What a difference a week makes in the Wizarding World! When last we PotterWatched, visible exterior progress on Universal Orlando‘s Harry Potter expansions seemed to have slowed. But Easter is all about rebirth, and in recent days several important new elements of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade have sprung to life. Plus, we have some tantalizing new information on the interactive wand experience that has internet rumor mills buzzing.
The big news was the arrival of the iconic Knight Bus in front of Diagon Alley’s London Waterfront on April 11.
The three-story purple bus is surprisingly tall (and purple!) in person.
We can confirm that actors have recently been cast to portray both the bus driver, who will interact with guests outside the bus, and the Jamaican-accented shrunken head hanging from the rearview mirror (a remotely-controlled animatronic puppet).
Unfortunately, guests will not get to step aboard the bus. And don’t be surprised if Universal employees outside the Harry Potter attractions refuse to acknowledge the existence of the bus — it is supposed to be invisible to Muggles, after all!
London Waterfront and Diagon Alley Construction
Here are some Easter Weekend images updating progress on the London Waterfront area in Universal Studios Florida, which will conceal Diagon Alley.
These pillars will support a gateway leading to the London Waterfront.
These embankments will eventually sport authentic-looking London lampposts.
The forested berm that will hide backstage areas is growing by leaps and bounds.
The glass roof over the bridge that runs above Diagon Alley is almost finished being installed.
Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop Facade Appears
The window facade in Hogsmeade Village that had been devoted to Wiseacres Wizarding Supplies has, almost overnight, been converted to represent Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop.
Wiseacres will reappear in Diagon Alley as the gift shop at the exit to the Gringotts attraction.
Zonko’s Window Update
Nearby in Hogsmeade, the windows of the former Zonko’s store have been rearranged.
The “puking pastilles” statue has been removed, the animated chess board has been repositioned, and additional fireworks have appeared.
This development seems to indicate that Zonko’s will remain memorialized in Hogsmeade as a window facade, though its interior is being swallowed up by Honeydukes.
Hogwarts Express Hogsmeade Station
Just outside of Hogsmeade Village, details are rapidly being applied to the Hogwarts Express train station, as more of the structure has been stripped of scaffolding.
Interactive Wand Rumors and More
The hottest topic on message boards and fansites recently has been the new interactive wands rumored to be in development for the Wizarding World. First mentioned by Theme Park Insider’s Rober Niles nearly a year ago, and most recently expanded upon by Ken Storey of Central Florida Top 5, these next-generation wands are said to integrate MEMS gyroscopic sensors (as seen in iPhones and Wii remotes) with Microsoft Kinect-style cameras to allow users to “cast spells” that trigger special effects hidden througout the parks’ Harry Potter-themed areas. For an idea of this type of technology’s entertainment potential, check out this patent from Creative Kingdoms LLC (creators of the MagiQuest attractions found in Great Wolf Lodge resorts), who were rumored to be working on such a project with Universal as far back as the Wizarding World’s first phase.
After consulting with highly-placed sources, we can confirm that Storey’s reports are essentially correct in most major details. Issues such a price and operating capacity are still being determined, but Universal is working towards having the interactive wand program ready in time for Diagon Alley’s grand opening, if not shortly thereafter. In fact, windows in Hogsmeade have already been undergoing after-hours upgrades for some time now, as the previous and following photos hint at.
Obviously there are big question marks about how much this will cost, and how Universal cast members will facilitate guests’ use of the interactive wands, but we will confirm more details for you as they become available.
By the way, based on online chatter and backed by multiple back-channel sources, it’s looking more and more likely that the grand opening of Diagon Alley will happen on — or within a few days of — June 18, 2014. That just happens to be the fourth anniversary of the opening of the original Wizarding World, which would make for nice bit of magical symmetry. NBC’s Today Show was scheduled for a live broadcast from Universal Orlando — which is rumored to include an official opening date announcement — on Friday, April 25, but that was canceled without explanation as this article was being written.