Having just visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure just a few weeks ago, I thought it would be good to review my experiences at the recently opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I will first cover the themeing and general experience of the area, then I will talk about what you are likely the MOST interested in, the Forbidden Journey ride.
We got to the park at perhaps 10 or 10:30 and headed straight towards the back of the park for Harry Potter; we knew we were likely more with the majority than the minority, but we hoped otherwise. As soon as we got to the point of splitting left through Marvel or right through Suess Landing, we wanted to head right (as that’s the shorter path), but they only had the area open from the left. As a result we did the Forbidden Journey before seeing any of the remaining area, however, I will be covering everything else first.
Themeing: As was likely expected, the themeing of the area was quite good. The view of Hogwarts Castle from the bridge between Jurassic Park and WWHP is spectacular, and the angle makes the castle look larger than it really is. The rest of the area is done quite well either, with various Harry Potter related shops on both sides of the main street, even if it is a bit hard to believe the snow on rooftops when is 98-degrees with high humidity. Universal does however loose a few points in the fact that, unlike Disney, they did not bother hiding the un-themed building which the Forbidden Journey resides in, as it is in plain site from many areas.
Shops/Eating: This is one part of the new area I really can’t say much on. For the food, we ate lunch later in the afternoon in Jurassic Park, so we had no chances to eat there. One thing I can say however is…TRY THE BUTTERBEER! I was skeptical at first…I didn’t even know what it was, but we asked, tried it, and it was very good, cold, and refreshing, perfect for a hot day. Be prepared to wait though, the line was very long (as was the case for most things there). However if you have cash, you can put in an order with one of the “bar maids” and you will get your drink a little quicker. As for the shops, we didn’t even bother with them, as there were actually queue lines to get in…you heard me right, QUEUE LINES to get into the SHOPS, not worth it if you have to wait just to shop.
Handicap Accessibility: We had a guest in our group who was in a wheelchair, and Universal gets an EPIC FAIL in this respect throughout IOA (Universal Studios was much better). First, let me say I understand fully having wheelchair guests wait in line, no problems with that. The problem is the queue lines are very difficult to navigate for many of the rides. For the WWHP area, crowds were a nightmare, with countless inconsiderate *censored* always cutting in front of you. Getting off the Forbidden Journey, the elevator exits right next to/through the on-ride photo area, and barely-wide-enough aisles made it almost impossible to get by the numerous idiots (took 15 min to move about 50 ft through). Of course, everyone exiting is staring up for their on ride-photo, walking straight in front of the poor wheelchairs trying to get through. Think twice about a wheelchair until the “new” has worn off of the WWHP area.
Dragon Challenge: The ride itself is obviously unchanged, but the themeing has. Sadly, the entrance is now a very unassuming; we actually walked past it at first and had to back-track to find it. Instead of the two dragons preparing to duel and fight, there is just a simple arch with “Dragon Challenge” engraved. For the queue, I also prefer the old skulls-in-the-walls, lanterns, and creepy sounds to the poorly lit, bland walls with some HP thrown in for good measure. At least the ride is still fantastic, though perhaps a bit rougher at times.
Forbidden Journey: A technological masterpiece! The movements are flawless and smooth, the themeing is amazing, the technology behind the ride is breakthrough. Though the ride lacks any real plot, as you find yourself more re-living the “best moments” of Harry Potter’s journeys than following a story, it is still spectacular. The queue is one of the longest, most weaving I’ve ever encountered, but you are almost constantly moving, which helps move things along (pun intended). We rode twice, waiting about an hour and a half the first time and just over an hour the second (wait times listed as 2 hrs and 1.5 hrs respectively).
The first time riding, I took in all the effects, the movements, everything I could, and it was quite an experience…and I hate Harry Potter. The second ride I rode on an end seat and spent a lot of the time looking around at how everything worked, including the robo-arms, projections, screens, track, etc. If you like finding out how rides work, you MUST ride an extra time to take it all in, as it is very cool how everything works. I won’t give anything away here, I’ll let you do that for yourselves when you ride, but I can only expect this type of ride to catch on huge at the Universal’s, Disney’s, and even former Busch parks. It’s technologically a vastly different ride than Spiderman, yet both work for their respective experiences very well…Spiderman’s system wouldn’t have worked for Harry Potter, but Harry Potter’s wouldn’t have worked as well for Spiderman either.
The attraction is certainly a must-do for all, but you might want to wait until the newness wears out of the area some to avoid constant bottlenecking, long lines, and inconsiderate people walking into and over you (often with their strollers). From the man who hates Harry Potter…the ride is a masterpiece.
