On Thursday, January 23, Universal is going to finally blow open its most-anticipated attraction yet, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, in a webcast announcement. To mark the occasion, we here at Orlando Informer are throwing a countdown to the two-years-in-the-making event with this new blog post series, exploring – and celebrating – all things Wizarding World.
The prologue & the promise
A little over a month ago, we provided an inside look at Gringotts Bank’s queue. Now, with a little help from some of our rumor friends, we’ve gotten a few more details to share with you on both the queue and the already-legendary attraction itself, and we’ve decided to wrap it all up into one extended narrative, as if you’re really there, at Gringotts Bank, getting ready to hop on the ride of a lifetime!
There are several sources that we are pulling from to concoct this magical journey. Going all the way back to the original “leak,” Theme Park Insider gave us our first peeks behind the Wizarding World curtain; HateToFly has provided a bevy of specific details on both Twitter and the Orlando United boards; mysteriously-appearing-and-then-disappearing Twitter account @AmusementLeaks did the unthinkable and made public Universal’s top-secret blueprints; Andrew O’Sullivan, one of our more enterprising and enthusiastic readers, helped us to connect all the dots; several other, off-the-record insiders sent us bits and pieces of information via owl post; and, finally, I’m using a heaping helping of good, old-fashioned guesswork based upon all the above plus the storyline as presented in both the Harry Potter novels and films.
It should be noted that, even though we’re fairly confident in the various sources, both public and private, that we’ve collated, the simple truth is that things change, and nothing is 100% guaranteed – not even the info officially released by Universal itself – until that magical day this summer when the doors to Diagon Alley finally open to all us Muggles. Indeed, we’ve already been hearing rumblings that the gorgeous blueprints Amusement Leaks released into the wild are dated and have now been rendered at least partially obsolete. Such is the nature of the development process, and such is the requirement of bringing grains of salt to the table.
Now would be a good time to queue up the Harry Potter soundtrack and consider one more disclosure: unless otherwise stated, all the images in this post are from the films (which shouldn’t distract from our storytelling – you already know how true to the films Universal’s Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle are).
With that said, let’s step up to the famous rounded entrance facade of Gringotts Bank… if you don’t mind spoilers, that is.
Gringotts Bank: The queue
You’ve already visited the locker room – which is, thankfully, on the outside of the building, so you didn’t have to hold up the line behind you – and have walked past the test seat beside the entranceway. You’ve made it through the extended queue outside in the blazing sun, and you’re now ready to finally – finally – step foot inside one of the most iconic locations in all of Harry Potter lore.
You are inside Gringotts Bank.
The first room is a circular entry vestibule, which directs traffic into one of several ways. Looking at it from the front door, to the immediate right is the single-riders line, but that’s not for you – and it misses most of the magic that is the queue, just as in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Straight ahead, running in tandem, are the standby and Express Pass lines. It’s a shame that Express Pass access hasn’t been instituted yet, and it’s an even bigger shame that it probably won’t be for at least the next two or three years – but at least Universal is looking ahead and, even, has learned a lesson or two from Hogsmeade (where you just came from, thanks to that wonderful Hogwarts Express ride). Finally, to the left is the extended queue(s), where you just came from.
You plunge ahead in the standby line, and you’re rewarded for your patience thus far with one of the most magnificent sights you’ve ever experienced in a theme park: Gringotts’s Grand Hall, which looks almost exactly like it does in the movies (Sorcerer’s Stone and Deathly Hallows, Part II – you watched those sequences over and over again to be able to compare them to this). The ceiling rises nearly fifty feet above you and is dominated by three massive, beautiful chandeliers. The floor looks exactly like real, ancient marble. Audio-animatronic goblins staff the counters on either side, ignoring your disruptive presence as if you were a normal magical customer.
