Potterwatch

Does Diagon Alley Feel Like Home (London)?

by on September 16, 2014

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Ed. – We’re happy to bring back our International Youth Correspondent for another kid’s eye article. We’re also grateful to the Duncan family for being so accommodating when we rang them up and asked to borrow their children for a day.

When I heard that Universal Studios Florida was to welcome Diagon Alley as a new land, and that it was to be connected to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter already existing as Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, by the Hogwarts Express train, I was thrilled. I am a colossal Harry Potter fan and had already visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, where the eight Harry Potter movies were filmed, for an audio guided tour of the sets. I couldn’t wait to see how Universal was going to duplicate the original Diagon Alley set, replicate my home of London in general, and build the Knight Bus, Platform 9¾, and, of course, Gringotts Bank.

So when we visited Orlando this summer, my brother and I decided to adopt some American parents for the day, Len Testa and Laurel Stewart – the TouringPlans legends – to take us around the new area and attractions. Len had even concocted a back story in case someone asked how my brother and I got our English accents; we were to reply: “From our nanny, Mary Poppins.” And to do so with a perfectly straight face! I would have totally failed and was so glad we didn’t have to use this in the end.

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PotterWatch: Hogwarts Express and Diagon Alley Soft Openings

by on July 6, 2014

Diagon alley soft opening

Regular guests get their first look at the Universal’s newest Wizarding World during the first day of Diagon Alley soft openings (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Nearly a month after construction walls came down around Universal Studios Florida‘s London waterfront, PotterWatch finally paid off this past week, as regular guests were finally allowed to experience Universal Orlando‘s new Harry Potter attractions in advance of the expansion’s July 8 official opening. Hogwarts Express began “technical rehearsals” on July 1, and the first Diagon Alley soft openings started on July 3.

While the Gringotts ride is not available during these previews, all shops, restaurants, and shows in Diagon Alley should be open to guests on a daily basis until the grand opening on July 8.

As congested as these photos may appear, this is nothing compared to how busy Diagon Alley will be once opening day officially arrives. With minimal queues to enter the area, and posted standby waits at Hogwarts Express of 30 minutes or less, this is an ideal time to experience Diagon Alley without the crushing crowds that are surely coming right around the corner.

Check out these front-line photos from July 3, documenting the first few hours after ordinary visitors were first allowed to experience the new Wizarding World:

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Ollivanders Interactive Wands REVIEW

by on July 3, 2014

 

Ollivanders interactive wands review

Some of the new models of interactive wands available in Ollivanders at Diagon Alley. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Ollivanders interactive wands review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

Ollivanders Wand Shop and Interactive Wands

4 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 4 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
  • TEENS 4 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 4 stars
  • OVER 30 3 1/2 stars
  • SENIORS 3 1/2 stars

What it is Combination wizarding demonstration and shopping op.

Scope and scale Major attraction.
When to go Just before or after riding Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Special comments Audience stands.
Authors’ rating Enchanting; 4 stars.
Duration of presentation 6 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.

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Hogwarts Express REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 2, 2014

Hogwarts Express review

All aboard the Hogwarts Express at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Hogwarts Express review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

Hogwarts Express

4 1/2 STARS

 

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 4 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
  • TEENS 4 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 4 1/2 stars
  • OVER 30 4 1/2 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

 

What it is Transportation attraction with special effects.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening.
Special comments Expect lengthy waits in line. A park-to-park pass is required to ride.
Authors’ rating A moving experience; Not to be missed; 4 1/2 stars
Duration of ride 4 minutes.
Probable wait­ing time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate.

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Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 1, 2014

 

gringotts review

A panoramic view of the majestic Gringotts bank lobby. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

5 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 2 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
  • TEENS 5 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
  • OVER 30 5 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.

