Goblins and Dragons and Trains..oh my!

In July of 2014, Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando opened it’s bricks to the public for the very first time:

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With that being said, the Dragon made sure to keep Witches, Wizards, and Muggles at bay:

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The Goblins, however, didn’t seem to mind everyone so much (you know, as long as the gold remained untouched and unscathed):

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A word of warning: Be careful about where you turn, otherwise you may find yourself in Knockturn Alley (Luckily, Ashlynn and myself had each other’s backs ūüėȬ† )

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Just outside of the gate, The Hogwarts Express awaited on Platform 9 and 3/4 (Unbeknownst to the Muggles at Kings Cross ūüėČ )

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New friendships were even made!

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There is so much do in Diagon Alley. My advice for anyone who is debating whether to go or not: Go..go and have the time of your life. Visit Weasley’s Wizard Weezes and get inspired, or go on over to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and try out a Butterbeer or Lavender flavored ice cream! No matter what you decide to do or how many shops you decide to visit, have the time of your life! Make new friends, be daring..and just be you =)

The Wonderful World of Harry Potter

At approximately 3:30 on Thursday July 3rd, 2014, Universal Studios Orlando soft opened their newest attraction area, Diagon Alley, to the public for the first time.

And I got to be a part of it.


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Rumors had been swirling for days of soft openings. Two days in a row, I anxiously waited with other Slug Club members for even the smallest sign of a soft. Both times were to no avail. So when it finally opened on Thursday, it made all the waiting worth it! Originally, we had only planned to ride the Hogwarts Express, which had been in the throes of soft openings since Tuesday afternoon. It was just impeccable timing, and wicked good luck that Diagon Alley soft opened that day.

Heather, Lauren and I got to the gates of London just as the crowd cheered and the first guests were let in. We ran around, looking for the beginning of the line and within 15 minutes, we were through the queue and standing inside of the London front. Although I really wanted to get a few pictures in front of Grimmauld place and the fountain, we rushed towards the entrance to Diagon Alley. I figured I’d been staring at London for weeks; I needed to get out of the Muggle world!

I started to tear up at the sight of the brick wall entrance. I lost my breath once through the wall, looking ahead at Gringotts and the large dragon atop it, with the Leaky Cauldron on my left and Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes on my right. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, even more amazing than when I saw Hogsmeade for the first time. We first entered Leaky to get some grub and sitting in this iconic location from the books and movies, sipping my butterbeer and surrounded by my friends, I started crying. It was just so perfect, and beautiful, and magical.

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Universal took all of the pitfalls of Hogsmeade and turned them into serious positives in Diagon Alley. Most of the shops have queues outside so that large crowds can be better controlled. The interactive wand stations usually have a cast member present to help with spell-casting. And they introduced a whole slew of new drinks to try like the fishy-green ale (it‚Äôs quite‚Ķ.different), Otter‚Äôs Fizzy Orange Juice (an orange and soda concoction with cinnamon sugar on the rim), Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (a very tart lemonade, that is still delicious) and several different ‚Äúpotions‚ÄĚ you can mix in with bottled water. I would recommend that you try it at least once, even though it is like paying $8 for Kool-Aid, the vials are pretty neat keepsakes.

The layout of Diagon Alley also trumps Hogsmeade. Hogsmeade consists of one ‚Äúroad‚ÄĚ with the Forbidden Journey in the back. It is the perfect layout for a quaint little village, but is still not the best for traffic flow in a theme park. Diagon Alley has several different pathways throughout area, and makes it feel much more like a bustling big city shopping market. It also feels more spacious and has 2 large covered areas for when it rains: Knockturn Alley and Carkitt Market. ¬†Knockturn Alley is fully air conditioned and kept in perpetual nighttime. Carkitt Market is where they have a stage for Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees to perform, and where they have shows based on stories from the Tales of Beedle the Bard. It is also home to The Hopping Pot and Eternelle‚Äôs Elixirs.

The pictures of Diagon Alley just don’t do it justice. It is so much more in person. I noticed a lot of the designs from Mina Lima, who were present at The Celebration of Harry Potter back in January. The whole of Diagon Alley is themed just perfectly. You really are completely immersed in the Wizard world. When we left Diagon Alley to go ride the Hogwarts Express, it was a bit of a jolt to remember that we were actually inside Universal Studios.

