On the Road to Diagon Alley: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Published: February 3, 2014 at 2:29 PM
Visitors to Diagon Alley will see the Gringotts facade rising at the end of alleyway, with a fire-breathing dragon atop. You're visiting Gringotts to open an account and get your own vault but, of course, because this is a theme park, you can expect something to go terribly wrong. (Update: Perhaps it should have gone without saying, but if you don't want to know what happens, for heaven's sake, quit reading this post now!)
The Gringotts Bank exterior, from the Harry Potter films.
Walking inside the bank building, you'll step into a small Entry Hall with three chandeliers before entering the Bankers Hall, the elaborate main hall filmed inside London's Australia House for the Harry Potter movies. The Bankers Hall will be lined by animatronic goblins behind the tellers' desks. From this room, the queue will split, with the regular queue heading outside to a large supplementary queue located behind the Gringotts show building. Universal wants to keep the line of waiting visitors out of Diagon Alley, given its tight spaces, so the back-of-house, exterior queue will expand as needed to keep the start of the line at the Entry Hall. Universal Express pass holders will skip this exterior queue and go straight from the Bankers Hall into a hallway of Gringotts offices, where the "regular" visitors will end up after navigating the exterior queue.
The offices will include a Security Office where you'll have your picture taken (yes, more souvenir sales!), before ending up in Bill Weasley's office. Here the queue will split again, though both lines will see the same show in this office. Bill Weasley (portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson in the movies) will appear in his office, much as Christopher Walken appears on stage next door at the Disaster! attraction. Weasley will welcome you and tell you about how to get your own vault at Gringotts. After his presentation, the doors on the far side of his office will open, leading your half of the queue to one of the two waiting elevators.
These elevators will take you down 30,000 feet to the subterranean Gringotts vaults — juuust like those "hydrolators" at Epcot's The Living Seas used to bring you up from the bottom of the ocean. ;^) Once "down" at vault level, you'll pick up your 3D glasses in a tunnel-like room, before climbing a spiral staircase to the load platform. (I'm still looking into what the wheelchair bypass will be. Update: There's an elevator for that.)
The loading area is a large cavern, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling. (You'll find a child swap waiting area off to one side, in a holding cell.) There are two track channels for the ride and the ride vehicles are twin, 12-person, open-air cars, arranged in three rows of four. Each row is placed slightly higher than the row in front of it, in a "stadium seating" effect. The look of the cars is very Victorian, with a smokestack on each car, individual lap bars, and six Dolby speakers per seat for on-ride audio.
The ride vehicle for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
You're to ride your car down to see your newly opened vault. After the load platform, the two track channels merge to the south, then bearing to the left and entering Scene 1. In this scene, you'll face a brick wall, with two tunnel entrances, to the left and right. You're really facing a 3D screen, though, and here's where it all starts to "go terribly wrong."
Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort appear, cursing you and declaring that you'll never emerge from the vaults alive. Actuators will make your car bump up and down before the track below the first of the twin cars will drop, coming to rest at a 40-degree angle. Then, the track under the trailing car will begin to rise, matching the 40-degree angle of the leading car.
Within a moment, the car then drops 70-80 feet into the tunnel, for a kinetic ride section through a stalactite-filled cavern, with a small bunny hop and a hard right turn before we hit a block brake in preparation for the next scene. On a 3D screen, a car with Bill Weasley pulls alongside us, then we're also joined by another car, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Trolls attack, knocking Bill, Harry, Ron, and Hermione out of the way before attacking us. Shaker tables rattle the cars before we go through the Thief's Downfall, with its fogscreen and water spritzers.
Perched on the edge of a cliff, trolls attack again, knocking us off the cliff as the motion base shakes our car, simulating a free fall. Fortunately, Bill Weasley comes to our rescue, saving us before we hit the cavern's bottom. Unfortunately, the white dragon from the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is waiting for us, attacking us with its fire breath. Bill casts an aguamenti spell to save us, again, as guards run into the scene, shooting at us and the dragon.
The dragon climbs away, and we're launched into the next scene, which will bring us to Sirius Black's Vault. We hit a fog blast before entering the vault, where we see illuminated treasure ahead. The car makes a turn to the right, where the physical show scenery opens up a bit, with a large vault area projected along the far wall. We then bear to the left, turning into the next scene, where Bellatrix reappears, casting the Avada Kedavra killing curse at us. Voldemort and Nagini also appear, as he, too, casts the Avada Kedavra at us.
Escaping the killing curses, our car shoots around the corner into the next scene, inside a large 360-degree projection dome. With lava pouring around the darkened room, Harry arrives, riding the dragon. With Bellatrix hiding behind him, Voldemort attacks the dragon, which fights back with his fire breath. Harry then throws a chain onto our car, to haul us out of danger as he flies the dragon away, and Voldemort and Bellatrix disapparate. A Kuka arm pulls away part of the screen, clearing the path to launch us up through a dark tunnel into the final scene. (This is the first change in actual track elevation since the ride's initial drop.)
In the final scene, Harry, Bill, Ron, and Hermione bids us farewell on a screen behind a knocked-out wall, before we emerge back into the loading station. Once out of our car, we will exit down another spiral staircase into the gift shop.
In short, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is Revenge of the Mummy meets Transformers: The Ride 3D, with a Harry Potter theme. So, who's ready to ride?