Diagon Alley Roundup – Part 3: The visitor’s experience
ICYMI, MuggleNet was one of the lucky fan sites to host a sweepstakes that awarded one entrant four tickets to attend the VIP/media preview of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. We had over 18,000 entries in just four days. Our lucky winner was Letha, a wife and mother of two from Wyoming. This is her account of their whirlwind trip to Universal Orlando Resort.
On June 9, 2014, I received a phone call from Kat and Keith at MuggleNet. At first, I was pretty sure it was a scam, where some long lost relative has left me a large sum of money and that if I just send them my personal information I would receive some kind of inheritance, yada yada. But then Keith asked me if I remembered entering the contest via MuggleNet, and then I started to recall signing up but still didn’t think it was ever possible to win. Both Kat and Keith congratulated me on winning! I was totally shell-shocked and in a state of disbelief. It wasn’t until Kat laughed and asked me if I had checked my email yet today, and I said no, that [it hit me]. They both laughed and said, “WE KNOW! That is why we called you!” They had me answer some verification questions to prove I was who had signed up to win, and then they congratulated me again and then said they would be in touch and hung up.
When I got off the phone, my family was all sitting around me and said, “What was that all about?” They knew it was something great because I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. When I told them all that we had won the trip to Orlando and Universal Studios for the VIP tour of Diagon Alley, they all started screaming! Both Quincy and Abby were squealing with delight and then were running around the living room not knowing what to do next. I told them we had to wait to say anything to anyone, till I knew for sure it was real. We were all bursting at the seams, trying to keep our amazing secret, but as soon as the paperwork started to flow in, and all the information was submitted, I told them they could tell, and boy, did we all shout it from the rooftops!!!
We have never been on a family vacation other than to go see extended family, so this was a lifetime dream come true. Both Quincy and Abby have grown up with the stories and movies of Harry Potter and wished someday there would be a way for them to visit the place where they filmed the movies, so when Universal opened the original Hogsmeade part of the theme park, they begged and begged for us to find a way to go there, but we could never afford to go. We have followed the news about the opening of Diagon Alley for a while now, and our dreams of getting to Florida someday to experience it [were] solidified. Unfortunately, financially, we were never able to scrape enough together to get there. When MuggleNet offered the prize package, we of course entered with a hope and dream that we would win but NEVER imagined it would come true.
When we got to Orlando, we were treated like royalty from everyone. The Cabana Bay Beach Resort was amazing! Everyone there was so helpful, and everything you could possibly need was right there at the Resort. I loved how all the amenities were right on site, and they had free transportation buses that took us back and forth from Universal to the hotel. A+ service and an amazing atmosphere, and the retro theme is top notch.
Universal was fabulous! When you get to the theme park, you have to go through City Walk to get to the entrance, which is really fun – lots of shops, restaurants, and even smaller kiosks for souvenirs. At night it is all lit up and a fun place to spend your evening. Our mission was to get as much Harry Potter experience in as possible, but we found as we entered Islands of Adventure that the we would have to walk through Seuss Landing. We have always loved Dr. Seuss, so we spent a little time there, taking in the fun; we even rode the Caro-Seuss-el and the Cat in the Hat ride – it was really fun, for young and old!
Then we were off to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – we ended up with a bit of tunnel vision and found ourselves [bee]lining it to that part of the park.
On Tuesday, we spent the morning in Seuss Landing and Hogsmeade. We didn’t have our credentials yet, so we had a bit of a hard time getting into the rides because the lines were long, but we did explore all the shops, [we] purchased postcards to send out in owl post, and we did wait and attend the Ollivanders wand experience. It was really fun! We then exited into the wand shop, [where] we were able to view and admire all the different wands. They had character wands, as well as signature/personalized wands, and all kinds of fun things to buy, like Quibblers and robes [and] even special Harry Potter postage stamps to put on your postcards before you mail them out in owl post.
We also ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks – the food was great! I loved that they had themed food and drinks. I had the garden salad and pasties, with a pumpkin fizz for a drink. Mark had the fish & chips and a pear cider, Abby had the same as I did with pear cider as well, and Quincy had the chicken leg & ribs with corn on the cob, with the lemon squeeze to drink; everything was delicious. We also tried the Butterbeer, of course, which was yummy! We all liked the frozen Butterbeer the best – it still had the foam on top but was slushy, which was a perfect refreshment for such a hot day.
