The streets of Universal Orlando seemed empty. It was a Thursday morning and the park had only been open for half an hour. I could take photos with no other people in them. A cheerful Despicable Me parade rolled by and only a few spectators gathered to see the adorable Minions. As I walked past Springfield from The Simpsons I realized why the park’s attendees seemed few and far between: we were all headed straight for Diagon Alley.
Universal Orlando recently expanded the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter to include the colorful and rich Diagon Alley. The area opened in July and includes a plethora of shops and dining options as well as two new attractions: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express. The latter takes you between Universal Orlando and Universal Islands of Adventure (a two park ticket is required) and dumps you right into the heart of Hogsmeade near the Hogwarts Castle. Magical? Yes. Worth the trip? Absolutely.
If you’ve visited the Hogsmeade portion of Wizarding World, you know what kind of detailed theming Universal is capable of providing. I’m pleased to say they went above and beyond to make Diagon Alley even better and more immersive.
Read all about my experience, the food (butterbeer ice cream!), and the new rides after the break. And yes, I’ve got plenty of photos for you to enjoy.
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Since most of us did not receive a letter telling us that we had been accepted to Hogwarts, the closest we will probably ever come is a Harry Potter-themed hotel like this one. The 163-year old Georgian House Hotel in London has turned several of its rooms into Hogwarts-style student rooms that you can stay in for about $400 a night. There’s also a package for $585 that includes a walking tour of the movie’s London landmarks and a ticket to the “Making of Harry Potter” tour and Warner Bros. studios.
See more pictures after the break.
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J.K. Rowling will be publishing a treat for Harry Potter fans this Halloween in the form of a 1,700 word backstory on everyone’s favorite Hogwarts Professor/Headmistress Dolores Umbridge. It will be available to read for free on Pottermore, which noted the following:
Umbridge is not only one of the most malicious Potter characters, she is the only person other than Lord Voldemort to leave a permanent physical scar on Harry.
The new exclusive J.K. Rowling content provides a rich, 1,700-word back story about Umbridge’s life filled with many new details, as well as Rowling’s revealing first-person thoughts and reflections about the character.
Will knowing Umbridge’s backstory have any effect on how you feel about her? We’ll have to wait unitl October 31st to find out. If it’s anything like this past July when Rowling posted a short story on Pottermore featuring a 34-year old Harry Potter, the site will probably fall to pieces.
Many fans out there have pondered crossovers between the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchise. Although that will never officially happen outside of the internet and staged fan-fiction readings, some fuel has been added to the fire thanks to Daniel Radcliffe remarking that he visited Pinewood Studios where they’re filming (at least part of) Star Wars: Episode VII.
At the red carpet premiere of his new movie Horns, the star of the Harry Potter films said, “I was so excited, ’cause I literally just watched the original Star Wars movies very recently, so I was like a new fan going on set. But I got to meet Harrison Ford and have a chat, and he was lovely. It was great!”
Surprisingly though, Radcliffe wasn’t there just to spy on Han Solo and learn the future of the Jedi Order. He explained, “I went out because all my friends were working there ’cause it’s the Potter crew. They’ve basically just moved onto [Star Wars: Episode VII], so I was going to see all of them.”
You know you can trust a wizard when he never forgets to keep in touch with his friends!
(via The Daily Dot / Photo via Gage Skidmore)
J.K. Rowling has a massive estate in Perthshire, and it has plenty of room for her to install Harry Potter-inspired structures. She submitted plans to the City of Edinburgh two years ago for a playhouse that looks like part of Hogwarts, and her husband has recently filed plans for a cottage that sounds a lot like Hagrid’s. The Daily Record reports the design shows a circular stone building without any glass in the windows and a slate roof. It will be located on the edge of a forest. All of that is similar to Hagrid’s humble abode. I want to go there.
The Dark Arts will soon be part of the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. We first heard the news last month, and now the studio has shared photos of what visitors will see in the Dark Arts section. The permanent addition opens on October 14th, and guests will be able to experience extra special Dark Arts activities from October 17th through November 3rd. A section of the Halloween feast will be on display in the Hogwarts’ Great Hall, Death Eaters will roam Diagon Alley, and more.
As far as the Dark Arts section, it includes some beautiful and creepy sets and props including: an expanded Malfoy Manor set, Dolores Umbridge’s office complete with kitten plates, items from Borgins and Burkes, and a model of Nagini. I need to visit this place!.
See more photos after the break.
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You don’t need magic to keep your cell phone free of scratches, but a Harry Potter themed case certainly wouldn’t hurt. Etsy seller The Sorcerer’s Phone crafts creative cases by hand with sealers and papers. It’s a minimalist take on the Boy Who Lived, and it can live with you for an affordable price. Turnaround time for the case is 30 days and it can me made for a wide range of phones including the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Product Page ($25.99 via Oh Gizmo)
Fan fiction takes your favorite characters and sends them off in directions the original authors never intended. Case in point: this Christian version of Harry Potter. Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles is the work of “Mommie blogger” Grace Ann who says it has “all the adventure and good morals of the Harry Potter books without all that bad stuff that is bogging it down.” To get an idea of what she means, read an excerpt from Chapter One after the break…
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Here’s another reason for Harry Potter fans to cheer their favorite books and author J.K. Rowling.
According to three new studies conducted by Loris Vezzali of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, people exhibit a marked difference in empathy and tolerance for others before and after reading the Harry Potter books.
The article, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, studied how children and university students treated “out-groups” and found that subjects who read the books were more accepting of those people who are different than they are:
We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis.
Scientific American summarized the study result this way:
Of course there are many factors that shape our attitudes toward others: the media, our parents and peers, religious beliefs. But Vezzali’s work supports earlier research suggesting that reading novels as a child — implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural and psychological complexities — can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills.
I gotta say, that’s pretty cool. I think I may need to thank my parents for starting me reading as early as they did.
(io9 via The Mary Sue)
You’ve likely wondered what your Patronus would look like, and so has Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. She was recently asked about this on twitter, and said that her patronus would be a pine marten. This adorable little squirrel-fox thing is very rare in Britain but is found in large numbers in Ireland and Scotland. Isn’t it just the cutest Patronus ever?
On that note, Rowling also teased the possibility of a Patronus test coming to Pottermore, so you may have an official answer to this question soon.
See the tweets after the break.
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