This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Can’t Wait for Diagon Alley to Open. It seems every day something comes along which whets our appetite even more for the new Harry Potter themed land coming to Universal Studios Florida. In just the past few days we’ve gotten a Disney Dish with Jim Hill episode that covered the new food items coming to the Leaky Cauldron, three of the Weasley clan taking a look into Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and Seth Kubersky’s preliminary touring plans for Diagon Alley. With the media preview taking place June 17-20, it’s safe to say we’ll be walking around the wizarding shopping area very shortly. Here’s what we are really excited about experiencing after the most recent developments:
# 6 – The DRAGON
Sitting high atop Gringotts Bank (already the tallest building inside Diagon Alley) is the half-blind Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon that we all remember from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Besides its immense size, the attention to detail on the dragon is staggering. You can see the marks around its neck where chains tore into its skin, holes in its wings, and an overall aura of authenticity that almost has you feeling for this tragic character even in its menacing pose. While it is still not completely known how much (if any) movement the dragon will have, the gas lines have been installed, and soon it will breathe fire.
The Gringotts dragon can be seen from far away in the park, but we can’t wait to get up close and personal with this beast!
# 5 – Wizard Currency Exchange
Theme park guests have had Disney Dollars since the late 1980s, and Universal will now have its own currency exchange at Gringotts bank. Here we will be able to exchange our Muggle currency for Wizarding bank notes, which can be used to purchase items in the Wizarding World (or anywhere else in the park) or saved as a souvenir. The currency exchange inside Diagon Alley will be manned by an audio-animatronic bank teller who is expected to interact with guests using a system either similar to what Disney uses for the talking Mickey at Town Square Theater (with pre-recorded lines) or using a live actor off scene, as the Mystic Fountain works at Islands of Adventure. Add this one to the Must Do list.
# 4 – Butterbeer Ice Cream
More than 20 new flavors are coming to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor, including Earl Grey and lavender, chocolate chili, clotted cream, apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding, strawberry and peanut butter, salted caramel Blondie, chocolate and raspberry, and orange marmalade. However, this week the bomb was dropped that Butterbeer ice cream will also be available. Now we love Butterbeer, with frozen being our favorite (although warm Butterbeer knocked our socks off earlier this year at Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter), but Butterbeer soft serve on a hot Florida day? Step aside Dole Whip, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Diagon Alley is filled with unique food and beverage items that you won’t find anywhere else at the Universal Orlando Resort. Whether it’s Cottage Pie at the Leaky Cauldron, Wizard’s Brew at the Hopping Pot, or the various elixirs in Horizont Alley that you can add to Gillywater, bring an empty stomach (and a full wallet) when you arrive.
# 3 – The Tale of Three Brothers
One of my personal favorite parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I was the creative way the film told the story of The Tale of the Three Brothers from Beedle the Bard. Guests of Diagon Alley will see this story brought to life as a troupe of four performers from the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts use scenic pieces, props, and puppetry fabricated by Emmy-award-winning designer Michael Curry to tell the tale of how the Deathly Hallows ended up in the hands of three brothers after they cheated death.
Another story from Beedle the Bard, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, will also be acted out. I’ve got high hopes for both of these new shows because over at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade there are two live shows that I enjoy, the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally. While neither show is worth planning your day around, both completely understand the “world” that the Potter films take place. With a bigger budget and source material containing more depth of story, the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts shows should have huge appeal to Potter fan.
# 2 – The London Waterfront
With Springfield U.S.A. and the London Waterfront, Universal has turned its lagoon area into a true highlight of the park. Absolutely gorgeous recreations of King’s Cross station, Leicester Square, Wyndham’s Theatre, and 12 Grimmauld Place are the first things you will notice, but throughout the entire area are little touches meant to replicate the feel of London along with various props like the Knight Bus straight out of the Potter films.
The more I go to all theme parks the more I find myself seeing fewer shows, riding fewer rides, and instead taking more time to enjoy the environment. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy strolling through World Showcase in Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I now think that I’ll be spending more of my time going to Duff Gardens and then walking over to the Shaftesbury memorial fountain in London to admire the work on the statue of Eros rather than at the other end of Universal Studios riding Transformers or Revenge of the Mummy.
# 1 – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
From all accounts, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts looks to create an experience from beginning to end that is even more memorable than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, something I would have thought impossible to accomplish. The Gringotts Bank queue is said to be as detailed as Hogwarts Castle with even more interactive features and the ride itself brings guests right back into the action of the Deathly Hallows Part II. Characters that we loved (Bill Weasley) and hated (Bellatrix Lestrange) will be along for a brand new Potter story that will tie into the story of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine making their escape from the Lestrange vault.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Can’t Wait for Diagon Alley to Open. To be fair, we could have made this the Top 60 Reasons because there is so much to do and see that we are dying to finally experience. Carkitt Market. The interactive wand experiences. The Hogwarts Express. Potter themed Photo Connect experiences. The various shops of Diagon Alley including Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. The “brick opening” entrance from London to Diagon. For the first time, women wand keepers at Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. However, despite all that awesomeness we may be most excited by the one bit of the new area that Universal seems to be holding extremely close to the vest… Knockturn Alley. An area devoted to dark magic and a store – Borgin and Burkes – that will offer Death Eater masks, robes, and other items used by the villains of the Potter Universe? Take our money, please!
See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six, where we grab our broomstick and take a look at the Harambe Nights event at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to Disney Blogger Extraordinaire Morgan Crutchfield, HateToFly, and crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for their assistance with this article. I encourage any fan of universal to check out HateToFly’s podcast Orlando United Radio. HateToFly, along with cohosts Drew and Brian, provides excellent commentary and discussion on Universal news and rumors.