As beautiful a sight as the hall is, the next is just as captivating: the Vault Showroom, which features four massive vaults lining the right-hand wall. Their doors are open, and you’re able to spy the various wizarding treasures and coins inside (which is a great preview of the souvenir money you can “exchange” your real money for outside the bank, at the teller station, which you have to remember to do afterwards!).
Studying props in the vaults is fascinating, but it doesn’t compare to the Security Office, the next chamber on your tour through Gringotts. (The Security Office is also called the Reading Room, for reasons you’ll quickly understand.) Here, live actors who double as security guards – wands and all – will capture your image, abetted by the magic of special projected effects, for a rather unique keepsake that you can pick up at Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment, the gift shop that you have to pass through before leaving the building.
The security guards are happy to take your money for this never-been-done-before piece of merchandise, and you’re more than happy to give it to them. This is the Wizarding World, after all!
Next up is the Goblins’ Hall, full of further props and immaculate details and faux rooms, making it look infinitely larger than it really is, but you scarcely remember everything you see, because immediately afterward is a giant room that takes your breath away: Bill Weasley’s Office. The room is strikingly similar to the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom over in Islands of Adventure’s Hogwarts Castle, featuring numerous switchbacks, the falling effects of magical spells, and, most captivating of all, musion technology that brings the actors themselves to life right in front of you.
It is here that you become part of the Gringotts Bank story: you’ve arrived to open your very own account at Gringotts and receive your very own vault, but it turns out you didn’t have the best of timing; Lord Voldemort, the greatest dark wizard of them all, has taken control of the Wizarding World.
In his conquest, Voldemort has branded Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger three of the biggest Most Undesirables. The trio, it is believed, will be attempting to infiltrate the bank in order to access the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Voldemort’s most trusted servants. Although the Death Eaters don’t fully know yet why this may be, Harry and company are hunting Horcruxes, those highly dangerous items that secretly hold a fragment of Voldemort’s soul – and which keep him alive even after he has been killed. Hermione is masquerading as Madame Lestrange and is in the process of boarding the mine carts that traverse Gringotts’s numerous subterranean vaults when her cover is blown and all hell breaks loose.
Gringotts Bank: The loading platform
Jolted by the looming confrontation between good and evil, you move forward to the lifts that lead down to the bank’s cavernous underbelly, where all the action is. (You don’t actually notice that the elevator doesn’t really move upwards or downwards, thanks to the level of theming that Universal Creative has put into the tiny room, but that’s okay.)
And then you’re there: the Cart Station, surrounded by rock and endless abysses and infinite stretches of tunnels. You pick up your 3D glasses and work your way up an exquisite circular staircase, which leads to a walkway that extends out over the ride track below you.
When you descend again, you’re standing right in the middle of the load island, which has a track on either side of it – much like Revenge of the Mummy, another of your favorite rides at the park. A team member directs you to one of the two ride vehicles, and then you’re strapped in.
You have only a moment to study the vehicle itself, but what you see is just as breathtaking as everything else around you. It’s actually not that similar to the mine cart seen in the movies, but that’s okay, since it’s even better – it’s extremely Victorian-looking, with three rows of four cushy seats, stacked stadium-style. Each seat has its own lap bar and, even better, six dedicated Dolby surround-sound speakers. Everyone is going to see and hear everything on this ride.
With that as your final thought, you’re off.
Gringotts Bank: The ride
Your ride vehicle merges with the one on the other side of the load platform – you’re in this together from here on out. You face a brick wall with tunnels leading off to the left and right, but it turns out that your path is actually downwards – the track seems to drop away from underneath you, which is the very first time you’ve ever experienced anything like this, and you’re off downwards, into a third, unseen tunnel.
