By Susan and Simon Veness
On Monday we took you on a walk-through of Diagon Alley. Today let’s have a look at the rest of the Diagon Alley Media Preview, with the Red Carpet event featuring stars from the movies, interviews with the Universal Creative Team, and the smaller details that bring the area to life.
Covering the biggest thing to hit Orlando since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, indeed, a major thrill. It’s also a lot of work, but it’s work of the best kind. Our days started at 6am and ended around 1am, and in between it was non-stop immersion in the world of Harry and Friends.
Sometimes waiting around makes you a bit goofy.
You read about our Diagon Alley walk-through with Alan Gilmore already, so let’s take a look at the rest of the Media Preview, starting at the Leaky Cauldron.
It was important to the authenticity of the theme that the Leaky Cauldron would serve up traditional British fare, and Universal’s culinary team, led by Executive Chef Stephen Jayson, chose a menu based on recognisable pub grub such as Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips and Cottage Pie, then threw in a dish that will be totally foreign to most Americans: Toad in the Hole. We sampled each during our preview and give a big thumbs up to the Cottage Pie with its crispy potato crust, Toad in the Hole with delicious Irish sausage, and the Ploughman’s, with its cheeses, bread, greens, Branston Pickle, cornichons, and Scotch Eggs.
Food, beverage and merchandise are a big part of Diagon Alley, and guests won’t have far to go for any of them. Along with the Leaky Cauldron, you’ll find unique ice cream combinations (such as Earl Gray and Lavender, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Chocolate Chili) at Florean Fortescue’s; and Dragon Scale Ale, Wizard’s Brew, Fishy Green Ale (non-alcoholic), Tongue Tying Lemon Squash and Peach Tree Fizzing Tea at The Hopping Pot and The Fountain of Fair Fortune. Shops carry wands of all kinds, magical cuddly toys, jokes and gags, and tools of the Dark Arts. You’ll open your wallet often, and you’ll do it happily.
That evening we enjoyed the hilarious Blue Man Group, went back to Cabana Bay Beach Resort to write up our newspaper features, had a few hours kip, then got up to do it all again. It was back to Diagon Alley to concentrate on the smaller details, and this is where the area really shines. Let’s just say you’re going to want a magic wand.
There are 25 interactive windows throughout Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley (with an additional 9 at Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure), plus a few secret windows, and armed with your map of the area you can easily spend an hour or more just enjoying the windows. Look for the medallion embedded in the pavement—or the long queue waiting to cast a spell!
Trace the pattern shown on the medallion with your magic wand to cast a spell at each window.
A wizard is always on hand to show you how it works.
BRIT TIP EXTRA: Be sure to have your magic wand map out when you’re walking around Knockturn Alley, for an eerie surprise!
But the windows aren’t the only thing that’s interactive in Diagon Alley. Meet “Sir”, the Money Exchanger. For the price of a U.S. $10 or $20, Muggles can get their hands on some Wizarding World money, and have a bit of fun asking questions of the teller. Sir is cranky, old, and sarcastic, and several of us spent a fair bit of time asking him questions and hearing his responses. Ask him something he doesn’t feel like answering and he’ll say, “I will not dignify that question with an answer!”
Sir can be surly!
Wizarding World money can be spent anywhere in Universal Orlando, but you’ll probably just want to keep it.
You can also get a souvenir set of Wizarding World coins.
The stars of the movie weren’t so lucky; they did have to answer our questions, both on the Red Carpet that night and in a Q&A session in the Leaky Cauldron the next day. This is what photographers along the Red Carpet see most of the time:
And this is what we see if we’re patient.
Bonnie Wright Ginny Weasley
Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley)
Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom)
Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood)
Oliver and James Phelps (George and Fred Weasley)
Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lastrange)
Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)
Warwick Davis (Griphook and Professor Flitwick)
The press conference the next day included a Q&A session with the Universal Creative team of Alan Gilmore (Art Director for the Harry Potter films and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Thierry Coup (Senior Vice President of Universal Creative), Mark Woodbury (President of Universal Creative) and Dale Mason (Director of Creative Development at Universal Creative), who spoke about creating the magnificent land we were all enjoying.
Then the movies’ stars came out, and told us about their impressions of Diagon Alley and the differences between a mo
vie set and this fully fleshed-out land. Because Robby Coltrane (Hagrid) did not walk the full length of the Red Carpet the night before (though he did officially open the land to media), it was a real thrill to meet him today and hear his thoughts. Both he and Helena Bonham Carter were amazed by the feeling of being in real buildings with ceilings rather than sparse movie sets.
Finally, what would a Universal media event be without the minions? They made the perfect introduction to the opening of the final section of Cabana Bay Beach Resort on our final evening, where we were treated to a buffet spread and a rockin’ concert by The Beach Boys. It was a fantastic 3 days and we’re thrilled to bring it to you here until you can visit in real life. Universal has raised the bar in theme park experiences significantly, and we know you’re going to be spellbound!
Look no further than Attraction Tickets Direct for your Universal Orlando Diagon Alley experience! Our Universal tickets will not only grant you access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and tranfers between the two parks on the iconic Hogwarts Express train!