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Huffington Post -- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley nears completion at the Universal Orlando Resort

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Huffington Post -- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley nears completion at the Universal Orlando Resort

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There's not a stitch of clothes for sale at Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. Not yet anyway. And the shelves at Borgin and Burkes are still bare as well.

But none of that matters. Even though The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley is still basically a construction site, there's really only one word that describes this soon-to-open addition to the Universal Orlando Resort. And that word is magical.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Though visitors to Universal Studios Florida will have to wait 'til Summer before they can then grab a cone at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour or discover what's hidden in the shadows of Knockturn Alley, a few lucky reporters & bloggers got to go behind those 5 stories-tall London facades which shield this new "land" from prying Muggle eyes yesterday. And while onsite, they also got the chance to talk with key members of Universal Creative. Who have been working with Warner Bros. Entertainment on this USF expansion ever since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade first opened over at Islands of Adventure back in June of 2010.

"Seriously, Hogsmeade had only been open a week when we first began talking with about ways we could possibly expand the Wizarding World," recalled Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative. "I mean, we'd had such a great time working with Stuart Craig and the production team from the Harry Potter films. And there was so much more to the world that J.K. Rowling had created which was worth exploring. So we just had to revisit this property."

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Mind you, when it came to deciding which elements should be included as part of Wizarding World - Phase Two, Thierry and the crew at Universal Creative had a lot of feedback from passionate Potter fans to work with.

"It was actually kind of funny. These people would first tell us how much they loved what we'd done with Hogsmeade, how authentic we'd made the place look and feel," recalled Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative. "But then -- with their very next breath -- these Potter fans would then begin talking about all of the other things from the books & the movies that they wished that we'd included as part of the Wizarding World. Places like Diagon Alley and King's Cross Station. Or how they didn't just want to get their picture taken in front of the Hogwarts Express. But -- rather -- they wanted to get on that train and go for a ride."

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

And what was Coup's response to comments like these? "Just wait."

Well, that wait is now nearly over. Though construction of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley only began in June of last year, hundreds of hard hat workers are on site right now speeding this project towards completion.

Construction workers on green boom lifts have begun to do finishing work on
the exterior London facade of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon
Alley. Photo by Jim Hill

And you have to understand that -- when it comes to this expansion of The Wizarding World -- this is very much a group effort when it comes to the Universal Orlando Resort. So while Dale Mason -- who's a VP of Creative Development at Universal Creative. Not to mention being the executive art director for the entire Wizarding World -- are inside of the Leaky Cauldron making sure that this restaurant / pub looks just like it did in the movies ("There's not a real brick in this entire place," Mason enthused. "Everything you see in Diagon Alley is either modeled fiber glass, steel or carved concrete"), Steve Jayson -- the Executive Chef for the Universal Orlando Resort -- is somewhere else working behind-the-scenes. Either by designing the kitchen for this new dining facility or by working on the menu. As Steve and his culinary team try and put their own spin with some authentic English dishes. Which Jayson hopes will not only please Harry Potter fans but J.K. Rowling herself.

"We're supposedly going over to Scotland in April to present all of our new menu items to Ms. Rowling," Steve explained.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

But between now and then, there is so, so much work that still needs to be done. Take -- for example -- each of the facades within Diagon Alley. Every one of these building fronts first has to be painted and then have its graphic treatments applied. And once that work is done ... Well, because this super-secret Wizards-Only shopping & dining district is supposed to be hundreds of years old, teams of effects artists then have to go back into Diagon Alley and artificially age up the place.

"You have to understand that there's supposed to be no technology from the modern day Muggle World back here. Diagon Alley is really set in Victorian times. So the streets are lit by gaslight and the buildings are all supposedly heated with wood &  coal," Mason said. "Which means that -- in order to make this place look authentically old & grimy -- we then have to go back in and speckle this place with lots of artificial soot."

