I'm not much for spoilers (where's the fun in knowing everything?) but a few things I mention might fall into that category, so fair warning. Also, signs proclaimed that the attraction was still in technical rehearsals and some elements may not have been functioning. Everything I saw (both in this attraction and the land overall) seemed very polished and ready for primetime, but it is still in (hotel only) soft opening.
You begin by walking through gates into Hogwarts--the cast, referring to you as Muggles, try to convince many to try the demo seat outside the attraction and stow as much as possible in a locker which was free for the first hour or so (you really don't want to be holding onto anything during this one).
You're then lead through some deep underground caverns of the castle and out into a greenhouse. Though it's outdoors, fans keep the area cool and the frosted awnings diffuse the hot Florida sun while keeping things open. Look closely for a few (thankfully nonscreaming) Mandrakes among the wide array of wild-life.
Then it's past large wooden doors into the castle proper. There are several hallways to walk through before you encounter the really fantastic talking portraits. They're extremely convincing and begin to set the story up-- Dumbledore has invited everyone to tour Hogwarts (much to the displeasure of a cranky Salazar Slytherin). Oh, and be sure to tell Hagrid if you bump into a missing dragon.
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando
It just a few short rooms more to Dumbledore's office where he welcomes you and tells you some stories about the school. The room, like the rest of the queue, is intricately propped with references to the films and books.
Photo courtesy Universal Orlando
Next it's into a classroom where Harry, Ron, and Hermione hijack your tour to take you to the upcoming Quidditch match. There are some fun effects in here, and the anticipation certainly grows as it's clear the attraction is coming up quickly.
The creative team made the choice here not to "pulse" the queue (have each group see the preshow once through before letting the next group in) and instead just let everyone stream through. They did time it out pretty well though and each time through I saw just about one rotation of the preshow. By not pulsing the line actually moves at a pretty steady clip throughout--which should make some of the sure-to-be-exceptionally-long lines a little more bearable.
Next it's off to the room of requirement where a small army again asks some to sit in the test seat and reminds everyone about loose articles. A nice touch is that the cast now says they are preparing you for the Quidditch match whereas before they referred to your tour of the grounds (they may have had different costumes as well, I'm not sure).
From there they split groups into two lines and you get the safety spiel by the Sorting Hat (how great is that!)
The "Enchanted Benches" seat four and are loaded via moving walkway. The loading process, at least while I was there, seemed to be going off like clockwork--this area was also, quite smartly, very heavily staffed.
The sense of motion achieved by the ride system is really spectacular. Everything from flying to quick maneuvers and scene transitions are all handled beautifully. You never go upside down but a couple times you're on your back looking straight up. Many of the movements are sudden and quick but are not jerky at all. The ride combines segments of projection with segments of real sets and animatronics. The flying segments are great--they're like a much more active version of Disney's Soarin' attraction, except you feel like it's happening only for your group.
One thing worth mentioning is that unless you're looking really hard you feel like the only ride vehicle in the room. This perfect masking really makes for a magical experience--seeing other ride vehicles always irks me.
I won't detail the ride scenes so I don't ruin the fun but I will say that there are encounters with lots of the scary, creepy crawly, and supernatural members of the Potterverse. [Editor's note: If you, like Ron Weasley, don't care for spiders, you might have a few tough moments riding.] The ride should be enjoyable for all but there are a lot of quick references to the films that will make a lot more sense to those that have seen them. The story moves along pretty quickly and it took me a couple rides to catch it all (as any good ride should!)
The ride may be a little intense for the younger set--some of the effects come VERY close to you, but in my estimation it matches the scariness of the films appropriately. The height requirement (48 inches) may make this less of a problem while causing some of it's own (there's going to be a few disappointed young Muggles out there). The attraction also boasts an impressive list of ailments that should cause one to consider not riding.
One effect that I loved (though it took me until my last ride to figure it out) is a Dementor that attacks you and you see an image of your own face in a cloud of smoke as you retreat away. Very cool.
My family (some theme park nuts, some not) all agreed that this raises the bar and surpasses Spidey for best ride of all time. Scenery, lighting, audio, ride system, and effects were all top-notch. Congrats to Universal Creative and all the project teams on a job well done.
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