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Review: “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” Attraction at Universal Orlando Resort

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After a fantasmagoric buildup, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the latest "island" in Universal Orlando Resorts' Islands of Adventure theme park, opened in epic fashion last week.

While quaint, meticulous Hogsmeade village has charms and delights aplenty, and the the two themed coasters provide satisfying swoopy thrills, a wondrous, looming Hogwarts castle and the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride that lies within it are at the heart of the park's $400 million wizarding gamble.

Hogwarts castleGiven the thousands and thousands of muggles who waited untold hours just to ENTER the grounds of WWoHP opening weekend, who then immediately queued up AGAIN for "Forbidden Journey," and based upon the assumption that demand will not wane dramatically in the foreseeable future, it was extremely wise of the designers to make the queue for the "Forbidden Journey" ride an intricately detailed tour of the venerable school of magic. In fact, I so enjoyed the sights and sounds of the castle, I was almost disappointed when it was finally time to strap into the actual ride.

We arrived Saturday morning during the (another wise idea) magical hour when guests of the three on-site hotels are allowed "private" access to the park before the general public is allowed in. We were far from alone, however, and the sign outside the castle already read "120 minute wait."

After my six year-old son barely squeezed past the minimum height requirement — whew! — we passed from the already palpable heat into the welcoming cool of the castle. Bags and backpacks are not allowed on "Forbidden Journey" — can't have wayward projectiles braining fellow passengers or damaging the technology — so they must either be handed off to non-riders or stored in (free for the duration of the ride, ANOTHER good idea) provided lockers.

Although the crowd was moderate, all of the locker touchscreen access terminals read "temporarily full." Shortly, the terminal we were nearest opened up and I quickly touched my way to the biometric fingerprint reader — tres high tech! — and gained access to a safety deposit box, er, locker. After much pushing, folding, muttering, and architectural violation, I finally crammed my backpack into the locker-let and we headed off on our adventure.
Living paintings

We breezed through winding dungeon passageways until we caught up with the line as it exited the building out into a garden area, then Madame Sprout's greenhouse, before eventually reentering the castle proper. Without giving away too much, in line we encountered numerous living paintings (including the Fat Lady and the four Hogwarts founders), so detailed and convincing that you can see brush marks on the "canvas."

My son sincerely asked how they brought the paintings to life.

Among the most memorable tableau as one winds upward through the castle are a book-crammed Dumbledore's office, complete with a holographic Hogwarts headmaster (Michael Gambon from the films) welcoming you; the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where holographic Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) appear from under an invisibility cloak to talk you out of sticking around for the stultifying lecture; and the Room of Requirement, filled with dozens of floating candles, from whence you embaDumbledore's officerk on the Forbidden Journey powered by Hermione's flying spell and Floo powder.

The ride itself is an astonishing, nearly seamless blend of "advanced robotic ride system technology" and "immersive filmmaking" as riders soar over Hogwarts; take part in a quidditch match; escape punishing attacks by a dragon, giant spiders, and the Whomping Willow; and plunge vertiginously from the spires of the castle toward Hogwarts Lake below.

Forbidden JourneyI had some minor queasiness with the virtual reality elements, which, based on anecdotal evidence, seem to affect a fair percentage of adult riders; but it wasn't enough to detract from the magic for me personally.

My son pronounced the ride "awesome, other than the spiders." Elapsed time from locker to locker: one hour, so the "120 minute" warning was conservative by half.

Shockingly, the attraction spills into a gift shop back on ground level, adjacent to the locker area, cleverly themed as Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, complete with fiber optic brooms, house crest items, and Ministry of Magic mugs for sale. On display on the walls above the shop are multifarious items confiscated from students over the years by the dreaded caretaker Filch, including the iconic Marauder's Map, loaned to Harry by the Weasley twins in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Potter fans and theme park aficionados alike will find the experience powerful on the story, character, detail, and thrill level – a grand slam.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://whatwouldmargochanningdo.blogspot.com/ Kate

    Or maybe I’ll leave those charmers who call me mom home and go on my own.

