Universal Orlando: Wizarding World expanding to Diagon Alley

Universal Orlando: Wizarding World expanding to Diagon Alley

After months of speculation, it's finally official: Universal Orlando Resort is expanding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter across both of its theme parks next year, adding a new area featuring Diagon Alley and Gringotts Bank, and a Hogwarts Express train ride from new "London" area in Universal Studios to Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. Set to open sometime in 2014, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley is "an expansion of historic proportion," Universal said in a joint announcement Wednesday with Warner Bros. Entertainment.

For months, our partners at Orlando Attractions Magazine have been keeping track of construction at Universal Studios, long speculated to be part of a "significant expansion" of the Wizarding World. Now, it's confirmed, with Universal Orlando calling the expansion "the world's first centrally themed, multi-park experience." Officials said the new area will be just as immersive and authentic as the existing Wizarding World area, which opened in 2010. Here are the three big bullet points from Universal's official announcement: Diagon Alley: The new expansion will be based on the Harry Potter universe's popular shopping district, featuring "shops, a restaurant and an innovated, marquee attraction based on Gringotts bank."   London: The new area will "bring to life some of the experiences and places found in and around London in the Harry Potter books and films."   Hogwarts Express: Fans of the series will finally be able to hop aboard the train to Hogwarts and travel back and forth between the London area in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. Wednesday, we got inside Universal Studios to chat with Universal Creative Senior VP Thierry Coup. Here are 4 questions he addressed: ALLISON WALKER: I need to know about Gringotts bank. What's the coolest part about the attraction?

THIERRY COUP: When you saw the films or read the books, [Gringotts bank] was just meant to be a ride. The fantastic way that Harry Potter goes down into this bank in the first film, we wanted to bring that to life. In collaborating with Warner Bros. and the filmmaker who created those visuals, we're going to bring you this incredible ride experience that's good for the whole family that everyone's going to be able to enjoy.

AW: What about the ride system/vehicle? Can you give us anything?

TC: We have to wait a little bit more.

AW: When we're inside Hogwarts Express traveling between parks, will we be looking outside and onto a set, or are the "windows" actually video screens?

TC: First of all, how extraordinary is that, to be able to go and ride Hogwarts Express from London to Hogsmeade Village and back, just like they did in the films? Along the way, imagine the journey. It's going to take you completely into the environments, with the characters, with a lot of surprises. But you're going to be completely immersed in that world just like Harry Potter was along the way.

AW: You announced there will be one new restaurant. Could it be the Leaky Cauldron [the gateway to Diagon Alley from the Muggle world]?

TC: Maybe. We want to make sure to bring all the signature places that were in the films and fiction. So you can imagine what would be there. It's going to be very cool.

Though Universal hasn't revealed any other specific details about Diagon Alley, we have a few guesses as to what the new area will include.

The "marquee attraction" based on Gringotts bank may take cues from the scene in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," where Harry and his friends are chased by a dragon along a mine cart-like track through the bank's vast, underground vaults. Concept art released Wednesday by Universal Orlando showed a large dragon breathing fire from the roof of Gringotts. A closer look at the concept art also shows a glimpse of what appears to be the animated, hat-tipping sign outside Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, the magical joke shop run by Ron Weasley's older twin brothers, Fred and George. (Coup "can't confirm" that this joke shop will be constructed.) As for the "experiences and places found in and around London," there are many possibilities here. The concept art shows a large waterfront featuring the entrance to King's Cross Station, where guests will likely take the hidden passage to Platform 9¾ to board the Hogwarts Express.

Also seen along the waterfront is the purple, triple-decker Knight Bus seen in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," and one of London's famous red telephone booths, a possible nod to the visitor's entrance to the Ministry of Magic, seen in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Details about the Hogwarts Express ride from park to park were not immediately announced. That means it's not known whether admission to both parks is required to board the train, or if guests with tickets to just one of the parks will be allowed to make a round-trip ride. It's also not yet known what guests will see on the way from London to Hogsmeade. In the Harry Potter series, the trip takes several hours, spanning much of the British countryside. Could we see Dementors or a flying Ford Anglia pass by? Again, no specific details have been announced by Universal Orlando Resort, so we'll have to wait and see as we get closer to 2014.

Here are the official details from Universal Orlando Resort: Building on the global phenomenon that is "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter", Universal Orlando Resort and Warner Bros. Entertainment today announced an expansion of historic proportion with the entirely new themed environment, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

Scheduled to open in 2014, the world’s first centrally themed, multi-park experience expands The Wizarding World of Harry Potter across both Universal Orlando theme parks and allows Universal’s creative team to bring an unparalleled vision to this unique project. The new area will bring to life some of the experiences and places found in and around London in the Harry Potter books and films, offering brand-new adventures for fans and theme park guests from around the world.

Diagon Alley and ‘London’ will be located within the Universal Studios Florida theme park, which is adjacent to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, where guests now experience Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. The new area within Universal Studios will be just as expansive, immersive and authentic as the existing themed environment.

And – just like in the books and films – guests will be able to travel between ‘London’ and Hogsmeade aboard the Hogwarts Express.

Work on the new area is already underway. When complete, it will feature shops, a restaurant and an innovative, marquee attraction based on Gringotts bank – all directly inspired by the fiction and films.

More details on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley will be released over time.

To bring Diagon Alley and ‘London’ to life, Universal’s creative team is working closely with Warner Bros. and the production design team from the Harry Potter films – just as it did for Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.

"I'm so pleased that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has proved so popular to date, and I'm sure that the attention to detail in creating the new Diagon Alley area will make this an even better experience," said J.K. Rowling.

“We are continuing the journey and adding an entirely new level of adventure,” said Tom Williams, Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts. “And we are bringing the same drive, commitment, enthusiasm and innovation to this project as we did to the first.”

“We are thrilled to offer the legions of fans the opportunity to embark on this new journey and experience Diagon Alley as it was brought to life in the books and films,” said Brad Globe, president, Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

“Our vision is to create two amazing theme park experiences that combine into one, complete, magical journey,” said Alice Norsworthy, executive vice president, marketing and sales for Universal Orlando Resort.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in June 2010 as a fully immersive Harry Potter themed environment - bringing to life the bestselling books by J.K. Rowling and the blockbuster feature films from Warner Bros. Since that time, it has become a global phenomenon, entertaining millions of people from around the world.

Visitors to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are swept into the adventures of Harry Potter. They can tour Hogwarts castle, shop in Hogsmeade and dine at the Three Broomsticks. They can soar above Hogwarts with Harry, be chosen by a wand at Ollivanders, sample Butterbeer and much more.