Harry Potter mania builds with news of Diagon Alley

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando opened in 2010, several guests and Potterites asked for more. The theme park and its creative team have been hard at work with an expansion -- Diagon Alley, the setting for so many adventures in the Potter books and films, is set to open in the summer.

"This new area will be just as spectacular," Matthew Lewis, the actor who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter film series, said in a webcast Thursday morning. "The attention to detail and the accuracy are second to none. It's brilliant."

This is "where we'll bring even more Harry Potter adventures to life," Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, said in the webcast. "It will be a whole new level of storytelling."

Universal worked with their partners at Warner Bros. and with Stuart Craig, production designer for the films.

Lewis and two other actors from the films, James Phelps (Fred Weasley) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), visited Universal Orlando this week as part of "A Celebration of Harry Potter," which is Friday through Sunday and celebrates all things Harry Potter. Some of the festivities include Q&A sessions with the film's celebrities, wand dueling exhibition and a preview of Pottermore, J.K. Rowling's next phase in the Harry Potter franchise.

Phelps recalled knocking on the walls in 2010 when Wizarding World opened at Universal Studios. He did the same for Diagon Alley, too. "London and Diagon Alley are very key to the Harry Potter world," he said in the webcast. One of his favorite shops in the expansion? Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, of course. The prank and practical joke shop is "three stories high with an 18-foot quite attractive guy taking his hat off," he added, referring to his statue.

Wizarding World is home to Hogwarts Castle, the Three Broomsticks and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Diagon Alley will showcase a Quidditch supply shop, the Leaky Cauldron, and the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.

"In the stories, London and Diagon Alley are a considerable distance," Woodbury said. "We wanted our guests to experience that." Diagon Alley is stationed at Universal Studios with Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure, and the Hogwarts Express will ferry guests to and fro.

A big surprise to Diagon Alley is the inclusion of its dark side, Nocturne Alley.

"It shows that the wizarding world isn't all nice," Phelps said, who joked that he held Lewis' hand while going through it.

Woodbury noted the theme park's spectacular growth with its newest hotel, the retro-themed Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and last summer's attraction, "Transformers: The Ride – 3D," and the Simpsons Springfield expansion. In addition, the theme park's nightlife hotspot CityWalk will add eight new venues like a pizzeria, Mexican and sushi restaurants, a place to get hot dogs, Starbucks, and Menchie's Frozen Yogurt.

"If you're a fan of Harry Potter," he said, "you're going to be amazed at the authenticity and attention to detail. If you're not a fan, you will be."


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