We were able to cover most of the shops, including the long line for Florean Fortescue‚Äôs Ice Cream Parlor and dinner at the Leaky Cauldron in about 5 hours. Sadly, the Gringotts ride was not up and running, and we couldn‚Äôt do walkthroughs. I bought a new interactive wand (oak) and some parchment from Scribbulus. I also splurged and got the souvenir cup of ice cream, but that will be a one-time only affair (try the Earl Grey and Lavender ice cream!). Several members, including myself, bought Hogwarts Express tickets which are printed in ‚Äúgold ink.‚ÄĚ Some items still on my wish-list are a Skiving Snackbox and the collector‚Äôs coin set at the Money Exchange.

All in all, Diagon Alley is a must-see for all avid Harry Potter fans. If you’ve seen Hogsmeade and were impressed by everything there, you’ll be completely blown away in Diagon Alley. Universal just did an incredible job and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for making the wonderful world of Harry Potter a reality.

 

It’s Real To Us: Diagon Alley Preview

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It’s been a busy and emotional week for members of the Central Florida Slug Club. ¬†Many of our members have been apart of the much talked about #POTTERWATCH movement, patiently (and not so patiently) waiting for a chance to preview the new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Since opening July 3rd in preview mode, 44 of the Slug Club members have already visited numerous¬†times, getting familiarized with the new area and taking in all that it has to offer before the muggles invade by the thousands on grand opening day, July 8th!

The general consensus of the group is complete adoration!  We applaud the folks at Universal for staying true to the magical and cozy feeling of the Wizarding World as depicted in the book and the movies.  We were all truly moved with emotions when we first laid eyes on Diagon Alley.

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Here are the things we absolutely love:

1. ¬†Total immersion ‚Äď Once you pass into London and beyond the brick wall entry way you are truly transported into another realm. ¬†There were times we forgot we were actually inside Universal Studios and exiting to London was a bit of a shock. ¬†We got the feeling that perhaps we should put away our wands or else the ‘Muggles’ (non-wizarding folk) will find out. ¬† It became just that real for us.
2. ¬†Butter Beer soft serve – It’s divine. We also really appreciated the variety of other ice cream flavors offered just as they were described in the book.
3. ¬†Knockturn Alley – This area was loved by all, not just the Slytherins in the club. ¬†It’s covered, it’s air-conditioned, and it’s just freakin’ cool to walk around in the dark.
4.  Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees РWOW! This show is amazing.  None of us were expecting it to take the direction of a jazzy/speakeasy  vibe and we were enamored after the very first show. (Soundtrack please!!!)
5. ¬†Interactive Wands – We’re grown-ups with wands that actually work. ¬†We couldn’t be happier!
6.  Booze on the Hogwarts Express РThe train is just perfect! We appreciate being able to journey as Hogwarts alum on the Hogwarts Express with our adult beverages.  We appreciate being able to buy them in line even more!
7.  Interactive Gringott’s Goblin РSuch a cool feature to have the Goblin answer your questions.
8. ¬†Potions Elixers – It’s such fun and they really do taste good.
9. ¬†Gringott’s Dragon – She’s just marvelous. ¬† The roar is the absolute best. ¬†We never tire of watching it or taking pictures of it.
10. ¬†Architecture – The detail of every little nook and cranny didn’t go unnoticed by our group! ¬†We are devoted fans who have seen the movies more times than anyone could count. ¬†Nailed it!
11.  Fwooper and the kneazle in Menagerie РKudos for really bringing the Fantastical Beasts to life.
12. ¬†Sirius‚Äô motor bike – Very cool and one of the elements we actually hadn’t seen any spoilers about. ¬†It really was a surprise to most of us.
13.  Butter Beer Bar РWe just want to stand inside and inhale that celestial smell all day.
14.  Sticky Toffee Pudding РThis dessert at the Leaky Cauldron is amazeballs!
15. ¬†The look and feel of the Leaky Cauldron – It’s great for large groups like ours or for a cozy meal by yourself. ¬†It just feels right.

We loved many things, but there are a few things that the club would love to see addressed. ¬† With the grand opening looming just hours away, we know they won’t be in place for tomorrow. Hopefully Universal will take heed to some of them in order to make for an even more enjoyable experience for their guests.

1. ¬†More seating throughout Diagon Alley – There are a few benches and the tables in front of the Hopping Pot, but it would be nice to see more seating in the Carkitt Market area where it’s covered to enjoy the show or sip on your elixir or eat your ice cream from Florean’s.

