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Universal’s Diagon Alley opens with long lines, die-hard Potter fans

Published: Saturday, July 12, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST
(MCT News Service)
Cheering fans rush the entrance of Diagon Alley during the grand opening Tuesday at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion, at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.
(MCT News Service)
Cheering fans react to being welcomed into a confetti-filled Diagon Alley during the grand opening Tuesday at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion, at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.
(MCT News Service)
Daytime fireworks blast off from the top of Diagon Alley during the grand opening at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thousands of happy Harry Potter fans transformed Diagon Alley into a street party – and an endurance test – as Universal Studios’ new attraction opened its gates Tuesday.

Parkgoers stood in a snaking queue for at least 2 hours to get into the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Many then joined yet another line to board Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, the attraction’s signature ride.

By early afternoon, the park’s posted wait for the ride reached 450 minutes – enough time to watch the last three Harry Potter movies.

The time commitment did not deter 17-year-old Ariana Median of Westchester, New York, who had been told the ride “was totally worth it.” She anticipated an amped-up version of other Universal Orlando rides, she said – “like Spider-Man, Transformers and the Mummy mixed together.”

The 3-D Gringotts ride combines roller-coaster maneuvers with on-screen action featuring heroic Harry and the villainous Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix, characters from the “Potter” books written by J.K. Rowling and transformed into eight blockbuster films.

Danielle Johnson, 26, of Melbourne, Florida, found the new ride faster and more intense than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which debuted in 2010 with the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at nearby Islands of Adventure theme park.

“You’re trapped in a vault, and it’s high-speed, and it’s fast, and you’re trying to escape ... and you’re, like, scared,” said Johnson, who fashioned a Potter magic wand into a hair accessory.

Although Diagon Alley previews were held for several days, the Gringotts ride had technical problems and rarely operated during those times. The ride worked consistently Tuesday morning but shut down for about 45 minutes in the early afternoon.

Guests were escorted off the ride at least once. Universal would not provide details about how many times the ride broke down during the day.

Elsewhere, the park’s new “enchanted wands” triggered special effects, such as making water shoot from a frog’s mouth. The souvenirs, which sell for $45, got high marks from D.J. Delvecchio, 21, of Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

“They’re incredibly responsive. They work exactly like you’d expect them to,” he said. “I feel like I’m 12 years old and in Harry Potter books.”

Others had tougher luck. Alex Williamson, 23, of Seminole tried repeatedly to make an image of a skeleton dance along with his wand movement in the Knockturn Alley area, but it didn’t work.

“Maybe I’m not doing it right,” he said.

Diagon Alley is included in regular Universal Studios admission. A one-day ticket is $96 ($90 for ages 3-9). However, to experience both halves of the Wizarding World, including the Hogwarts Express train that connects the two theme parks, guests must buy a ticket that permits passing between them. Those sell for $136 ($130 for ages 3-9).


Jon Busdeker and Paul Brinkmann contributed to this report.


©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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