At the end of the previous post, I had just discovered I would likely be unable to ride the attraction at my current size (fwiw, I’m already off my diet). I am tall enough; the ride height requirement is 48 inches. We are now prepared to enter the queue. There be spoilers ahead, so fair warning.
Universal is expecting Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (HPFJ) to be a people eater. They’ve designed a queue as detailed and entertaining as it is long. And boy is it long. Just walking it took us about 20 minutes, and we didn’t even walk the full length. Also the queue does have a Universal Express Pass side (similar to Disney’s fastpass, but it costs $$), they have a much shorter queue, but still see the major story points. That means the wait of those in the standby queue could be quite long on busy days.
You enter through the Hogwart’s dungeon and see a few details and props you’ll recognize from the movies. There is some sound coming out of the potions classroom and the Mirror from the first movie. Plus the tunnels where Harry hides from the Basilisk are prominent.
The queue then winds outside into a large section of switchbacks. You are ostensibly in the ‘garden’ area of Hogwarts and the plants, mostly carnivorous, and design, a bit spooky, are fun. I had two concerns with this area. 1) there is a huge non-themed building backstage building very visible from within the queue. Universal needs to obscure or theme that surface as it jars one right out of the themed world you’ve been in for the last 20 minutes. 2) the ‘cobblestone’ flooring, while a great texture, is a pain to walk and stand on and would be very uncomfortable to ride in a wheelchair across. It may seem like a minor point, but after you’ve been standing on it for an hour, your feet will notice it for sure.
I suggest bringing some bottled water with you into the queue area just for this area. But if you forget, Universal has a drink cart set up just after the dungeon area and before the switchbacks to sell you some.
The queue then heads back into Hogwarts proper. They do a very good job of transitioning you from being below Hogwarts to the main hallways. But the actual hallways are a smaller, more cramped version of what you see in the movies. Once inside you’re faced with a few more switchbacks, but then you get to see some of the amazing set design and technology Universal has created to make this a one of a kind queue. Yes, there are talking portraits (they focus on the four founders of Hogwarts) and key icons from the movie (Dumbledore’s office, Gryffindor’s common room, and the Defense against the Dark arts classroom.
The real thrill of the queue is seeing the headmaster himself give you some important plot details about the attraction. The effect is so realistic, I initially swore it was an advanced audio-animatronic, if not an actor, on the set. But it is really a unique projection system that appears to combine multiple effects to create a fully realized 3D image of Dumbledore. His hands and upperbody appear to move toward you and into the room at multiple times and they’re using a trick that makes it look like the wizard is speaking right to you, no matter where you stand in the room. Universal should be really proud of the magic they’ve created here.
The same projection technology is used in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, but to lesser effect. There you will encounter the three young heros of J.K. Rowling’s books – Harry, Hermione, and Ron. They appear suddenly from under their invisibility cloak and share a few quips with the audience. Then, the trio offers a diversion from the 2-hour history lecture that has been arranged on your behalf. How would we like to see a game of Quidditch instead? Would I? (Peg Leg!) You bet. So we’re introduced to the fact that Hermione has created a charm that will help us get to the Quidditch match in a jiffy.
The third large set is the Gryffindor common room. While the queue winds around a bit, guests are introduced to the idea of an ‘Enchanted Bench’ via three talking portraits. Apparently, they’re not totally reliable as a transportation device, subject to quick movements, and have a mind of their own. It’s a very cute idea, but it’s a bit difficult to see some of the portraits from the queue (they’re up pretty high) and not on a flat surface.
Those three sets make you feel like you’re really there, so much I would really have liked to explore more of the castle (even though you can see that the stairs don’t really lead anywhere). Those three rooms together could have easily compromised a world class dark ride, but they’re just the queue portion of the attraction. So if the attraction is even better, then watch out.
We weren’t shown the loading area or the ride vehicles; rather we were escorted down what I took to be either the chicken exit or VIP entrance (it has stairs, but I’m pretty sure I saw an elevator there too) and into the store. They could not have made this store any smaller and expected it to handle the flow of guests. It could barely handle the few guests who were in there at the time. It’s a huge congestion point. No one is going to have time or space to shop. They’ll be jostled by everyone just trying to make it to the exit.
What was missing from HPFJ? The moving staircases from Hogwarts, the ghosts that roam the halls of the castle, the infamous bathroom scene from the movies, just to name a few. It is probably unrealistic to expect Universal to squeeze all that detail in or it’s somewhere we weren’t shown last night. The team at Universal really has done a tremendous job with that they did create. Brilliant, as Ron would say. It’s justly deserving of all the attention its receiving.
Okay, I think that’s enough for Part 2. I hope to bring you some more detail from my journey into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter later tonight.