Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kneazleless in Diagon Alley

The people stand like human statues, phones and cameras poised high in the air. Expectant fingers hover over buttons, waiting, waiting, waiting.  Then it happens.  A series of menacing growls followed by quiet, followed by a monstrous bellowing roar; brilliant fire streams forth from the mighty dragon’s mouth.  

The statue- like people frantically tap their buttons. The crowd sends up resounding cheers. Those who stumble upon the scene by chance helplessly fumble with cameras but they are too late.  They stand still, cameras poised and begin their waiting.  In fifteen minutes (more or less) the whole scene will play out again.

If I was excited about Hogsmede, I was downright overwhelmed by Diagon Alley.  The enormity of it is instantly immersive.  

We traveled from Hogsmede to London on the Hogwarts' Express.  

I was jumping out of my skin with delight as the train pulled into Hogsmede Station. (The Hogsmede station isn’t as impressive as the London station so all of my pictures are of the London side)

The windows inside of the compartment, both looking outside and looking into the corridor are actually screens.  As soon as the train starts moving the show begins. 

There are two different scenarios. One traveling from Hogsmede to London, and one traveling from London to Hogsmede. I thought the Hogsmede to London trip was the better of the two, so if you can only ride the train once, I’d suggest going to Studios and riding the train to Islands of Adventure.  

The train is not to be missed. We road it three times and even people who weren't Potter fans seemed delighted and impressed.

The train station on the London side is spectacular.  You forget for a moment that you are in a theme park.

There are so many details. Some would probably only be recognizable to fans.

Billboard Dumbledore stares at in the beginning of Half-blood Prince
They even have a street musician hanging out in regular clothes playing just within the entrance (one time it was a violinist and another time it was a saxophone player)

Parked just outside of the London station is The Nightbus, 

which sits across from Number 12 Grimmauld  Place.  If you wait a bit you can see Kreature peeking out from behind the upstairs curtain.

In order to enter Diagon Alley you must move behind a brick wall. Then you will see the space where the bricks have moved away. There is a sound of moving bricks, but the noisy crowd drowns it out. It's the only part of Diagon Alley that is a little underwhelming. 

This section of the Wizarding World is split into Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Horizont Alley (see what they did there), and Carkitt Market.

There are twice the amount of shops compared to Hogsmede, the most striking being Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.  

It wasn't as big inside as I had hoped, it's actually pretty cramped, but I think Fred and George would approve of the staff . 

The second store I was most excited to see was The Magical Menagerie. 

Pure Kneazle
I was looking forward to purchasing a stuffed Kneazle (a pure kneazle, not a kitty kneazle mix like Crookshanks), but sadly they didn’t sell pure kneazles.  They had plenty of Pygmy Puffs.

I purchased quite a few souvenirs at Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment. 

We browsed around Madame Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions (if only I was rich enough to afford Hermione's ball gown), Quality Quidditch Supplies, and of course Olivander’s.  

If you are in Diagon Alley and you want to escape the blazing sun, turn down Knockturn Alley.  It’s actually indoors, but the theming makes you believe you are outside.  It’s dark, the temperature is kept  cool, and the stores, especially Borgin and Burkes’ are pretty spooky.  

Vanishing Cabinet. You can hear a bird chirping inside.
We were fortunate enough to stumble upon what I now believe was one of the first showings of the new puppetry show, The Fountain of Fair Fortune (I didn’t get a picture because my hands were occupied with ice cream). The show was absolutely beautiful.  I was sad we never got a chance to catch a performance of The Three Brothers which is also told on stage using stunning artistic puppets (cool puppets, not the sort that I am afraid of). 

I was glad we caught a performance by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.  She was fantastic during her live performance of A Cauldron full of Hot, Strong Love. I was totally geeking out.  

We grabbed lunch at The Leaky Cauldron.  I can’t express how great all of the staff are who work in The Wizarding World.  I had a great uber fangirl Potter conversation with the girl who took our order at The Leaky Cauldron.  She was a fellow Ravenclaw.

I thought that the theming of The Leaky Cauldron topped the theming at the Three Broomsticks, but as I said before, Broomsticks had the better food.

I got the cottage pie (it paled in comparison to Haddonfield’s British Chip Shop's cottage pie which is heavenly).

Shannon got the banger sandwich.

It wasn’t that the food was bad, it was fine, it was just very average.  What was great was the drink selection at The Leaky Cauldron.  I got a Tongue Tying Lemon Squash which was just the right amount of tart and wonderfully refreshing.  I might lose my Potter cred here, but if I must be honest, I liked it better than Butterbeer.

I wish they sold the same drinks in Hogsmede at The Three Broomsticks,but you can only get the lemon squash in Diagon Alley.
Our main goal of course was to ride Escape from Gringotts. 

On our first day we ended up using the single rider line since the wait never dipped below an hour and a half. Using the single rider line we only waited for about ten minutes ( I felt bad for the people in the summer who waited 4-6 hours in line to ride Gringotts) and we still rode together. The downside is that you don’t get to walk through the bank and take the elevator ride, so the next day we went to Gringotts first thing in the morning so I could fan gush over animatronic goblins and Bill Weasly's office.  It is amazing! 

We only had to wait that time for about 25 minutes and then we rode it a third time because it's a fun ride.

The beginning of the ride was my favorite.  You are just a regular Joe bank customer taking a ride to your bank vault. Bad luck for you because you just happen to be in the bank on the day when Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into Bellatrix’s vault. Your car is suddenly stopped by Bellatrix and Voldemort who suspect that you are in cahoots with the trio. In order to “persuade” you to cooperate, Bellatrix zaps your mine car and turns it completely vertical with you facing forward staring straight down into a dark void of nothingness. Your mine car gets zapped again and the car starts falling straight down and for a moment you think, we are going to die, but then the roller coaster track banks and levels out. I am not a fan of roller coaster drops. I approved of this one, it was extremely fun without being too scary. The majority of the ride is more like a regular 4D simulator ride. Of course it wouldn’t be a Universal simulator if you didn’t have a scene where it looks like you are going to fall and hit the ground (all done with screens). Good thing Bill Weasly was there to save the day (just like Spider Man and Optimus Prime) The ride continues to move through the bank as you try to escape Bellatrix and Voldemort.  During one of the scenes I was seated in just the right spot that when Voldemort walks up to the car it looked like he was walking right up to me and talking to me.  I got a little freaked out. It was creepy, but fun creepy.  There is one more roller coaster part as the dragon, ridden by the trio, pulls you to safety.

It is a fantastic ride, but I still liked Forbidden Journey just a tad more.

Like a big city, Diagon Alley is filled with chaotic huslte and bustle. At times the crowd got a little overwhelming so we escaped for a bit to other parts of the park. It is almost impossible to get clear pictures through the swarm of the crowd and I can see the value of staying at one of the Universal resorts just to get a head start in Diagon Alley.

I enjoyed my time geeking out at The Wizarding World and at the time I thought three days was more than enough, but a month later, I must admit that I dream of more days filled with lemon squash and train rides. 

1 comment:

  1. One of these days we'll get there. Floo powder may be involved.