(Recasts with red carpet event throughout)
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla., June 18 Stars of the "Harry
Potter" franchise hit the red carpet at the much-anticipated
expansion of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter
on Wednesday, ahead of the opening of the new attraction on July
The addition of Diagon Alley to the theme park is expected
to provide a boost for the park's revenues and for tourism in
central Florida. It recreates the wizarding business district in
London described in J.K. Rowling's popular book series and
featured heavily in the subsequent Warner Bros. movies.
The new attraction expands the original Harry Potter world,
which opened in 2010 and is modeled after Hogsmeade Village,
which is located near the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry where the series' leading character Harry Potter begins
his magical adventures.
Actor Tom Felton, who plays Harry's school nemesis Draco
Malfoy, said Universal Studios' Diagon Alley attraction is
better than the movie set he spent a decade filming on.
"It's far more immersive. There's no scaffolding, no green
screen, no electricians standing around," he told Reuters.
Felton was joined by co-stars including Helena Bonham
Carter, who plays the ruthless Bellatrix Lestrange and said the
film series "gave me a job to come back to" after she took time
away to have children.
The film's leading stars, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter),
Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)
did not attend on Wednesday night due to scheduling conflicts.
Author Rowling was also absent, although her latest book
"The Silkworm," written under pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is set
to hit stores on Thursday.
Diagon Alley will feature a new signature ride called "Harry
Potter and the Escape from Gringotts," based on the magical
goblin bank in the series. It is also geared toward eateries
such as the Leaky Cauldron pub and souvenir shops, both of which
drew bottleneck crowds at the initial Hogsmeade Village
Actor Warwick Davis, who plays Professor Filius Flitwick,
said the new ride "surpassed anything I've ever seen before."
To visit both sections of the Wizarding World of Harry
Potter, guests will have to buy a more expensive two-park pass,
which costs $136 plus tax, because Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley
were built in separate Universal parks.
The two attractions are connected by a train called Hogwarts
Express, the magical locomotive that takes students to and from
school in the "Harry Potter" series.
Comcast Corp's Universal Studios will also bring
the world of "Harry Potter" to its Hollywood theme park in 2016,
as part of its plans to drum up attendance with a revamp and
five-year expansion plan for its film-themed attractions.
(Writing by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Letitia
Stein, Jim Loney and Lisa Shumaker)