By Dewayne Bevil
Universal Orlando’s new Diagon Alley is packed with thousands of details from the Harry Potter books and movies, but a few features of the Wizarding World expansion have captured the imagination of Potter fans worldwide.
As the park prepares for a Tuesday opening, here’s a quick peek at some of the most awaited elements revealed during recent media previews.
ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS
The 3-D ride twists, turns and flings itself through dark spaces and mammoth environments, big enough that the stalactites fit right in.
But it’s not meant to induce nausea, a condition that afflicted some riders on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which debuted at the original Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure in 2010.
“It is not as intense as Forbidden Journey physically, but it’s very thrilling,” said Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative.
“It’s very story-driven. You spend a lot more time with the characters. It’s still exhilarating — you have accelerations, you have the big drop — but it’s not as intense.”
As the train connecting the Wizarding World expansion with the original land at Islands of Adventure chugs along, riders see the virtual landscape of England and Scotland on one side and a bit of shadowy drama on the other, featuring Harry, Hermione, Ron, a dementor and even a frog.
The visuals might not be real, but the engine’s whistle is, said Dale Mason, director of creative development.
“We took the sound of the train from the films and basically gave it to a gentleman who makes real steam whistles,” Mason said.
“He made us a whistle and tuned it to sound exactly like what the train sounds like (in the films).”
LEAKY CAULDRON RESTAURANT
The menu in the area’s pub-style eatery doesn’t repeat anything from the original Wizarding World — with the exception of fish and chips.
The space has high ceilings; framed, witch-themed artwork; and a big, cracked caldron across from the entrance.
Eight new dishes were developed for the Diagon Alley restaurant with an emphasis on authenticity, said Executive Chef Steve Jayson.
There’s also Fishy Green Ale, which the chef described as green and fishy-looking, with a taste of mint.
BUTTERBEER ICE CREAM
Think butterbeer — the butterscotch-and-shortbread beverage introduced in 2010 — but in solid form.
“We were developing it for Florean Fortescue’s [ice-cream shop], and we were trying to figure out the different kinds of flavors,” said Ric Florell, Universal’s senior vice president of revenue operations. It’s a close cousin to the original, he said.
“It’s basically the same ingredients, just put together a little bit differently to make ice cream out of it,” he said.
It’s the biggest, most purple photo op since Barney the Dinosaur moved into Universal.
The double-decker bus, parked outside Diagon Alley in front of the London facade, has a live, wisecracking British conductor and an interactive shrunken head.
The head cracks wise, too — with groan-worthy puns — and poses for pictures.
The bus, by the way, can be spotted on the trip to Diagon Alley aboard the Hogwarts Express.
Diagon Alley is packed with crooks and crannies to explore.
Some of them lead to dead ends, but one goes to a very dark place: shopping spots for the “dark arts,” as seen in author J.K. Rowling’s Potter stories.
“It’s where dark wizards go to shop,” Coup said. “There’s a shop that sells bat skins and dragon skins.”
The 60-foot-long Ukrainian Ironbelly perched atop Gringotts Bank looks angry, occasionally belching flames.
The heat will be apparent to folks on ground level, but the beast is expected to be a crowd-pleaser.
It already has made Universal executives happy.
During the planning stages, Mason said, “I think the dragon was the easiest ‘Yes.’” Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, added: “It was one of the most complex yeses but the easiest one to say that we have to do.”