This last week has been nothing short of magical. I’ve been anticipating the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios – for well over a year. I remember watching jealously as the opening ceremonies took place in 2010 with the opening of the first Wizarding World: Hogsmeade. When I learned that there would be an expansion I vowed that I wouldn’t miss it. I had no idea that I was in for the adventure of a life time.
Since falling in love with the books many many years ago, I’ve already done some pretty outrageous things, all in the name of fandom. I own all of the printed books, I have the e-books, and I’ve been to numerous midnight book release events as well as midnight movie releases. In 2007 I even traveled to Toronto, Canada with my best friend to attend a Harry Potter fan convention. After this last week, I think I’ve managed to even top that.
I’m the member of 2 local adult HP fan clubs, one in Tampa (Portkey to Magic) and a larger one in Orlando (Central Florida Slug Club). I learned of a phenomenon known as “soft openings” from members who had attended the opening of WWoHP – Hogsmeade. The theme parks need to have technical rehearsals for new attractions and they typically allow access to the public, whether it be for a couple of hours for for the entire day. They aren’t publicized or announced normally and you just have to be in the right place at the right time. I live in Tampa….Universal is in Orlando, 68.5 miles away. For the last month various websites, blogs, and other self-proclaimed experts tried to speculate on when the park would open and also the likely timing of soft openings. On the July 8th official opening date was finally released, I was on high alert to drop what I was doing and come to the park at a moments notice. On Sunday June 29th I visited with high hopes that I’d be one of the lucky one’s to get a sneak peek at Diagon Alley. It didn’t open. I went back after work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday but Diagon Alley did not open. I was however able to ride the new Hogwarts Express train ride on Tuesday, but Diagon Alley was still elusive. After Wednesday’s let down I had decided that I would not return again until the following Sunday. That all changed Thursday when the text went out like the Batman signal! In our case I guess it was more like an owl signal.
I remember the dread I felt over being let down each and every day as I joined the others who participated in #Potterwatch. Why would today be any different? When I arrived in the park to meet a friend it was the same scene as all of the other days. A small crowd at the gates and team members saying it’s not opening. We headed over to grab something to eat not far away and the unthinkable happened. Diagon Alley opened in technical rehearsal to the general public for the first time! We sped out of the line and made a mad dash for the entrance queue. I’m pretty sure I mowed down a child (unintentionally of course). Once past the iron gates of the London waterfront area my heart picked up speed. We rounded the corner, and there it was. The famous brick entrance to J.K. Rowlings magnificently invented Diagon Alley stood majestically before us. Instantly I was overwhelmed with emotions. My eyes couldn’t process what I was seeing because I had only seen it in the movies and imagined it in the books. But there it was. It was finally real. The tears began to swell up and I let them fall. Team members looked on with smiles as wide as could be. They were moved by our overwhelming joy. My friends and I embraced and headed into the Leaky Cauldron to try and gain our composure. That day is such a blur because it was sensory overload to see it for the very first time. All of that waiting and anticipation and finally I was completely fulfilled. I can only hope that you find something in your life that can bring you as much joy as I felt on that day.
Even without the new Escape from Gringotts ride being apart of the soft opening, it was still a perfect day. I was fortunate enough to take advantage of being an annual passholder and return to Diagon Ally again without hardly any crowds on Sunday with my teenage son and friends and on Monday evening, the day before the grand opening. The food in the Leaky Cauldron, the atmosphere, the team members, the performances, the interactive wands, the Butter Beer ice cream, the potions elixirs , Knockturn Alley, the stores, and the jaw dropping Ukrainian Iron Belly dragon, all of it was perfect. I was no longer in the real world and I never ever wanted to leave. Now I know exactly how Harry Potter felt when he first stepped through the magical brick wall too.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my magical adventure when I recap the experience of Diagon Alley Grand Opening day!
Lauren G., Outdoorsy Diva
All pictures and accounts are the sole property of Lauren Gay unless otherwise indicated. Copyright 2014