Large crowds pour into opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando

The Harry Potter-themed expansion saw waits of hours to get into the park, and queues for seven hours to ride Escape From Gringtotts.

Published July 8 2014
Updated July 8 2014

As expected, crowds were massive and visitors arrived early for opening day of Diagon Alley, the new Harry Potter-themed expansion at Universal Studios in Orlando. The mood was upbeat as confetti rained down on visitors, many of whom dressed up in Hogwarts uniforms.

And to make a Potter fan's day even better, author J.K. Rowling posted a short story on her Pottermore website Tuesday morning in which the beloved boy wizard, now in his 30s, reunites with his school friends at the Quiddich World Cup and we catch up on their adult lives. The story is written in the voice of gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, the journalist from the Potter series.

At the Orlando theme park, movie designers have again created an authentic feel in Diagon Alley, with shops and the Leaky Cauldron pub featured in Rowling's books and new "enchanted" wands that make things move or light up on command.

Visitors started lining up as early as 5 a.m. Tuesday when the parking garage opened and within an hour of the 8 a.m. park opening, there was a two-hour wait to get into Diagon Alley. By midday, there were social media reports that the wait for the signature ride, Escape From Gringotts, was more than six hours.

"It was just like a whole new experience," Lauren Gay of Tampa told the Orlando Sentinel. An avid theme-park visitor, Gay, 33, described it as "nothing like anything we've ridden."

Her friend, Nikida Vaughn of St. Petersburg, quoted on orlandosentinel.com, said "If we could give it a standing ovation, we would."

The ride had technical problems during previews and there were sporadic reports of it being down briefly on Tuesday. Visitors literally ran to the ride when the gates finally opened to line up at Gringott's Bank with a fire-breathing perched on top. The ambitious ride is a novel 3D attraction, with newly invented spins on the roller coaster experienced with a car that tilts and weaves in tandem with the action on screen.

The Potter theme is now set across both Universal parks, with a Hogwarts Express train taking guests (with a two-park ticket) from London's wizard shopping district, where Harry Potter buys his school supplies, to his school in Hogsmeade that opened in 2010 in the Islands of Adventure park.

Information from Tampa Bay Times wires used in this report.

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