Friday, January 24th, 2014
If you’ve got a wizard-in-training at home, you might want to start planning a trip to Universal Orlando. Since 2010, Universal’s Islands of Adventure has been home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a magical land with rides, shops, and restaurants that transports you into J.K. Rowling’s beloved books. This summer, the company plans to open another Harry Potter-themed area, Diagon Alley, at its sister park Universal Studios. A Hogwarts Express train (the place where Harry, Ron, and Hermoine—the three main characters in the series—first met) will transport you between the two parks. My daughter, who started reading the books shortly after her eighth birthday, flipped when I told her that. (Side note: Check out her HP Birthday party from a couple of years ago.)
I listened in on a webcast yesterday, and then spoke with Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, to try to pry a few more details out of him. I wondered how long the train ride would be, and while he couldn’t give me a time, he promised that it would be “an experience.” Once you’re in Diagon Alley (the area in London where Harry and the other wizards buy their wands and other supplies for wizardry), you’ll see the Knight Bus, a purple double-decker that provides emergency transport for a stranded wizard. Although Woodbury told me that kids won’t be able to climb in and pretend to drive (that would be a fun photo opp), he did say that the bus would have interactive features. He hinted that it will involve a “shrunken head.” I had no idea what he could possibly be talking about, but my daughter thinks it might have something to do with the animated shrunken head that Harry Potter once encountered on the Knight Bus.
Diagon Alley will also feature Escape from Gringotts—a multisensory ride that’s along the lines of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in the Wizarding World. This one will take guests through the vaults of the Goblin bank. There’s no word on other rides yet, but Woodbury mentioned that Universal will be announcing some things in the next couple of months that will especially appeal to younger Harry Potter fans.
The new area will also have its own Ollivander’s Wand Shop, a popular attraction in The Wizarding World. A few years ago, my family waited in line over two hours to get in—but we were rewarded because my daughter was among a few guests chosen to participate in a “wand experience,” similar to how the wand choose Harry in the books and movies. Woodbury told me that the location in Diagon Alley will make the experience interactive for many more guests. Tons of shops and restaurants (including ones that serve Butterbeer and strawberry-peanut butter ice cream) are also planned.
If you’re thinking about where to stay if you do make a trip this summer, keep in mind that the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a new, value-priced hotel on Universal grounds with family suites, a bowling alley, and a lazy river ride, will open in March.
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