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    you’re golden either way!

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Were they muggle mugs?

  • http://www.davidrperry.com David R. Perry

    The ride sounds cool, but that castle especially looks sweet. It would be a destination on its own.

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    mugs for muggles, definitely; and I could LIVE in the castle, David!

  • http://www.technorati.com Dawn

    What a great review of this amazing ride. Towards the end of the ride itself, as you leave the dizzying quidditch match, I loved the brief ride over the tree tops, across the lake and into Hogwarts castle. It was the closest a person can come to feeling the exhilaration of flying a Nimbus 2000! Incredible technology!

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    thanks Dawn – that’s why we want to go back!

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Odd, after J.K. Rolling declared Dumbledore gay, I’d assumed the religious right fools would’ve burned all of her books by now!

    Jet

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    I don’t think anyone paid much attention to that

  • http://www.thecoastercritic.com The Coaster Critic

    Great review Eric. I know that it’s more technologically advanced than similar rides of the past, but is it basically a dark ride moving past screens on a robotic arm on a track?

  • Gerry

    I’d love to take this one in. Great review!

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    thanks Gerry – you won’t be disappointed

    TCC – yes, that’s exactly what it is!

  • Dissapointed Potterfan

    Fat patrols, unorganized and insensitive management, poorly designed themes and just to make it more realistic… snow covered rooftops in 100 degree heat with almost nowhere to sit or any shade at all. All lending to an absolutely horrid time in Universals Harry Potters Wizarding World.

    Forget the forbidden journey ride anyway, it’s a mishmash of 1980s animatronics and puppets that are embarrassing to see. The park itself was so cheaply done and is so mismanaged it’s a let down for Potter fans everywhere.

    Universal really did a horrible job on this attraction, being lazy and changing the names on old rides, no concept of visitor comfort and overcharging for everything… $21 for 2 glasses of “Butterbeer” in this economy… way to use that wand to rape the consumer… “Expecto Give-us-all-your-money-for-this-garbageum!”

    Save yourself the time and money and just rewatch the films…in the meantime may JK Rowling unleash dementors on all the people responsible for this poorly disguised rip off and ruination of a great concept.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Epically high prices at a theme park? Surely not!

    ;-p

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    wow, we certainly saw things differently, DP – sure it’s fairly expensive, but no more than anywhere else. I thought the merchandise was pretty reasonable, considering what a captive audience they have. I totally disagree about the ride: it is like nothing else out there. Also, I wouldn’t call $400 million “cheap.”

  • http://www.technorati.com Dawn

    There’s NO way you spent $21 dollars on two butterbeer drinks. We bought the same thing but three drinks and it was about $8. Actually all and all, compared to Disney, Universal Studios is reasonably priced, more interactive and the crew are awesome and enthusiastic. You clearly have a grudge to promote DP.

  • robert

    Your review and the different comments sound very interesting and make us want to see it ourselves. We’ll be over at universal from germany to see HPWW in early august and surely hope our kids will enjoy it – and us too.
    anyone any idea if the park will be less crowded on a thursday in comparison to weekends? Thanks!!

  • Mrsmeek

    Robert, we went yesterday, a Wednesday, and we were able to see everything at the park, and rode most things multiple times. By august you should be fine to see all you want to see. Enjoy!

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    great, thanks for the update Mrsmeek! How did you like it all?

  • Another disappointed fan

    I agree with the Disappointed Potterfan. This is style over substance, with three large attractions, a couple of shops and INCREDIBLY bad organisation. I got back today. $21 for two glasses of butterbeer is quite correct, if you buy the souvenir glasses. There are massive lines for everything, and no shade or air con while you wait. There’s one shop that sells wands, and it’s tiny. I waited two hours in the hot sun to get in, and it was a mad scramble free for all once you got in. The staff all had looks on their faces like they knew it was a big balls up. The girl who served me said as much.

