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Harry Potter has given Universal its best fighting chance against Disney in Florida. The new attraction ups the stakes even higher.
The new Harry Potter attraction at Universal Orlando opened on Tuesday to crowds of fans eager to be among the first to experience the theme park’s Diagon Alley expansion based on J.K. Rowling’s books and the popular films about the boy wizard.
Fans began lining up before dawn for the public opening of the “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley” attraction, modeled after the London shopping district for wizards that is featured in Rowling’s book series.
The area quickly filled to capacity, leading to staggered admissions into the self-contained attraction.
Universal typically does not release admission figures, but the wait time for the attraction’s new signature ride, “Escape from Gringotts,” was as long as six hours, according to local media reports.
“If we could give it a standing ovation, we would,” Nikida Vaughn of Florida told the Orlando Sentinel after experiencing the interactive roller coaster.
The opening of Diagon Alley is expected to provide a boost to the theme park’s revenues and to tourism in central Florida.
The long waits and exuberant fans were reminiscent of the 2010 opening of Hogsmeade Village, the theme park’s original Harry Potter attraction.
This time, however, gridlock did not spill over to the interstate highway and snarl traffic into Orlando as it did in 2010, said a spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol.
Heavily geared to shopping and eating, Diagon Alley guests can purchase collectible souvenirs, such as interactive wands that trigger special effects within the park.
Visitors can dine on traditional British dishes and purchase the popular butterbeer featured in the series, as well as try new drinks called Fishy Green Ale and Tongue Tying Lemon Squash.
The Diagon Alley expansion is connected to the Hogsmeade attraction by the new Hogwarts Express, a four-minute train ride based on a magical locomotive in the series.
The Potter-themed areas are in two adjoining Universal parks, each of which requires a separate admission. A ride on the train requires a $136 two-park pass.
Comcast Corp’s Universal Studios will bring the world of “Harry Potter” to its Hollywood theme park in 2016, part of a multi-year revamp of its film-themed attractions.
(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)