By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - The new Harry Potter attraction at Universal Orlando cast such a powerful spell at a media preview on Thursday that even actors from the blockbuster movie series were reduced to gasps and grins.
Actress Helena Bonham Carter, who played villainous Bellatrix Lestrange in the "Harry Potter" films, brought her children aged 6 and 10 to the unveiling of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley, which opens to the public on July 8.
"They're completely enchanted," Carter said Thursday, "but what's great about this place is it makes me a child, too."
The attraction recreates the wizard shopping district in London imagined in J.K. Rowling's book series, which inspired the films.
"It's absolutely brilliant. It totally takes you in," Warwick Davis, who played Professor Filius Flitwick, said of Diagon Alley.
The attraction's signature ride, Escape from Gringotts, is a roller coaster with passenger cars that pitch, heave and spin 360 degrees through a 3-D film adventure.
Topped by a fire-breathing dragon, the ride closely follows a story line in which the story's main characters Harry, Hermione and Ron escape from the bank vault on the back of a guard dragon.
"It was a ride waiting to happen," said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative.
Diagon Alley is connected to the original Potter attraction, Hogsmeade, by the Hogwarts Express, a four-minute highly themed train trip, the only other ride in the expansion.
Large swaths of Diagon Alley are covered by glass and ceilings made to look like sky, while an elevated train track permits the main activity - shopping - to go on comfortably even in a Florida summer storm. Theme parks in Europe and Asia feature enclosed areas but open air is the norm in Florida.
Prices for souvenirs range from $700 for a replica of Professor Dumbledore's robe to $6.95 for a set of chattering teeth.
Food at the Leaky Cauldron restaurant includes an $8.99 entree of Toad in the Hole (which, for the non-Brits, is a sausage in a savory bread pudding) and a drink called Fishy Green Ale, which mixes mint and tea with gelatinous popping pearls that squirt blueberry flavoring when bitten, executive chef Jayson said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)