The entrance to Platform 9 3/4
That famous scene of Harry having to run at a brick wall within London’s King’s Cross train station in order to reach Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express? That has not been forgotten, and a little creative magic and obsessive attention to detail makes it possible for all travelers on Universal Studios’ Hogwarts Express to make their own entrance between platforms 9 and 10.
We won’t completely spoil the fun by sharing how the illusion is created, but we will say that it’s both obvious and genius at the same time. Expect this area to become quite the bottleneck as a popular photo op. The Hogwarts Express itself is actually our absolute favorite thing at Diagon Alley, and indeed the whole of Universal Studios, but it's worth its own story to come.
Diagon Alley’s feature ride, “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts” improves on the video projections of “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” with the introduction of animatronic goblins. Before beginning the ride, visitors will encounter these miserly Gringotts bankers face-to-face, and their realistic looks and movements heighten the creepiness factor. It’s when the head teller speakers and invites you to open an account that you then head down into the vaults and, subsequently, travel on the ride into the bowels of the mighty bank.
A $700 Dumbledore robe
There’s no doubt that the shop Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is a highlight of the Diagon Alley experience, but it’s what’s within that truly sets it apart from the other retail outlets of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Among the $109 robes (naturally each with an inner wand pocket), $40 wizard hats, and assorted Hogwarts house scarves are a few purchasable gems, such as Hermione Granger’s Triwizard Ball gown, priced just under $400 and available in sizes S, M, L. For men, the single fancy option is a complete set of Dumbledore’s robes, for $700.
Nowhere else within the Wizarding World will you see a price tag this high, nor a “souvenir” so completely enveloped in the narrative of the films.
"Fishy Green Ale"
Whereas most of the beverage options in Diagon Alley are found in everyday life ("Tongue Tying Lemon Squash" is UK-favorite Lemon Squash, “Gillywater” is bottled water, and “Wizard’s Brew" is a dark beer), “Fishy Green Ale” joins crowd favorite Butterbeer in its rarity. Created especially for Diagon Alley, the nonalcoholic drink goes best with a meal at The Leaky Cauldron.
It was described to us as “a creamy mint drink with hints of cinnamon, finished with ‘fish eggs.’” They were right about the creamy minty-cinnamonyness, but totally underprepared us for the delight of those “fish eggs.” These curious things look like tapioca pearls found in bubble tea, but instead of being chewy globes, they instead pop and release a tiny gush of sour flavor that shockingly compliments the ale’s subtlety. It's an absolute must-try.
A bantering Knight Bus conductor
Throughout both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, interaction with "characters" is limited to the shop assistants and the singular experience of choosing a wand with Ollivander. No wizards wander around, nor are there actors playing the parts of Harry and friends.
What you will have is banter with one new addition, the cockney character of the Knight Bus conductor (Stanley Shunpike), who hangs out next to the triple-decker Knight Bus on the side of Diagon Alley that resembles London's Embankment. The conductor and his shrunken head buddy will answer your questions and pose for photos, with the backdrop of fake London.
In addition to Amstel Light, Fuller's London Pride and Strongbow, Diagon Alley keeps two specialty brews on tap. One, Dragon Scale, is a malty lager while the other, Wizard's Brew, is a sweet stout. The best place for a drink is a shop named "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," which is nothing more than a beautifully mirrored pub. Unfortunately the interior contains no booths or tables; you're meant to buy some beer and continue on.
So, how to get into Diagon Alley to experience all this? You can wait for the public opening on July 8 or, for the very keen, there's one special vacation package to allow entrance starting June 29, during the soft opening.
We were in Orlando attending the preview of Diagon Alley as a guest of Universal Orlando, but all opinions and photos are completely our own.
[Photos: Universal Studios Orlando]