Last week, I did what some might call criminally insane, and I used 48 hours of my three days home sandwiched between Montana, Bonnaroo and three weeks in Europe to apparate to Orlando for a very quick visit to Universal Studios for the press preview of Diagon Alley. But I’d like to think any extreme Harry Potter fans would have done the same; after all, it’s not every day you get to be one of the first to ride the brand spanking new Hogwarts Express.
You see, while 99 percent of the time I wind up turning down such opportunities—glorious as they are, I’m usually either booked months out and these such occurrences tend to happen with just weeks notice or I can’t afford to take time away from working—I knew I had to move Earth and mountains to attend this event. Case in point: I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.
I mean … right? Not only was the #DiagonAlleyPreview done to the max, but some of the cast was there, as well, and I got to visit the park with just a couple hundred others, which is far more intimate than it sounds in such a massive space. When are you ever going to get that chance? But more on the attraction itself closer to the launch date. For now, I want to tell you about the Hogwarts Express.
train station as you enter from the Diagon Alley (i.e. Universal) side mimics a London station to a tee, right down to signs for the lift and the advertisements on the wall. Important to note: You must have a park-to-park pass to take the Hogwarts Express (meaning a ticket that allows you access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure). You’ll arrive in Hogsmeade in the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter (i.e. the Islands end) and be able to explore that side of the park, as well. And I highly encourage you to take the four-minute train ride both ways, as there are different views from each direction.
It didn’t seem like I was going to get the chance to ride it as I had to fly out early on Thursday, the day the preview was actually taking place, and much of the morning was spent doing panels with the cast members in attendance (Bellatrix Lestrange, Draco Malfoy, the Weasley twins, Ginny Weasley, Hagrid, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood and Professor Flitwick) before getting let loose in Diagon Alley itself. But then, a few execs were sneaking away for a private train ride and one of the Universal gals, knowing I had but 30 minutes before leaving for the airport, nudged me to follow them. So follow I did.
And that’s how I came to occupy a car by myself on the Hogwarts Express. I like to think it was really because I’m a lowly first-year and the older wizards didn’t want to be seen with me. It’s a status thing, you know?
Amazing, cool, awesome, stellar, awe-inspiring, magical, fantastic, stupendous, inconceivable don’t even begin to describe the experience. I don’t want to ruin the appeal of the ride itself, but let’s just say you travel from King’s Cross station in London through the world of Muggles to the Scottish countryside and pull up to Hogwarts in grand fashion.