    It needs a big revamp to get the queueing right. And the pricing is higher than the Disney parks. And there’s less to do – one or two big rides and nothing much in between. And then they have the gall to charge you for the Express lines – Disney do that for free with the fastpass. I’m aware that theme parks are pricey, but I’d been in Orlando two weeks and that day was the first day I really felt like I was getting ripped off.

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    I would say a couple of things: it’s 4th of July weekend, so undoubtedly extremely hot and crowded. If you stay at one of the onsite hotels, you get the express pass for free. I still think the prices are reasonable for interesting and well-made merchandise.

  • GoingElsewhere

    Beware, many of you will be “too fat” to ride the Forbidden Journey. There have been many reports of people of size being removed from the queue just as they approached the ride itself and ejected by Universal personnel for being “too fat to fit in the seat”.

  • Disappointed

    I went about 2 weeks ago. The waits for the rides were terrible, and the rides weren’t fantastic.
    I was wanting to see Dumbledore’s office and the Dining Hall and all those rooms but big disappointment for me because you couldn’t really even go into Hogwarts. The only stuff you see is in the line to the ride. The big cement rock they built Hogwarts on is where you go inside. The ride was okay, but it lasted about 2 mins and the wait was about 90 mins. (in 95 degree weather, standing up, and packed close together with other people. ugh.)
    I think the best part about it was Ollivander’s because that was the only thing that actually looked real to me. Out of the whole Hogsmeade village they had 4 things to go into. The Three Broomsticks, Ollivander’s, Honeydukes, and some gift shop. They had about 10 different other buildings in it but you couldn’t go in them or anything. They even had lines to get into the shops, long waits even for those. All these pictures I had seen look a bit exaggerated now. Sure, I saw everything in the pictures, but none of it looked as great when I went. Even Hogwarts, it was only a small model of the real castle. Half the stuff looked to tiny for a person to fit in.

    I’d say I’m never going to that again, unless they open all the shops and make a real Hogwarts. And maybe even bring some of the big buildings in like Gringotts? If they did this I’m sure every Harry Potter fan out there would find some way to get there. If I lived on a different continent from where this is and spent so much time and money to get there, I would have been even more disappointed. It just isn’t worth it in my opinion.

  • A.Calderbank

    Hi all, I came back from Orlando just yesterday and i did visit WWHP whilst i was there. I agree with some of the complaints made on here but they are a little over the top. The ques were huge to get into the village when we got there but as the ques got to ridiculous lengths we were given free fast track passes like the ones at Disney. Admittedly, there aren’t many shaded areas but you are visiting a theme park in the height of summer in a hot place! What did you expect? Also, it is air conditioned inside the castle and there are fans going in the ques. After visiting other major theme parks whilst there i found the prices in the gift shops quite reasonable. Me and my partner thouroughly enjoyed the Forbidden Journey ride and i’m sorry to say that if you were turned away after quing for the ride because of your size then that is your own fault as there are ride seats and inspection staff at the start of the que to test for size requirements. Yes the snow covered buildings are unrealistic at 100 degrees but that is how it is in the novel therefore it would be more unrealistic not to have it. My only complaint would be about the food in The Three Broomsticks. It was disgusting! Not at all like how it really is in England and did not match up to food standards in the US either. I would say to people planning a visit; do not be put off by the negative comments as it is spectacular to see and once you get into the village, the ques arent that bad for the rides. We only waited 45 mins in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday to get on the Forbidden Journey ride! The rooms in the castle are just as you would imagine them to be and the castle itself is fantastic.

