One year ago today, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley officially opened at Universal Studios Florida, and what a year it has been for theme park fans! We saw the magic of Harry Potter’s universe come to life when Hogsmeade and Hogwarts opened a few years prior, at sister park Islands of Adventure, but even that couldn’t have prepared park-goers for what came next. What was created for the second phase of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando surpassed all expectations and set a new standard for theme parks worldwide.
Not only did Diagon Alley bring an expansion of locations and experiences, more unique merchandise items, and delicious new foods and beverages from the realm of J.K. Rowling’s witches and wizards… Diagon Alley achieved a seamless immersion into a fantastical world, in a way that no other theme park land had done before it—or has since. Once guests walked through the London city front and crossed the iconic brick wall for the first time, they were treated to a feast of sights, sounds and smells that was arresting on all senses. And all completely secluded from the outside “real” world. Just like Harry first experienced at the hand of Hagrid in the books and movies, walking into Diagon Alley for the first time was a moment of incomparable wonderment for park guests, and a religious experience for fans of the boy wizard.
The new land introduced the groundbreaking attraction Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, including a ride with a novel mix of simulation and roller coaster elements, in a hybrid environment of 3D virtual reality and physical sets; not to mention walking through the majestic lobby of the goblin bank in the presence of the eerie creatures themselves, among so many more magical moments in between.
Also, two fantastic new shows debuted with the opening of Diagon Alley: The Tales of Beedle the Bard performed by W.A.D.A. (or Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts), along with a musical extravaganza performed by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Drama, humor and special effects come together as W.A.D.A. troupe members perform with intricate puppets specially designed by Emmy-award-winning designer Michael Curry. As for the singing sorceress, Celestina Warbeck and her back-up performers put on a revue that is energetic and interactive with the audience. Both shows were developed from mere details in the books’ subplots and evolved into impressive productions that—save for their abridged length suited to theme park crowds—are Broadway worthy.
The theming and ambiance of Diagon Alley is unrivaled. Thanks to a successful collaboration with the artists who also worked on the movies, the new land replicated and allowed guests to step into settings only seen in film until that point. The amount of authentic details is unmatched. The new land also introduced new merchandise, which along with existing popular items, were presented in their own fully themed specialty shops, such as Madam Malkin’s which caters to all robe and clothing needs, or Magical Menagerie where there’s exotic pets for every taste, or even Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley for those with a darker persuasion… Unique cuisine and brews are a staple of the Wizarding World, and Diagon Alley broadened the culinary boundaries once again. The Leaky Cauldron was recreated, along with authentic British fare to continue the immersive experience. Plenty of mouthwatering drinks for all ages also arrived to claim their spot alongside the classic Butterbeer at several locations throughout the new land. But definitely the standout and hugely popular new shop was Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Offering an array of creative frozen concoctions, it has kept lines out the door since opening day. And new merchandise as well as food and beverage creations continue to arrive at Diagon Alley from time to time, including the latest frenzy in adult beverages, Fire Whisky.
But it doesn’t end there! Coinciding with the opening of Diagon Alley, interactive wands became available to guests, and a whole new element of magic was ingrained to both Wizarding World lands at Universal Orlando. Throughout both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, shop windows were “enchanted” so guests would be able to animate different elements in each window with a spell and a flick of these special wands. The interactive wands could be purchased at the all-new Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, just like Harry did in his first visit to the wizard’s market.
Along with Diagon Alley also came the Hogwarts Express, which completed and united both Wizarding World lands at Universal Orlando Resort. Just like Diagon Alley, this mode of transportation between the two parks maintained an impermeable immersion inside Harry Potter’s universe and offered an original way to travel from park to park.
Diagon Alley and its experiences, along with the Hogwarts Express, have received endless praise as well as several Thea Awards for theme park entertainment and technical excellence. The huge success of the Wizarding World in Orlando has even spawned several recreations of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts at other Universal resorts around the world, with the next one due to open in Hollywood next year. Rumors and excitement always follow the boy wizard, and we are all eager to see what comes next for Harry Potter in the world of theme parks. Could it be the Ministry of Magic? Or maybe a land based on the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie franchise? Whatever it ends up being, stay tuned to Orlando United for full coverage and discussions.
Cheers to Universal Orlando Resort on a magical year with Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express! Here’s to many, many more!