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
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.
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.
Interactive wands are now available and active inside Hogsmeade at IoA.
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.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers the Top Six Photo Ops at Universal. Previously we have covered our favorite Photo Connect experiences at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, but this week we are going to look at the six must-get photos when we walk around the parks. For first time visitors, these are the locations that are going to make you stop in your tracks and get out the camera. Some are iconic, others are breathtaking, but all are memorable and should be considered for your vacation scrapbook. Let’s start off by heading into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village….
# 6 – Hogwarts Express and Conductor (Islands of Adventure)
Muggles stepping foot into Hogsmeade Village for the first time are going to love the great photo op with the Hogwarts Express and interacting with the train’s conductor. Holding his enchanted pocket watch, the conductor is the go-to person with any question on Hogsmeade as he is always well versed on Potter-lore and everything within this magical land.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Surprises of Universal’s Diagon Alley. The Universal Orlando Resort held its big Diagon Alley media event this week, and TouringPlans’ own Seth Kubersky was on hand each night of the the three day event. For this red carpet event, Universal flew in some major players from the Potter movie universe, including the usual crew of Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and the Phelps twins (Fred and George Weasley), but also used the Floo Network and brought in Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Domhnall Gleason (Bill Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), Robbie Coltrain (Hagrid), and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). For the first time ever, media and VIPs were able to ride on the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, along with experiencing everything in Diagon Alley itself. The Leaky Cauldron. Carkitt Market. Knockturn Alley. All of it.
We’ll cover all the big stuff in due time (especially with the newly announced July 8 Grand Opening date for all guests), but today we’re going to look at six surprises within Diagon Alley that had us grinning wider than Ron Weasley after seeing a Veela.
# 6 – Gringotts Bank Notes
Gringotts bank note (photo by Seth Kubersky)
After many years Universal finally has its version of Disney Dollars in the form of Gringotts Bank Notes. Located in Carkitt Market, the Gringotts Money Exchange will allow guests to exchange their Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes (in $10 or $20 denominations), which can then be used as souvenirs or as currency to purchase anything in the Wizarding World or on Universal property. Even more impressive is the goblin animatronic that interacts with the guests, including looking directly at the person talking to it. Both creepy and fun.
The opening includes the Hogwarts Express, a first-ever attraction/transport that moves guests between two theme parks (Hogsmeade Station at Islands of Adventure and King’s Cross Station at the Universal Studios Florida park), and Gringott’s Coaster, as well as new dining and retail.
The opening of Hogsmeade Village at Islands of Adventure saw record breaking lines just to enter the park (more than 8 hours). We expect the situation at Diagon Alley to be similar.
Stay tuned for more information as we get it, follow us on Twitter at @TouringPlans, and in the meantime enjoy the promotional video Universal released today:
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.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers the Six Reasons We Love the London Waterfront Area of Universal Studios Florida. Wait a minute, didn’t we already do a Saturday Six on Harambe Nights for this week? Yes we did, but the construction walls came down earlier this week, and our excitement level about Diagon Alley is at a fever pitch. Now that we’ve had a day or two to pick our jaws up off the ground, it’s time to present those items that blow our minds by looking at what is the most elaborate facade in theme park history.
# 6 – Kreacher at 12 Grimmauld Place
Kreacher peering out the windows at the filthy muggles outside. (photo by HateToFly)
To quote German poet and professional basketball player Dirk Nowtizki, we can basically SHUT IT DOWN right now as Kreacher peeking through the curtains at 12 Grimmauld Place is everything that makes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter the gold standard in theme parks today. A Kreacher animatronic is taking fan service to the Nth degree and will make anyone who has ready the Potter books or has seen the movies to almost swoon in disbelief. Before you even walk through the doors, Universal Creative has shown they get it.
Halloween Horror Nights 24 at the Universal Orlando Resort started off with a bang as it was announced that AMC’s The Walking Dead would return to the nation’s premier haunted experience for the third straight year. A ratings juggernaut for AMC, season 4 of The Walking Dead premiered in October of 2013 with a shocking 16 Million viewers and continued its popularity until the season finale in March of 2014, which also set a ratings record for season finales (breaking its own record set at the end of season 3).
In 2012, The Walking Dead made its debut at Halloween Horror Nights 22, with a haunted maze that used no characters from the popular television show. For HHN 23, not only did The Walking Dead have a bigger maze, but the entire park was filled with scare zones set to themes established by the television show. In addition, several characters from the show (such as Michonne’s walkers) were used in the scare zones and maze, making the experience much more immersive for fans of the show.
Universal says that for HHN 24 The Walking Dead will have the biggest house of the entire event and will use more scare actors than ever before. The official HHN 24 twitter feed has been dropping hints of what we can expect to see, including:
Almost every major environment in season 4 will be featured. Prison for a small portion. The big spot and its parking lot. The moonshine shack, the country club, the tunnel… Terminus. – Mike Aiello, HHN Creative Director