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Universal Orlando Resort (USO, IOA) Discussion Thread

P. 624: DreamWorks Land passholder preview report!

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Well I’m back from what was arguably the most incredible first-time theme park experience I’ve ever had. Let me preface this review with a few notes. The first is that while I am not a Harry Potter fanatic (I only read four of the books growing up but I have seen and own all of the movies), I do thoroughly enjoy the franchise and all that it has to offer in the theater and theme park environments. The second item is that the following words are fueled by shock and joy from what I’ve just experienced… Later today I’ll be revisiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley again, which will likely level out my review, but the shock-and-awe praise that I’m about to deliver should be shared, lest it wear off even in the slightest between this initial experience and the next.


Diagon Alley takes everything that worked about Hogsmeade and elevates it. The most immediate difference you’ll find when you enter is the sheer scope of the land. This is not a quaint village at the base of a mountain home to a famous castle. Diagon Alley is built like a city, and feels like one too. The facades are tall, wide and incongruous leading to a very asymmetrical, magical feel to the place. Upon entrance to Diagon Alley from the London Waterfront outside, you immediately see a dragon perched atop the entrance dome of Gringotts Bank, which occasionally breathes fire.


Yesterday night’s visit followed the conclusion of the VIP red carpet event, giving us from approximately 9:30 pm to 12:00 midnight to experience as much as possible. Simply put, that is nowhere near enough time, even when the queues are clear for a media event. Diagon Alley is so full of activity, sights, tastes and experiences that the price of admission to Universal Studios Florida would be worth it alone for this one realm especially once the crowds expected to flow in once the land opens to all guests on July 8th, 2014.


With more time in Diagon Alley set for later today, I’ll withhold my full review until I’ve experienced everything, but I will share my insight below based on my experiences this evening and then I’ll update the post with the rest of my reviews after I have had a better chance to get to know the land this coming morning.


Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – This ride can’t be praised enough for all that it is and all that it accomplishes. Without spoiling the ride’s unique story, I can confirm that the ride has many elements that no one will see coming. This is a game changer for Universal and for the amusement industry as a whole. The ride combines coaster elements along with simulator technology to create an experience that is unlike anything else. There is simply nothing in the industry to compare it to—this ride sits comfortably alone in its own category. The queue begins with a tour through the famous Gringotts Bank entryway, with goblins surrounding you on all sides and ornate chandeliers above. This grand entrance alone trumps anything found in the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Moving deeper into the queue you have the option to have a photo taken for your Gringotts Identification Card. The next room leads to a pre-show theater in which Bill Weasley and Griphook, one of the goblin bank leaders discuss their upcoming descent into the vaults. Onward into a moving elevator surrounded by overhead screens and shaking walls and floors, the illusion of descending into the cavernous vaults of Gringotts is impeccable and puts the former Hydrolators of Epcot's The Living Seas' past to shame. Once out of the elevators, guests grab their mine goggles (3-D glasses) and ascend a spiral staircase towards the loading platform, with stalagmites above. The loading platform is grand and cavernous and the mine carts are victorian/steampunk in design, looking much like an evolution of the ride vehicles found on the neighboring Revenge of the Mummy towards the front of the park.


Here's where the SPOILERS come into play... Read no further if you wish to experience the ride with a fresh impression.


The cart dispatches from the station at a quick pace and moves into a giant screen-filled room in which Bellatrix Lestrange and Griphook along with Bill Weasley from the pre-show arrive at the cart junction. Your cart is recognized as being full of intruders and Bellatrix casts a spell to ensure that the intruders are dealt with. The track beneath you tilts forward at a steep angle, holding for a moment before the ride vehicle lunges forward into a dark pit for a thrilling drop. After a quick turn, the ride slows within a cavern, encountering a series of gigantic trolls as the vehicles take an unexpected move and begin to spin. The trolls attack the vehicle leading to a virtual plummet that thanks to screen technology and the vehicles' motion platforms ends with incredible effect. Bill Weasley leads an escape with more spinning along the way, but this is interrupted by another encounter with Bellatrix, this time with Voldemort himself in tow along with his horcrux snake Nagini. They cast a spell that propels the vehicle backwards into a lava-filled room. Voldemort approaches again, about to cast a finishing spell when Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger swoop in on the dragon seen earlier in the beginning of the ride, chaining the ride to dragon as it flies away. The surrounding 360 degree dome that is seemingly sealed off opens up with a puff of smoke as the vehicle is pulled forward by the dragon, which crashes through the Gringotts walls for a thrilling escape. One final pass by Bill Weasley and the dragon concludes the ride experience as the vehicle returns to the station.




