Are you ready to ride the Hogwarts Express? Because a movie-authentic experience is coming to Universal Studios Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as revealed during a press event attended by MTV News and to be announced to the general public later later Friday (March 14).
The event was hosted by Oliver Phelps, who played George Weasley in the "Harry Potter" movies, as well as Senior Producer for Universal Creative Michael DoQui and VP of Corporate Communications for Universal Tom Schroder.
In January, Universal finally revealed details about the expansion to the Harry Potter section of the theme park: By adding "Diagon Alley," they would double the size of the experience, adding new rides, shops and attractions.
The focus of the event was how parkgoers will get from Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida, to Hogsmeade in Universal's Island of Adventure. The answer is a train straight out of the films, down to the last detail.
Platform 9 3/4
In the books (and movie), Harry enters the Hogwarts Express by running through a brick wall and onto the hidden, magical Platform 9 3/4. Impossible in real life though, right? Wrong. Though the Universal brass wouldn't explain exactly how it will be done, they did describe it this way:
"I don't want to give it away, you have to experience it. But you'll see people... Transition through the wall, and you'll transition through the wall as you go to the platform," Schroder said.
We have no idea what that means, but it sounds awesome.
The Hogwarts Express will pull into the station billowing steam and smoke, before welcoming guests aboard. The train itself sits about 200 guests at a time, and is made to the exact size of the cabins and hallways of the train in the movies. The paint, materials and even the whistle are all movie accurate.
Come On, Ride The Train
Once on board, the execs were careful to emphasize repeatedly: It is just like the experience of actually riding a train, albeit a magical one. So unlike Universal's King Kong ride which depends on 3-D imagery and glasses, guests will be able to look out the windows and see an actual Harry Potter scene play out; and depending on where they're seated on the train, and what angle they're looking out the window, the scene will look different.
Given the wizards at Universal managed to somehow make Harry Potter's talking, moving paintings and pictures, we expect this effect to be just as mind boggling.
Two Rides For The Price Of One
There are two different journeys, from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley; and the one back. Each is completely different, with a different story and characters. Speaking of the characters...
Guests will get to see Hagrid wave goodbye from Hogsmeade station, the Knight Bus slamming through the streets in London, Buckbeak or the Weasley twins fly by and even be attacked by evil Dementors. The execs were careful to say that this is not a dangerous train ride, and is appropriate for the whole family... Despite the Dementor attacks. Additionally, at the very least Phelps will be back playing his part. No news on the other actors involved.
Yeah, but what about snacks? In the movies and books, the candy trolley is an essential part of any Hogwarts Express journey. So will we have a chance to buy Chocolate Frogs during our train ride? Schroder wasn't allowed to say specifically, but did add, "You may see something like that. All I can say is that it's true to the experience in the movies." Pumpkin Pasties, here we come.
More Real Than The Movie
Phelps copped to being completely gobsmacked by the whole endeavor. Not only was the train the first set he filmed on when doing the "Harry Potter" movies, but other parts of the Diagon Alley section of the park were beyond what he expected. In particular, the new full-sized Gringotts Bank is entirely unlike the one in the movies... because it has a roof. When they were filming, all that was filled in with CGI.
No Opening Date Yet
Other important details: No, there's no official opening date though execs did repeat that it should be open in "summer." And though previously reported, it's probably important to emphasize that in order to ride the Hogwarts Express, you will need to have a park-to-park ticket for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Stay tuned for more news on the Diagon Alley expansion as it breaks.