For those of us devastated when we turned 11 and no owl came to our doorstep and who cried when Dumbledore died, Universal Florida’s latest addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Forbidden Journey—manages to both put the “thrill” back in thrill rides and to allow entrance into J.K. Rowling’s magical story for us muggles.
Just two months after Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla. opened its featured amusement, the Forbidden Journey has exceeded one million riders. This ride, as Ron Weasley would say, is “bloody brilliant.” But first, a disclaimer: This reporter yelled, “Hogwarts!” with ecstatic joy as soon as she entered the park and glimpsed the castle from afar.
The ride’s designers made waiting in the very long line exciting as it winds through the Herbology greenhouse into Hogwarts. Countless objects from the movies are featured, such as the hourglass where house points are measured. (You will notice that Gryffindor is winning, obviously.) The line then snakes through the Hall of Moving and Talking Pictures where the founders of Hogwarts —Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor—converse about the muggles in their midst.
Salazar thinks it’s a terrible idea and that none of those in line are worthy. The other three defend Dumbledore’s decision to open the castle to everyone.
“Who knows,” says Ravenclaw, “Maybe one of these young people will receive an owl in the mail just like Harry Potter.”
You can’t help but wonder if it will be you.
You whisper “lemon drop,” as you enter the Headmaster’s office. Sitting behind his desk, a prerecorded image of Michael Gambon, the actor who played Dumbledore in the last three movies, welcomes you to Hogwarts. Here, more relics described in the books line the walls and for once you wish the line wasn’t moving so you could take pictures of it all.
“We’ve arranged for you to sit in on a Defense Against the Dark Arts class,” Dumbledore says, and the line ushers you away into the classroom where the premise for the ride is established.
Hermione, Ron and Harry are going to sneak you out of the class to do something more fun: a Quidditch match. The line continues past the portrait of the fat lady—the same one that guards the Gryffindor Common Room—and she seems a little anxious about letting you pass.
When you finally reach the Gryffindor Common Room, more talking pictures bicker about who is the greatest Gryffindor of all time (which could be you, as soon as you get your owl in the mail), and they mention something about a spell Hermione invented for muggles to fly. Ahead of you is the Sorting Hat bequeathing wisdom to everyone, the way hats in the Harry Potter universe often do. Finally, you are ushered onto the bench-like seat of the ride. Thousands of candles float above you as you’re locked in place. You take a deep breath, jitter with anticipation and a voice comes from your left.
“Over here,” says Herminone, and she appears digitally in front of you. “On the count of three, yell observatory. Ready? One, two, three.”
Floo powder bursts into the air as everyone screams, “Observatory!” at the top of their lungs. The ride begins.
What follows is a spectacular mix of simulated twists, turns and jerks among real-life sets that make you feel as if every single movement were actually happening. You meet up with Ron and Harry, and you are flying. You run into Hagrid, and he asks you if you’ve seen a dragon about.
For a few moments you are forced to take refuge from the beast inside a tangible portion of the ride. You feel the dragon’s hot breath on your face and barely escape into the Forbidden Forest, where you are met by the acromantula, giant spiders that spray venom at you and you’re forced to flee.
“Sorry about that, “ apologizes Harry, as you finally fly toward a Quidditch match. You are zooming around when Draco Malfoy pops up.
“I see you’ve brought your muggle friends, Potter,” spits Draco as you fly aggressively down below the bleachers.
Dementors suddenly appear and you are, yet again, flying for your life. You swerve away, but are overcome by blackness and life-like Dementors come at you from every angle. Your own image projects into the fog, as if your soul is finally being sucked out of you by a Dementor’s kiss. All hope is lost until—
“Expecto Patronum!” Harry roars, and comes to your rescue.
The ride ends with you breathless and spent, while images of the residents of Hogwarts cheering you on and asking you to come back again any time.
There are two other rides in this area of the park: a tame rollercoaster, called Flight of the Hippogriff, and the refurbished Dragon Challenge, which is now set to the theme of the Triwizard Tournament.
Hogsmeade remains packed with people shopping at the Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Dervish and Banges, Honeyduke’s Candy Shop, Zonkos Novelty Items and sending mail from the Owl Post. The merchandise is expensive. One wizarding robe complete with house colors and emblem will cost you $99.95; a t-shirt, $28.95; a scarf, $34.95; and novelty wands, $28.95. There are places to buy butterbeer, and dining is available at the Three Broomsticks.
And after you get your Potter fix, you have all of Islands of Adventure to enjoy. For a one-day pass of $82 plus tax, and parking for $15, there is a price to pay to get to Hogwarts, but it more than delivers. Seriously.Contact Anna Geannopoulos.