The Hogwarts Express is a brilliant conveyance system with a fantastic story (unique depending on which direction you are headed). The trains are absolutely gorgeous and the interiors match perfectly with what has been previously seen in the films.


Knockturn Alley happened to be the standout of the night for me. It is an indoor experience within Diagon Alley themed to feel like it is experienced outdoors and at night—a beautifully simulated illusion. This set of dark corridors is mesmerizing, seedy and eerily exciting in a way that starkly contrasts the bright colors and lively facades of the rest of Diagon Alley. While it doesn’t host any one attraction, just walking around Knockturn Alley is an experience in and of itself.


The Ollivanders wand experience is the same as the one found in the original Hogsmeade, albeit with larger parlors for which to host additional guests. There are three parlors in Ollivanders, all beautifully camouflaged behind wand shelves in a long hallway that are actually doors to each room.



We're finally here!


And we're parked on the red carpet, ready to go!


Robbie Coltrane was on the red carpet along with other stars from the films to promote the debut of Diagon Alley!


The Phelps twins were here as well.


The special "moment" kicking off the debut of Diagon Alley involved shutting out the lights in front of the waterfront for a brief period of time.


The Night Bus arrived and the driver ended up interrupting the show.


Tom Williams (Chairman/CEO, Universal Parks and Resorts) was on hand to kick off the festivities!


Robbie Coltrane repeated his original tapping of the brick wall from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to open the wall into Diagon Alley.


And of course there were fireworks! (Through the trees!)


And plain fire too!


The cast of the films gathered for a photo before the end of the ceremony.


Here we go!


Absolutely gorgeous!


I'm here to open an account!


One welcome gift for us was the map for the interactive wands we would receive later that night. I didn't get the chance to use it, but by this point I was already so overwhelmed to be in Diagon Alley, I was near tears.


I love this "living portrait."


A look at the ride vehicle in simulated action.


These elevators put the Hydrolators to shame.


The pre-show for the ride includes an awesome "musion" effect that has to be seen in person to truly appreciate!


So neat!


Time to board!


Simply put, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts may (in my opinion) be the most cutting-edge, game-changing attraction of our time.


There's the money shot!


It is astounding just how big Diagon Alley feels once inside.


There are tons of food and beverage options in Diagon Alley including this quaint stand.


Another angle for the dragon...


In case you were wondering, these shark teeth are a tribute to the former Jaws attraction that once existed on the plot of land that Diagon Alley now occupies.


The facades really are huge!


The Owl Post here is gigantic!


Time for some refreshing beverages!


So I tried the "Fishy Green Ale..."


This was my reaction.


Carkett Market's covered section should really be great with the Summer heat and rain.


Interactive wand stations are scattered throughout all of Diagon Alley as well as in Hogsmeade.


I seriously love this!


How about some ice crean?


Butterbeer ice cream! That's all I need in life.


Knockturn Alley has some really neat window displays.


Some different potions to mix in with your Gillyweed.


One guest was testing out her new wand on the interactive game.


Seriously awesome!


Shiriki, is that you?


Details in the window!


There were some awesome projection effects on these canvases.


Need some wizard money?


I waited to buy any Gringotts currency, but it was nice to see it in person.


I did get one of each flavor to go.


So clever!


Ain't she a beauty?


Welcome to the Leaky Cauldron.


