If you like to experience new attractions for yourself without knowing much about them, and you’re planning a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, stop reading now. But if you want to know all about what guests will find in the new area of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, read on …
We were able to spend a few hours over the weekend experiencing and documenting the not-yet-opened to the general public, Wizarding World of Harry Potter. No, we didn’t get in because we’re with the media, we found out that everyone staying at one of the three Universal hotels gets into the new land each morning. So we booked a room.
No other park guests have been allowed in the park yet, despite many loyal fans hanging out by the entrance and reporting on Twitter with the #potterwatch tag (ourselves included). Rumors persist of a soft opening for Universal Passholders or all park guests but nothing has been officially announced. So for now, the hotel guest previews continue.
Within the below videos and photos, you can see just about every part of the Wizarding World. But I’ll start with one of the most talked-about and little-known, the brand new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.
Each day of the preview, the ride has been running but it hasn’t been long before it shut down with technical issues. I spoke with Alan Gilmore, the art director of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and he said the ride is 99% ready, but they’re having a few small issues. This is to be expected of any brand new ride. That’s why the grand opening is on June 18 and any access before then is considered a preview or soft opening.
But I was one of the lucky ones this morning. I got to ride with no glitches. It’s pretty awesome.
Universal describes the ride as a “360-degree theme park experience and first-ever combination of live-action, advanced robotic technology and innovative filmmaking …”. I describe it as a mix of “The Many Adventures of Spider-Man”, “Soarin’”, and a traditional dark ride with animatronics. But you have to ride yourself to really know. It’s unlike any others. Many say Spider-Man is the best theme park ride around, but I say Forbidden Journey one-ups Spidey with its motion and animatronics.
Riders sit four to a “bench” which is connected to a robot arm that moves along a track while smoothly swinging you around in time to what you’re seeing (you can’t see the arm). In one scene you’ll be enveloped by a dome screen showing a high resolution film of the Harry Potter actors and scenes from the movie (think Soarin’ from the very center), then without a noticeable interruption, the screens will be gone and you’ll be in a live scene full of animatronic spiders, a dragon or Dementors. (Sort of like Spider-Man but with live animatronics.)
You’ll continue from screen to real scene and back seamlessly throughout the four minute ride. (I was worried about the ride being too short, but it doesn’t feel that way.) It’s not in 3D, but it does feature effects such as air blasts, smoke and water hitting you.
Despite the warning sign, I didn’t find the ride physically intense. The movement is smooth and you don’t go upside down. But some of the movements are fast and you do go on your back a couple of times. I think if you can handle riding Spider-Man and Soarin’, you’ll be fine. But the intesity is there in the form of emotion. With spiders, a dragon, and the evil Dementors trying to suck out your soul, many will have their eyes shut during parts of the ride. One cool (or scary) aspect is just how close everything gets to you. You’ll feel like you can reach out and touch a spider (not that you’d want to). Also, like Soarin’, it’s best if you’re not too afraid of heights.
You’ve probably heard the plot already. If not, you’ll figure it out after going through the many rooms of Hogwarts on your way to the ride. Harry and pals are taking you to a Quidditch match and Hagrid’s lost his dragon. So you’ll have to deal with that and the Dementors that show up unannounced. That’s it for the plot. The ride doesn’t try to tell a story as much as it just takes you through the skies above Hogwarts encountering dangers on the way. (Including a life-size swiping Whomping Willow). But it all moves by so fast it’s hard to take it all in. You’ll need a few rides before you’ll be able to see everything there is to see.
Before you get to the ride, the queue will take you through the very detailed Hogwarts Castle and many of its rooms as seen in the movies. Here’s a walk-through.
We’re going backwards here, but here’s a walk through Hogsmeade Village up to the castle.
And a look inside the many shops.
Here’s what you may experience inside Ollivanders Wand Shop.
Outdoor entertainment includes the Frog Choir …
And students from the visiting wizard schools performing.
Last are the other two rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We have some photos in the gallery below, but no video from Dragon Challenge (formerly Dueling Dragons).
Here’s a point-of-view video of Flight of the Hippogriff (formerly The Flying Unicorn).
PS. Butterbeer is fantastic, and frozen Butterbeer is even better. It tastes like a mix between vanilla creme and butterscotch. My son says the Pumpkin Juice tastes like Thanksgiving.
If you have any questions, please post them at the bottom of the page in our comments section.
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(Photos by Chris Nash and Matt Roseboom)