew, and bangers and mash.
At the head of the street, a fire-breathing dragon will be perilously perched atop the Gringotts Bank tower above the entrance to the dark ride.
Universal’s version of Diagon Alley will include a number of shops frequented by the young wizards in the movies.
While the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure already has a wildly popular (though geographically misplaced in the Potter universe) 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.
Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes retail shop will sell magic tricks and practical jokes such as Pygmy Puffs, Skiving Snackboxes, Extendable Ears and Wildfire Whiz-Bangs. Twin brothers Fred and George Weasley are expected to make virtual appearances in the shop. Much like Ollivanders, the joke and magic shop is expected to include a walk-through experience.
In another walk-through experience, visitors will interact with dark magic artifacts in the Borgin & Burkes shop on Knockturn Alley. The shop will sell Death Eater masks, skulls and costume replicas.
Other retail shops will include:
* Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions -- School uniforms from the four houses of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
* Magical Menagerie -- Plush versions of Hippogriffs, Crookshanks, Fang, Buckbeak, Fluffy, Scabbers and other mystical creatures.
* Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment -- Student supplies such as crystal balls, armillary spheres and hourglasses.
* Quality Quidditch Supplies -- Sporting goods such as quaffle balls, golden snitches and bludger bats.
* Scribbulus -- Writing implements such as feather quills and parchment paper.
* Wands by Gregorovitch
* Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour
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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