Theme park magic in Orlando has a new home: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

June 17, 2010, 3:56 PM · ORLANDO - The signature attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a twisting, tilting dark ride through and around Hogwarts castle.

The first sign of a good theme park ride is that there is no sign. As you walk up here, you're not approaching another attraction in a theme park - you really feel like you are walking up to Hogwarts castle. Working with the design team from the Harry Potter films, Universal Creative has developed an edifice that surpasses even Disney's Cinderella's Castle.

Hogwarts castle

The story is that Dumbledore's opened the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to Muggle tours for the first time, to the disgust of Salazar Slytherin, who'll let you know that in the castle's Portrait Hall. Yes, the portraits move and speak to another, just as in the films, in an effect that is completely believable.

Portrait hall in Hogwarts castle

You've probably seen attempts at moving pictures in theme parks before. The Wizarding World has several others throughout the land, relying (as is typical for this sort of thing) on video screens. But the portraits within the castle don't look like TV screens embedded in a frame. They look like moving paintings - as simple and profound as that sounds.

The queue through the castle would merit a recommendation on its own. But as a pre-show? Universal Creative sets expectations almost impossibly high, with elaborately detailed recreations of Dumbledore's office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, enhanced with filmed appearances from Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon, reprising their roles as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore.

The Hogwarts headmaster has arranged for Professor Binns to present a lecture "of just a few hours" on Hogwarts' history, but Harry and his friends arrive in the classroom to rescue us from that deadly boring fate. Instead, we're off to the Room of Requirement, where Hermione will enchant a bench for us to ride on, then blow us into the Floo Network for the trip out of the school.

We end up at the top of the Astronomy tower, where we're to follow Harry and Ron, on their broomsticks, over to the Quidditch pitch. But a dragon intervenes, setting up the ride's first stunning encounter with an animatronic figure.

Imagine an Omnimover dark ride, such as Disney's Haunted Mansion. But instead of riding in cars that move only in one dimension, rotating on a stable axis, imagine a riding on a robot arm that rotates and elevates along three axes - left and right, up and down and tilting diagonally - as it moves through the show building. Then think about Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and how it blends movie screens with physical props in a three-dimensional dark ride space.

Creative Director Thierry Coup has surpassed his work on Spider-Man with Forbidden Journey. Here, richly detailed animatronics add to the mix of narrative tools, along with a clever use of on-ride photography.

Together, the ride and show elements deliver several of the most dynamic, iconic moments from the Harry Potter series, while placing you into that action in relation with the characters themselves, as Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury said this morning. You'll face that dragon, along with massive spiders and dementors, on the most action-packed day of hooky since Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Eventually, of course, Harry gets the snitch, the wizards save your bacon and everyone exits happily into the gift shop.

After 10 years, we, at last, have a ride that exceeds Spider-Man, a rousing journey through a pop-culture icon that thrills riders with unique experiences at every turn. About 15 years ago, a mom on the dole in Scotland created a story about a boy wizard that inspired a generation of children around the world to embrace reading like no other generation before. When media scolds complain about kids' short attention spans, I laugh. Kids who queue up at midnight to buy and read 750-page books have no problem with their attention spans. Jo Rowling's creation inspired those kids (and many adults) to embrace literature. And now it's inspired a creative team to build the most advanced and engaging attraction in theme park industry history.

Forget fairies or wizards. That is magic.

Replies (18)

June 17, 2010 at 4:19 PM · Leave it to Universal to be the first to build a real Spider-man killer. I cannot wait until next May... Universal, here I come!

Oh, thanks Robert for keeping us apprised, and for posting a review that details the attraction without detailing the surprises!

(PS -> Star Tours II is rumored to be opening at DHS on May 17, May is gonna be a wonderful time for the next Rao Family Adventure!).

June 17, 2010 at 4:27 PM · Thanks for the write up, Robert. I'm still amazed by the fact that IOA now has the two best attractions in the world, and they're in the same park. The lines for Hulk and Spiderman will be much shorter now in the first two hours of the park opening for the next couple of years, I suspect. It'll be a while before I ride FJ, but I'm definetly looking forward to it.
June 17, 2010 at 5:18 PM · Sounds like it's all of that plus a bag of chips. GREAT REVIEW, ROBERT.

I, too, was tempted to make a trip there this Summer but knew it would be too crazy. So we're trying to hold onto our enthusiasm until next August. Don't know if we'll be able to hold out that long though.

