Harry Potter fans will have another reason to visit Orlando this summer: Diagon Alley — an addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — officially opens at Universal Orlando Resort. Diagon Alley debuts four years after mobs of Harry Potter followers first descended upon The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade. Visitors to Universal will now be able to board a real Hogwarts Express train from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, the cobbled passageway only accessible to (fictional) wizards.
Muggles (or non-wizards, in Harry Potter terminology) will be able to frequent the alley’s famous shops just as the wizards in the books do. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Borgin and Burkes and the popular pub Leaky Cauldron have all been re-created from the movies and books. Park attendees must purchase a park-to-park ticket ($136 for a one-day adult pass) to travel between the two Harry Potter attractions.
The main draw of Diagon Alley will be Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – a ride that Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative, describes as one that “raises the bar” for Universal.
Coup explains how the four-minute attraction works: Riders will enter Gringotts Wizarding Bank, a structure that towers over Diagon Alley and features a 60-foot, fire-breathing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon on top. Individuals will be asked if they want to open a savings account by animatronic goblins that look remarkably like the creatures in the Harry Potter movies (Gringotts is owned and operated by goblins).
Two carts carrying 12 passengers each will then sail underground on tracks that twist and turn; the carts speed past customers’ bank vaults, which are hidden and protected in stone.
Riders will soon find themselves surrounded by Bellatrix Lestrange and Death Eaters who are engaged in an intense wizarding battle (duck!) with Harry, Hermoine and Ron after the threesome are caught stealing a horcrux that belongs to Lord Voldemort (aka “He Who Must Not Be Named”).
Individuals will feel sensations of “being launched, shaken, and dropped,” says Coup. But passengers with sensitive stomachs needn't worry – Coup notes that Universal “tamed down the amount of abrupt motion” that can be felt on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride (not recommended after a meal or for those who are easily nauseated). The Gringotts attraction will also be available to a larger range of Harry Potter fans – there is no weight restriction, unlike on the Forbidden Journey.
“We want to make sure everyone gets to enjoy and explore what we’re opening,” says Coup.
The fighting scenes in the Escape from Gringotts were also filmed exclusively for the ride; existing movie clips were not used. Coup says he and his team have worked closely with Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling on Diagon Alley’s development, but the billionaire author has yet to see the latest edition of her boy-wizard universe.
Universal will not confirm when Diagon Alley, which reportedly cost $400 million to build, will open to the public; insiders believe it could happen by the end of June. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has not only increased Universal’s (and parent company Comcast’s) bottom line – it has also made Universal a go-to destination in Florida. Attendance at Universal Orlando jumped 30% in 2010 following the debut of WWHP. Comcast (CMCSA) reported that revenue from its theme parks segment (which includes the Universal Studios Hollywood) increased 5.4% to $487 million last quarter, versus $462 million in the first quarter of 2013.
According to the Themed Entertainment Association, Universal's two Orlando theme parks -- Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios -- attracted a combined 14.18 million visitors in 2012. To compare, Disney (DIS) World’s Magic Kingdom had an attendance of 17.54 million in 2012; 11 million people visited Disney’s Epcot that year.
Over 450 million copies of the Harry Potter series have been sold worldwide, and the eight movies produced by Warner Bros. Pictures have grossed more than $7.7 billion at the global box office.
The Daily Ticker will share more details on the Diagon Alley expansion when we visit Universal. Stay tuned!
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