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‘Harry Potter’ stars help debut ride Universal Orlando expands The Wizarding World

ORLANDO, Fla., June 19, (Agencies): Stars of the “Harry Potter” franchise hit the red carpet at the much-anticipated expansion of Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter on Wednesday, ahead of the opening of the new attraction on July 8. The addition of Diagon Alley to the theme park is expected to provide a boost for the park’s revenues and for tourism in central Florida. It recreates the wizarding business district in London described in J.K. Rowling’s popular book series and featured heavily in the subsequent Warner Bros. movies. The new attraction expands the original Harry Potter world, which opened in 2010 and is modeled after Hogsmeade Village, which is located near the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where the series’ leading character Harry Potter begins his magical adventures. Actor Tom Felton, who plays Harry’s school nemesis Draco Malfoy, said Universal Studios’ Diagon Alley attraction is better than the movie set he spent a decade filming on. “It’s far more immersive. There’s no scaffolding, no green screen, no electricians standing around,” he told Reuters.

Felton was joined by co-stars including Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the ruthless Bellatrix Lestrange and said the film series “gave me a job to come back to” after she took time away to have children. The film’s leading stars, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) did not attend on Wednesday night due to scheduling conflicts. Author Rowling was also absent, although her latest book “The Silkworm,” written under pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is set to hit stores on Thursday.

Signature
Diagon Alley will feature a new signature ride called “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts,” based on the magical goblin bank in the series. It is also geared toward eateries such as the Leaky Cauldron pub and souvenir shops, both of which drew bottleneck crowds at the initial Hogsmeade Village attraction. Actor Warwick Davis, who plays Professor Filius Flitwick, said the new ride “surpassed anything I’ve ever seen before.” To visit both sections of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, guests will have to buy a more expensive two-park pass, which costs $136 plus tax, because Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley were built in separate Universal parks. The two attractions are connected by a train called Hogwarts Express, the magical locomotive that takes students to and from school in the “Harry Potter” series.

Comcast Corp’s Universal Studios will also bring the world of “Harry Potter” to its Hollywood theme park in 2016, as part of its plans to drum up attendance with a revamp and five-year expansion plan for its film-themed attractions. But Diagon Alley is also heavy on experiential retail, with stores so entertaining and visually stimulating that you almost forget you’re shopping. The attraction doubles the size of the Harry Potter footprint on Universal’s property. Diagon Alley opens to the public July 8 at Universal Studios. A train called the Hogwarts Express connects the new area to the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, called Hogsmeade, which opened in 2010 on the other side of the theme park at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

If fans want to see both Harry Potter areas, a two-park ticket is required. For adults, a two-park ticket for one day costs $136; for children, it’s $130. Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis and Domhnall Gleeson were among the actors from Potter films walking a red carpet at Universal Wednesday night. Here are five first impressions of Universal’s new Diagon Alley, which was inspired by the fictional London location famous for wizarding supplies in the Harry Potter series:

Window shopping
The level of detail in Diagon Alley is amazing, and nowhere are the features more fun and true to the novels and movies than in shop windows. There are lots of things for sale, but others are simply great decorations. Books play a central role in the decor; window-shoppers will see animatronic versions of “The Monster Book of Monsters,” a tome with teeth, along with self-knitting needles and Harry Potter’s snowy owl, Hedwig.
 

Unique gifts
With seven shops in Diagon Alley, there’s plenty to buy. (There are five shops in Hogsmeade, Universal’s original Harry Potter attraction.) Among the offerings: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (chattering teeth, expandable ears), Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions ($250 for a wizard’s robe), Quality Quidditch Supplies (everything for playing the real-life sport based on the game in the series) and Scribbulus (implements for paper, pen and ink lovers). Magical Menagerie sells cute stuffed animals (pygmy puffs are popular), while Borgin and Burkes — located off Diagon Alley in the book, on Knockturn Alley — is a “dark arts” shop that sells skulls, black T-shirts and Death Eater masks. Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment sells telescopes and binoculars.
 

Interactive wands
For $35, guests can buy interactive wands at Ollivanders Wand Shop, located in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. When wand-wielding guests see a medallion symbol in either area, they can wave the wand and cast spells. The wands make trolls dance, light lamps and chandeliers, and silence some shrunken heads, among other things. Maps of the medallion areas are available, but Universal says there are also some hidden spell areas for guests to discover.
 

Wizard wardrobes
In addition to robes, fans can buy capes and preppy button-down cardigans inspired by the four houses where Harry and his fellow students live at Hogwarts school. Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions also has on display a wedding dress and two costumes that aren’t for sale: an intimidating black-beaded cape ensemble worn in a promo for the new attraction, and a costume worn by Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart in the “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” movie. The wedding dress is white with white feathers at the hem and softly twinkling lights within the skirt.

Photo ops
As you enter Diagon Alley, look toward Gringotts Bank — which is the entrance to the centerpiece thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. A dragon is perched atop the bank, and it breathes fire — an instant Facebook photo or Instagram shot. Once you enter the bank, while in queue for the ride, don’t miss the three enormous glass chandeliers. Finally, find 12 Grimmauld Place where Kreacher the House Elf peers eerily from a window.

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