It's a running joke around here that on any given narrative-driven theme park attraction there will be a moment when something goes terribly wrong. But it must. Conflict drives story and theme park attractions don't have time to waste. Something's got to go wrong, and quickly, so we can get right to the fun of the chase.
Well, if you were casting a theme park attraction and needed two characters who could screw things up in an epic fashion, there might be no better choices than Rubeus Hagrid and Arthur Weasley. And so we find them in Universal Orlando's upcoming Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a monument to just how fun the blithe pursuit of mortal peril can be.
Universal invited me and about a couple dozen other reporters on a construction tour of the new roller coaster experience last Friday morning. We did not get to go on the ride, which opens to the public on June 13. But Creative Director Gary Blumenstein and Show Producer Elaine Hinds talked and walked us through the queue.
The ride takes over the space formerly occupied by the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, a Bolliger & Mabillard inverted dueling coaster that was a holdover from the Lost Continent land that preceded The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal did its best to retheme the experience to the Potter franchise, but there was no hiding those 100-foot steel lift hills that towered over Islands of Adventure's otherwise pitch-perfect village of Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter films. It's more than six acres of space to work with — enough to fit the entire village and adjacent Hogwarts Castle, Blumenstein said. And now it will be home to more than 1,200 trees hiding a new "family thrill story coaster," the "world's first dual drop free fall coaster," as Hinds said, with a 50 mph top speed, a 16-foot free fall drop, a backward drop, and a record seven launches.
But the specs don't matter nearly as much as the story on this adventure. And the story here is two of the more beloved characters in the Potter franchise — a couple of guys blessed with natural curiosity... and cursed with the utter inability to tell when that curiosity is about to lead them into something gone terribly wrong. (Robbie Coltrane and Mark Williams reprised their roles as Hagrid and Weasley for the ride.)
Universal has reformed the 6.6 acre site into the Forbidden Forest from Potter books and films. One of the running gags in the Potter franchise is how often everyone seems to find themselves in this supposedly "forbidden" forest. Indeed, here we are introduced to a nameless ruin in the forest behind Hagrid's Hut, one that Hagrid has adopted for his care of magical creatures and that Hogwarts students have been using as an unauthorized hangout for centuries.
"It's centuries older than Hogwarts. It's something that has always lived in the forest, just never seen in the films," Blumenstein said. He suggested that fans look for Easter eggs that those Hogwarts students might have added over the years to the ruin walls within the queue. Outside, the ruins sit above the Black Lake, across which the coaster runs. I was struck by the grade changes that Universal has contoured across the site, further enhancing the ride's visual appeal.
Like in the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, the conceit here is that you're queuing to attend a class. Except that this time, you're not going to be ditching Professor Binns' deathly boring four-hour lecture on the history of Hogwarts. Instead, you will be stepping into Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class.
The queue takes visitors past the backside of Hagrid's Hut from the Flying Hippogriff queue. Here you will see pumpkins and runner beans in his garden, as well as gnome holes... and maybe the sound of gnomes, too. The Ford Anglia that used to stand here in the Dragon Challenge queue is gone... but it does appear elsewhere in the new ride, Blumenstein said.
Past Hagrid's Hut, you see the entrance to the ruins, which begins the indoor portion of the queue.
"You begin at the ruins entrance, the you walk your way through the corridors to the hall, which is where you meet Hagrid and Arthur," Blumenstein said. "That's where Hagrid welcomes you to class, sets up what you are going to see in class and explains that Arthur is there to help modify Sirius Black's motorbike and duplicate it to take you to the edge of the forest."
The format of that scene is much like the one with Arthur's son Bill in the Harry Potter of the Escape from Gringotts queue. Here, Arthur sets about enchanting the motorbike, which belches fire as it careens around one end of the room. Then Arthur duplicates the enchanted motorbike to create the coaster train that will carry you around the forest.
What could possibly go wrong with that set-up? You have more queue before you will find out.
"Once you go beyond that, you move through the hearth space, then a long corridor where Hagrid has a collection of eggs. We don't say what they are. They're mysterious eggs," Blumenstein said. [*cough* Dragons *cough*] "Then we move further down into tunnels, into the chamber."
"Hagrid, according to Rita Skeeter in the book, has crossbred Manticores and Fire-Crabs to make Blast-Ended Skrewts, which figure prominently in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire," Blumenstein said. "So he's created these creatures, he's used this room to breed them and grow them, and when they got too big for that room, he moved them to an out building, which is one of the experiences on the ride."
As I was saying, what could possibly go wrong?
Universal has released photos of the magical creatures that fans will encounter in the show scenes on the ride, including Fluffy the three-headed dog, centaurs, Cornish pixies, and Devil's Snare, which will be the site of the free fall drop.
Even though Universal is promoting this as a dual drop coaster, riders will experience only one free fall moment on the ride. Think of this like Disney's Haunted Mansion stretch rooms. They have two, but you only go through one. The other is there to double the ride's capacity.
Each train holds 14 riders on this 3-minute, 25-second ride. But like on Dragon Challenge, you will need to make a choice before you board: Will you ride on the motorbike or in the side car?
"You think that the side car is a more safe experience, but it is thrilling," Blumenstein said. "But on the motorbike, you are more exposed, sitting up higher. It's a different experience from each seat and from where you sit on the train. I would say that the front end of the train is much more thrilling. The back end is also thrilling, but you get more show in the back."
"Your viewshed off to the right on the motorbike is much broader, but we designed the whole show around the side car so that the guests there would not be shortchanged."
Universal has released a first look at the POV from on board the ride. Note that the coaster does slow and even stop for the interior show scenes before launching into the next outdoor segment.
Universal Express will not be offered on Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure when it opens on June 13 and thereafter, though park officials said that they expect it to be added at some point later. For discounted tickets to Universal Orlando's theme parks, please visit our Universal Orlando tickets page, which is offering a three extra days free deal for a limited time.Tweet
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