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Harry Potter's Diagon Alley plans Escape from Gringotts ride, new stores

ORLANDO

Butterbeer, magic wands and wizard robes were just the tip of Harry Potter's power.

Universal Orlando announced Thursday the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's new Diagon Alley will have a fire-breathing dragon atop a new ride, Escape from Gringotts, and several shops selling even more kinds of magical merchandise.

The Diagon Alley area is expected to open some time this summer at Universal Studios and will connect to Hogsmeade Village at Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express train. The attraction has been cited by top travel and industry watchers as one of the most anticipated new theme park features of 2014.

Universal officials said Diagon Alley will have more than a half dozen stores, the Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour selling Potter's favorite strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice cream and a full-scale restaurant, the Leaky Cauldron.

Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative Studio, said the emphasis on retail reflects the Diagon Alley as portrayed in the bestselling books and films. It's the bustling commercial center in London where the wizarding world goes to shop and eat.

"Diagon Alley is much more urban than Hogsmeade Village,'' he said. "The guests and fans expect to go into Madam Malkin's (robe shop), which plays a big part in the movies. It's all part of the experience.''

Central to the retail row will be Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, a three-story shop selling novelty items and magical jokes, and Ollivander's wand shop, which has an annex store in Hogsmeade. Other stores include:

• Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley, the dark, evil part of Diagon Alley, with sinister novelty items, jokes and toys.

• Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions with Hogwarts school ties, scarves and jumpers, wizard robes and character costumes.

• Magical Menagerie with stuffed plush owls, hippogriffs and other animals.

• Quality Quidditch Supplies with quidditch sweaters, brooms and snitches.

• Scribbulus with feather quills, parchment paper and stationery.

• Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment with telescopes, binoculars and magnifying glasses.

Universal officials also released new details of Escape from Gringotts, the main ride in Diagon Alley.

The attraction is being created by the same team that developed the award-winning Forbidden Journey thrill ride at Islands of Adventure but will be more suitable for younger riders, Coup said. It will use cutting-edge technology not used before at the park that gives riders a multidimensional, multisensory experience. Guests will ride through the Gringotts bank vaults in specially designed vehicles that drop, spin and turn.

Diagon Alley's opening will come about four years after Universal's Islands of Adventure debuted the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the book and film series by British author J.K. Rowling.

The heavily themed area has proven a game-changer for Universal, boosting attendance by 30 percent in the first year and doubling merchandise sales to $104 million.

Butterbeer alone, the frothy, butterscotch, nonalcoholic drink, poured in about $5 million in the first six months.

Potter's world has led to heavy capital investments at competing theme parks not only to build and update attractions but also to create entire "lands," as Disney has done with Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and SeaWorld has done with Antarctica.

Universal visitors will be able to travel between the two Harry Potter areas aboard the Hogwarts Express using a park-to-park ticket.

Pricing and other details haven't been announced, but it will be the first time one attraction connects two theme parks. The train trip will have views of London and the British countryside.

Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Harry Potter's Diagon Alley plans Escape from Gringotts ride, new stores 01/23/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 11:14pm]
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