Universal Orlando Park Review: Diagon Alley
On July 8th, Universal Orlando tapped the bricks to open the passage to Diagon Alley. The addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter took years to create. From concept to laying the bricks, the process was packed with creativity and resulted in groundbreaking attractions and details you can’t find anywhere else. When I was invited to explore the new area, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I also found 20 Tips, Tricks and Secrets for Visiting Diagon Alley, check them out by clicking HERE.
Entering Diagon Alley
Walking across the bridge from the Simpsons area to London is a transition that works. The sounds, the atmosphere and even the air simply feels…magical. The front facade is muggle England. Guests see Piccadilly Circus Fountain and Kings Cross Station along with vendors selling items adorned with United Kingdom’s flag.
The entire area is a sublime little piece of England, but the giant purple Knight Bus awaits next to the iconic fountain. A conductor leans casually against the bus chatting with a shrunken head. He will welcome you for pictures and include you in his conversation. The head even recognized the Crookshanks plush my youngest daughter was clutching and stated, “Hey, I have seen that cat before!”
Grimmauld Place also greets you; number 12 is stretched out before your eyes in a slightly darker colored brick. It’s an ideal place for a quick picture and setting the tone for your adventure beyond the seemingly innocent brick wall.
Turn the corner and you will hear the low, grinding slide of bricks. It’s a perfect touch appreciated by Potter enthusiasts who, like me, cherished that moment Hagrid tapped the wall and revealed an entire new world to a young Harry Potter.
Once inside Diagon Alley, you are completely absorbed into the wizarding world. Every detail from sights, sounds, smells, and even temperature make you feel like you have experienced real magic. Universal took amazing steps in the creation of Diagon Alley. They wanted to ensure the feeling of immersion into a new world and succeeded.
Interesting Fact: You can’t see any other areas of the park from within the alley by design. The Universal Team made sure that skyline didn’t have even the tiniest peek of any part of the resort that could impede the magic of being in Diagon Alley.
Down the alley, your eyes will be captured by a white dragon sitting astride Gringotts. It steals the scene with a grumble and roar that precedes a crowd-stopping breath of fire. You can feel the brief warmth and hear the crackle. It repeats the fire-breathing, but it makes you stop in awe. Every. Time.
Shopping in Diagon Alley
Weasley Wizards Wheezes – It is one of the eye-catching gems that has the memorable storefront brought to life. Inside, several stories contain everything from Skiving Snackboxes to Love Potions. Many of the details in the films have been recreated inside and outside. If you liked Zonko’s, you’ll love this store.
Quality Quidditch Supplies – This shop is its own entity, but connected to Weasley’s Wizards Wheezes. This time the Quidditch supplies aren’t limited to Hogwarts House teams. You can find more selection from other teams including Holyhead Harpies and the Chudley Cannons.
Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions – This charming store is the place to get your robes, t-shirts, wallets and caps. Witches help you find a robe with accents to match your Hogwarts House. This place is easy to miss, but I strongly suggest you stop by, even if it is just a peek at some of the threads from your favorite Harry Potter characters. Don’t skip over the items in cabinets that appear to simply be decor. You might find a very magical bag that came in very handy for Harry, Ron and Hermione.
Ollivanders – It is the second and true location for the Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. It is also more thoughtful for those waiting in line. Instead of the bulk of the queue being outside in the Florida sun, most of the waiting happens inside the shop. Walls filled with wand boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling, in lovely muggle air conditioning, prepare crowds for the “show”. It is very similar to the presentation in Hogsmeade, but has a roomier feel.
Shopping in Horizont Alley
Magical Menagerie – This plush pet store is a must-visit for the little-muggles. You can find soft unicorns, Hagrid’s dog, Fang, and Cornish Pixies looming near owls and Hippogriffs. The witches and wizards working the store were amazing and helped my picky six-year old decided on a new pet.
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment – After riding Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, you will exit the attraction into this store. It has a bit of everything from umbrellas to mugs. You might remember this storefront from Hogsmeade. The location was moved to its proper home in Horizont Alley and Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop filled the void in the former spot.
Scribbulus – Attached to Wiseacre’s, you will find this quaint shop for all your writing needs. Postcards, quills, sealing wax and parchment paper can be found here. Around the corner from the store entrance, you will find “Pram Parking” to stow your strollers for the Gringotts ride.
Shopping in Carkitt Market
This covered area is a great place to escape rain. It is covered and focused on small stage where you will see performances by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees along with an amazing puppet show that depicts ‘Tales of Beedle the Bard‘. I was fortunate enough to catch ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers,’ which is a story of its own accord and amazingly portrayed. I won’t ruin the magic, but make sure you catch this show.
Gringotts Money Exchange – A goblin awaits you and is a great prep for the Escape from Gringotts ride. You can exchange your muggle money for Gringotts bank notes. They make awesome souvenirs or you can spend them in the park for a unique experience.
Wands by Gregorovitch – I almost missed this tiny shop tucked away in Carkitt Market. It doesn’t have the show that comes with the Ollivander experience, but it houses the classic wands and offers a less crowded place to shop and browse.
Shutterbuttons Photo Studio – This fun new gem is sometimes overlooked. This new experience combines wizard photography with muggle technology. Guests can create their own moving photo album featuring 12 different scenes from the film. These moments are captured and put onto a muggle DVD for you to take home.
It’s dark, ominous, and intriguing. To escape the sun and heat, walk through this shady side of the tracks. The temperature is deliberately colder to encourage the sensory reaction. The alley has several spots for your wand to work some magic. Secrets and fun haunts lurk around every corner. Look up and you will see a cloudy night sky.