A construction worker horses some decorative modeling into place on
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley's recreation of
London's Wyndham Theatre. Photo by Jim Hill

And it's not just those little touches that Universal Creative is striving to get right. There's also Diagon Alley's big main attraction, "Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts." Which is this ambitious coaster-like attraction which will recreate one of the more memorable moments from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II." Not to mention that full-sized recreation of the Hogwarts Express. Which will carry Universal Orlando visitors from Diagon Alley over to Hogmeade (or visa versa) and provide them views of London and the English countryside. Not to mention a few other surprises along the way.

And speaking of surprises ... There's a lot more that Universal Orlando has yet to reveal about the world's first centrally themed, multi-park experience. So if you'd like to stay on top of what's going on with Diagon Alley as well as hear about the changes that are coming to Hogsmeade, then you might want to go check out the brand-new version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter website.

Copyright Universal Studios Japan. All rights reserved

Just keep in mind, though, that the magic is about to go global. There's a version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that's nearing completion at Universal Studios Japan (In fact, Thierry Coup will be flying over to Osaka later this month. Where he'll then spend ten days straight riding that theme park's version of "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" as Thierry fine-tunes this high tech thrill ride). Not to mention the Potter-themed project that's about to rise on the Upper Lot at Universal Studios Hollywood.

"But what's great about all of these other Harry Potter-themed things that are going into Osaka & Hollywood is that they're all going to have their own unique elements. Things that you can only see & experience if you go to that specific theme park," Coup concluded. "Like Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade. The only place that you'll get to experience this version of The Wizarding World -- which is all tied together with its very own working version of the Hogwarts Express -- is here at the Universal Orlando Resort."

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  • I would love to hear from Jim Hill on something that's been bugging me about Hogsmeade. Jim, do you think Universal will one day go back over there and fix a lot of the sight line problems and do something to obscure the ugly roller coaster tracks that really destroy the mood and theme of Hogsmeade? You can see the ugly Lost Continent and the rest of the park from Hogsmeade too. I wish Universal would put a "Forbidden Forest" buffer zone in there to make you fee like you are not in a theme park...but really in Hogsmeade. Like what it seems they are doing with Diagon Alley, so that you can't see the rest of the park from in there. I wish they would go back and redo Hogsmeade to take care of that problem there...and even get rid of Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff if they can't conceal those ugly tracks somehow. In my opinion, Diagon Alley sounds like it will end up being the most immersive and impressive theme park environment ever...and Hogsmeade just won't look as good after it opens.

    Does Universal execs know how junky the steel tracks of those coasters makes Hogsmeade look? Any chance they will in the future get rid of the rest of the Lost Continent and build more Potter at Islands of Adventure, like the Forbidden Forest and Shrieking Shack and Malfoy Manor and things like that? They could even do some kind of Hunt for the Horcruxes ride that's set in all those remote locations that Harry and the others went to in the final movies. That could be in the "Forbidden Forest" area where the Lost Continent is now.

  • Do you have a link for Mickey's audition? Would love to see it.   Did not see it on You Tube. Would love to see Mickey interact with Mel Brooks.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The official title of this film is "Mickey's Big Break." It was directed by Rob Minkoff and was originally intended as the pre-show entertainment for a very short-lived attraction at Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, Disney Channel Auditions. This short live-action / animated film ran at that theme park in 1991 and then resurfaced at the Magic Kingdom in the Main Street Cinema from 1994 - 1998. Once this old time movie house was repurposed as a shop, "Mickey's Big Break" went into storage and has rarely been seen since. Though -- whenever the Company is celebrating one of Mickey's birthdays -- it sometimes get pulled out of storage and then gets presented as an extra / bonus feature. It occasionally pops up on YouTube under the title "Mickey's Audition." Though as of right now, it's nowhere to be seen on YouTube. Which suggests that Disney's lawyers have been busy again.

    That's all the info I have for you, Eddie. Right now, anyway. Good luck with your hunt, though.

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