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Hidden magical secrets on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

In 2010, the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opened in Islands of Adventure park at Universal Orlando Resort with the land’s signature attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Since then, three additional versions of the ride have opened at Universal Studios Japan (2014), Universal Studios Hollywood (2016), and Universal Studios Beijing (2021), all with hidden magical secrets.

Hogwarts Castle
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

“Harry Potter is a modern classic that really touches people’s hearts,” said Universal Parks & Resorts CEO Mark Woodbury. “It’s truly amazing to see the reactions of guests as they come through the gates of Hogsmeade and experience stepping into the movies and books that they love.”

But Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey doesn’t only allow fans to step into the magical Wizarding World (and walk the halls of the iconic Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), the dark ride also employs cutting-edge technology, motion simulation, projections, and animatronics to take them on a thrilling adventure alongside Harry himself – and no matter how many times you ride, there are still new secrets to uncover.

Hogwarts Castle
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Hidden Magical Secrets on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey:

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Queue

The queue is an attraction all on its own, and guests who don’t want to ride (or don’t meet the 48-inch height requirement) can still explore Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (“students” at the entrance can direct you to the walk-through).

Hogwarts Castle
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

As they make their way through the castle, guests pass through the Portrait Gallery featuring paintings of the school’s founders: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, and Rowena Ravenclaw, each holding an object connected to Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes (Salazar Slytherin’s locket, Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, and Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem, which became Horcruxes, and the sword of Gryffindor, which could destroy dark magic).

Be sure to linger in the gallery and eavesdrop on the portraits’ conversation.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Portrait Gallery
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort
Godric Gryffindor
Salazar Slytherin
Helga Hufflepuff
Rowena Ravenclaw

Magical Fact: The paintings in the gallery were brought to life through technology patented by the Universal design team, which makes the portraits look like actual paintings rather than ordinary video screens.

Hogwarts castle also contains portraits of Academy award-winning decorator for the “Harry Potter” films Stephenie McMillan and Warner Bros. Executive Bob Weitkamp, who oversaw the creation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida and Japan, both of whom passed away during the construction of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Additional rooms in the queue are Dumbledore’s Office (including his pensive), the Gryffindor Common Room (guarded by the portrait of the Fat Lady), and the Defense against the Dark Arts Classroom, which contains mementos from each Dark Arts instructor: Professor Quirrell’s traveling trunks, Professor Lockhart’s autobiographies, Professor Lupin’s spine candles, Professor Moody’s walking stick, and Professor Snape’s slide projector.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom
Photo by Matt Roseboom

Magical Fact: When the attraction was being built in Orlando, the movies were still in production, so most of the props were replicas; however, by the time the California version was built, filming had completed, so the original screen-used chalkboard (showing the Patronus charm as the lesson for the day) was placed in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom at Universal Studios Hollywood. Later, the screen-used chalkboard was relocated to the Orlando ride, and Florida’s replica chalkboard was sent to Hollywood; the desks in both classrooms are from the movies.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

P.S. In the Gryffindor Common Room at Islands of Adventure, the cabinet just past the Fat Lady also contains screen-used actual movie props.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Gryffindor Common Room
Photo by Matt Roseboom

We also learned another magical secret about Orlando’s Gryffindor Common Room from former Universal Prop Master Eric Baker: After having trouble finding an upholstered chair that looked like the one in the movies, he spotted the perfect chair on the side of the road, refurbished it, and placed it inside the ride. Talk about a found treasure!

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Gryffindor Common Room
Photo by Matt Roseboom

Also keep an eye out for the glass cylinders full of colorful gems representing the standings of the four houses (green for Slytherin, blue for Ravenclaw, red for Gryffindor, and yellow for Hufflepuff) – though it seems Gryffindor is enjoying a comfortable lead.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - House Points
Photo by Matt Roseboom

A highlight of the queue is the appearances by Professor Dumbledore in his office and Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. To bring these characters to life, Universal employed a technique similar to the famous Disneyland Haunted Mansion “Pepper’s Ghost” effect (called Musion), which creates three-dimensional images instead of transparent ones.

Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Last but certainly not least, right before boarding the ride (or exiting the walk-through), an animatronic Sorting Hat gives riders the safety instructions, which is certainly “in character” for the bossy chapeau.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Sorting Hat
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

Tour the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride with the first ever look at Hogwart's founders

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride

During their high-flying adventure (courtesy of Hermione and a bit of Floo powder), Harry Potter fans get to visit well-known scenes and locations from the movies, including the Forbidden Forest – complete with the Whomping Willow and Aragog the Acromantula (plus his spidery offspring) – the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch (that has unfortunately been infiltrated by Dementors), and the Chamber of Secrets (a pivotal location in the second movie), which contains a massive Basilisk skeleton.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

There is also a rather harrowing face-to-face encounter with Hagrid’s escaped pet Hungarian Horntail dragon, which involves an animatronic dragon head that breathes “fire” (aka pressurized water mist with red lighting effects).

Magical Fact: At Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Hollywood, the Dementor animatronics have hands and forearms. At Islands of Adventure, there are some unlit “hidden” Dementors above the ride vehicles toward the end of the ride which have hands, but the others are missing.

Also Dementor-related: Originally, when riders in Orlando received the “Dementor’s Kiss,” an image of their face was projected on a mist screen, but that no longer works (the Hollywood attraction never had that effect).


Details on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

At the end of the ride, Professor Dumbledore reminds riders to collect their belongings (unless you want them confiscated by Mr. Filch). Did you ever wonder what he’s talking about? Well, in Orlando, there’s a small secret pocket at the back of the seat that’s only large enough to hold a phone and/or glasses.

In Hollywood, there’s no such pocket (trust me, I looked), and since both rides have the same audio track, we can assume the headmaster is referring to belongings stored in the lockers.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Voice Cast

Speaking of the audio track, many of the stars of the “Harry Potter” movies reprised their roles for the attraction, including Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. The highly-anticipated 2010 opening of the very first Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando Resort was a star-studded event with Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley), Radcliffe, Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), and Grint all in attendance.

Harry Potter cast
Photo by Matt Roseboom

Six years later, Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick, Griphook) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) joined the Phelps twins and Felton to welcome The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Harry Potter cast
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Both Grand Opening events featured an orchestra performing the “Harry Potter” score conducted by composer John Williams.

John Williams
Photo by Matt Roseboom

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Tech Specs

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

All four versions employ a RoboCoaster G2 ride system with KUKA robotic arm technology (developed for auto manufacturing) mounted on an omnimover track. This system allows the ride vehicles to move sideways through the attraction while simultaneously moving riders up and down (a Universal VIP tour guide once described it to me as similar to any movement your wrist and forearm can make).

The ride also uses wrap-around dome projection, with each robotic arm met by an individual projection screen and projector traveling at the same speed along the track. Each of the ride’s three projection sections uses a turntable with six screens (one for each robotic arm), so the arms can move freely within the dome screen. When a screen section ends, the ride vehicles continue into a physical scene.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey continues to be a fan-favorite attraction, but it’s also award-winning, named Best New Ride at Amusement Today’s annual Golden Ticket Awards in 2010 and Best Dark Ride for the next five consecutive years (2011-2015).

Check out our video of the full castle walk-through below:


Hogwarts Castle walk-through tour at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Do you know about any Easter eggs or little-known facts in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey? Let us know about them below.

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