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Universal to expand Harry Potter park with new ride, shops

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The expansion of Universal Orlando's wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, slated to open this summer, will feature a new signature ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, the company said on Thursday.

The expansion, called Diagon Alley after the book and movie series' wizarding business district in London, will largely be geared toward souvenir shopping and dining.

Universal Creative President Mark Woodbury named nearly a dozen outlets in the meticulously replicated alley where visitors can buy items ranging from Hogwart's school uniforms to Harry Potter's favorite strawberry and peanut butter ice cream.

The strong merchandising focus grew out of the experience of the original Harry Potter land, a recreation of Hogsmeade village, which opened in 2010. Lines snake through the village for visitors to enter a magic wand shop or buy a cup of butterbeer.

"It became apparent really quickly that people enjoyed that discovery, shopping and dining experience almost as much as they did the attractions. And this just brings all that to life for them in Diagon Alley," Woodbury said during a webcast.

Diagon Alley shops will include Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Magical Menagerie, and Quality Quidditch Supplies as well as The Leaky Cauldron restaurant and Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.

The location of Diagon Alley in Universal Studios is expected to drive sales of more expensive two-park tickets which allow guests into both Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in the resort's adjacent but separate Islands of Adventure.

Adult ticket prices, excluding tax, are $92 for a one-park pass and $128 for a two-park pass.

Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade will be linked by the new Hogwarts Express train reserved for two-park pass holders.

Woodbury declined to specify the grand opening date beyond saying it was "just a few months away."

Universal did not respond to an email query from Reuters about the cost or attendance projections for the expansion.

Woodbury said in an interview the company expects no drop off in excitement about Harry Potter even though the last book in the series was published in 2007 and the last movie was released in 2011.

"The enthusiasm behind Harry Potter and all of the stories is just as high today as it was then, maybe more so," Woodbury said.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Richard Chang)

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