Starting Tuesday (July 8), Harry Potter fans can apparate into Diagon Alley, a second wizard world of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, where they can mostly shop just like the boy wizard. • The magical theme is now set across both Universal theme parks, with a Hogwarts Express train taking guests from London's wizard shopping district, where Harry buys his school supplies, to his school in Hogsmeade that opened in 2010 in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. The British production designers from the films were again brought in to create the same movie feel for theme park visitors, with brooms levitating in shop windows, a new thrill ride called Escape From Gringotts and a dragon that belches real fire that heats up tourists below. • We toured Diagon Alley on a media preview recently, and here are some of our tips.
The first week will no doubt see monstrous crowds. When Hogsmeade opened in 2010, crowds started arriving at midnight for opening day, creating a massive line. If you are one of those people who absolutely has to be there when a theme park zone first opens, well, then you can't be upset if you wait for hours just to get into the park.
If you stay at a Universal hotel, you get early admission. But keep in mind that there are thousands of hotel rooms with this privilege. You could consider buying a multiday ticket, which is always a better per-day price, and plan on seeing a little bit at a time. Or you could wait until fall, when the kids are back in school.
Head straight to what is essentially the only ride (besides the train ride that requires a two-park ticket). Escape From Gringotts is part roller coaster, part motion simulator, and will no doubt be popular. At least the wait is in a richly detailed queue with animatronic goblin bank tellers who sure look real. Riders must be at least 42 inches tall for this ride. And hit the single rider line if it's crowded. That line moves faster.
After Grigottts, just take in the sights, look in shop windows, try some food and don't miss the dark Knockturn Alley, with its creepy dark wizard theming, or the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop.
• In front of the London facade is a fully detailed Knight Bus that is a great photo op.
• Fishy Green Ale sounds disgusting and looks weird with a dozen "fish eggs" on the bottom of a tall glass of the green drink. But the nonalcoholic treat is fun because with each sip, you suck up a few eggs that pop in your mouth. A lemonade called Tongue-Tying Lemon Squash is also very good.
• The Leaky Cauldron pub serves hearty British fare, including fish and chips, along with several new ales. If you like Butterbeer — a sweet butterscotch beverage — Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlor offers Butterbeer-flavored ice cream that drew raves.
• Also new are "enchanted" wands that make things move, levitate or blow up with a flick. They come with a hefty $45 price tag, so look around before you splurge and see if you have to wait 20 minutes just to wave a wand in a window.