I have been to Universal Studios twice since the opening of Diagon Alley, and this post is reflective of my first trip, which was in 2014. I want to give you an idea of my initial impressions, and possibly later, once they crowds die down some and I can explore further, give you guys some more info about more of this section of the park.
Onward to the nerdy delight!
So, let’s start with this little guy. When you go to Diagon Alley, you first enter the London section of Universal Studios. (The Universal Studios park is sectioned off into cities – London, New York, etc) So what you see initially is just a London façade. There are red telephone booths, a double decker bus, and London inspired scenery. But, if you look a little closer, there are wizarding things in the muggle world. That bus? It’s the Knight Bus, complete with magical bus driver and shrunken head that will talk with people passing by. The red phone booth? If you take a step inside for a fun picture, try something: dial M-A-G-I-C and you’ll hear a pre-recorded message from the Ministry of Magic. But what about the building fronts? Those are just sets, right? Well, if you wander not too far from the Knight Bus, on the other side of the Eros Fountain, you’ll notice a familiar grumpy house elf peaking out of a window. To be more specific: peaking out of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
King’s Cross Station, which is where you could board the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. This was actually pretty amazing to me, and since it was one of the very first things I saw when I entered the London area, it left an impression on me. It looks absolutely beautiful in person.
I’m not even going to pretend that I wasn’t a little teary-eyed during the process of walking through the station and then boarding the train. The station itself is wonderful and feels both like a train station, and – for us non-muggle folk – you can sense the bit of magic in the air the closer you get to Platform 9 3/4 – including very subtle nods to a few scenes in the movie. And for anyone worrying that you wouldn’t get the magical experience that Harry has when entering the platform… well, you’ll just have to see what happens for yourself. 😉
The ride from London to Hogsmeade is probably my favorite, though both were enjoyable. But 1.) I really like the scenes in the ride from London to Hogsmeade, and 2.) All your nerd Harry Potter nerd fantasies are coming to life when you board the Hogwarts Express from London to Hogsmeade, and then see that castle coming closer in the distance. I remember telling my mom that I felt like I finally got my Hogwarts letter… 13 years late. But whatever. Better late than never, right?
Now, Diagon Alley obviously just can’t be hanging out in the front of London, where all those Muggles are. That would just be silly. That’s where another little detail I adored came in: You sort of have to find the entrance to Diagon Alley. It’s isn’t difficult at all to do, and it sort of makes the feeling more authentic (like what they do for Platform 9 3/4). But once you find it, oh boy… You’ve hit the fandom jackpot.
To everyone’s relief, there is a soft sound of the bricks moving when you’re walking through, and it can send you into a geeky joy overload.
Now, the first time I saw the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, with the Hogwarts castle, in 2012, I wanted to cry. I was there finally. I was seeing my beloved books and movies alive in front of me. If you haven’t been, it really overwhelms you with the attention to detail. (More on this in a separate post about Hogsmeade.)
So, when I entered Diagon Alley for the first time, how did I react?
I nearly cried.
They didn’t skip details on Diagon Alley, and lived up to the expectations that Hogsmeade established when it opened – and possibly even surpassed it. They’ve added an additional cool wizard detail, where you can buy interactive wands character for around $40 (I believe, I didn’t have time to buy my own), and the different windows, statues, etc have spells you can cast using your wands. I watched several kids doing theirs, and it was actually really cool. But more that just nifty wand tricks: The stores are beautiful, the Leaky Cauldron is just as I’d imagined, and Gringotts… Oh, Gringotts.
In case you weren’t aware, there is a dragon on top of Gringotts Bank. And it isn’t a stupid crappy dragon that makes no sense or looks fake and dumb. This is a super realistic dragon, that breathes fire. Yes, you read that correctly. IT BREATHES FIRE. And guess what happened the moment I walked into Diagon Alley and looked up at that dragon? FIRE.
AND IT WAS AWESOME.
*ahem* But anyway…
This may have been my favorite big detail of the expansion: The Escape From Gringotts.
Not only was the outside of the bank/ride perfect, the queue (especially all those goblins! Spectacular!) fun and entertaining, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride itself. The first time I rode it, I was on my own because my mother is terrified of most rides that people could consider intense. For example, we’ve yet to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. But I knew I couldn’t come back and say I hadn’t ridden Escape from Gringotts. It just wasn’t happening. So, I braved it alone.
I won’t ruin the ride itself for you, but I did love the ride and how it was set up. It’s very similar to Universal’s Spiderman and Transformers rides, just slightly more intense and on rollercoaster tracks. Some people seemed to dislike this. I adored it (then again, Transformers is possibly my favorite ride.) But this aspect that it was intense, but not too intense was perfect in my mind. Because I could talk my mom into riding it. Other people that couldn’t ride the other Harry Potter rides could ride it. There was finally something for the fans that can’t quite do rollercoasters or the slightly more intense Forbidden Journey. And that really made my experience more enchanting this trip.
I plan to do a post on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade in the near future, but I also need to cover Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in general. 🙂
Any questions, feel free to leave me a comment!