Universal Studios Orlando has been brought right up to date and is simply stunning! They have incorporated some great technological advances that make new themed rides like Transformers and Escape from Gringotts a must see!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley, is also home to gift shops, restaurants and other tourist attractions. Several of these are recreations of locations in the Harry Potter books while others have been created specifically for the park.
You enter Diagon Alley behind Leicester Square Station just like in the movie and Harry Potter Books and are presented with a scene from London life with the rail bridge suspended across the roadway. Before entering Diagon alley there is the Knights bus and Eros fountain to enjoy.
Diagon Alley is largely made up of shops and restaurants and dining all done in the Harry Potter theme. Universal Studios has the largest collection of Harry Potter merchandise than anywhere in the world. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you’re going to love the walk up to Gringotts bank, absorbing all the wonderfully designed and realistic architecture of Olde London.
Diagon alley has a Ollivanders Wand Shop, where you can buy interactive wands which allow you to cast your own magic spells! The wands interact with various objects throughout Diagon alley, uncovering hidden treats and animation. Other shops include; Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (jokes), Magical Menagerie (stuffed creatures) and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment (supplies & gadgets) to name a few are great for browsing and soaking up the atmosphere.
I especially liked the Gringotts Money Exchange. The most realistic interactive animatronic Goblin is at the counter, he talks and answers questions. Try ” Where is Harry Potter? ”
The main attraction is the Escape from Gringotts ride which is set inside Gringotts Wizarding bank. This is stunning in itself with its mis-aligned exterior columns and where a huge forty-foot fire-breathing Ukranian Ironbelly dragon (as seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) perches atop the dome. The dragon doesn’t move, but every 10 or 15 minutes he unleashes a jet of flame; get your camera ready when you hear him growl. (see adjacent photo).
Inside Gringotts, you walk through the bank’s grand marble lobby with lavish chandeliers where you see goblins hard at work. The Goblins are so realistic, fantastic state of the art animatronics. They move and and look up at you from their ledgers and weighing scales as you pass by.
You then take a simulated lift several miles underground to the ride. The ride is a is a steel roller coaster with a track length of approximately 2,000 feet and encompasses motion-based vehicles, detailed sets, physical effects, and 3D projection so you need to wear the glasses. The ride takes you through the vaults of Gringotts as you face several characters (trolls, dragons etc) from the Harry Potter films leading to a face-to-face encounter with Lord Voldemort. It is is suitable for young children (of a minimum height), but still amazing fun for adults. We went on it three times as you get a different perspective it seems different depending on where you sit in the cars. I would say it is the most detailed, and immersive ride I have ever been on.
In addition to the shops, there are some atmospheric restaurants in Diagon alley. The Leaky Cauldron which is near Gringotts bank serves authentically hearty British pub fare like bangers and mash, cottage pie, toad in the hole, Guinness stew, and a ploughman’s platter for two. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour for Butterbeer soft-serve or unusual hard-pack flavored ice cream like clotted cream, and chocolate chili.
For alcoholic drinks try The Hopping Pot or Fountain of Fair Fortune, the beers are produced specially for Universal and include; Wizard’s Brew (a heavy porter) and Dragon Scale (a hoppy amber) beers. Other beers such as Amstel, Stella Artois are US brewery beers are available.
We relaxed with a beer ($8) at the Hopping Pot. It felt like I was back in London !
Knockturn Alley is dark and Gothic, a labyrinth of twisting passageways where the Harry Potter baddies hang out. A covered walk-through area with a projected “sky” creating perpetual night, it features spooky special effects in the faux shop windows.
Diagon Alley is an enveloping experience and is brilliantly done, I’m not a follower of the franchise yet loved it. For those who follow Harry Potter then it is undoubtedly the highest standard of experience one could hope to have.
PLATFORM 9 3/4™ for the Hogwarts Express
You can board* the train and travel between both Hogsmeade and London via the Hogwarts Express but only if you have purchased a Park-to-Park admission ticket or have an Annual Pass.
It is a completely functioning full-scale replica of the Hogwarts Express created to connect King’s Cross Station at Universal Studios to the Hogsmeade station at Islands of Adventure. Instead of viewing the Orlando environment through the train windows the “windows” on the Hogwarts express are clever film screens that display scenes of Harry’s passage between London and Scotland. I will not say more, so enjoy the experience.