When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened a few years ago, Universal Orlando created a new “gold standard” when it comes to theme parks.
Hogsmeade, being just one land in Islands of Adventure, had more detail and character than any other theme park had ever seen before.
When Universal Creative was given the task of creating Diagon Alley, the bar had been set in terms of what guests expected from the new land. It had to be immersive and detailed, plus it needed to solve some of the issues that Hogsmeade had since opening day.
Most of those problems were with retail. The shops, even though built to scale and look amazing, are extremely small and hard to maneuver.
Good news! Merchandise and food and beverage take up a majority of the real estate in Diagon Alley and they have nearly doubled the amount of merchandise offered. There are more ways to take your money than you can shake a $29.95 wooden stick at.
Olivander’s has more than doubled in size compared to it’s counterpart store in Hogsmeade and Islands of Adventure.
They have also increased the amount of wands they sell to include the interactive variety that can now make store windows come to life throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
However, just like in Hogsmeade, there are plenty of shop windows that come to life on their own.
Some shop windows can be viewed not only from the street, but from within the shops as well. It’s hard to tell from this shot, but the broom actually “sweeps” the ceiling. It’s a simple effect, but the details like this is what sets Diagon Alley apart.
My personal favorite detail in all of Diagon Alley are these “basement” windows. Just below the shop windows, all over the street, are these lower levels to the shops that are nothing more than a facade. Literally nothing happens in these windows, it just adds an extra dimension that Diagon Alley is “real”.
Another fantastic touch are these side streets. This is one is to the left of Gringotts Bank. The buildings in the background? Not even real. It’s a beautiful form of forced perspective that I have never seen so effectively used in a theme park. You can literally climb these steps all the way to the top where a gate stops you from going on to the “street” above and the illusion carries all the way to the top.
Speaking of streets above, Diagon Alley, according to the Harry Potter books, exists in a little nook of London that only wizards know about. This means, London (as the rest of the world knows it) still exists all around Diagon Alley. Notice the train tracks above the street. Every few minutes, you’ll hear a “train” rumble overhead. A beautiful effect that will go unnoticed by most guests.
That overhead train track helps cover guests from Florida’s almost daily rain showers.
There are other parts of the street that use these awnings to cover the street, which at least for theming, keeps non-wizards in London from looking down into Diagon Alley. For practical theme park purposes, it also helps cover guests from the beating sun and gives them a reason to stick around a little longer to shop and eat.
Even if you don’t spend a dime or ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, you can literally spend hours just strolling through Diagon Alley soaking in the details looking through the shop windows.
Nearly every window comes to life and if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter films and/or books, you’re going to eat this up.
The Leaky Cauldron, in any other theme park land in the world, wouldn’t make a dime.
Authenticity aside, shepherds pie and bangers and mash is a tough sell to an American audience who quite often will stick with burgers and hot dogs when given the choice.
However, in the Leaky Cauldron, because guests will want the “authentic” experience, this stuff will sell like hotcakes. Personally, I say skip the entrees and go with the desserts like the sticky toffee pudding and chocolate potted cream.
While Butterbeer is still served, there are plenty more specialty drinks being offered at the Leaky Cauldron than in the Three Broomsticks at Hogsmeade including several unique adult beverages.
For better or worse, the Leaky Cauldron is a mess hall in the films, which helps when putting tables pretty much end to end to maximize capacity.
Finally, take a stroll down Diagon Alley just as the last guests are being ushered out…