Advertisement
  1. Fun

We rode the new Hagrid roller coaster at Universal's Harry Potter world

The new Hagrid coaster opening at Universal Orlando June 13 is set in the “ruins” of an ancient Scottish castle in the world of Harry Potter. It is the longest coaster in Florida at 5,053 feet. The ride cars look like the motorbikes seen in the films, with one rider on the motorcycle and one in the sidecar. Times staff Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Published Jun. 12

ORLANDO — Universal has had record-setting success with its Harry Potter-themed lands thanks in part to the cinematic flair of making visitors feel like they're in the movie. They can walk into Gringotts Wizarding Bank and through the halls of Hogwarts Castle.

But the scene-setting for Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which opens on Thursday at Universal's Islands of Adventure, never appeared on film. Designers still managed to create an authentic feel. With an estimated budget of more than $300 million, they used some of the same movie talent to create props, a castle and a Forbidden Forest of real trees.

It could have been a back story we just never saw on the big screen.

Universal planted more than 1,000 live trees to create the Forbidden Forest and likely spent more than $300 million on this attraction, estimated theme park expert Dennis Speigel of International Theme Park Services. And it's money well-spent, he said, given that attendance at Islands of Adventure jumped 76 percent from 4.6 million in 2009 before Harry Potter to about 8.1 million in 2013, according to estimates by the Themed Entertainment Association.

And by making a new setting, "it gives them more flexibility in the future," Speigel said, noting that the new Fantastic Beasts series of hit films could be incorporated into Universal theme parks.

THEME PARK GUIDE 2019: Everything new coming to Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and more

We rode the new coaster for the first time at a media preview on Tuesday. In addition to the thrilling ride, there are lots of Easter eggs for Harry Potter fans.

The story goes that Hagrid, the gentle half-giant who serves as gamekeeper at Hogwarts and also teaches a Care of Magical Creatures class, used the grounds of an ancient Scottish castle on the edge of the Forbidden Forest to work on his many hobbies. The ride's queue passes a room where dragon eggs and other specimens are stored. You can see a projection of Hagrid working with Mr. Weasley to get a muggle motorbike magicked so that it can be flown through the sky.

Miranda Langford, 26, a social media manager for Pottermore, J.K. Rowling's official fan website, was intrigued.

"That's what the theme parks do. You have your own imagination and the story is all around and you create your own experience," Langford said. "I wouldn't say the rides are canon. You don't have Bill Weasley guiding you on the Gringotts Bank ride in the movies. It's an immersive, themed experience and that's totally fine."

The elaborate queue keeps guests occupied on what will undoubtedly be long lines to get to the coaster. But when they finally reach the ride, it's a doozy.

It reaches speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and has a record-breaking seven launches, the most of any coaster in the world. It's only the second in the nation to feature a vertical drop, the track disconnecting in a free-fall.

As a "story coaster," there is a narrative arc to the ride. We won't give away any spoilers except to say you will be hurtling backward at one point because Hagrid's magic powers aren't the best.

The ride car is the motorbike from the films. Riders can choose between sitting on the motorcycle and hanging onto handlebars or sitting in the sidecar where some story elements are closer.

With nearly a mile of track, it's a full 3 minutes and 25 seconds. Though it's fast, it's not especially scary. Riders must be at least 48 inches tall, so it's a good one for an adventurous 8 year old.

An animatronic Hagrid makes an appearance, made with the help of actor Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid in the Harry Potter films. Coltrane created dialogue just for the ride, and Universal created the animated figure using an extensive motion profile of 24 different body movements and facial expressions, mimicking Coltrane's exact motions.

Riders will encounter the fearsome three-headed dog named Fluffy and Cornish pixies, the electric blue tricksters who create mischief. Potter fans will recognize Devil's Snare, a perilous plant from the wizarding world that can strangle people who touch it. It looms large in one part of the ride.

Keep an eye out for a centaur, a magical creature with a human head and torso joined to a horse's body, and a Blast-Ended Skrewt. That's a creature that appeared in Rowling's books but not in the films. It's described as a cross between scorpions and elongated crabs that can create actual fire from their "blasting-ends." Riders will catch a whiff of their powerful scent, similar to rotting fish.

The castle has sculptures, made by movie set designers, of various magical creatures including Merpeople (mysterious underwater-dwelling beasts) and Grindylows (horned, pale-green water demons). Listen for the voices of creatures and gnomes known to scurry about the grounds, and read the graffiti on the walls of the castle from past Hogwarts students who hung out there. Some are well-known characters.

Universal announced this week that it may deploy its Virtual Line option for this ride starting Friday. That requires theme park visitors to make reservations through the official app of Universal Orlando. Future passengers select a time and number of riders, then can show up when its their turn aboard Motorbike Adventures.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A Zombie Bride is one of the characters found in one of Busch Gardens' open-air scare zones at Howl-O-Scream, which opens for its 20th year on Friday.
    Free Museum Day is coming, Howl-O-Scream opens at Busch Gardens, Billy Ray Cyrus plays for the Bucs Beach Bash and Tho Who will be at Amalie Arena.
  2. Harrison Lipinoga, of Westchase, gets his face painted during the 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest. LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest returns to Amalie Arena, plus the BoDeans play Largo and Riverview holds the Shop Local market .
  3. Odilon Ozare poses for a photo with his Guinness world record-setting acrylic nails at Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe in Tampa. Courtesy of Guinness World Records 2020
    The mysterious man behind the world’s tallest hat has a new world record for nails, and a nearly full-page spread in the ’Guinness World Records’ 2020 book.
  4. Cat Power, shown in a handout photo, performed at the Ritz Ybor on Sept. 13, 2019. Julien Bourgeois
    The soulful indie singer said little, but her music said a lot.
  5. Pinellas County resident and bestselling author Lisa Unger will launch her new book, "The Stranger Inside," on Tuesday. Courtesy of Jay Nolan
    Dark events threaten a new mother’s happiness in the author’s 17th psychological thriller.
  6. Jordan Foote (Norm) and Jonelle M. Meyer (Corky) in Jobsite's production of Steve Martin's "Meteor Shower." Courtesy of Pritchard Photography
    Steve Martin’s voice is ingrained in the absurdist comedy.
  7. Stevie B, shown here at a 2015 performance in Auburn Hills, Mich., will visit Tampa's Yuengling Center for Freestyle Explosion on Saturday. PAUL SANCYA   |  AP
    Freestyle Explosion invades the Yuengling Center, Side Splitters welcomes comic Robert Kelly and the Great Gay 5K hits Pass-a-Grille.
  8. Iris Martin Cohen Michael Assous
    The author of ‘The Little Clan’ drew on her New York experiences for the novel.
  9. Artist Geff Strik poses in front of his 5- by 12-foot piece inspired by Arnold Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht" in March in St. Petersburg. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The orchestra’s new partnership with Geff Strik launches in October with ‘Don Quixote.’
  10. Mural on the side of the Amsterdam Bar, Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. “SHINE.” The wall was completed with the help of students from the Bloom Gallery. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The roster for October’s festival includes a mix of international, national and local artists
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement