My Trip to Diagon Alley
By: Wesley Boutilier
This past week I was lucky enough to visit Orlando, Florida and spend a day at Universal Studios. While we were there, my brother and I were able to check out their newest Harry Potter attraction, Diagon Alley. We figured the best plan would be to visit Diagon Alley first and attempt to beat the crowds, but our plans were quickly foiled. The people at Universal have striven for total accuracy when creating this magical world, which means that it really is hidden from ordinary Muggles. Basically, there are no signs to tell you where to go. Instead, we ended up in a London train station and were whisked away from Universal Studios on the Hogwarts Express.
Yes, if you want to ride the train you must have tickets to both Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. These theme park folks are some clever bastards. Luckily, the train is a great way to travel between parks and provides an entertaining experience along the way. What could have easily been a normal train ride is taken to the next level with special effects and amazing attention to detail, making you feel like Dementors are really on board and Hagrid is flying past your window.
After having some fun at Islands of Adventure and eating an overpriced lunch, we tried once again to find Diagon Alley. This time proved to be more successful. We walked past a large, brick wall and were greeted with a pretty incredible sight.
This massive dragon sits atop Gringotts Bank and actually breathes fire! Inside the bank is a new, 3D roller coaster that features several familiar faces from the movies. It’s pretty similar to the Forbidden Journey ride inside Hogwarts Castle that opened in 2010, only there aren’t as many animated props involved. Sadly, the majority of the ride uses screens that don’t seem nearly as impressive as they should be. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I would much rather see some animatronics and skip the 3D glasses. However, the Gringotts ride does feature some welcomed appearances from Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, who do a great job reprising their villainous roles.
Diagon Alley also features a number of shops, including Ollivanders and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The latter was fun to browse through, but Ollivanders had a line full of aspiring wizards wrapped around the block. After seeing some of the wands up close, I can understand why. They’d definitely be a cool souvenir for any hardcore fan. There’s also a restaurant called The Leaky Cauldron, which fans might recognize. We didn’t eat there, but the menu seemed impressive. With so many traditional, British dishes available, it offers a nice alternative to the usual theme park food.
I don’t know if Diagon Alley is as impressive as the Hogsmeade area at Islands of Adventure, but it certainly is a worthy addition to the park. It’s clear that no detail was overlooked and Universal has proven that it can offer immersive experiences to rival any Disney park. Whether you’re an avid fan or you don’t know a Bludger from a Quaffle, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.