Muggle No More – A Year of Diagon Alley
In 48 days I am returning to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I am giddy with excitement. Four years ago I walked through Hogsmeade, and now I wait with anticipation to travel through the bricks into Diagon Alley. It has been one year since Universal Studios Orlando opened the expansion of this wondrous park, and families are still flying in and out to experience the magic.
Universal Studios Florida features a re-creation of Muggle London on a smaller scale that then leads to the hidden entranceway Harry and Hagrid passed through in Sorcerer’s Stone into Diagon Alley. Patrons are encouraged to enter stores such as Ollivanders Wand Shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Borgin and Burkes, and more. Children can pick up their robes for school in Madam Malkin’s while parents treat themselves to the exquisite flavors at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor.
A year ago thousands lined up to enter the park and go aboard the Hogwarts Express with hopes of seeing friendly faces throughout their journey. The magic has yet to run out, with the annual Theme Index report for 2014 showing that 8.3 million people went to Universal Studios Orlando. While it is unknown if everyone went through these specific sections, I am fairly confident they did because how could you not?
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a few members of the Universal Creative Team who worked directly on the Diagon Alley extension: Eric Hunt, Eric Baker, and George Gakoumis, Jr. The three reflected on what it was like to erect the new section of J.K. Rowling’s world, and the information may surprise you.
The men discussed how much free reign they were given over Borgin and Burkes since we see very little of the shop during Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince. The popular Death Eater emporium contains several creepy items that are rumored to be haunted, or at least that’s what their former owners say. Also, anything in the stores above eight feet could be a real prop since they are safe out of reach. For fans going through the Hogsmeade section, pay attention to the portraits in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Look closely, and you will see faces of those who worked on the Potter films, including David Heyman and Stuart Craig. Perhaps the most surprising fact is that feedback is taken extremely seriously! One fan pointed out a misspelling on a prop inside a window display, and it was then taken out to be corrected days later. Universal wants these parks to be as authentic as you do.
In honor of this anniversary, I asked MuggleNet staff members to share their favorite parts of Diagon Alley. Their thoughts are below:
Morgan, Creative Team Intern: “Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor was simply to die for! The ice cream was phenomenal. I also liked Hagrid’s motorcycle. And the dragon atop Gringotts. They just brought everything to life.”
Ariel, Creative Social Media: “I loved how the entrance seriously has the London vibe, and then going into Diagon Alley, it honestly feels like you’re stepping into the magical world. The sound of the bricks moving, the music, and the dragon blowing out fire. I loved how I accidentally went into Knockturn Alley as well.”
Amy, Creative Team: “The Gringotts ride, obviously. It took everything I had to make myself get on it (I’m terrified of rollercoasters, and the fact that it starts out kind of like one was horrifying to me), but I’m so glad I did. I loved the elevator ride that was part of the line to get to the actual ride. I also loved the butterbeer ice cream, and the Celestina Warbeck show was hilarious. It was fun to hear the songs actually put to music. They made the audience participate by bringing up this older man to dance with the Banshees, and it was fantastic.”
Claire, Senior UK Marketing Manager: “Strawberry and peanut butter ice cream!”
Rachael, Creative Team Intern: “I love Knockturn Alley. That is my favorite part. I love how dark it is and that you can buy Death Eater things. I spent a while looking for it, and I was so excited when I found it.”
Keith, Managing Editor: “The whole experience is amazing. Being able to experience Harry’s journey from being in Muggle London and walk[ing] through to Diagon Alley where it’s a completely different world in a matter of 20 feet. That was a magical moment when I saw it in that form.”
Aimee, News Source Editor: “We had a great interaction with one of the servers from Leaky Cauldron, a man who acted all crotchety but really wanted us to come inside. He never dropped the act, not once. I will say that the moment I truly felt that I was really in Diagon Alley was experiencing wand choosing in Ollivander’s [sic]. I teared up and was so glad I had gone by myself.”
Sierra, Social Media Manager: “Walking through the wall for the first time – or even second, third, and subsequent times – and never once thinking, “Wow, they certainly made it look real.” Instead, you just think you’ve arrived, that Diagon Alley existed all along, and it’s good to be back for a visit. That’s how good it is.”
And perhaps the best:
Kat, Creative & Marketing Director: “I like that I forget I’m a Muggle.”
Have you been to Diagon Alley? Comment with your favorite part below.