If you read the Internet at all, you’ve likely caught wind of the holiday that was yesterday: the much anticipated Diagon Alley opened at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. If you haven’t heard of anything I’m about to tell you, then you’re clearly a Muggle. (But me? I’m a wizard, Harry!)
Four years after the fantastical Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuted at Islands of Adventure, Diagon Alley arrived at the adjacent Universal park to double the experiences fans have already been able to enjoy. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be a part of the preview last month. Want to know why? Well, here are four reasons right here:
Yes, that is indeed Luna Lovegood, Fred and George Weasley, and Neville Longbottom. (I know what you’re thinking—as everyone is saying it—Neville grew up quite nicely, didn’t he? Truth be told: I didn’t know what to say to any of them. It was a bit like being plopped in the center of my wildest dream. I felt like someone put the Tongue-Tying Curse on me, or maybe the Weasley brothers slipped me a bit of their Ton-Tongue Toffee without my knowing it.)
And here’s another:
Professor Flitwick in the flesh! Or, to you cinephiles, Warwick Davis. And still yet another:
Don’t even say it; I already know you’re jealous. He’s quite easy on the eyes, that Malfoy. Tom Felton couldn’t have been more pleasant and unlike his character, and his girlfriend Jade Olivia was a doll. How cute that they met on the Harry Potter set when she was a stunt coordinator’s assistant! I wasn’t the only one excited to see Draco either. He spent hours appeasing his throngs of tween followers with selfies and autographs.
At the preview itself, there was a red carpet with tons of press, a whole lot of screaming fans and some other special guests. I turned to my right to see Tim Burton standing there with his son, present to support their woman Helena Bonham Carter—who I passed in the bathroom the next day and almost fainted when I saw; it might be because I feared she’d try Avada Kedara on me, or possibly just because I love her so—as she did round tables. I turned to my left and I saw a glimpse of Joey Fatone before he went bye, bye, bye.
That night at the press party could not have been more surreal: trolling around Diagon Alley without the crowds, cast members and wizards dressed up to play the part passing me by.
I was there with my dear friends, the lovely Jet Sisters—who were working PR for the event and with whom I first experienced Wizarding World in 2010—and my favorite part of the night was seeing a quintet of wizards examining Angie’s iPhone when she asked to take a selfie and inquiring “what is this Muggle device?” Without pause, she responded: “an iWand!”
I already gave you a behind the scenes at Wizarding World and now a peek at the larger-than-life Hogwarts Express—and if you missed the video, you can click right here and watch it (seriously, Platform 9 3/4 is so cool)—but what else do you have in store for you at the new theme park? Quite a lot, it turns out…
More butterbeer. There’s frozen butterbeer, there’s regular butterbeer, but now there’s butterbeer ice cream (soft serve, but still). I know, right? Your mind is clearly blown, too.
The creamiest gelato. Just in case butterbeer soft serve doesn’t do it for you, you can also choose from a whole case of England-inspired gelato flavors. It seems weird to write about how gosh darn good theme park-made is while I’m currently enjoying my final days in Italy—where I’ve averaged a gelato every day and a half, thank you very much—but it is that impressive. I had the clotted cream and sticky toffee pudding at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, but others of note are the Earl Grey and lavender, orange marmalade, salted caramel blondie, and chocolate chili flavors.
Potter drinks beyond butterbeer. While I could drink Butterbeer all day, every day (clearly), Diagon Alley offers a half dozen or so new cold treats, like Fishy Green Ale (not actually fishy, but the jury’s still out on how I feel about that one) and Gillywater. Without a doubt, Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice with a cinnamon rim was my favorite. There’s also real beer—Wizard’s Brew and Dragon Scale—for those of you who need something stronger.
Another wild 3-D ride. Unfortunately, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was not open (it is now!) when I was there—though I already have plans to take my nieces to Orlando next June, so guess I’ll just have to wait until then—but I know the new ride is going to be epic. You ride through the twisty labyrinth of the goblin-guarded vaults, only to come face-to-face with Bellatrix Lestrange and He Who Must Not Be Named. I mean, have you been on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey over at Islands of Adventure? Legendary.
Goblins galore! Even though the ride wasn’t open, I got to peek inside the goblin-run bank. Not gonna lie, it was both eerie to be in there alone but also cool to see how lifelike the little banktellers were! Universal spares no expense, and Gringotts is proof of that.
Goblin currency, even. If you’re not so sure about opening an account at Gringotts just yet, you can still pick up Goblin money at the Gringotts Money Exchange to use throughout the park (a fun addition if you’re traveling with kids). Fun fact: I was the first person to use said money, and the cashiers at the Three Broomsticks didn’t know what to make of it!
So much delicious pub food. You needn’t even buy a ticket to London to experience some of the best British fare you’ve ever tasted. Shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, Ploughman’s lunch, bangers and mash, fish and chips, treacle tart. They aim for you to leave the new Leaky Cauldron a full pants-size bigger.
A fire-breathing dragon. This enraged Ukrainian Ironbelly is not kidding around. He emits scorching flames every five minutes, so have your camera ready (and hide your kids!).
Shopping, shopping and more shopping. Even if theme park rides aren’t your thing and you’re not keen on British delicacies, you can spend the better part of an afternoon popping in and out of the shops that line the twisty ways of Diagon Alley. Buy your own Quidditch gear, outfit your child in his/her favorite house apparel from Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions (uh, Gryffindor being the only choice, duh), stock up on jokes at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. The options are endless!
Wands that perform magic. I know what you’re thinking: yeah, right. But seriously, the new wand experience allows you to travel from bronze placard to bronze placard, following the map included with the purchase of your wand, and perform actual spells (kinda). So stop by Ollivanders for the Wand-Chooses-the-Wizard ceremony or even Gregorovitch—Diagon Alley has not one but two wand shops—and see just how good an Alohomora you can muster.
Take a stroll down Knockturn Alley—if you dare. Go where only the sinister souls are, but tread lightly. You never know who you might run into, and you can pick up your share of Dark objects at Borgin and Burkes if you’re that kind of wizard.
So much visual overload. You could camp out in Diagon Alley for days and not get to see everything there is to see. It’s truly magical; there’s simply no other word for it.