There’s a small bunny hop, just enough of a hill to make you feel it, and a hard right turn followed quickly by an even harder brake. This is when you realize that the ride you’ve just gotten yourself on isn’t so much a traditional rollercoaster as it is a newer motion-base ride, like the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or Transformers. Giant 3D projection screens surround you, seamlessly embedded in the rock walls, making it look like you’re hanging in open space with giant caverns stretching out to either side. It is from here that human security guards and goblin employees of Gringotts seem to stream after you. A couple of trolls even jump out right next to you (are they 3D film or actual audio-animatronic figures? You can’t tell!) and seize your vehicle, attempting to shake you out of it. Harry, Ron, and Hermione/Bellatrix fight them off, however, and away you go, speeding away from the danger.
Until you hit a waterfall – the Thief’s Downfall.
It’s actually just a fogscreen and some water spritzers, but it has the same effect as in the books/films: it washes away any concealment spells or enchantments and attempts to derail the mine cart. Luckily for you, you have your new wizarding friends to save you from being disgorged.
All of a sudden, the appearance of a dragon – one of the more impressive defensive mechanisms the Gringotts goblins employ – complicates matters. There are wind and heat effects coupled with a series of sudden turns in the track, buffeting you back and forth.
The evasive maneuvers taken to avoid the dragon’s breath plunge you right into the vault of Sirius Black, who may have been Harry’s godfather before his death at the hands of his cousin, Bellatrix, but whose family still was staunch Voldemort supporters. The physical set here is impressive and extensive, showcasing illuminated treasure – and featuring some more fog blasts – but there’s still trouble in hot pursuit as Death Eaters join the fray.
A turn to the left and a follow-up curving to the right leads you through the rubble of a collapsed tunnel, which, in turn, deposits you into a giant chasm, where the ride suddenly comes to a halt. All around you, thanks to the presence of even more massive projection screens, the ongoing battle suddenly turns into something much bigger and infinitely deadlier – Voldemort himself arrives at the scene, finally alerted to your plans to help Harry and the gang steal away his precious Horcrux. The action engulfs you on all sides simultaneously, with the ride vehicle surprising you yet again by spinning around 360 degrees to try and take it all in. It’s only when the forces of light manage to make a break through the enemy’s defenses that one of the 3D screens, attached to a giant KUKA arm (like the ones that operate Forbidden Journey, you manage to think afterwards), lifts up out of position at the very last possible second as you plunge madly towards it. You’re free from the Death Eaters!
There is one last dark tunnel to go through – smooth sailing, comparatively speaking – and the track banks up and around to the left. It is here that Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who has long since stopped looking like the vile Bellatrix Lestrange, thank you for your help in snatching the Horcrux and bid you farewell.
Before you know it, you’re back at the loading platform, only this time you get off on the sides of the passageway, away from the loading island and all the new riders who eagerly await the magical adventure that is about to befall them.
You envy them immensely.
Gringotts Bank: One more time
Much of our story from the Gringotts ride itself is based on leaked blueprints. We won’t step through this bit by bit, but for those interested, here is a view of the blueprint along with colored markups done by one of our fans, Andrew.
- Red – Coaster track
- Orange – Second loading station track (like Revenge of the Mummy)
- Blue – Spiral stairs that lead down to the loading station
- Green – First projection dome with turntable track that tilts down into the Dark Tunnel (Turntable, Dark Tunnel, and possible Ledge – Scenes 1,2, and 3)
- Star – Track crossover area
- Purple – Second projection dome (Chasm – Scene 7)
- Burgundy – Outlines of a tunnel (Scene 8)
You can see the original blueprint by clicking here, courtesy of ThemeParkTourist.
Countdown to Diagon Alley
Can you believe we have less than two weeks before Universal will officially spill all the beans on Gringotts Bank and the rest of Diagon Alley, making our virtual ride-through one step closer to reality? Stay tuned for our next Countdown to Diagon Alley article, which will help you while away the hours until the big announcement. In the meantime, you can always check out our other installments in the series:
And, of course, to start back at the very beginning and review everything we know about the Harry Potter expansion at Universal Orlando, visit the Diagon Alley page in the OI Universal Center.
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