Sure, Hermione can make a bench fly across the grounds of Hogwarts, and the Gringotts goblins drive some cool mine cars through the depths of their bank. But if you want the ultimate ride through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you need to talk to Hagrid.
Oh, and make sure that Arthur Weasley is in on the conversation, too. Because the two of them have conspired to create one of the most joyful thrill rides on the planet, in Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
With all due respect to the Bolliger & Mabillard (once) dueling coasters that this ride replaced, this is the roller coaster adventure that always should have stood outside the village of Hogsmeade. And according to Universal's backstory, it has. Located in an ancient castle previously unseen to Muggles but well-known to Hogwarts students as a place to escape the rigors of school, Hagrid has commandeered this unnamed structure in the Forbidden Forest as a nursery for his beloved creatures... and perhaps a breeding laboratory for them as well.
It's also the site for his latest Care of Magical Creatures class, to which we are invited to sit in. But Hagrid's always believed in a more, uh, active form of learning that most other Hogwarts professors. So let's skip the Monster Book of Monsters (no argument from me!) and go out to the forest to see these magical creatures in action.
But how to get there? That's where Mr. Weasley comes in. With his enthusiasm for Muggle transport, such as Sirius Black's old motorbike, Arthur believes he can duplicate the bike and its sidecar into a long train, with enough seats for everyone. Throw in a little magical enchantment to launch it forward, and we're good to go, right?
Well, as hard as it might be to believe given these two's track record, we actually are.
The queue sets up the story, allowing us to see the graffiti left on the walls by centuries of Hogwarts students... and whoever else might have inhabited the walls. Along the way, we see Hagrid's work, including a nursery for what looks suspiciously like Dragon eggs, plus the room where Hagrid might have created the Blast-Ended Skrewt. (If that were legal.)
Unfortunately, Universal did not have the pre-show scene with Rubeus and Arthur that I watched and described in my construction tour of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Universal was using the room as an interview location during today's press event. But otherwise, the video shows the entire queue, from the entrance arch up to the loading platform.
Update: I got the pre-show video for you during the opening ceremony party tonight:
Let's talk about that loading platform. It's not a traditional coaster loading station, but rather a continuously loading belt, like you might see on an Omnimover dark ride. That should do wonders to help boost this ride's capacity — once Universal can get all of its trains running.
Ride ops said today that five trains were on track, but not all them could be loaded due to audio issues on some of the trains. Such is the nature of "technical rehearsals," as Universal puts what it calls the finishing touches on the ride before its official opening on Thursday.
But enough of that. Ride now with me into spoiler territory, if you wish.
You'll hear the sound of the motorbike engine revving as you crawl down the platform, providing plenty of time for the person riding the motorbike in climb in, followed by their sidecar companion. Once everyone is seated and their lap bars lowered, the train pushes forward at the bend.
All along the way, you will hear from Hagrid through the on-ride audio. Robbie Coltrane recorded the audio track for the ride, which is projected through individual speakers in front of each seat. While I didn't find much difference in the viewpoints sitting higher on the motorbike or lower in the sidecar, I did find the audio easier to hear up front on the train.
The two-level seating effectively creates a "stadium seating" effect for the three scenes presented at eye level to the left of the train, allowing everyone an unobstructed view. Other scenes on the ride play above eye level.
After that initial push out of the station, we hit our first launch, propelling us from the castle, past the lake and toward one of Hagrid's barns. Note that this is not Hagrid's Hut, as we see the back of that from the queue. (The front is visible from the Flight of the Hippogriff queue.) But here in this barn we see a full-grown Blast-Ended Skrewt in, uh, action, with an impressive animatronic Hagrid admonishing her/him/it for blasting us.
After that, we hit our second launch, pushing us back up toward the castle before a twisting dive that leaves us skimming the lake. If nothing else, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is an amazing terrain coaster, with a series of high-speed banked curves and twists that will leave a smile on any coaster enthusiast's face.
But, unlike the Dragon Challenge, this ride isn't just for the coaster enthusiasts. It's also for those Harry Potter fans who dreamed of coming face to face with some of the many fantastic creatures that J.K. Rowling imagined in her books.
Such as Fluffy, the three-headed dog from the original Harry Potter story. After we drive past him, we make a turn to discover the Ford Anglia that once stood in Dragon Challenge's queue. Here, Cornish Pixies have surrounded the enchanted car, which we dive past into a fog.
And then, as we knew it must... it all goes terribly wrong.
We fly into the air on a spike track, as Hagrid informs us that we've lost power. Say, what? From there, we drop backward through another series of twists and Hagrid's futile attempt to cast a Mending Charm. ("I was always rubbish at magic.") Under the watchful gaze of a Centaur, we dive backward into darkness... into the clutches of Devil's Snare.
Hagrid attempts to lead us into a Lumos spell, and someone must have done it right, because the Snare releases us... which is the ride's much-hyped drop-track moment. Underneath the snare, we discover Hagrid's missing Skrewts, much to his delight. But before they wake up (and incinerate us), we need to get back to the castle. So Hagrid instructs us to push the big purple button on the motorbike, engaging the Dragon Fire for our final, and most intense, launch.
But this adventure leaves us one last surprise before we depart — a wonderfully animated unicorn and colt standing aside the castle.
With a world-record seven launches and Florida's longest roller coaster track, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure offers plenty of credibility as a roller coaster ride. But it's far more than that — it truly is a narrative-driven adventure, one that should appeal to plenty of theme park visitors who don't consider themselves coaster fans. Perhaps Hagrid's might entice a few of them to join us in the Dark Arts of Coastery. Or perhaps it might enchant a few roller coaster fans to fall in love with the Wizarding World, too.
Like that Blast-Ended Skrewt he bred from a Fire Crab and a Manticore, Hagrid once again has managed to create something amazing through a difficult combination: a world-class roller coaster and an engaging dark ride. Many have tried to cross-breed these before, but Hagrid has done it best.
How? It just might be that Hagrid is pretty good with magic, after all.
Update: Robbie Coltrane appeared via video to join fellow Harry Potter stars Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and James and Oliver Phelps to open the land in a ceremony tonight.Tweet