POPSUGAR Entertainment

Get an Inside Look Into the Magic of Diagon Alley

Jul 7 2014 - 4:59pm

This muggle's dreams came true when I attended a media preview of Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley, a brand-new addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that will open to the public July 8. The trip included a red carpet, where I interviewed the cast of the Harry Potter films [1], and a thorough exploration of Diagon Alley [2], which involved a ride on the new Hogwarts Express and spell-casting with the now-interactive wands! I shared a glimpse into the experience on Instagram — POPSUGAR [3] and POPSUGAR Entertainment [4] — but now see all the behind-the-scenes action with my photos and videos from the Diagon Alley preview.

This is a shot of London, where you can board the Hogwarts Express in King's Cross Station, check out the Knight Bus, and enter Diagon Alley.

In "London," you have to stare at the sign for The Leaky Cauldron for a while before you can make out what it says.

Here's a photo of 12 Grimmauld Place, where every few minutes you can catch a peek at Kreacher the house elf through the window.

One of the most fun interactive features of King's Cross Station is the mirror that gives the illusion you're walking through the wall to Platform 9 3/4. I went at it with a cheesy run, but I think Evanna Lynch wins [5] with her skip through.

The Hogwarts Express is a real, full-size train that takes you from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, the original park for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Harry's luggage and owl, Hedwig, wait patiently for him at Platform 9 3/4.

Hedwig and I shared a moment at Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station.

The exterior of the Hogwarts Express is impressive. But the interior is what really gives you goosebumps.

Here's a quick video of what the inside of the Hogwarts Express train looks like. It really feels like you're in the movie in here.

They even shipped in the actual fabric used for the movie for the seating on the train. As you take the train, you see a screen where the window is that shows London to Hogwarts one direction, then a totally different video from Hogwarts to London the other way.

But possibly the coolest aspects to your ride are the shadows and voices you see and hear on the other side of the cart. There are, of course, Ron, Harry, and Hermione walking by and talking (although actors impersonated Daniel Radcliffe [6] and Emma Watson [7]'s voices, since they didn't do any new voiceover work for the new expansion), but things get real when the Dementors pass by!

You enter Diagon Alley walking through a brick wall just like the one Hagrid takes Harry through in the first book/film.

The Leaky Cauldron is another example of how true to the film this new park is.

I tasted the new edible offerings at The Leaky Cauldron, and both the fish and chips and the bangers and mash were quite tasty. I also sipped my way through all the beverages offered, including the Fishy Green Ale, a green mint tea drink with "fish eggs" aka boba-sized blueberry juice-filled balls (I wasn't a fan).

I'll stick with the tried-and-true butterbeer.

The Tale of the Three Brothers is a puppet show that's a part of The Tales of Beedle the Bard plays that will take place in Diagon Alley. It's modeled after the style of the story in the film. Watch a snippet now.

The highlight of the performance is when Death rises up in the smoke at the end.

Universal creatives worked closely with the film team to create the incredibly realistic animatronic goblins in Gringotts Bank. Watch one in action now, and tell me you don't think he's alive!

The lobby in Gringotts Bank is impressive, and it's where you enter for the Escape From Gringotts ride.

As you progress in the queue for the ride you stop to watch a preshow that takes place in Bill Weasley's office. There are real props in the foreground while the introduction takes place on a screen in the background. You can even see moving portraits of the Weasleys, including the photo of them in Egypt which is featured in the movie.

Eternelle's Elixir of Refreshment serves "elixers," aka colored flavors (like pineapple, watermelon, and mint), that you can add to your "Gillywater," the new name for bottled water!

Here are the elixirs.

The new interactive wands will seriously rock your world if you're a Harry Potter fan. There are locations throughout the park (nine in Hogsmeade and 25 in Diagon Alley) where you can perform spells if you wave your wand in a specific way. Some of them took quite awhile to master . . . watch me finally get levitate this feather. "It's leviOsa, not levioSA!"

Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), and Oliver Phelps (George Weasley) made a surprise announcement that the official opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley would be July 8.

The four Harry Potter actors made an impromptu stop at the media center to answer questions from reporters.

When Oliver Phelps was describing how detailed the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop is, he used the head at the front of the shop as an example — which his twin brother, James, chimed in is clearly Fred's.

Matt Lewis talked about how the theme park is actually more realistic than the actual Harry Potter sets, which were often incomplete or just green screens.

Oliver Phelps explains how the Hogwarts Express is a full-scale train.

James Phelps, Evanna Lynch, Matt Lewis, and Oliver Phelps take questions from the media.

I had to pose with my wand in the Gringotts interview set.

The red carpet in front of King's Cross Station gets prepped for the Harry Potter cast.

I posed in front of the red telephone box on the red carpet ahead of interviewing the stars of Harry Potter.

I interviewed Bonnie Wright aka Ginny Weasley on the red carpet.

I interviewed Evanna Lynch on the red carpet. She hasn't lost her Harry Potter fandom, and the fans adore her all the more for it! (She tweeted [8] that she got her dress in Tokyo.)

I interviewed Tom Felton on the red carpet, and I must say he's much nicer than his character Draco Malfoy. He had his girlfriend, Jade Olivia (not pictured), by his side at the event.