  • Sam

    I just got back from islands of adventure. First thing, it really truly surprises me that people were upset over it. I was never an avid fan of the Harry potter series, but I had seen the movies. This is Harry potter and people are coming from all over the world just to see it. It just opened also, meaning the lines are supposed to be long. Look at the hulk when it opened, or spiderman! The ride is truly an experience like no other! If one is seeking a true flying experience, this is the ride. UNBELIEVABLE graphics, set, etc. I really really cannot put it into words. It’s an experience like no other and I’m 100 % certain the majority of people (99.8 %) will concur. The line is a fantastic experience and the whole time you question how universal made this possible. The express passes DO NOT work for this ride, but waiting in the normal line gives you the advantage of seeing the magic in hogwarts. Please note that the employee at universal claimed that when the ride opened, it reached the port of entry with a 7 hour wait!!! So trust me, the 70 minutes I waited was absolutely worth it… NOW BOOK A TRIP AND EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC FOR YOURSELF!

  • A.Calderbank

    Just to clarify my comment on fast track passes: We did not have the normal fast track passes, we were given ones especially for port of entry (not the rides though) because lines were so long.

  • voigtstr

    RE the people complaining about not being allowed on due to their girth. You are responsible for what you put in your own mouths people! Slim down a bit, and come back and enjoy the rides!

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    it’s a matter of practicality – at least they let you “measure” yourself before you get into the line

  • Louise

    We have just returned from Orlando, and experienced the Harry Potter section of the park. I have never seen the films, but was very very impressed by the whole experience. The village is lovely, very magical and very well made. The ride itself is quite scarey! I would be careful about taking young children on it though, I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone else, but the seats do tip back, sideways, forwards (small children may slip a little and feel unsafe) and there are great effects which leap out at you, fast and ‘in your face’, aswell as water and heat.
    We waited approx 30 mins, the longest queue of our whole holiday! The Wand shop had long queues which we didn’t bother with, I heard a rumour that the Harry Potter capes were over $100 each!!
    You must go and make your own minds up, I hope that many of you will have a great time there.
    Also, have to comment on the dragons – amazing! Sit on the front row and have the experience of a lifetime!
    Louise

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    very glad you enjoyed it – especially interesting because you haven’t seen the movies!

  • J

    I just did the “Forbidden Journey” on Friday. I thought it was fantastic. Would need to do it a few more times to remember it all. Went first thing in morning, 20min wait. When I came back out up to 40min. Longest line was for the wands! Butter beer was $10.50 for keepsake plastic mug but you could get fountain refills for 85cents in Universal parks but not butter beer or pumpkin juice refills. Disappointed that they only renamed the other two rides, they didn’t even change the colours of the “Dragon challenge”!

  • Universal>Disney

    As I have read these comments…..just wow…. The haters need to get a life because that island(not its own park for those of you people that were expecting that) on Islands of Adventure is beyond incredible. The details throughout the park is superb. The ride is excellent, along with the shops and everything else. O..and to those complaining about universal’s express pass..please just go play in traffic. When you go to Universal, you stay at one of there hotels and your room key is an unlimited fast pass. Many of the idiots I have been reading about paid for a ticket and only went to Harry Potter. wtf? Now Disney’s fast pass is stupid..you get a ticket that tells you to come back later to wait in a long line. Disney losers need to just shut the hell up.

  • Kaitlyn Glass

    So I road The forbidden journey yesterday.. It was scary!! For an amazing movie and book that I love.. The ride was every scary part of Harry potter rolled into a horror ride.. I saw so many kids who looked forward to it get on and come off screaming and shaking.. A little to intense but all in all hogwarts and hogsmead was amazing!!

  • #1 Harry Potter Fan

    I have a question,does this ride go upside down and about how big are the spiders?Also how bad are the lines?And when is the best time to go?Im going in January for my birthday.Is that a good time?

  • #1 Harry Potter Fan

    Ok i have some questions.About how big are the spiders and does this ride go upside down?It wold be fasanating if you could get back with me.Also what is a good time to go?Im going in January for my birthday.Is that a good time?Also 1 last thing About how long is the wait for this ride in that time.(January)

    Thanks a bunch!