June 17, 2010 at 6:29 PM · I agree wholeheartedly with the review of the ride! We were lucky enough to enjoy the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter on Monday, June 14th as they were open to the entire park from 9 a.m. until at least 5 p.m. Waits for the ride were not long, but Oliveander's line was more than we wanted to stand. It didn't seem overly crowded, but then we did discover in talking to people in other areas of the park that they were unaware that it was even open! Heck -- if you are there, walk back and check was my theory. Not sure what it will be like starting tomorrow and the rest of the summer, but the ride is worth ANY wait as far as I'm concerned. STUNNING and VERY REALISTIC!
June 17, 2010 at 8:49 PM · Great review! It was really inspiring. It really is visible the Harry World made an impression on you. I love your Cast stories but i have to say that i think this is the most striking post I've read here. I'm trying to go late august this year. I hope some of the Summer's guests have already left. But with that said i really hoped that a lot, and i mean a lot of people go.

Cause I've always love Universal and I think the Universal creative people is just insanely good. But still Disney gets what seems as, all the guests. So i really hope Universal gets a lot of customers so they keep adding new and exciting things. Man! If the World Cup wasn't on till July i would need some medication to calm my anxiety! Lol.

June 17, 2010 at 8:56 PM · I went to IOA on Tuesday the 15th wondering if I could luck out and see WWoHP. A little before noon I walked to the "front" entrance and it was closed so I walked to the "back door" at Jurassic Park and it WAS open. No one was checking room cards or anything. First thing I did was head for the Forbidden Journey and got in line. The outside queue is basically cattle run type of paths which were empty until I got to the second level where the line started. About 80% of the queue is outside and all the good stuff is the 20% inside the castle. It was all mind blowing inside, the talking paintings and the hologram scenes were amazing. The ride seats are not super small like the reports would suggest, if you can fit in the Dragons coaster seats without using a shoehorn or lever, you can fit in the FJ seats. I'm about 5-11 and 220 and fit the seat OK. I found out that you must not have loose items in your pants pockets or they will fall out from the maneuvers. I'm not a Potter fanatic so details are fuzzy but the ride is Spiderman on steroids but oddly smoother, probably because of the form fitting seat.
After this I did the wand shop show. They admit about 20 at a time, it last about 10 minutes and is a lot of fun. A 20-something man was chosen in my group even though there were about 7 kids in the room. I think they choose whoever they think will buy the $32 wand at the end.
Next was Flight of the Hippogriff, a very nice small coaster and the visuals are great but there was no "bowing" segment when I did it and no line, I walked right on.
Next was the Dragon Challenge, I went on the right coaster. The queue was re-pathed to Hogsmeade and is a healthy uphill walk.
Had to get a Butterbeer in a souvenir mug. I paid $9.50 for the cold liquid but a frozen Butterbeer was $10.50. The mugs could be refilled at a small discounted plastic cup price. I did not ask if that is forever or just on the day it is bought.
After walking into all the shops and Three Broomsticks and taking photos I left quite happy. By the time I left, the "front" entrance was open and people were coming and going.
I am so happy I stopped in on my long weekend in Orlando getaway day.
June 17, 2010 at 10:51 PM · I'm hoping that Disney is listening. As much as i love Disney, and i prefer it overall as theme parks over universal, i have to admit, i'm excited for this incredibly! Now IOA has TWO of the greatest rides in the universe. I know i'm sounding biased here, but i still see disneyland as #1 theme park in the world, probably because i just admire Walt deeply, but IOA comes to an incredibly close #2. But let me say this, I believe that Walt would've liked Spider-Man more than any rides he had help create, and i'm pretty sure that he would've LOVE the Forbidden Journey.
June 18, 2010 at 5:50 AM · Perhaps I am bias, but why is everybody just falling over themselves about this Harry Potter? I am worried that I will be disappointed when I finally go there!

Will there be the same coverage and giddiness when the new Fantasyland open? I am going to guess not. Sorry, I just have been wanting to say this for awhile. I am really thinking people are making a bigger deal out of it!

Good Report though!

June 18, 2010 at 6:51 AM · There's no reason to get as excited about the Fantasyland expansion as there is about the new Harry Potter attraction.

The latest omnimover from Disney and some princess meet and greets will in no way make the theme park industry bat an eye.

