ORLANDO — Harry Potter certainly knows how to cause a commotion. And this summer, the ongoing frenzy surrounding the fictional boy-wizard will hit a fever pitch. That's when Potterphiles from around the globe will flock to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.
The star attraction, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, is what fans are most curious about. Up until now, however, Universal has been mum on the details, including the opening date.
Last week, however, USA TODAY was the first to tour Gringotts and will also have an exclusive look at all of Diagon Alley — including a video with never-before-seen footage — May 16.
Here's the low down: The first thing you'll notice as you enter the grand lobby of Gringotts bank, which serves at the start of the queue, are the massive chandeliers just like the ones from the films.
The second wow is when you realize the goblins who run the bank are eyeing you down. Some are counting money, some are scribbling bank records and, occasionally, they make eye contact with you. The head goblin even asks if you are here to open a bank account.
"I get goosebumps every time I come in here," says Thierry Coup, Universal Creative's senior vice president.
And that's saying a lot. After all, Coup and his team have been toiling away on the weird and wonderful details of Diagon Alley even before The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade opened in June 2010. That's how long it takes to make sure every last nook and cranny is authentic to the series. And not only that, there are also new elements that were not originally part of the books or the movies.
After passing by a spiral staircase, guests see a series of vaults, including Harry's, which has a complex series of intricate locks. Next, bank security photos are taken and guests pass through a hallway flanked by bank offices on either side.
Here, they'll see shadows of the goblins at work behind closed doors and guests discover that they are "in the middle of the seventh book," says Coup. "You think you are here to open an account, but you are actually part of the story."
Translation for Potter newbies: This is where main characters Harry, Ron and Hermione break into Gringotts, which happens to be well guarded by trolls and a 60-foot Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon, to retrieve a magical object that will help defeat Lord Voldemort.
The queue is completely immersive just as it is in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade.
As for the ride: "It's going to blow your mind," says Coup. "This ride is unlike anything we've done before."
In the multi-dimensional, multi-sensory attraction, guests will race through a labyrinth of underground vaults, encounter the villainous Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange, and come face to face with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
With 360-degree themed sets, 4K digital high-definition animation, state-of-the-art 3-D Infitec projection systems and live special effects, the newfangled ride is so different from existing theme-park rides, there's not really a name for it yet.
What we do know is that "it's thrilling and dynamic," says Coup. "It's the adventure of a lifetime."