Fans at the park went wild for Matthew Lewis [9], who has grown into the stud of the franchise since playing the awkward but adorable Neville Longbottom. And yes, he is just as charming as you would imagine he is.

I interviewed Matt Lewis [10] on the red carpet.

I spoke with James (left) and Oliver Phelps on the red carpet. The twins play the Weasley twins, Fred and George, although only one survives the series (as James reminded me).

I got some blushing when I asked James (left) and Oliver Phelps about the best Harry Potter pickup lines they've heard.

I interviewed Warwick Davis, who plays the goblin Griphook and Professor Flitwick. Warwick also had his family (not pictured) by his side at the event.

I had to let Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley) know that I'm a huge fan of About Time [11] before I started my interview. Keep an eye on this adorable guy; with his Star Wars gig on the horizon, he's sure to be one to watch.

Helena Bonham Carter is a goddess, and she was radiant as always on the red carpet. She is much nicer (thankfully) than her evil onscreen counterpart Bellatrix [12] Lestrange. Her family (not pictured) was also with her at the event, including partner Tim Burton.

Here's what the scene looked like following the red carpet in "London" while we waited for the welcoming into Diagon Alley.

It was a Harry Potter reunion for Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Domhnall Gleeson, Warwick Davis, and Bonnie Wright at Diagon Alley.

Robbie Coltrane used the very same umbrella/wand he used as Hagrid to welcome us to Diagon Alley. Watch the introduction, complete with a fireworks show, now!

When we first stepped in, we saw the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop with the moving hat (and bunny) atop the head of Fred (or George) as promised.

Does it get any cooler than having the goblin Griphook himself, Warwick Davis, introduce the Escape From Gringotts ride?

An extremely lifelike Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon sits atop Gringotts Bank and breathes real, hot fire every few minutes.

Here's a night shot of Diagon Alley when we first entered the new park.

Knockturn Alley is especially creepy at night. Here's one of my first attempts at casting a spell. Hey, a little dark magic never hurt anyone . . .

At Diagon Alley's Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, we tried the new butterbeer ice cream, and it was seriously delicious.

At Gringotts Money Exchange you can exchange your muggle money for Gringotts bank notes. You can also speak with an interactive animatronic goblin. The goblins are incredibly lifelike — it's a bit creepy.

The Gringotts bank notes can be used as real cash in the shops of Diagon Alley.

The next morning, the cast participated in several panels held in The Leaky Cauldron restaurant. "I feature in the ride more than I do in the films," Domhnall Gleeson joked in this video clip. Domhnall, who plays Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, filmed a preshow for the queue of the Escape From Gringotts ride as well for the ride itself.

Domhnall Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, and Warwick Davis listened to a question during their panel.

When asked about his new Star Wars role, Domhnall Gleeson had everyone laughing with his response.

Bonnie Wright, Matt Lewis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, and Oliver Phelps sat together for a panel in The Leaky Cauldron restaurant.

Evanna Lynch explained that Diagon Alley is as much for fans of the Harry Potter films as it is for fans of the book series. She said, "You can just walk through the books in this land."

Tom Felton and Helena Bonham Carter, who play villains Draco Malfoy and Bellatrix [13] Lestrange, answered questions during a panel. The two are far from villainous in their real lives. In fact, Helena shared that her two children (with partner Tim Burton), Billy and Nell [14], were "enchanted" with Diagon Alley. She added that Nell, who's 6, just started reading the first book.

Tom Felton also said he hopes to bring his own little ones to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter some day. Cue the awwws.

There's an Ollivander's wand shop in Diagon Alley (pictured) that's much more expansive than the one previously in Hogsmeade, as well as a small shop from rival wand-maker Mykew Gregorovitch. In the new Ollivander's, you can buy the now-interactive wands as well as the old character wands. There is so much space that they will now be able to do three simultaneous wand-choosing shows in various parts of the shop.

The dragon on top of Gringotts Bank is incredible. You'd think it's about to fly away.

Check out a section of Diagon Alley.

I took this panoramic shot of Diagon Alley.

Hagrid's motorbike in front of Gringott's makes for the perfect photo op — especially when you have a butterbeer in one hand and a wand in the other. But the coolest shot in the motorbike has to be this one Warwick Davis [15] posted on Twitter with the caption "Looking like a dodgy band's album cover."

In a window of the Magical Menagerie shop is a snake that moves and will speak to you in Parsletongue and then English if you are standing outside (just like the snake in the zoo Harry speaks with in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).

We all need a stuffed Hedwig in our life.

The animatronic animals in the Magical Menagerie could keep you entertained for a while. Pictured here is the Kneazle . . .

Can you spy the Crumple Horned Snorkack? Evanna Lynch was especially excited [16], naturally.

Stepping into the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop, you feel like you've stepped into the movie, especially with Umbridge on a unicycle above you.

There are so many great toys and candies in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop, like Decoy Detonators, Puking Pastilles, Pygmy Puffs, U-No-Poo, and Extendable Ears.

I took a final video of Diagon Alley as I left for the muggle world, which isn't nearly as fun.


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