Tuesday evening was the VIP party and our chance to see the new Diagon Alley in Universal Studios theme park. We met with Kat and Caleb [from] MuggleNet just before dinnertime in the hotel and talked to them for a bit about the trip and what was going to happen that night, but then they had to leave to be at the event for interviews and publicity for the media groups. We stayed at the hotel and had dinner at the Bayliner Diner; it was really neat because it was just like your old-fashioned à la carte café-type dinner – a very fun experience. Then we were off to the VIP tour. When we got to Islands of Adventure, we went straight to the Hogsmeade entrance where the Hogwarts Express leaves to take you over to Universal Studios and the London streetfront and Diagon Alley! We followed the trail around and worked our way through the train station until we got to the Hogwarts Express. There is no detail overlooked! It is absolutely amazing how perfect and beautiful the buildings, surroundings, train attendants, [and] everything [else] is. We then boarded the train, [which] is identical to the movies – each cabin has the perfect lighting, and as you ride, the windows show the journey the characters took; you even feel the train vibrate in the seating and see the shadows of the kids walking down the corridor through the cabin windows.
Once you get to Platform 9 3/4 at the London side, your senses are on overload! It is the most gorgeous place I have ever seen. The designers were so careful to make sure everything was perfect. You come out of Kings Cross station onto the London street. There [are] even the house fronts of Grimmauld Place, and you can see Kreacher peaking through the upstairs window with his creepy frown. We stopped and took pictures on the porch fronts. In the center there is a fountain with benches around it, and next to it is the [triple] decker purple Knight Bus – so cool! There was a reception there on the London street for all of us to see the celebrities do their interviews with the media crews, and then they had Stan Shunpike come out and announce that we could go in to Diagon Alley. Robbie Coltrane was there with his pink umbrella to open the brick wall and let us through.
When we entered Diagon Alley, I thought it was a dream! It was so beautiful – everything was just as you could have imagined. The designers made it feel as if you really were entering a different world – a magical world! We did not ever want to leave. The shops in Diagon Alley were beautiful, many more than they have in Hogsmeade, and most of them were not just fake fronts but actual shops you could enter to buy things or have treats. Weasley[s’] Wizard Wheezes had all kinds of toys and goodies. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour was set up with several tasty ice creams, including Butterbeer ice cream. They also have a new Ollivanders Wand Shop, with another wand experience. We attended this again, and this time Mark was chosen and received his wand; you can then go into the shop and purchase the specific wand that chose you, as well as other wands like the character wands and other personalized wands. Most of the wands are now “Interactive wands,” which means that you can stop at the gold circle that is set into the cobblestone walkways in front of most of the shops, and you can say the incantation and make the motions with your interactive wand, and something unique will happen. Quincy and I were able to do several “Dark magic” actions in Knockturn Alley, and our favorite was the [Fire-Making Spell], where Quincy made the parrot have huge feet [and] where my parrot grew warts!
Abby spent most of the evening waiting in line to ride the Gringotts Bank ride, where she was able to get her photo taken and received a Gringotts badge, which was really neat. We sampled new drinks and foods that will be available at the Leaky Cauldron. We liked the Tongue-Tying Lemon Squash, the fisherman’s pie and the chocolate ganache cherry pudding in a little lidded mason jar – yummy!!!
There is so much to see and do! I could have spent weeks in there doing all kinds of stuff and still wouldn’t have been sick of it. Even the bathrooms were awesome, with their old-fashioned toilets.
Mark’s favorite part of the experience was the Hogwarts Express; he especially liked the realism of the train and seeing the kids’ shadows pass by the window/door. He loved the new Ollivanders experience. He “loved the going back in time, to the London streets, and the musicians on the streets.” He also appreciated that the whole park was handicap accessible, [which] was especially helpful. Quincy’s favorite part was Diagon Alley, [which he felt] was “spectacularly real; I never wanted to leave.” She also really enjoyed the Harry Potter [and the] Forbidden Journey ride. Abby’s favorite part was being able to experience it all as a family and that there was something for every age and every person. She liked all the different wands and even purchased 2 for herself, one character and one personalized; we wish we had more time to go back and see it all again and take more time in Diagon Alley. She also loved being so close to so many celebrities – that was almost more than she could handle. My favorite was definitely […] Knockturn Alley. It was so fun to do “Dark magic,” and the attendants were in perfect character all the time. They even recognized us later that night and never broke character. The one fellow even named us “the circlers” because we had been around the loop more than once! I was swept away by the atmosphere of Diagon Alley and wanted to stay longer and experience it more. I think my favorite aspect was the dragon on top of Gringotts Bank that actually breathes fire. When the fire sprays out his mouth, you get a full sensation of heat for just a moment, and your senses go wild.
It is an experience of a lifetime! I will never forget this trip, the time I was able to spend with my family, and [being] able to escape to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Thank you, MuggleNet and Universal [Orlando Resort] for making this family’s dream come true!!!