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PotterWatch: Hogsmeade Interactive Wands and Vacation Package Previews

by on July 1, 2014

PotterWatch is rounding its final corner and racing into the home stretch, as we are now one week away from the July 8th grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley. Hardcore Potterwatchers have been camped out in Universal Studios Florida for weeks, but aside from special vacation package previews, there have be no public soft openings of the area yet. That doesn’t mean there aren’t magical developments across the resort, as Hogsmeade interactive wands have quietly made their debut.

 

Hogsmeade Interactive Wands

As we’ve previously reported, storefront windows around Hogsmeade have been quietly upgraded over recent months with new special effects triggered by the interactive wands that will be sold inside Diagon Alley’s new Ollivanders shop. As of early this week, almost all of those windows were made functional, and guests can now practice casting spells in advance of Diagon’s big debut.

hogsmeade interactive wands

Interactive wands are now available and active inside Hogsmeade at IoA.

 

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley REVIEW and Touring Tips

by on June 30, 2014

Diagon Alley lies waiting just behind this London facade. Are you prepared to face it? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

Diagon Alley lies waiting just behind this London facade. Are you prepared to face it? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth reviews of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Diagon Alley review and touring strategy, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction and are subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley Review

Guests approach the Wizarding World’s London Waterfront from either the San Francisco or World Expo areas of Universal Studios, at the opposite end of the park from the front entrance. Wrought iron fencing surround the park-like promenade (complete with snack and souvenir stands, and a towering statue-topped fountain) with a shoreline sidewalk along the embankment bypassing the area. Guests access London through the gateway closest to the Fear Factor Live stadium, and exit towards Disaster!

Having arrived at the London area, take a moment to spot Kreacher (the house elf regularly peers from a second-story window above 12 Grimmauld Place), and chat with the Knight Bus conductor and his Caribbean-accented shrunken head. Then enter Diagon Alley next to the Leicester Square marquee in the approximate center of the building facades. As in the books and films, the unmarked portal is concealed within a magical brick wall (which unfortunately does not actually move, due to safety concerns) that is ordinarily reserved for wizards and the like. However, the endless queue of Muggles (plain old humans) in shorts and flip- flops will leave little doubt where that entryway is.

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PotterWatch: Diagon Alley Media Event Preparations and Hogsmeade Interactive Windows

by on June 16, 2014

Potterwatch hogsmeade interactive windows

The media is about to descend upon The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando (photos by Seth Kubersky)

The past week has been a wild emotional roller coaster for Wizarding World of Harry Potter fans on PotterWatch, with last Monday’s euphoric unveiling of Universal Studios Florida‘s London waterfront giving way to days of rain-drenched waiting for non-existent Diagon Alley technical rehearsals. Though it now seems certain we won’t see the inside of Diagon Alley until this week’s media preview, we did get look at preparations for the upcoming VIP event. And over at Islands of Adventure, we have exciting photos of all the new interactive windows recently installed throughout Hogsmeade.

Diagon Alley Media Event Preparations

Team member training, executive inspections, and promotional filming precluded any possible soft openings at Diagon Alley this week, but you can see the staging equipment being prepared for the media preview that begins this Tuesday.

 

The last construction walls have been removed, fully revealing the forested berm that block the view of Gringotts.

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PotterWatch: Diagon Alley’s London Waterfront Walls Are Down

by on June 9, 2014

As Laurel Stewart shared in a newsflash a short time ago, the construction walls around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley came down late last night, unveiling the new London facades without walls for the first time to this morning’s guests (including myself). Without further ado, we present a long-awaited PotterWatch milestone, without our first full look at the expansion with the London Waterfront walls removed.

Wizarding World Harry Potter Diagon Alley London Waterfront walls

A first look at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley and the London Waterfront without walls (photos by Seth Kubersky)

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Newsflash – Construction Walls Are Down at Diagon Alley

by on June 9, 2014

t_logo_fbDiagon Alley has reached another milestone as it approaches its (as yet unannounced) soft openings – the construction walls that have surrounded it were removed last night. Seth Kubersky, PotterWatcher extraordinaire, has been onsite to get the latest for you.

For photos, check out our Twitter feed – @TouringPlans.

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