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Reader review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando

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Published: June 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM

Theme Park Insider reader Jason Read just e-mailed the following review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park:
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.

Queue greenhouse at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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.

The Hogwarts portrait gallery, at Universal Orlando
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.

Dumbledore's office, at Universal Orlando
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.

Readers' Opinions

From Brandon Grayson on June 1, 2010 at 2:31 PM
I just want to know exactly when the spiders come and what they do, but I am so freaking scared of spiders. It's the only thing keeping me back from riding this ride.
From Jason Read on June 1, 2010 at 2:49 PM
@Brandon -- you enter the forbidden forest and there's a few seconds to close your eyes before the spiders scene. Later you'll hear Hermione's voice and its over 10 seconds or so after that.

Definitely don't let it keep you from riding-- its a small part of a great attraction.

From Daniel Binder on June 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM
"My family (some theme park nuts, some not) all agreed that this raises the bar and surpasses Spidey for best ride of all time."

Goosebumps. I said it before, but I'll say it again. If this is true, and I think it is based on everything I've read about the ride, Islands of Adventure is now home to the two greatest attractions ever created, Spidey and Forbidden Journey.

IOA also has the world's only dueling inverted roller coasters, a world-class B&M coaster with an out-of-this-world first fifteen seconds, AND one of the greatest flume rides ever (Dudley). For it's rather compact size, it's hard to beat Islands of Adventure as the best theme-park in the world.

I almost wish IOA didn't have such a small footprint. By 2020, I'm imagining Spiderman, FJ, AND one or possibly even two more world-class rides that once again re-defines the attraction experience by Universal Creative.

From Daniel Binder on June 1, 2010 at 3:23 PM
Oh, and it seems pretty clear at this point that the ride experience from Forbidden Journey is essentially elements of Spiderman meets Soaring meets The Haunted Mansion.
From Ali Salem on June 1, 2010 at 4:33 PM
Sounds Awesome!! Thanks for the report!
From 82.10.158.142 on June 1, 2010 at 5:22 PM
This ride sounds phenomenal and I can't wait to get on it as I'm heading to Florida in September after a three year break. How long would you say the ride lasts? And aside from the Forbidden Journey is the rest of the Wizarding World also a great experience, or was the theming of the lost continent better?
From Melissa Donahue on June 1, 2010 at 5:27 PM
Thanks for the detailed trip report, Jason! I can't wait to experience it for myself at the end of this month!
From Pyra Dong on June 1, 2010 at 6:05 PM
i am salivating while reading this report. hell hath no fury like a lady forced to wait patiently for something like this.
From Jill Harrington on June 1, 2010 at 7:46 PM
Universal is admittedly not my favorite theme park 'set' in Orlando, but I do love the Spidey ride and really look forward to riding this attraction. My biggest fear is that once the attraction gets to capacity, they'll end up with the same problems Disney has had with the Yeti at Everest. Sounds like for now things are running pretty smoothly.

Thanks so much for your review, and for a little 'tease' of information but not too much in the 'spoiler' realm! Enjoy the rest of your visit if you're still there!

From Dan Hatfield on June 1, 2010 at 8:53 PM
I was lucky enough to go on FJ twice this morning (as an onsite guest with early park admission). The ride itself is only about four and a half minutes long. But remember that the ride is only the finale to the incredible experience touring inside Hogwart's. If you include all aspects of the attraction, the whole experience is 40 minutes or more.

For those who are a bit scared of the ride, you will still be amazed by the trip through the castle. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a queue (although it is) - the line could be a walk-through attraction all on it's own. But yes, we are fortunate enough to have a ride at the end too!

From 81.145.165.2 on June 2, 2010 at 4:17 AM
Jason,

Thanks so much for the detailed review - i have been waiting sooo long for this to open and will be there in June for the opening! However, like Brandon, the only thing making me hesitant is the spider aspect. Could you say whether or not i will 'feel' them? Ie is it like the shrek ride where you 'feel' things crawling etc - i reallllly don't want to 'feel' anything like a giant spider!! If i can close my eyes upon entering the forbidden forest then i'll be happy, but if i'm going to feel like theyre touching me then that is quite another matter!