Anton Schwarzkopf was a very innovative designer, having created several coasters that have had a monumental impact on the coaster industry. His designs are dotted throughout the country, and his work has been praised numerous times by coaster enthusiasts. And although his company had many financial issues, it is one of the most recognized as a result of that impact. And up until his passing in 2001, Anton's remarkable know how and sharp mind assisted him, even long after his retirement.
Anton was born in Behlingen Germany in 1924, to the parents of Maria and Anton Schwarzkopf. His father happened to own a cartwrightery, which manufactured caravans and trailers for circuses and showmen. Later on in 1954, however, the company began working on amusement rides and performing alterations on them. Eventually this turned into a sort of business for them. A year later after Anton's son Wieland, who today manages a modern version of the company, was born, Anton began the planning of his first actual attraction, Dusenspirale. In 1960, Anton took over his father's company, and began on what would pan out to be 35 years of making coaster history.
Four years later, he created his first steel coaster, Wildcat. It was about this time that he formed his famous partnership with fellow prestigious coaster designer Werner Stengel. He and his team did the statistics and dynamic calculations of Anton's designs, as well as the developing of pipe bending machines. In addition to the formation of the partnership, it was also about this time that Anton's company started production of cylinders for cement mixers, ensuring a second leg for the company for at least the next ten years. In 1968, he designed the first Jet Star coaster, a model which would have several variations throughout the next two decades. He also created the Speedracer model, which would later be fundamental to a major leap in the industry.
That major leap came about in about 1975, about the same time Arrow Dynamics was developing the corkscrew inversion. Anton figured out a way to make the loop, which had not been seen since the 1900's, more comfortable than its turn of the century predecessors. The modern, clothoid, vertical loop was born, and it was used in one of Anton's many opus magnums. Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain, or, Magic Mountain as it was known at the time, opened to much fanfare in 1976, just in time for America's bicentennial. Anton had combined the loop with his Speedracer model to form the Looping Speedracer. This meant that Revolution was much more than just a loop, as it included many elements such as the long straightaway that led up to the loop, and the tunnel that sent the train right through the center of it. The introduction of the vertical loop changed the industry forever, as it paved the way for many of the batwings, immelmanns and zero-g rolls we see today.
Continuing on with the vertical loop, Anton applied it to several more coasters, such as Sooperdooperlooper at Hersheypark in 1977, the first looping coaster on the east coast. That same year, he designed the first version of his shuttle loop model. The coaster utilized a weight drop system, and the first installations consisted of King Kobra at Kings Dominion, White Lightnin' at Carowinds and Tidal Wave at Great America in California. Anton improved the launching mechanism in 1978 by replacing the weight drop system with a flywheel. The second version of his shuttle loop was headed by Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm. Several more models which utilized Anton's loop included Double Looping and Katapult.
The 1970's were an immense success for Anton, a drastic contrast from how the 1980's turned out. As the 80's began to unfold, it became evident that although Anton was a genius in coaster designing, he was unfortunately not a genius in finances. His company experienced two major bankrupcties in this decade, the first of which occured in 1983. This bankrupcy actually ended up changing a bit of coaster history, as this was about the same time as Anton was designing his flying coaster. This was another new model, and this particular installation was to go to Busch Gardens Europe. When the project was forced to fall through (with only the footers laid), Arrow Dynamics picked it up, having already created their Suspended coaster concept, and completed what is now known as Big Bad Wolf. This became one of Arrow's first successful suspended coasters, and one of Anton's first and really only failure as far as his coasters were concerned.
His company's second bankruptcy occured a few years later in 1986, when he was again developing a major coaster... though luckily this one didn't fall through. That coaster was Thriller, which started out in Germany and later appeared in America as Texas Tornado at Six Flags Astroworld and Zonga at Six Flags Marine World. His company continued on for nine more years, designing a few more coasters such as Olympia Looping before eventually, Anton Schwarzkopf retired from the industry in 1995. Thirty five years of innovative designing came to a finish, and Anton spent his later years suffering from Parkinsons Disease. Finally, six years after his retirement, the legendary coaster designer unfortunately passed away on July 30th, 2001.
Anton, pictured to the left, was one of the greatest and most influential designers in the entire history of coasters. His memory lives on however, in his son Wieland Schwarzkopf, whose company manufactures trains with updated overhead restraints, and manufactured spare parts up until at least 2000. In addition, Hubert Gerstlauer, who was a former manager for Schwarzkopf and founded his own company in 1981, purchased former production facilities of Anton's company. Anton Schwarzkopf may be gone, but his designs let alone his impact on the coaster industry will continue to influence the history of coasters for many years to come.