Recently, the Diagon Alley section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando Resort. As difficult as it was, I stayed away for a while because I didn’t want to spend my money only to spend my visit sweating buckets and throwing under-my-breath passive-aggressive comments at tourists.
Plus all my Universal-employee friends were blocked out of getting plebeians in until August 14. I waited until after the Labor Day crowds peaced out though, because I’m a responsible adult.
So my first trip was on a Saturday, but my BETTER trip was on a Thursday night at a private party with my new company. Yes, that happened. Yes, I was the only weirdo with a wand. Yes, I used it as an icebreaker to try and make friends.
A new-buddy coworker of mine and I ventured into Knockturn Alley for a few minutes so I could cast some spells and either impress or alienate her. By the way, did you know Knockturn Alley is a play on words for “nocturnally”? Because, to no one’s surprise, I just got that recently. I did know Diagon Alley = “diagonally,” but I’m not proud of myself about it anymore.
ANYHOO, in Knockturnally we ran into a couple of ruffians. One of them asked to hold my wand and I let him. Our conversation then proceeded as such:
Universal Studios attendant, aka The Ruffian, twirling my wand in his fingers: “You just made a big mistake…do you know what you did?”
Me: “Spoke to a Universal employee when my loyalty lies with Disney?”
The Ruffian: “!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Me: “WAIT DON’T KILL ME, I have Slytherin cred.”
The Ruffian’s Friend: “PROVE IT.”
Me:*Pulls out a Slytherin key topper that doesn’t fit my keys but apparently fate told me to hold onto, because it saved my life that night*
The Ruffian:*Hands me my wand back* “You may proceed.”
My Coworker:*WTF/impressed face*
Little did he know I’m a Gryffindor deep down, but a witch needs to be prepared. Plus I’m kind of Slytherin. A lot Slytherin. Mostly Slytherin. In-denial Slytherin.
This private party was no joke. Free food and booze, to start. Which I actually abstained from because I don’t fit into my wedding dress that I have to wear in two and a half months. But it was legit.
We walked right onto the rides, which was unreal. I rode the Gringotts ride twice, IN THE FRONT ROW.
I tried to get a pic when the dragon was breathing fire, but it just didn’t work out. Partly because it was timed every 10 minutes, so you have to have patience, and partly because I jumped 10 feet in the air every time it happened and therefore couldn’t hold my camera straight.
The ride itself was pretty badass, aside from the fact that at one point, Bill “The Fang” Weasley uses Wingardium Leviosa to make your ride vehicle not levitate, but hurtle in the opposite direction. Does he not know what that spell is for? Maybe he needs to take lessons from Ron. OH WAIT.
I’ve been rambling through most of this, so for those of you who are just scanning for the goods, here’s a quick list of my top five favorite things about the new Diagon Alley:
1. Interactive Wands
I mentioned this already but must discuss it in more detail because it’s probably the coolest addition to the WWoHP. Wands were offered right when the WWoHP opened in 2014, but I hesitated in buying one because I mean…it was $40 and literally a stick. But then they added the ability to do things with them and I decided it was worth the money.
Check this out and please excuse how weird I look/sound; I am not a video-friendly person. Also, please ignore the fact that I can’t aim the camera properly through about 2/3 of it. Points if you can guess which magical shop the spell is being cast into (hint: It’s in Hogsmeade).
2. Attention To Detail
Diagon Alley is also home to a new ice-cream shop straight out of the books: Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. They have flavors like butterbeer (which I got and loved), earl grey & lavender, salted caramel, strawberry & peanut butter, and chocolate chili. If you can guess which of these flavors is mentioned in the books you get more points –- especially if you can name the specific book where it’s mentioned.
Molly Weasley’s favorite singing sensation Celestina Warbeck is also a new addition. She performs a few of her hits, including “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love” and “You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me.” She and her dancers embarrassed the hell out of this guy, which was hilarious. His face is very, “I could use a grilled cheese right now.”
I was super impressed that someone actually wrote the songs mentioned in the series. That was a really cool touch that a book-loyal HP fan like myself can appreciate immensely.
3. Representation Of The Books AND Movies
The fact that the park’s detail is loyal to both the books and films is impressive. For example, Celestina Warbeck and the ice-cream parlour mentioned above are book-only details, from what I remember. But they also have the movie version of Hermione’s Goblet of Fire dress at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, as well as the weird shrunken heads on the Knight Bus inside Knockturn Alley. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes joke shop is also pretty much an exact replica of the shop as shown in the films.
For me, Universal’s representation bridges the gap between the books and films super nicely, and makes my inner book loyalist a little less angry. I will still never get over Alfonso Cuaron’s take on a werewolf, as I’m 98% sure he based it on a chihuahua.
4. King’s Cross And The Hogwarts Express
The first time I entered King’s Cross Station, I was brandishing my wand (obviously), and one of the Muggle attendants was all, “Nice stick!” I laughed. Attention to detail, indeed. I also appreciated the puns on the Muggle side, pre-platform-nine-and-three-quarters.
The Hogwarts Express ride itself is very cool. The inside of the train looks just how it does in the films, and the “windows” show your journey either to or from Hogwarts, depending on which direction you’re going (i.e., from the Universal Studios park/Diagon Alley to the Islands of Adventure park/Hogsmeade and vice versa). I only wish it was longer.
5. Outdoor Air Conditioning (And BONUS REASON: the fact that it’s 20 minutes from my apartment)
Even though the Diagon Alley section is technically outdoors, they pump A/C in that B so it’s cooler than the rest of the park. I know this might seem like a throwaway reason, but you come to Orlando in the middle of summer and tell me it doesn’t deserve a spot on this list.
Also, out of anywhere they could’ve built this thing in the entire world, they picked to do it 20 minutes from where I live. I realize that doesn’t entice any of you, and I’m sorry about that, but it deserves to be on my list. At least I’m combining the two most useless reasons into one.
That being said, here are a few things Universal could add to make the experience even better:
1. Sorting into houses. I need to know once and for all: Gryffindor or Slytherin?
2. Character meet & greets. I want to meet McGonagall and ask if she and Voldy ever had a fling.
3. More passholder perks. I need a butterbeer punch card for a free one after every 10.
4. More events. I have no idea how/where they’d hold a TriWizard Tournament or a Quidditch World Cup or at least a Yule Ball, but I would go to there.
If you’ve been, tell me: What’s your favorite part? And if you haven’t: What are you waiting for!?