2. ¬†Covered seating for Hopping Pot – The bar area has a good number of tables but they are exposed to the elements. ¬†It’s no good enjoying a beer when it’s raining on your head or when the sun is beating down on you. ¬†We love the covered seating behind the Three Broomsticks. ¬†Take a page out of that book and perhaps add some umbrellas.
3. ¬†Seedy bar in Knockturn Alley ‚Äď We think Knockturn Alley needs a bar, perhaps serving Firewhisky or some other more naughty concoctions. ¬†We’ve even got a name suggestion, The Spiny Serpent.
4.  Specialty diet options- Many of our club members are vegetarians, vegans,or have health related conditions. It was very difficult for some to find options  at The Leaky Cauldron that they too could enjoy.  There were a few, but not nearly enough.   It would be nice to note the gluten free menu items as well to make it esier for guests to decipher.
5. ¬†Covered waiting area for ice cream – We just can’t see the line for Florean Fortescue’s ever being short enough to not extend outside. ¬†It’s so good! ¬†It’s no fun to be rained on while waiting in line. ¬† We wish that there could be awning extended there to cover the line.
6. ¬†Wand customization ‚Äď We think it would be very cool to be able to select the core and the material for the wand and perhaps allow some sort of customization, something like Build-a-Bear.
7. ¬†It rained for several days during the soft opening period and the slick stones of the alley did not bode well in the rain. ¬†Even London was extra slick. ¬†We hope Universal can sand the surfaces to help prevent some of the slip and falls we’ve already seen. ¬†Warning signs about the slippery conditions would also be really helpful so guests will take extra caution.
8. ¬†Last but definitely not least, more merchandise! ¬†We know it sounds crazy because the bulk of Diagon Alley is already comprised of stores. ¬† However, we didn’t find the selection of merchandise in several of the stores to be that much different than what can be found in other areas of the park.

We want to give Universal even more of our money, so here’s how they can get it:

  • Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees soundtrack for purchase and posters for sale
  • More witchy merchandise in Madam Malkins, witch hats other than McGonagalls. Many things were on display that we inquired about and were told it was only for display but true fans would love to be able to purchase them.
  • The quidditch store needs more quidditch gear, i.e. quidditch robes, HolyHead Harpies t-shirt, and more house representation other than Gryffindor. ¬† We understand Gryffindor is the most common house, but perhaps having the option to order merchandise right there on site for a different house would be a great feature to offer.
  • Star charts for sale in Wiseacres

Many members of the Slug Club are fortunate enough to live locally and have annual passes so we will continue to be frequent inhabitants of both wizarding worlds.  The last few days have truly been magical.  Now off to rest, before the big grand opening tomorrow!

Submitted by Slug Club member Lauren Gay, http://www.outdoorsydiva.com

King’s Cross Experience

Written by Mark Eaimsirakul, Slug Club Slytherin

Where to start about King Cross here in London… Well, many of you may know that I am a graduate of Hogwarts and now working for the famous muggle, Frank Kincaid, but I still visit time to time to teach first years a special lesson on the History of Hogwarts. To begin, you must have a ticket (Park to Park ticket or annual pass) to even enter Kings Cross station. You can upgrade your ticket to the right of the entrance if you do not have the correct ticket. A Porter will greet you and help you into the appropriate queue after your ticket has been checked. The first part of the queue is a long stretch area with posters about London. One of the poster is for Divine Magic perfume. I remember being told that Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore stood in front of that poster once… (but it can all be just a rumor). Further up in the queue is a grab and go stand for Muggles to grab something to eat on the train. This is also the area where your luggage is kept prior to departure.

You will soon approach a staircase that will lead you to the various platforms (just ask a Porter if you need the lift). The platform is somewhat dim and loud with the sounds of trains. Now here is the tricky part: you need to to go on platform 9 3/4 but you don‚Äôt see it right? just walk through the pillar thats marked ‚Äúplatform 9‚ÄĚ to get there. I suggest running into it of its your first time. Once you walk into it you will arrive to platform 9 3/4. The first thing you will see is the Hogwarts express greeting young witches and wizards on there journey. A student left some of his luggage and pet owl in the area you wait for a station master assign you a cabin.