June 18, 2010 at 7:38 AM · The Forbidden Journey ride Sounds great but just read that it drops and swings. Is it a really bad ride? Is it like The Mummy and is the drops like the one's in that ride or (even worse) like the ones in Tower of Terror????? I'm going at Christmas and worried that it might be a bit too much for my daughter (and Me!!)We both love Spiderman and the Simpsons ride. have been on the Mummy but it terrified me, so will I be OK on it?
June 18, 2010 at 8:32 AM · Even though the size of the Fantasyland expansion is huge, I find myself being underwhelmed by it. Much like WWOHP I'm sure it will be very detailed and pretty to look at, but most of the section strikes me as meet and greets for little girls, and a very pretty Omni-mover ride in the little mermaid. No real game changers, so I doubt you will see the type of (PARDON THE PUN) Universal acclaim that WWOHP and the FJ is receiving. Sure there will be all of the fan fare and giddiness Disney can drum up with their advertising team, and the Disneyphiles will be out in force, touting their expansion as far more immersive than Potter, and making claims why it is the better of the two recent park expansions. Will it really be justified though? Perhaps in ambition and size of scope yes. Expect the new Fantasyland expansion to be rich with NextGen tech that further enhances the individual experience. That alone may prove to be a game changer on a more subtle level.

Potter is a big deal not only because of the ride, but because fans are still in the midst of their love affair with the story, although the book series has come to an end as of now, and because the wildly popular and extremely profitable film franchise has yet to complete it's theatrical run, with two movies yet to be released. Think what it would have been like if the Star Wars saga was in full force, and the movies continued the story of the original trilogy with episodes 7, 8, 9. Then while all that was going on, Disney not only builds a game changing ride, but drops the ride in the middle of a brand new Star Wars land, as well as numerous other attractions, shops, shows and restaurants. We're not talking a ride building jammed into DL's Tomorrowland or a tiny section or area like at DHS, at one of their theme parks, but a full on world unto itself, offering an immersive experience for Star Wars fans, the likes of which have never been seen before at any other theme park ever. That's what all this coverage and giddiness equates to for me.

June 18, 2010 at 8:33 AM · Continued from above statement due to technical difficulties....

Potter fans are very fortunate to be able to have this type of opportunity at a time where most franchises take years to see some form of killer attraction, they still have a chance to be a part of this world while it has yet to finish unfolding, at least cinematically. Hell, the first Potter book was published in 1997, the first movie released 4 years later in 2001, and now nine years after that there is a land at a theme park. It took all of 13 years, a very quick turnaround. Compare that to The little Mermaid, which was written in 1837, released as a Disney movie in 1989, and now 22 years later Disney gets around to making a ride. Am I looking forward to it, surely, do I really care about it at this point, not really. It's long overdue, and only because it's Disney do they get away with waiting so long. Any other animated feature would need a theatrical sequel to warrant an attraction after lying so dormant for so many years.

June 18, 2010 at 10:55 AM · Great report, and no doubt this is now the world's greatest attraction, though I disagree about your statement on children. I enjoyed the books, but I think children are getting less attentive as time goes on.

Now that IOA has the greatest attraction in the world of theme parks, it should focus on improving the rest of its dwindling park. Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, The Incredible Hulk, and various other attractions look terribly dilapidated. It's not a difficult fix - a fresh coat of paint and some technical refurbishments - but it's something that is required if IOA wants to be considered the world's greatest theme park.

June 18, 2010 at 11:11 AM · Let's hope that the new attractions at IOA revive the creative spirit at the Disney Parks. Does anyone remember Horizons? It was WAY before its time. It was an awesome ride and I can't but think it could have been easily remodeled to bring it up to date.
June 18, 2010 at 11:18 AM · I suspect that Universal knew that attendance was going to suffer for the two years preceding today's opening, and poured all its resources into getting Potter right rather than spiff up rides for people who weren't coming anyway.

With a fresh influx of cash, I'd look for Universal to begin quick refurbishments of all its attractions, once the crowds diminish enough to allow that.

June 19, 2010 at 3:21 AM · The Hulk certainly needs a refurb; that coaster has become way too rough. JP was in good shape when I visited last May.
I strongly disagree with the poster who said that the praise for WWOHP is simply because of Pottermania. That is patently untrue. Based on the many reviews I've read at this and other sites, it is very clear that the praise is due to the quality of the attraction and the themed land. This is especially true considering that some of the reviewers are not Potter fans at all, but love WWOHP because it is state of the art and totally immersive.
June 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM · Robert? As in that it surpasses the Cinderella castle, do you mean it by inside, or beauty? Because in my opinion, Hogwarts Castle looks BEAUTIFUL, but I don't catch the heart of it as much as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty's Castles. But yes indeed i went on Forbidden Journey yesterday and it was BREATHTAKING.
June 22, 2010 at 5:03 PM · I noticed that someone asked about the ride for kids and if it is scary. I want to take my sons, but I am not sure if they will be able to handle it. We love Spiderman and the Simpsons, but is this ride really intense? Does it go upside down? Please advise. I would greatly appreciate it.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive