ORLANDO — Universal's Hagrid-themed attraction opening June 13 will be the longest coaster in Florida, and the only one in the country with a free-fall vertical drop. It will have the most launches of any coaster in the world.
The Tampa Bay Times toured parts of the elaborate queue of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Friday from the world of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Ruins are built to look like an ancient Scottish castle near the Forbidden Forest.
It's in the Hogsmeade side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. It replaces Dragon Challenge, which closed in 2017. The ride has a similar aesthetic to the Hogwarts Castle setting of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride that opened in 2010.
But unlike Forbidden Journey, the scene setting here never took place in the books or movies. In a new fictional backstory, Hagrid, the beloved gamekeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, uses the castle to store his dragon eggs. It's also where he created the hybrid blast-ended skrewts (a cross between crabs and scorpions that shoot fire at random intervals) that appeared in the Triwizard Tournament.
The rail measures 5,053 feet and the ride runs 3 minutes and 25 seconds. It will have seven launches and a free-fall drop of nearly 17 feet, the first such maneuver in the United States. The actual track will disconnect from the rest of coaster path and fall 17 feet straight down before sending riders into another launch element, Universal producers said.
The ride will also have backward motion and animatronic figures of magical creatures and Hagrid himself. The coaster will reach speeds of 50 mph.
Trains were rolling without passengers during the tour. The motorcycle and sidecar from the movies provide the inspiration, with one rider on the cycle and one in the sidecar.
The cars rolled smoothly along a steel track and reached a high point where the coaster sailed through a gothic pointed arch in a maneuver Gary Blumenstein, creative director with Universal Creative, called "the head-knocker."
"It looks like you're going to smash into it," Blumenstein said.
The new journey through Hagrid's cottage has a longer path through his garden with a patch of red runner beans and pumpkins, some with claw marks from swipes by magical creatures. There are also "gnome holes" in the garden and gnome footprints on the path.
Riders enter through a pointed arch next to a tall, gothic tower, where a movie set designer built a recessed sculpture of green merpeople. The lore is that Hogwarts students would hang out in the ruins when not in class. Inside, the walls have drawings and graffiti from Hogwarts students over the years. Keep an eye out for Easter eggs, Blumenstein said.
The queue has a similar feel to Hagrid's Castle as visitors pass through Hagrid's kitchen, see a collection of spotted eggs and enter a room where a stage is set up with spare motorbike parts. Images of Hagrid and Mr. Weasley working on Hagrid's motorbike are projected in a pre-show room. It goes badly when a swarm of blue Cornish pixies are set loose.
The trains hold 14 passengers — seven rows of two riders apiece. Riders on the motorbike seats will be about 6 inches higher than riders in sidecars. Both have the same height requirement of 48 inches.
Show producer Elaine Hinds expects children to be drawn to the sidecar because Harry Potter rode there in the films. But she noted that the ride is different depending on where you sit.
"It's more thrilling in the front, but you see more show in the back row, so we expect guests to want to ride it multiple times," Hinds said.
Robbie Coltrane played Hagrid in the Harry Potter films. He is a gentle half-giant who likes to garden and has a fondness for all animals. The actor created dialogue just for the ride, Hinds said, and Universal created an animated figure using an extensive motion profile of 24 different body movements and facial expressions, mimicking Coltrane's exact motions.
Universal has been banking on the fervor of Potter fans since the 2010 opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The franchise brought a 40 percent year-to-year increase in attendance, an unheard-of spike that has led to heavy capital investments to build or update not just attractions but entire "lands."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.