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.”
Here we go! #potterwatch @OrlandoInformer pic.twitter.com/Ae2wCxvEKf — Cady Hoellrich (@choellrich) July 1, 2014
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.
Update: no #DiagonAlley softs for non-pkg guests, but HE remains open for anyone with a Park-to-Park ticket (h/t @Jmachado760, @kyzman)
— Orlando Informer (@OrlandoInformer) July 1, 2014
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).
Kings Cross at 15min, and you can buy beer IN the station to take on the train! Our kinda ride! #PotterWatch http://t.co/u4PxmTQ98P — PartyThroughTheParks (@PartyTTParks) July 1, 2014
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.
Not sure how I’d feel right now if I was a #DiagonAlley vacation package guest who was told I couldn’t access anything until 5:00pm.— Orlando Informer (@OrlandoInformer) July 1, 2014
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?
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Rode the HE in both directions and it's everything I hoped it would be, thanks @OrlandoInformer for helping us get there!!
— Louise (@louise_davidson) July 2, 2014
@OrlandoInformer thanks for all your help!! We made it on! pic.twitter.com/PcwRvzSvnh— DakotaMorgan (@dakotamorgan18) July 2, 2014
Going to be hopping from both parks on Thursday for the last day of my trip here from the UK. Hope to get on it, what sort of times ish will be the highest we can expect over the next couple of days?
debi here, from Special Needs Are Universal: Tihose using wheelchairs and Electric Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs or scooters) need to know there are stairs on the London side, so they will need to use the lift (elevator) to reach platform 9-3/4. And since we still don’t know how many ADA compartments there are, disabled riders need to possibly be prepared for even a longer wait. HE is an exception to the rule for those using ECVs, as those will be allowed on this ride.
Redner Dolabella nao entendi muito nao, mas acho que vai gostar. Kkkk
Literally praying I get to do it tonight, eeeeek
Thanks to your Twitter feed we managed to get on both routes last night. The Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley route was our favourite – thanks again for doing such an amazing job.
So looking forward to our holiday at the end of July but it’s going to be so busy !!!!
530 days until were back here Ciara Forbes roll on Christmas & NY 2015
As of 9:36am on Wednesday, the Hogwarts Express is open again for softs. Remember, there’s no published schedule, so it could close anytime.
Helena McCallum Mhairi McCallum Sarah Williamson, keep an eye out when in Universal – yous might be the lucky ones who get to ride! Xx
debi here, from Special Needs Are Universal: Those using wheelchairs and Electric Conveyance Vehicles (ECVs or scooters) need to know there are stairs on the London side, so they will need to use the lift (elevator) to reach platform 9-3/4. And since we still don’t know how many ADA compartments there are, disabled riders need to possibly be prepared for even a longer wait. HE is an exception to the rule for those using ECVs, as those will be allowed on this ride.
Rhona Nimmo Katie Nimmo
Claire Harkness wish we were here ❤️
Arrrrgghhhhh, so do I x
only 3 months to go then I’m there!!!!! can’t wait!
Holly Simon! Megan Roberts!
Karen Couper xx
Only park to park ticket holders…I tried 2 days ago..
Thank you Marc, so exciting!
We’re so excited!!