You are able to board the Hogwarts Express once you receive a cabin assignment. Each cabin can hold up to 8. Once seated, your journey to Hogsmeade will begin with a beautiful view of London. Through the frosted glass you can see students walking around to find a cabin to sit in. Once you leave the city and enter the countryside you will pass Malfoy Manor. NOW BE CAREFUL! Dementors may try to enter your cabin so have your wand at the ready! Once you pass the countryside you will arrive to the black lake and dark forest with a great view of Hogwarts Castle. At this point its only moments till you arrive to Hogmeade Station.

Its a magical journey and I heard that Muggles are able to visit platform 9 3/4! Please come visit King Cross and the magical Hogwarts Express. Maybe you may run into me there ūüėČ

The Walls Came Down!

Rumor was that the walls were coming down Sunday night and they were correct!

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You can see in the store windows and into Kings Cross and what looked like a lot of railings to wait in line! All the staff standing outside were very nice and offered to take pictures.

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There is a space to stand in the bus to take pictures!! It is blocked so you can’t actually walk in but it is still a nice plus!

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Not sure if the benches around the fountain are a great idea, may block people trying to get photos.

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Grimmauld Place, the fencing around the porch is brown and rusted looking so it stands out from the others! If I remember correctly the doors had different knockers. Kreacher also pokes his head out of the window.

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Is that a brick wall, as in THE brick wall into Diagon Alley lit up by sunlight?! I don’t know for sure but I think so!

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Over at Hogsmeade the walls are also down!

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Is that a school carriage? I think it is!

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This was the window that was wrapped up last week, I honestly can’t notice the changes off of memory alone. The only thing that stuck out was that it used to have labels saying what the plant was and I didn’t see those. Comment if you know what has changed.

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This is the window that is wrapped up this week! I think Lockhart is getting a makeover!

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Sherman Lemon the snowman moved again! I got an update from our HoH today that said she saw the snowman moving! Doing cute figure eights and twirling!! Our prediction was correct, wahoo!

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I also found out today that the dragon is unwrapped and saw a picture on twitter of it breathing fire. There are lots of rumors going around that they will announce the opening date during the media event. There are also rumors of the park actually opening on the 20th the last day of the media event. But I also heard rumors of the 21st as well so we will have to wait and see. Either way, if you have a annual pass get to the parks soft openings and actual openings could happen any time!

 

 

Is It Done Yet?!

Not much to update about this week. They have put up the second dragon wing but it’s to far to get a good picture of. There are lots online. The scaffolding and netting is still up. Hopefully they will take that down this week. Here are a couple shots.

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A ladder lol!

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The wall is out so far on this side we assume they are either working on the stone wall in front of the trees or the flooring?

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The wall in between the building and the trees now has bricks on it , before it was just cement.

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Sorry, we didn’t have time to go to Hogsmeade but I will get you an update next weekend and as soon as there is a soft opening!!

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Don’t Stop Believin’!

So my weekday night time visit started out great when I headed to Hogsmeade and peeked around the space in the wall and saw that there were people in costume back there! Plus there were some polo shirt and dress pants wearing types that were coming out of the temporary worker door at the entrance to Hogsmeade.

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So I decided to stay out there and watch the activity going on since I was a lonely girl waiting for my theme park partner to get through rush hour traffic. Then someone left the door open for a full minute!! Of course people flocked and we saw a large crowd of people heading into or out of the station! We would have taken a midnight train going anywhere but alas we saw no muggles getting pulled into the station. We decided that they all looked young and maybe were just trainees?

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I got a shot to the right but it was just trees : (. Here is one you can see the uniforms a little better. I also noticed looking through this opening that there is a glass window to the left that says tickets. We headed to the Dragon Challenge and were able to see the train in the station with people waiting to board the train! It was so good and there was no wait so we decided to go just one more time.

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Inside Hogsmeade, the fireworks window I told you that was moving last time was not moving this time so maybe they were just testing it out to work out bugs for the interactive rfid wands. What? Don’t believe that they are getting the windows ready for the interactive experiences? Check out the cauldron below, it was moving! It leaned forward to show a pixie inside. I also think they may add a little water to this as you can see a spout under the pixie on top. Maybe they were doing another test day to make sure it works okay for a length of time?

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Still don’t believe me?! Well this window is all covered up which may mean they are redoing it to make it interactive!

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And guess what? Sherman Lemon the snowman was back in his original position! Maybe other items will move too, that tower of tea cups and spoons that stir? Hey that plate is no longer on the chair! I wonder how long that has been gone I just noticed it. And is it just me or is the spoon inside the creamer dish standing straight up? It used to lean against it and there used to be a sugar dish with two spoons to the right of it but I don’t see it in this picture, but maybe it is just the angle?

