Universal Orlando has revealed some details about its Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion: It is under construction at Universal Studios and will be made to look like London scenes, including Diagon Alley -- from the popular Potter films, keeping true to the series of Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling. It will open sometime next year, Universal says.
But we, of course, have some burning questions. Here are our top 10 things we do not know about Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley.
1. What is this Gringotts ride? Universal calls it a marquee attraction, and the size of the under-construction structure indicates its significance, but what is the exact nature of the ride? Is it a coaster or a dark ride or a thrill ride? Universal Creative senior vice president Thierry Coup wouldn't say. But Theme Park Insider website editor Robert Niles, who says he's seen the blueprints, suspects it's a hybird of attractions. “It’s really taking a coaster ride in a new direction,” Niles says. “They’re all about mashing up different ride experiences to create something unique.”
2. Will Ollivanders wand shop be in its rightful place in Diagon Alley? Potterheads were initally alarmed by the presence of Ollivanders in the original Wizarding World, which is set in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. That didn't align with Rowling's fiction. “We’re going to be pretty authentic to the stories, to the fiction. We’ve always said the Hogsmeade Ollivanders was an annex. So we’re sticking to that story," Coup says.
3. What form will the Hogwarts Express take between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios? Truly a train or a virtual train? We know work has started backstage between the two theme parks. But we expect more than a shuttle. "Things will happen," Coup says, cryptically.
4. Will you need a two-park pass to experience both halves of Wizarding World? Universal says they're still working on the logistics and that more details will be revealed later. The price, of course, is to be determined. Currently, a one-day, one-park pass to Universal is $89 ($83 for ages 3-9). A one-day, two-park pass sells for $123 ($117 for ages 3-9).
5. How will entry to Diagon Alley work? Will there be entrances from both the San Francisco side and the Fear Factor side? "Not quite," says Coup. Also, entry via Hogwarts Express will be "very similar to the way students were able to go back and forth" between Hogsmeade and London in the books and films, he says.
6. When exactly will it open? Universal only says "2014," a strategic move at this point. No one wants to miss a deadline, and blowing a grand-opening date is not only bad public relations, it messes with paying-customers vacations. The old adage "sooner is better than later" does apply, although historically Universal spokespeople have gone with, "It will open when it's ready to open." The original Wizarding World opened at Islands of Adventure in June 2010.
7. Whenever it opens, will there be another big blow-out? Will stars such as Daniel Radcliffe return? Will J.K. Rowling make another stealthy visit to Orlando? OK, too soon to say, but it's fun to think about.
8. How will the vibe compare with IOA's Hogsmeade? “The fact that it’s an urban setting, much more than Hogsmeade, allows us to do a ton of details that’s going to blow everybody’s mind," Coup says. There will be a restaurant, as yet unspecified, and "signature shops," Universal says.
9. Will there be an homage to the old Jaws ride where Diagon Alley is being built? That doesn't feel like something that would get Rowling's approval. But currently, the strung-up shark/photo opportunity still stands on a dock in the San Francisco area, and if you stand just right, you can get the construction in the background.
10. What's up with that dragon in the rendering? Will that be perched above the attraction in real life? Will it breathe fire? Theme Park Insider Niles has a source that says yes.