One year ago, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley officially opened to guests as a unique place where friends and families can share incredible memories. As we celebrate Diagon Alley’s one-year anniversary, I thought I’d share some of my favorite memories with you – and I hope you share yours in return.
For me, Diagon Alley is the accumulation of a very special journey. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the design team that made the world of Harry Potter real. The opportunity to recreate the film sets and real London locations was an exceptional challenge, and we relished each step of that creative journey.
I worked directly with my good friend, Stuart Craig, the production designer on the Harry Potter film series, to translate the film designs into a real world place. Both Stuart and I have a keen interest in architecture and history and how both can be interpreted to give viewers amazing experiences. We were eager to use those tools to give guests the best understanding of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. We spent almost three years designing, developing and constructing Diagon Alley, and we couldn’t wait to share it with guests.
Before we could begin to introduce guests to Diagon Alley, the Universal Creative team and I had to finalize this immersive world and experience it for ourselves. I specifically remember the first time I rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Travelling through the Gringotts vaults and meeting Voldemort and Bellatrix in-person was a visceral experience. On the films, we built smaller sections of the Gringotts caverns that were often extended through computer-generated environments. But at Universal Orlando, we were able to build these environments at full-scale, creating immersive, storytelling moments. It took my breath away to see it come to life.
I was lucky enough to give a preview of Diagon Alley to a few cast members from the Harry Potter films, including Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Warwick Davis, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Bonnie Wright. Film sets are often designed to be very contained, so the ability to experience this land was a revelation for the actors. They kept pointing out the amazing details and were amazed that they could be transported back to their roles in the films. Their reaction was truly special, and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Finally, the day came when theme park guests were able to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and it was extremely rewarding to watch them enter for the first time. They were instantly amazed, and I heard several people exclaim how they felt they’d stepped into the books and films. They were overwhelmed with emotion as they first passed through from London into Diagon Alley. This was the best reaction we could have hoped for, and we felt that we had achieved our goal of creating a realistic translation of the world from the Harry Potter stories.
While I’ve truly enjoyed sharing this immersive land with guests, I’ll never forget the first time I shared it with my family. They’ve been with me along the entire journey – from planning and creating The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade to bringing Diagon Alley to life. My son, Phelan, first came to Florida as a two year-old, and my daughter, Orla, was born in Orlando. Our journey with Universal to create these amazing lands has been intertwined with standout personal moments, and we see both London and Orlando as our homes. When my family first visited Diagon Alley, they were amazed – they realized that Dad was busy creating a truly special place! They loved it, and my son was so astounded by the Interactive Wands that he wouldn’t leave – he wanted to try every spell.
It’s been a remarkable journey to work with Universal Creative on Diagon Alley, and I’m honored to be part of a team that’s joined the worlds of film story-telling and real-world immersion. We’ve had the opportunity to create a new level of guest experience that will define the future of themed experiences. It’s been one of my career highlights.
What are some of the memories that you and your family have been able to create since Diagon Alley opened a year ago? Share your memories by using #UniversalMoments – and I hope you create many more!