The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Situated in the back of Universal Studios Florida (USF) and on the former spot of Amity Island and the Jaws ride is Diagon Alley, the latest expansion to the theme park and a continuation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter established next door at Universal's Islands of Adventure (IOA).
The Harry Potter area in IOA opened in the summer of 2010 and was themed to the town of Hogsmeade. As we know in the books and movies, the town of Hogsmeade is a village next to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From 2010 through the end of 2013, that land was simply known as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When the new expansion in USF was well under construction, Universal renamed the IOA land as Hogsmeade to help differentiate it from Diagon Alley, the expansion at USF.
Diagon Alley is a magical street in downtown London, England, where wizards and witches can socialize, shop for items, eat in restaurants, and even do their banking at Gringotts Wizarding Bank. In the stories, this is where the students get their school supplies before departing for their year at Hogwarts. However, Diagon Alley isn't all fun and games. An expansion of the street is Knockturn Alley, a dark street frequented by Dark Wizards and those practicing the Dark Arts.
That's what Diagon Alley is like in the Harry Potter books and movies. This area recently opened in Universal Studios Florida, and it looks exactly as you would imagine.
In USF, Diagon Alley begins with a street themed to London, England. In fact, you cannot even see Diagon Alley until you pass through the brick wall and enter the magical realm. Anyway, in the London section of Diagon Alley you'll find townhouses (including a rather magical one), a giant fountain, fancy looking buildings, and at the left side of the street is the King's Cross train station. That train station is where you can access the Hogwarts Express train to travel to Hogsmeade in IOA.
Also in London is the Knight Bus. You can pose for pictures with the conductor of the bus and also talk to the wisecracking shrunken head, just like in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
This part of the land is just a preview for the excitement that's about to happen. As we enter the red building and pass through the opening in the brick wall, waiting for us is DIAGON ALLEY.
Diagon Alley is a richly detailed land straight from the Harry Potter books and movies. Your attention is immediately drawn towards the dragon perched on top of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. About once every ten to fifteen minutes you'll hear the dragon start breathing heavily before it blasts out a breath of fire. This structure is the entrance to the main attraction --- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
After you stop staring at the dragon and how awesome it looks, you'll see that Diagon Alley is full of places to explore. On the left side of the street is the Leaky Cauldron restaurant followed by the dark and sinister Knockturn Alley. On the right side of the street is Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop. Around the corner from the Weasleys' store is a covered street that includes more shops and restaurants including the money exchange as well as Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment. It's also in this area where you'll find a stage where street performers tell The Tale of the Three Brothers.
If you happen to have one of the new Interactive Magic Wands (available for purchase in several stores throughout Universal Orlando), you'll discover even more secrets and magical spots throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
The Leaky Cauldron offers a place to sit down and have a meal. Take note that there's a line queue to enter the counter-service restaurant. If you want to eat here during the busier periods, be cautioned that you won't be the only person with that same idea.
As you would expect, Knockturn Alley is a dark and mysterious place in Diagon Alley. Apart from the freaky but quite interesting evil theming, the main part of Knockturn Alley is the store Borgin & Burkes. If you like the villains and darker material, then this is your place to shop.
Be warned that Knockturn Alley is a bit darker than it appears in the photos. It appears even darker if you step into the area after being in the bright Florida sunshine. Some of the workers here tend to play into their roles, and it may be a bit frightening or intimidating to the younger visitors.
The Money Exchange is a small store where you can exchange your money for currency good in Diagon Alley. The main feature of this store is an animatronic goblin that oversees the shop and its shoppers. Don't be surprised if the goblin looks up and actually speaks to you or makes comments about you. During one of our visits a customer was carrying a drink, and the goblin looked at him and made a comment about being careful with food and drinks while inside of the Money Exchange.
Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment is yet another store in Diagon Alley. While most of the Harry Potter-themed merchandise is fairly generic, the theming inside of this store is interesting and quit mystical. This store also serves as part of the exit for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.