The new "family story coaster" opened in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure on June 13 to wide acclaim... and a 10-hour wait time. Yes, strong demand helped inflate that queue, but Universal was running the coaster at far below its designed capacity, adding to the wait.
Within days of its opening, Universal Orlando announced that the ride would be going on an indefinite delayed opening status, remaining closed to guests in the mornings and opening at "mid-day." As anyone who has lived or visited Central Florida in the summer know, "mid-day" is when the thunderstorms roll in, and Universal won't run the coaster when there's lightning in the area, compounding the downtime.
So why is Universal not opening the coaster with the park? It's that capacity issue.
I noted during the ride's media preview day that Universal was running only five trains on Florida's longest roller coaster track, loading riders only on a couple of them. Apparently, that wasn't just to take it easy with a limited crowd because Universal kept running only a handful of trains when it opened the ride to the public.
Universal Orlando had announced that it would implement its Virtual Line system for the ride if demand called for it, starting on the 14th, but that date came and went with no virtual queue opened, further raising suspicions that not all was going according to plan with the ride.
So when Universal announced three days later that it was going to delayed daily openings for the ride, that really shouldn't have shocked anyone. "This our most sophisticated, high-performance ride system ever - and our team needs time to take care of the ride's daily maintenance and technical support. It's been challenging to do that with our current operating schedule," Universal said in its statement.
Talking with people working on the attraction, the problem appears to be related to greater than anticipated load levels on the ride system. With a records seven launches, plus multiple track switches to accommodate a spike track and two drop track segments, the load levels on this attraction were going to be nuts, no matter what. But the timing requirements to support multiple show scenes, with trains passing at slow speeds so people could take in the details in between those launches, and Universal is playing in uncharted territory here.
On the ride's media day, I noticed that someone had placed a DSLR camera and a LED panel right next to the track in front of the unload station, apparently to monitor the track or underside of the ride vehicles (or both). So Universal has been on top of this issue since before the ride's opening day.
You might remember that I went on a media preview construction tour of the ride a few weeks before its opening. Given the proximity of the grand opening and the fact that Universal had been cycling trains for several days already at that point, many of us wondered if we'd be getting a preview ride on the attraction, kicking off a soft open for the coaster. That didn't happen. Team members got a couple of preview days, but no one outside of Universal or its contractors got on the ride until the media event two days before the grand opening.
The issue now is that Universal is looking for a way to fix this ride without having to repair it, too. What I mean is that Universal wants to be able to run this ride reliably at its full capacity (to fix it) but doesn't want to run a heavily loaded ride to its breaking point before it figures out how to do that, which would require repairing it, too. A potentially lengthy repair without clear direction for a long-term fix is the nightmare scenario here, and no one wants that.
My sources say that Universal is committed to the long term here. Universal won't confirm anything about the ride's capacity, but with seven launches (and their associated block zones), two drop track segments (you experience just one on the ride - the other is a duplication, installed to increase the ride's capacity while accommodating the timing in other block zones), and a lengthy continuous-chain-style unload/load station, it's possible that Hagrid could run around 12 trains at a time. With 14 riders per train and a cycle time around four minutes, that would give this Motorbike Adventure the potential to be a Pirates-class people eater, with a guest capacity around 2,500 an hour.
Universal could punt here — run just six trains, factor in an hour or so of downtime each day for the thunderstorms and slog through at a perfectly respectable capacity of half that. But it'd just be playing the lottery there, waiting for something to break on a system that is showing more load force than expected. So that's why Universal is delaying the ride's opening each day. That takes strain off the system and allows Universal more time to test and inspect the ride.
And a delayed opening makes more sense from a customer service perspective than an early close. If Universal had closed the queue immediately after opening it on June 13, it wouldn't have cleared that queue until around 7pm. Good parks always operate until the principle that it's better to keep people from entering a queue than kicking them out of it before they can ride.
Ideally, Universal finds its fix and a way to implement that without having to take the ride down completely for an extended period. But if that is what it takes to guarantee the productivity of the ride, again, Universal is playing this for the long term. It's just not possible to tell yet what will happen next with Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. But the potential is there for this attraction to be one of the world's premier theme park experiences while delivering one of the world's most robust capacities. Universal is not ready to sacrifice either one of those benefits, so that's why it is taking extra time to protect and fine-tune this one-of-a-kind attraction.Tweet
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