Thanks,

Lucy

From 131.247.49.198 on June 2, 2010 at 10:15 AM
Thanks for the info! I have only one concern:
- CAN MOST EVERYONE FIT IN THE SEATS?
I was at Epcot on Monday and tried the test seats for the Kuka Ride - Sum of All Thrills and those were extremely small. Most grown men couldn't fit! I know I'm of rare size but I can fit in most rides. I can't even remember the last time I couldn't fit on something. I'm 6'6, 300 lbs. Would that be a problem? I hope I can experience the finale to the castle tour!!!
From Jason Read on June 2, 2010 at 11:28 AM
one thing I forgot to mention, on Friday there were some reports of multiple endings. All three times I rode I had the same ride, so I'm not sure that's true.

@ Lucy - you'll get a little water spritzed at you during that scene but you won't get touched and there's none of that creepy crawly feeling you get on Tough to be a Bug, Honey I Shrunk the Audience or others.

@IP address - they seemed very intent on getting people to try the demo seats, especially anyone taller or larger so I can't say for certain. Maybe call uni's information line after the soft openings are done?

From Robert Niles on June 2, 2010 at 11:52 AM
Given how the ride seemed to have been performing on its first day, I wonder if the "multiple endings" were actually just the multiple different points at which folks were booted from the ride. /snarky-comment :-)
From 99.190.207.209 on June 2, 2010 at 1:11 PM
Just wondering if by hotel guest you mean any Universal hotel guest or just those who purchased the Harry Potter Package?
From Moon Max on June 2, 2010 at 2:31 PM
Islands of Adventure should take home best theme park this year. I'm glad forbidden journey is great because I think Spideys days as the greatest theme park attraction were numbered. You can't hold the torch forever and I'm glad to see fb is here to take the torch. I went to Orlando a month ago because when I planned it I thought this would be open. Well guess I have to plan another trip.
From 24.144.112.134 on June 4, 2010 at 12:29 PM
I gotta ride this and I'm going in July, even though I may have to ride with the Samba Muggles (the Harry Potter term for Brazilian tour groups - I made it up)!
From 164.107.250.160 on June 5, 2010 at 1:08 PM
Does anyone know what the top speed is? I've been trying to figure out what this ride will be like, but I can't do it. Is it like an actual roller coaster going like 50+, or is it like epcot?

Thanks for any info.

From 24.46.180.211 on June 6, 2010 at 3:50 AM
Excellent review! Don't know when we will be going back to Universal, but we will definitely give HP a look. Your story makes me want to go there today! Thank you. -- Paisley Quinn, NY
From Mark Fairleigh on June 6, 2010 at 6:20 AM
Thanks for the great review! Now that I know its an amped up Soarin'/Spidey ride not as nervous. Love spider effects...can't wait!
From 91.109.100.36 on June 6, 2010 at 10:31 AM
I just wanted to check, I don't want to know what happens on the ride as such I just want to know is it a rollercoaster or a simuator?
I can go on Spiderman but not the Mummy or Simpsons so would I be able to ride this?
Thanx
From Steve Stephens on June 6, 2010 at 7:01 PM
My family and I attended the soft opening on Friday June 4. Universal Hotel guests were allowed to enter the park early (8AM). We were allowed full access. The first impression is amazing with the attention to detail. Then you realise how small this area is and wonder how they will handle larger crowds. Ollivanders Wand Shop was an excellent show but only a limited number (about 30) were allowed in at one time. The show room was very small. Expect long waits as the summer crowd arrives. Now the problem. The Forbidden Journey ride does have size limitations. The seats are narrow with the safety bar lowering over your shoulders and locking near the waist. I am 6'2" and 240. I was told I could not ride after sitting in the test seat. You are allowed to enter the castle by the que where you are observed by staff as you near the ride. They will then call you aside and try again. This is a more realistic seat as it actually locks where the one outside does not. It must click 3 times to ride. I only made it to 2 and it was uncomfortable. Bottm line, if your waist size is 38-40 or larger, you will probably have a problem. Many were being told they could not ride. One couple talking to my wife had flown across the Atlantic and been refused a ride. This is the only ride in any park I have not been able to ride. I will wait and see if they redesign the seats. Otherwise I have to start a diet! One more thing, the HP section was only open a few hours then closed. If you walked out of the entry gate early, you were not allowed back in. Lots of security in the area. Will be interesting to see how they handle the crowds on opening day and during the summer!

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