New Universal Studios addition a magical success

Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Braden Kelner/Editor-in-Chief

Wands at the ready.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort expanded its wildly successful The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with the addition of Diagon Alley in its Universal Studios theme park.

Like the original Hogsmeade village section, opened in 2010 and located in the resort’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the new section immerses visitors in a world as rich as the books and movies that inspired it and offers a limited yet satisfying lineup of additional Harry Potter-themed rides.

Standing outside the Diagon Alley expansion, visitors might think they’ve booked a ticket to London instead of Universal Studios. A recreation of London’s Eros Fountain stands in front of the Kings Cross railway station, a few stores, and a traditional red phone booth. The only things that may seem out of place from this seemingly non-wizarding world is the purple Knight Bus parked next to the fountain and a magical orchestral score emanating onto the streets.

Step into the buildings and through a brick wall, though, and visitors will find themselves standing in an alley before Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Fred and George Weasley’s joke shop. Just like in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film, a multi-story mechanical man with arms and neck protruding from the shop’s front window repeatedly lifts a hat from his head to reveal a rabbit, only to make it disappear seconds later.

Along the expansion’s main alley are a variety of shops, including Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Flourish and Blotts bookstore, and Ollivanders Wand Shop, all of which pop with brightly painted signs and window displays almost stuffed fuller with magical artifacts than Hermione’s beaded handbag, which she enchants to hold an unlimited number of objects in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While enthusiasts can’t access all of the shops, the ones they can enter are filled with merchandise and furnishings that look like authentic movie props, including Time-Turner necklaces, Hogwarts house robes, and Hermione’s Yule Ball dress. Every square inch of the alley is covered in cobblestone and brick so that it takes on the bleak tone captured in the franchise’s later movies.

The centerpiece of the alley, a fire-breathing dragon crouched upon Gringotts Wizarding Bank, tops the expansion off. There is not one flaw in the section’s detail that could pull visitors away from the wizarding world and back into their non-magical lives.

Of course, no theme park section would be complete without its rides, and The Wizarding World expansion delivers on this end too, although on a smaller scale.

Within Gringotts lies the expansion’s main attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. This family-friendly roller coaster brings many of the series’ most beloved characters to life in a bank breakout that resembles Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s climactic escape in The Deathly Hallows, but with a few twists. While not a coaster that delivers major drops and speed, it is most memorable in the story that it brings to life.

The expansion’s second attraction, the Hogwarts Express, takes visitors on a train ride from Diagon Alley in Universal Studios to The Wizarding World’s Hogsmeade village in Islands of Adventure. During the ride, the train simulates a trip toward Hogwarts, or back to Kings Cross station, depending on which way it is traveling. Each way offers a significantly different experience, both of which are worth checking out. Since it’s not a thriller, this ride is perfect for the entire family and primarily serves as a bridge between the world’s two sections.

Although these rides are the only two new attractions to The Wizarding World, they nicely supplement the world’s original rides in Hogsmeade. While one more ride in the expanded section would have rounded out Diagon Alley’s offerings, Tßhe Wizarding World does not suffer from a lack of attractions, especially if guests visit both sections in one go.

Florida visitors looking to relive the Harry Potter franchise’s books and movies won’t be disappointed by the expansion. With its detailed buildings and light-hearted rides, the section may even cause some to forget the Muggle world they live in for a bit.