Borgin and Burkes is the anchor and only store in this seedy-side of the wizarding world. Dark Arts artifacts, including Malfoy’s Hand of Glory, mingle with items for sale. Don’t miss the Vanishing Cabinet sitting in the corner with the faint sound of a bird singing from inside. Bellatrix fans can get their fix here.
Eat, Drink and Be Muggle
The Leaky Cauldron – Across from the joke shop, The Leaky Cauldron sits quietly, feeding masses of people. The efficiency is stellar and food arrives promptly. The only hindrance in the speed is Muggles who can’t decide what to order. The food…lets just say I have devoted an entire article to the fare here – Universal Orlando’s Food Fare is Beyond Compare.
Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment – A small but lavishly ornate stand is home to yet another beverage option you can only experience in Universal Orlando’s Carkitt Market… Gillywater is simply a bottle of filtered and purified water, but add an elixir of your choice and it becomes a flavorful drink worthy of Potions class. By adding your own flavors, you can increase or decrease the taste strength. You have a choice of:
Draught of Peace – Mixture of berry
Babbling Beverage – Tropical fruit punch
Elixir to Induce Euphoria – Pineapple, mint and apple
Fire Protection Potion – Watermelon, peach and strawberry
The Hopping Pot – Pulling from The Tales of Beedle the Bard, this drink stand/outdoor pub serves all the drinks of the Wizarding World. Those muggles, witches and wizards can also try the two of the beers exclusively crafted for Universal. The Wizard’s Brew is the sweeter option and has darker, deeper flavors. Dragon Scale is lighter with a malty profile.
The Fountain of Fair Fortune – Similar to The Hopping Pot, this indoor drink stand will provide a brief escape from the heat along with gorgeous scenery.
Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour – It is the place for ice cream. While they serve classics like plain vanilla and chocolate, the menu features a combo of flavors that are surprisingly delicious. The line that can collect outside the door is worth every tantalizing moment. You will need the time to decide what you want anyway.
Escape From Gringotts
Wait times for the new ride in Diagon Alley were skyrocketing during opening. The attraction is still experiencing a few hiccups, but the dedication to giving patrons a flawless ride comes into play. The wizards behind the scenes strive to ensure riders get the experience they intended and will cycle the ride until it is running smoothly. As time progresses, so will the reliability. Meredith Bandy, a delightful and charismatic rep for Universal, summed up the resort’s view, “We want riders to enjoy an amazing experience. We rather pause the line for a few moments to ensure the ride is running smoothly, than expose guests to glitches.“
The queue for the attraction is, in one word, gorgeous. Ornate chandeliers dropped the jaws of the actors who brought the character’s to life when they visited. I can see why. Bandy shared the moment, “When they walked into the room with the goblins, they were impressed with the accuracy, but praised the detail of the ceilings. On set, there was nothing above them, so they enjoyed this recreation.“
Universal did a fantastic job in making the lines interactive. Part of the story you are stepping into begins in the line. Shadows of the trio penetrating the bank follow the interaction with goblins who will give you a cold stare. Desks with newspaper clippings show “Undesirable #1 Harry Potter”. You make your way into a goblin’s office who explains your tour through the vaults before Bill steps in to join you. From there, you plummet 9 miles underground via a large lift. The walls move, trolls send you downward as the sounds and cooler air welcome you to the depths of the bank.
Guests, outfitted with protective goggles, enter large carts that are as detailed as the rest of the attraction. I won’t spoil it, but Harry, Ron and Hermione have broken in just as you are about to tour the vaults. Mayhem and magic ensue along with dragons, trolls, Bellatrix and Voldemort himself. I’d describe it more akin to the Forbidden Journey ride versus a roller coaster, but the thrill element leans toward coaster territory. It’s fast, high energy and makes you feel like you are in the film. Meredith also told me she had ridden the ride 71 times and still notices things she missed on previous rides.
It’s a ride I repeated for myself and the non-stop requests of my kids. If I had one critique…it would be the dialogue. It often gets muffled and lost. For those familiar with Harry Potter, you will get it, but those who are new to the story…might get lost.
There isn’t a seat on the ride that doesn’t get an amazing view. I sat in the back row and the front row. While the front row gets a face full of action, the back row gets an immersive feel. Each seat experience is unique.
I’d also like to note that the ride is handicapped accessible and has a lovely “Child Swap” area so both parents can ride. Simply let a witch or wizard operating the attraction know your needs. Make sure to stow loose bags and items in the lockers and park your strollers in the area next to Scribbulus.
The Hogwarts Express
The train to and from Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley is a can’t-miss attraction. It’s not just a people-moving device. It’s a ride that will have you boarding again and again thanks to its groundbreaking technology…er…magic….that will capture your attention.
Again, the magic starts before you have even stepped foot on the train. When traveling from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade, each guest goes through the brick wall of Platform 9 3/4. When you are entering, it feels simply like a zig-zag line with whooshing sound. To others watching behind near a cart with luggage, it appears as though you…well…disappear.
The details from the station to the train itself are so well done, I’d believe I was on set. I won’t spoil much of the ride itself, but bring a chocolate frog and keep your eyes on both the doors and your compartment window. Just make sure you ride it both ways as two different experiences await riders.
Overall, Universal’s Diagon Alley is just as jaw-dropping as Hogsmeade. It’s equally as enthralling and I could have spent all day in the new area. To experience both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, I strongly suggest a park-to-park two day pass – minimum.