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10 Years of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

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Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida had its 10-year anniversary yesterday and it is wild to think about how the follow-up to the land that changed theme parks is that old. Ten years out we still see the influence of Diagon Alley in Universal, Disney, and regional theme park additions to this day. In this article, I will look back at the aftermath of opening Hogsmeade, the rumors surrounding a Harry Potter expansion in Orlando, the leaks, announcements, and the land’s official grand opening. But first, let us rewind to the year 2011

Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Previously On The Wizarding World…

Islands of Adventure was recovering after a rough opening when the original Wizarding World dropped 11 years after the park opened. The first summer was unprecedented in theme parks with massive waits through the park and CityWalk to enter the new land. Universal reportedly paid for the expansion in months from Butterbeer sales alone. Newly minted owners of Universal, Comcast, knew the parks had a bright future and bought out the troublesome Blackstone Entertainment of their share of the resort.

Jaws Closes – Rumors & Speculation

Rumors quickly spread of a Harry Potter expansion at the Universal theme parks. Why not bring Hogsmeade to Hollywood and Japan? And will the boy wizard take over the rest of Lost Continent? Rumor mongers said plans were underway to replace Sinbad and Poseidon with a “spinner” ride themed to the Whomping Willow, a special effects show based on the Chamber of Secrets, and a Great Hall dining experience. Through 2011, rumors shifted away from expansion in Islands of Adventure to the neighboring Universal Studios Florida. Reportedly Universal was contracted to require attractions based on the Deathly Hallows book and movies. They were also not allowed to build Diagon Alley so close to Hogmeade for “authenticity”. Some suggested a Hogwarts Express attraction would connect Hogsmeade and Universal Studios Florida, with the USF train station replacing the Disaster! attraction. On December 2, 2011, Universal made the shocking news that Jaws and Amity would close in early 2012 for a new experience. Screamscape speculated it could be a copy of the recently opened Transformers The Ride from Universal Studios Hollywood (it did come in a different location). Days later on December 6 Universal confirmed that more Harry Potter was coming, eventually, with more details to be released soon.

On New Year’s Eve 2011 at 4:03 pm Robert Niles at Theme Park Insider dropped the biggest bombshell in theme park reporting: Harry Potter was coming to Universal Studios Florida. The cat was out of the bag – Diagon Alley was replacing Jaws and it would feature a full-scale replica of the magic main street, a main dining venue, and an indoor rollercoaster themed to the Gringotts bank vault heist from Deathly Hallows. It all looked amazing, but were these plans given the go-ahead, and if so, when will Jaws close? Confirmed days later, Jaws was to close on January 2, 2012, for an unannounced project. Skippers and guests paid their final respects to Bruce as the tour boats returned home one last time.

Amity and the Jaws ride demolition started posthaste and soon steel was going up along the edges of the old attraction. The old walkway through Amity was pushed up towards the lagoon front as the work walls expanded to take up all of the former coastal New England towns. Construction continued through 2012 without a peep from Universal Orlando.


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley concept art.

“Hello, is anyone awake?” 

Universal Orlando has an odd relationship with social media and announcements, so when they decided to officially announce Diagon Alley through a post on Facebook, the fandom was not surprised. Despite the odd and brief announcement, Universal shook the fandom and news with the announcement. That land is huge! Is that the Knight Bus? What’s with that side street? And… is that dragon breathing fire? Many questions remained, including information about a Hogwarts Express ride, and fans were kept wanting. The steel framing was complete for the London waterfront and it started to look like full buildings, but the interior progress of the land remained hidden.

After months of anticipation, speculation, and construction updates came the grand reveal in late January 2014 – with a star-studded cast to boot! Universal Creative executives and Harry Potter film alumni proudly announced the two new rides, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express, along with some of the new shopping and dining. For the first time we saw inside the vaults of Gringotts, a real Kings Cross 9 3/4 station, and yes the dragon does breathe fire.


Diagon Alley wasn’t just the follow-up to Hogsmeade, it was the next leap.

Building Hype

Universal knew a good way to string out the fanbase so a steady reveal of information and advertisements had theme park fans going nuts. Our first teases of the interior came from aerial photography, a form of fan reporting that started to become popular then. The exterior of the London waterfront was finishing up as we heard more information on other assorted offerings inside Diagon Alley – shows like Celestina Warbeck, the dark streets of Knockturn Alley, and the all-new interactive wands. Yes, folks forget but the interactive wands debuted alongside the opening of Diagon Alley in 2014.

Construction crews finishing up Diagon Alley in the spring of 2014.

Universal blanketed the media with Diagon Alley footage like a cold opening to the Tonight Show, sweepstakes for the Today Show, countless television promos, and even an hour-long television making-of-special. The hype was building and you could feel it in the park – groups of Harry Potter fans waited at the perimeter of the land for weeks for the chance of a preview under the name “Potter Watch”. A red carpet gala featuring the stars was live-streamed on June 19, 2014, and select package holders were let into the land. An opening day of July 8th was set but weeks passed without previews, then months, before finally giving guests a sneak preview of the land on July 3, 2024.

Opening Day

You can try to enter Diagon Alley after the park opens and face a queue like this…

Opening day was upon us and guests were let into the theme park hours before normal. Universal Orlando learned from the mistakes of opening Hogsmeade four years earlier and planned for a surge of guests. Universal would preload guests into CityWalk before sunrise. As the sun rose guests entered Universal Studios Florida and used the backstage queue space used during Halloween Horror Nights to store the swaths of guests waiting to enter the land. By the mid-afternoon, the land had a short wait for entry. Despite the installation of a ticketing system, guests never needed a reservation to enter Diagon Alley and the guest reaction showed it. To this day Diagon Alley is still packed full of guests exploring one of the best themed lands of all time.

Not everything was a resounding success, Escape from Gringotts was a notorious mess with only three operating ride vehicles and lots of downtime, for starters. But behind those London buildings is a magical land that feels lived in, full of quaint spaces and charming nooks. There’s even a fire breathing dragon!

Legacy & Influence

(photo by Mike Sperduto)

Diagon Alley took the Hogsmeade formula and made it even more expansive and immersive (take a drink). Universal created more unique merchandise, more unique food items, more entertainment, and more magic. While copies of Hogsmeade in the international parks made improvements to the formula, and the addition of Hagrid in Islands of Adventure fleshed out that land, Diagon Alley is still the benchmark for lands themed to a single movie or property. Diagon’s influence extends to Disney, where three years later Pandora would open with their themed foods and offerings and rumors suggest Imagineering went back to the drawing board for the new Star Wars land that would become Galaxy’s Edge after touring Diagon Alley for the first time. But Diagon Alley’s time in the spotlight is possibly coming to an end – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Ministry of Magic is coming next year to Epic Universe. Will this new land continue the tradition of Harry Potter lands raising the bar or will Diagon Alley remain supreme?

What are your favorite memories and attractions in Diagon Alley? Leave them in the comments below!

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Joseph Matt

Joe covers theme parks through the lens of his quality engineering day job. He has over five years of writing experience at Touring Plans and has gone on dozens of trips to Orlando over his life. When not at amusement parks you can find Joe at breweries, enjoying live theater, playing video games, and cooking.

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