Just because Universal simply can’t resist throwing yet another curve ball our way with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, the company went ahead and did what we all were beginning to think would never happen before the land’s opening next week: it started doing technical rehearsals with the Hogwarts Express.
There are a whole lot of qualifiers and other sorts of limitations with this, however, and it’s best to take it just one step at a time, starting with the most basic step of them all.
What’s a technical rehearsal?
It’s the fancy full name for a soft opening. And before you can ask, a soft opening is when average, normal guests get to ride an attraction before it’s officially opened, to allow all of the various employees to get used to their new jobs – and to put the ride through its paces, of course, to work out all the myriad kinks and bugs.
Specific times for soft openings are never announced beforehand, and they’re never guaranteed to run for a certain amount of time; they can be anywhere from 15 minutes to all-day (generally speaking, the closer an attraction is to its official opening date, the longer softs run).
When did the Hogwarts Express’s technical rehearsals start?
Yesterday, at approximately 3:00pm. It looks like it lasted for most of the evening, ferrying passengers back and forth from Diagon Alley to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade over in Islands of Adventure.
How do I get on the train?
According to Universal’s official blog, starting yesterday “there will be windows when the Hogwarts Express, along with King’s Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station, will be open for you to enjoy.”
That’s the good news. The bad? See the above explanation regarding technical rehearsals, specifically the part where it says that Universal will never publicize in advance specifically when these soft openings will occur. You’ve just got to be at the right place at the right time, although we can all make an educated guess and assume that there is the possibility of a soft open every day from now until Monday, July 7, the day before Diagon Alley officially opens its doors to the public.
Are there any restrictions?
Just one, actually: you’ll need to have a park-to-park ticket. Don’t worry if you show up without one, though – it just so happens that Universal has placed ticket kiosks inside both of King’s Cross and Hogsmeade Stations, and they’re already being used to upgrade would-be passengers’ tickets.
(Although it really would be faster to have already procured your ability to park-hop beforehand. Be sure to stop by Guest Services at either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure or, even better, to call them at 407-224-4233 before you even arrive at the front gate.)
Cool! What about the rest of Diagon Alley?
Unfortunately, the entirety of the new Wizarding World was kept off-limits for the average guest (with just one exception, which we’ll get to in just a moment). For now, Muggles will have to be satisfied with just riding the Express.
What were the wait times like to get on the Hogwarts Express?
The wait times yesterday fluctuated between 15 and 45 minutes (at least, according to the posted wait times, which we all know can be wildly divergent from the real deal).
That was just for the first day, however, before anyone knew for certain that Universal would be doing any soft openings at all. Sadly, we should all expect the wait times to skyrocket over the course of the coming days.
What’s this I hear about Diagon Alley vacation packages?
A month-and-a-half ago, Universal started selling exclusive vacation packages that included, among other things, “guaranteed” access to the new Wizarding World.
Unfortunately, we recently learned that those package holders would have their Diagon Alley time limited to a two-hour window each day, making a number of people question the value of the (rather pricey) package. Then, just to (possibly) add insult to injury, Universal started its soft openings right on top of these guests’ visits.
Of course, it should be noted (again) that only the Hogwarts Express was open for technical rehearsals, whereas the vacation package participants get to experience everything else. However, it would be rather anomalous for Universal to only soft-open just a tiny sliver of its new land – something which it has never done before. Perhaps everything is being restricted to two-hour windows because the company will want to hold technical rehearsals for Diagon Alley just moments before (or after) the package holders have exited the Wizarding World?
Either way, we’ll know soon enough…
What’s the best way to stay informed?