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.