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We headed over to Diagon Alley and in perfect time to see the train backing into the station! It was so awesome seeing the London facade at night! The clock had a glow to it and we were really excited to see the King’s Cross sign lit up!

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There were so many lights, you could see all the details in the window so much better.

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Street lights by the water were not on and either were the lights inside the Knight bus.

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The fountain was running! And I heard again that Kreacher was in the window, but I didn’t see him. We also thought we heard Potter music while we were there. We have a friend that took video while standing on a bench and all of the construction equipment was gone, so that is a good sign completion wise!

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I definitely suggest going at night for everyone that wants a thrill before Diagon Alley opens. There were no lines especially an hour before the park closes and plus the sun is not out so that is always a positive in Florida during summer! Sorry I was using my phone as a camera : (

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First’-years! First’-years over here!

Okay so while you won’t be able to have Hagrid take you on a boat to get your first glimpse of Hogwarts (they are totally missing the boat on that ride, by the way, I mean why not!) you can walk through Hogsmeade station into Hogsmeade!

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So they took down the walls across from Hogsmeade Station and pushed back the wall in front of it to reveal the trees and some stone work. There is a gap in the temporary wall and the trees where I got this photo! Looks like they have the fencing to put up still.

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They even took the wall down in the back area where I sneak and climb to get photos!

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I love the new sign out front of the station. And there is a fire hydrant?

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Over on the Diagon Alley side, there was not to much new stuff this weekend. Well, the Dragon of course but I don’t have a good enough camera to get a photo at that distance. You can see it from the Transformers area and Central Park. It is partially covered but I saw on Twitter they added the wings this morning. They are running the train with steam and whistle and everything!

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Looks like they are adding a layer of paint to the wall to age it and I saw they have most of the lighting done so I am going to try and go over there at night next time to get photos of that.

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They also added benches to the front of the fence now all they need to do is take it down!!!Image

I don’t think the King’s Cross sign was on the metal overhang before but can’t remember for sure lol.

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Are you ready? I know I am!

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No really, why isn’t this a ride!!!! Are they that dumb, do they not know us fans at all!

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Diagon Alley Lion Heads

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Went to Universal on Sunday and they are adding a lot of finishing touches and details! They put up the lions on the outlying wall and are starting to paint them.

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But I can’t figure out why they didn’t paint them and then hang them? I was curious how they would paint the ones over the water and saw on Twitter they are using a boat and the painter has to wear a life vest. That doesn’t sound like fun!

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They added details in the windows like stacked books and lamps.¬†They also added the clock in King’s Cross!

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They pushed back the wall again, which is exciting! ¬†They added steps in some places and raised the temporary fence so we can’t jump up to take pics anymore.

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You can also tell that were they pushed the fence back is where this new permanent fencing was put up, so basically they could take down the temporary fence anytime and still block off the area.

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The lights went up on the columns and I think all the lights were on in the London facade area.

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The sign is up!!!

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Well, this is my usual spot to see the Hogsmeade Station progress but it looks like they added a fence and lots of trees. But it’s okay because that means they are almost done!!

I will probably skip going next weekend as it will be a holiday and don’t want to deal with the crowds!

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One Lonely Gryffindor Snowman

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I worry about our snowman all alone on his cake, waiting for the day that his cake gets finished. We shall name him Sherman Lemon! Then today when I went to visit Sherman, he had moved!! Then I realized the top of the cake was kind of shiny and plastic looking. Could this be part of the interactive wands as well? Maybe he skates around on his little cake tossing his snowballs? Why else would his cake look so empty? We will see! Oh, and who put a plate on that chair behind the cake?

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So I told you about the fountain topper being on last time and here is the promised photo! I saw on Twitter that the fountain was running yesterday but unfortunately it was not running when we were there today.  : (

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The main new thing I saw was the strung lights hanging between the lamp posts. I can’t wait to see this at night!

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My Gryffindor counterpart today did some major jumping while video taping to get you this great over the fence view! GO GO GRYFFINDOR!

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Over at Hogsmeade Station, they added railings and lights on the building.

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This is across from Hogsmeade Station outside Hogsmeade by the new wall covering behind the scenes. What is that giant rock?

They seem to have new merchandise every week which is odd since they will have so much new stuff when the park opens but maybe it’s just a normal getting ready for summer thing?