July 08--After months of anticipation, Diagon Alley will open Tuesday morning at Universal Studios Florida, offering parkgoers shopping, dining and a 3D thrill ride in a setting that faithfully re-creates scenes from the blockbuster Harry Potter movies.
Universal Orlando's expansion of its Wizarding World of Harry Potter is expected to draw throngs of fans, many of whom have high expectations after visiting the original attraction at Universal Studios' sister park next door, Islands of Adventure. Here are some tips on navigating:
Universal's parking garage will open at 5 a.m. Tuesday. The two theme parks don't officially open until 9 a.m., but a Universal spokesman said visitors will be let in a little early for a kickoff event planned for between 8 and 8:30.
One-day admission costs $96 for adults and $90 for children ages 3-9. A two-park pass -- which lets you board the Hogwarts Express train -- costs $136 for adults and $130 for children.
The Florida Highway Patrol said it does not expect major traffic tie-ups on Interstate 4 near the Universal exit, but Orlando police suggested that drivers avoid the roads directly around Universal unless they are going to one of the parks or hotels. OPD will have extra officers stationed at Universal to handle crowds.
Finding the highlights
Diagon Alley is based on a major Harry Potter setting where wizards and witches shop. Its key features are all rooted in Harry Potter lore:
-- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is the signature attraction and the only ride within Diagon Alley. It's inspired by the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" scene in which the boy wizard and his friends, Ron and Hermione, plunge into the depths of Gringotts Bank's vault. The 3D ride combines a roller-coaster track with technology that spins and tilts the cars. The ride has had technical problems during previews for media and hotel guests, and it has not been open during soft openings for the general public. A sign in front of the attraction has told visitors it will open Tuesday. Riders must be 4 feet tall to ride alone. If they are at least 31/2 feet tall, they can ride with someone 14 or older.
-- The Hogwarts Express is a train on which Harry and his friends travel to get to the wizarding academy. They get to the train by walking through Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station -- a wall that to mere mortals is solid brick but takes wizards into a magical realm. The Universal train shuttles tourists between Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida and the original Wizarding World, known as Hogsmeade.
--Knockturn Alley is a sketchy hangout for wizards who practice the Dark Arts. Air-conditioned, dark and covered with a roof, Universal's version provides a refuge from the heat. The main attraction is Borgin and Burkes, a goth-style, cobwebbed shop devoted to the Potter novels' more sinister side. It sells everything from $9.95 skull candlesticks to $240 black-and-silver dresses fashioned in the style of villain Bellatrix Lestrange.
--For lunch, you can visit the Leaky Cauldron, a re-creation of the popular pub and inn that in the Potter movies leads into Diagon Alley. It sells traditional British fare such as "toad in the hole," a sausage in Yorkshire pudding batter. It also sells treats with distinctly Potter-ish twists, such as Fishy Green Ale, a mint-flavored beverage with blueberry boba-style bubbles.
Hunting for 'Jaws'
Not everything in Diagon Alley is about Harry Potter, however. Throughout the attraction, you'll find sly, subtle salutes to Jaws, the Universal ride that was once on the site of the new Wizarding World. Among them:
One of the albums on display London faÇade's record-shop window is called "Here's to Swimmin' With Bow-legged Women," by the Quint Trio. In the 1975 movie "Jaws," a character named Quint hunts the shark with two other men -- a trio. In the film, Quint (played by Robert Shaw) gives a toast: "Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."
In the film, the threesome sang "Show Me the Way to Go Home," originally written and recorded by British duo Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly in 1925. At Universal, that song is in the repertoire of singing shrunken heads on display in Knockturn Alley.
A set of shark jawbones appears behind herbs and potions at Mr. Mulpepper's Apothecary, another faux storefront on the main strip of Diagon Alley.
Universal Studios employees have said that telescopes on display at Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment are made with pieces from the boats that carted visitors around the Jaws ride.
And if you're really nostalgic for Jaws, you can still see the giant, strung-up shark that fronted the attraction until it closed in January 2012. Universal has placed it nearby, in the San Francisco park section. If you get the angle just right, you can capture a picture of the big guy with King's Cross train station -- the far end of Diagon Alley -- in the background.
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