If criticism exists for Islands of Adventure’s latest land, it’s because Muggles built it. Those who want to be surprised may read on. I reveal only the they-have-to-have-this details.
Beyond the stores and restaurants of Hogsmeade, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has its hands tied. Filmmakers shooting the last book of the series couldn’t get all the important details into two hours, so they’re making two movies. How can a single ride (there are three in this section but two are coasters) recreate seven books?
Given that limitation, Universal does a dynamic job. From an engineering standpoint, the main ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – incorporates the best technology from other rides. Guests sit on a bench (Muggle designers couldn’t put everyone on a broomstick) and fly through the action. The car moves seamlessly and achieves a standard seen on few Orlando attractions: a break from the belief that nuts, bolts, and gears are required. It feels, for all Muggle intents and purposes, that you’re flying.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is Universal’s best ride and possibly Orlando’s top attraction – at least based on the special effects.
No blame for Universal on this one, but you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Muggle (non-magical folk) in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s wall-to-wall and elbow-to-elbow Muggles. I lucked into a momentary opening for the ride six days before grand opening and waited 30 minutes. While a 90-minute wait (though I predict two-hour-plus waits) may be worth it, it will make any day a tad less magical. And beyond the wait, the wizard city of Hogsmeade should have a handful of people on the streets at any given time – not 500.
Second criticism that’s not Universal’s fault: Locations in J.K. Rowling’s book evoke emotions that can’t pull off here. Prof. Dumbledore’s office feels welcoming yet a bit foreboding. The Gryffindor common room is comfy and secluded, an emotional respite from the evil outside. But both had too many of those pesky Muggles in shorts, tank tops, and tattoos, winding back and forth between stanchions.
Bottom line: Harry Potter fans older than 10 will leave feeling that they touched the books and its characters, but they never quite crossed over. Non-book fans will leave more than satisfied.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
In general, the queue leading to the ride focuses on well-known and generally happy scenes from Hogwarts and can be enjoyed by anyone. The ride itself visits the darker elements in the books, and there are many. It will scare small children. While the ride’s movement doesn’t match that of a coaster, it dips and turns quickly.
The theme replicates a competition between two breeds of dragon, the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail, in the Triwizard Tournament. As coasters, they take off simultaneously and run different courses but come perilously close to colliding three times. The queue line has a few Harry Potter recreations and is worth walking through, but the ride itself, once moving, is “dragon” in name only.
Flight of the Hippogriff
Flight of the Hippogriff is a kid’s coaster. True coaster fans will find it too tame to warrant a wait in line. Since Hagrid tended the hippogriff, his hut is also here.
In Harry Potter’s world, the wand picks the wizard, and Ollivander’s is the Macy’s of wand shopping. Expect long lines, however, without shade. Wands can also be purchased separately. But, unfortunately, waving one does not make the lines go faster.