Fans of Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter can expect the experience to get bigger, better and more detailed with its expansion, Diagon Alley. New details about the ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts were released on May 13, including the fact it will feature familiar characters like Bellatrix Lestrange, Voldemort, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Bill Weasley.
Zap2it spoke with art director Alan Gilmore about the expansive new park and the Gringotts ride. Here are the key details revealed about the new expansion:
Universal Orlando has been planning this since the first Wizarding World park opened. “Universal got involved very quickly after the first part. They realized how good it was; how brilliant a translation the books and films were to the theme park,” Gilmore explains. “Universal Creative started conceptualizing ideas pretty quickly.”
Gilmore was on board from the beginning. After his work with the Hogsmeade park was done, Gilmore headed back to the UK to get back into movies. But when Universal came knocking for Diagon Alley, he was immediately on board. “We knew exactly what to do,” he says. “I got back to the US, and we started it again. This time around we’ve done bigger and bolder and better. We learned a lot from the first one.”
There are a lot more details in this park. “Diagon Alley is such a special place, as you probably know. We realized every detail of it, so we have finished all the buildings, all the way to the top. The streets lean in on top of you, it’s all twisty and old England,” Gilmore explains.
JK Rowling expanded Diagon Alley for the park. Gringotts Bank is at the end of Diagon Alley, but Gilmore reveals that Rowling helped develop a new street called Horizont Alley at the top of the area, that circles around to Carkitt Market, a “large London, England covered market.” There are more shops in this area, as well as a show and other entertainment, and Gilmore calls it “a lovely place to hang out.”
Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley is much bigger than the one in Hogsmeade. There will be thousands of wands, and the interior is significantly larger than its sister store in
Islands of Adventure Hogsmeade.
Visitors can prove they went to Diagon Alley with photos. A new “photography store” called Shutterbuttons will be opened in Diagon Alley. Gilmore teases “you can get your photograph taken and be placed into a magical setting in the ‘Harry Potter’ world.”
Escape from Gringotts is a darker ride than Forbidden Journey. If the inclusion of Bellatrix and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named didn’t clue you off, Escape from Gringotts takes a dark turn. The dragon from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1″ will also be featured. “It’s not overly scary, but just a little bit darker,” Gilmore admits. “It kind of shows the two end of the storyline; the good versus evil storyline.”
Expect to see some non-Gringotts story elements incorporated into the ride’s plot as well. “There will be showdowns. Very much that great duel you have between Harry and Voldemort will be recreated. We’ll have some amazing moments where Voldemort even comes after us,” Gilmore says. “Luckily we’re protected by the kids [Harry, Ron and Hermione].”
The queue is as much of the experience of Escape from Gringotts as the ride itself. “[The entry] a giant marble room. It’s enormous with huge chandeliers. We have animatronic goblins that are working in the bank, processing payments from various Muggles who are allowed in that day,” Gilmore says. “That room is spectacular. That leads into the Gringotts ride, which is one huge experience. It’s not really a queue and a ride. It’s all linked together.”
He continues of the journey through the ride, “Right from the banking hall, passing through that to get your photograph taken at the security clearance in Gringotts — that’s a goblin experience — to then passing through the back rooms and back corridors of the bank, places that have never been seen before. You pass through Bill Weasley’s office. Bill Weasley works at the bank as a special employee, and you see his office and he’s there to greet you. You then pass through to the elevators, which take you deep, deep down underneath the bank, so that’s an amazing ride as well — that’s a ride in itself, the elevators. And they have an amazing media show that takes you far, far down. Brings you down to your cart, where you start your journey through the vaults.”
The ride is a complete 3D experience. Expect to wear 3D glasses during Escape from Gringotts, as the world around you is projected in three dimensions. “Everything is hyper realistic,” Gilmore says. “It goes on for miles. It’s really cool. You feel like you’re in some enormous underground cavern.”
Repeat ride experiences are rewarded with more Easter eggs. “No matter what direction you look in, you’ll see a show,” Gilmore explains of the ride. “What’s really cool about that is you’ll want to ride many, many times because you’ll want to see the other parts of the show you couldn’t see the first time. … It’s very immersive.”
The Hogwarts Express ride will also have its own storyline. Gilmore reveals that the windows in the Hogwarts Express will actually be screens that show another “Harry Potter” story for Wizarding World guests. “It’s a movie where you’re involved in that journey to ride along the Hogwarts Express,” he says. “The show is in the corridors, it’s all around you. The seats, the audio, it’s brilliant.”
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opens at Universal Orlando in summer 2014.