The main entrance/exit to Diagon Alley.


How about a ride on the Hogwarts Express?


Here's Banks from the Orlando Attractions Magazine. He's ready to ride!


This. Is. Awesome!


Holy cow!


No detail left ignored!


Good to know!


The locations are tied together because of the train, so you'd naturally see Hogsmeade if everything had worked out as plan.


I'm all over this!


Can't stop staring at this!


Be sure to check our Gringotts before the stanchions go up in the queue.


Looks incredible!


Even better than the ones in the queue for Forbidden Journey.

Edited by jedimaster1227
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All I can say is... wow

This looks like one of the most immersive and well-executed theme park areas of all time! Unbelievable!

Is the entrance to the Hogwarts Express themed to 'running through the wall' like in the books?

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Admittedly, there isn't much that I completely geek out at these days. But I am fairly freaked out at the photo TR. Thanks for the great summary!! I didn't have any immediate plans to visit Orlando this year, but I think this TR is a game changer for me. I've GOT to see this in person!! <3

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To sum up the coaster vs. simulator/dark ride question for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (as I currently figure it based on my one ride last night)... It is basically an advanced dark ride with coaster segments and thrown into the mix. The coaster segments are unique because of "breakaway" track segments, which I won't spoil at this time. The ride has spinning motions, which no one has really talked about yet. I've only done one full ride so I'm still working on figuring it all out and will detail it more after I ride it again today.


The best way I can sum it up right now is, a little bit of Mummy, a little bit of Spiderman, a strange hint of Poseidon's Fury and LOTS of huge 3-D screens.


As for the brick wall effect for Platform 9 3/4, it is a really fun but simple effect that you as the person going through won't really experience, but the guests behind you will. The effect uses Pepper's Ghost to simulate you walking through the wall.

Edited by jedimaster1227
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While I doubt I'll be spending any cash on "interactive wands," I do admit that Diagon Alley looks very impressive. And even though I'm not a big fan of the Harry Potter stuff, I'm in favor of anything that means spectacular new attractions at any park.

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The attraction combines physical sets and 3-D screens seamlessly. There are a good number of screens to facilitate the show scenes but the role they play in the story and the things that happen to the screens is also VERY interesting.

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Thanks so much for these reviews Adam. I cannot wait to go check everything out. I was there last week when the walls had come down, so you could see the London Waterfront - but I really look forward go going in.

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WOW! I am really hoping there will be Passholder Previews because I don't want to wait any longer!!! Does anyone know how much the interactive wands will cost? The regular wands cost like $30 so I can only imagine how much I will be spending at this new world


I believe I read on another site $45, not too bad.


Also how are the new beverage's? Does the gilly water taste like vitamin water with the mix-ins, what does the fishy green ale taste like? Thanks for the great coverage, I can't wait to experience this as a big fan of the books and movies and series in general.

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Great report! Everything looks amazing! I am dying to check this all out. Love all the updates!


Question - how is the new Olivander's set up? Do they have a queue set up inside part of the shop and then guests are then ushered into one of the multi "wand show" rooms? Or will the queue be all outside like it is in Hogsmede?

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the role they play in the story and the things that happen to the screens is also VERY interesting.


Uh, say what?


Well, by 2017 crowds should die down enough for me to be able to actually enjoy a visit, though I want to hop a flight next month.

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I think that the wands would be really cool during the off-season, but during busy summer months, it seems like people will have enough of them that you would almost have to wait in a small line just to use your wand.


Or you could just watch what happens when other people use their wands.

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I think that the wands would be really cool during the off-season, but during busy summer months, it seems like people will have enough of them that you would almost have to wait in a small line just to use your wand.


Or you could just watch what happens when other people use their wands.


Yup. Exactly what we will end up doing when we are there the end of July.

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I've been looking for an excuse to buy a Universal Annual Pass, and this is the icing on the cake. Most likely going to get it around Nov/Dec, give it a couple months for the crazies to die down, but it's still going to be a crazy line regardless.

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