On my recent trip to Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, my family’s focus was on Seuss Landing. My oldest daughter is a Dr. Seuss fan and loves The Cat in the Hat TV show. We enjoyed rides like the Caro-Seuss-el, One-Fish, Two-Fish, and of course The Cat in the Hat dark ride. As our evening at the park was coming to an end, we made our way to the impressively-themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter so that I could take a quick spin on the Forbidden Journey.
A Quick Taste of The Wizarding World
My brief stroll through the Wizarding World blew me away. I felt like I just walked onto the set of the movie and for some reason there were all these theme park guests there instead of the characters from the series and British bystanders. There’s a large steam train and then a long city street with an authentic London look. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to venture into the shops, but I could tell that I would have been impressed by the amount of detail inside just as I was from the outside. One of my daughters was a little freaked out by the vomiting statue in the window of one shop anyway. No surprise, but this area is really for older kids and adults. I really do wish that I had more time to explore and I’m looking forward to re-visiting the park and taking it all in. It was very impressive, but the coup de grace was still ahead.
Hogwarts Is In Orlando!
We made our way to the end of the themed street. I looked up to my left and was in awe. I’d heard that people had been literally stopped in their tracks by the sight of Hogwarts and I was too. I’m only a lukewarm fan of the movies. I think I’ve seen 4 (maybe 5) of the 8 movies and I’ve never read any of the books, but I know the series well enough to know Hogwarts when I see it. It looked amazing from the outside!
The park was about to close, so there was no wait in the queue at all. As I moved through the interior of the castle I was again impressed by the level of detail and theming in what has to be one of the World’s coolest queues. There were the talking paintings in a stairwell and projections of characters that were likely laying out the storyline for the ride. With the distance, lighting, and technique used, I had to take a double take as I moved past Dumbledore talking to an empty queue. I’d be more than fine waiting for the Forbidden Journey on a future visit. That way I’d be able to catch all of the details and try to figure out the magic behind all of the cool stuff in the queue.
Finally, I found the enchanted benches. Even the station (which is normally run-of-the-mill) looked other-worldly. I had to stop and comprehend what was going on for a second. “Oh yeah, I’m getting on a ride here”. The station was made to look like the Room of Requirements. It was surrounded by mirrors and had weird lighting. The four seat-wide benches were sitting on a massive rolling floor like a conveyor belt. Once aboard for my solo trip, the wizards put a spell on the bench and it lifted off of the floor. Having covered the ride since it was only a rumor, I knew the robocoaster system was behind me, but for the general public I’d imagine that they have no idea what’s happening. The experience was very different than riding in just a car or vehicle moving on a track.
The Forbidden Journey
Spoiler Alert – Don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know what happens in the Forbidden Journey.
I won’t go blow-by-blow through the entire ride, but here’s a summary of what I remember. As you ride the bench, you find yourself flying after Harry who’s riding a Quidditch broom stick. You encounter a dragon and then end up in the Forbidden Forest. There you face mammoth spiders and a tree that’s not too happy to see you. The benches are moving on robotic arm that’s moving on a track. They’re synchronized with large wrap-around projection screens and they also move past physical animatronic set pieces. There are plenty of scares which is a good thing since this ride falls into the dark ride genre. The ride could have just focused on flying around the school and Quidditch scenes, but I’m glad that it took a dark and scary turn (although I didn’t enjoy the spider spraying me in my eyes). If you’re an arachnophob, good luck!
After quite a while in the Forbidden Forest, we met up with Harry again and fly into the middle of a Quidditch match. Those spooky Dementors show up and try to steal your soul. Harry saves the day and you return to the castle. As the ride ends, your magically and seamlessly placed back on that rolling station again. The transition back to the station is unreal. That’s a pretty brief summary and I know that I missed a lot of details. Read a full detailed account of the ride here on Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey on Wikipedia page.
My Take – The Forbidden Journey Delivers and Then Some
Overall, the Forbidden Journey is an incredible experience from the outside, the queue, and the ride. Again, I’m glad that there were physical pieces and real scares and not only the projection screens. The screens were a bit video game-ish, which isn’t a knock, but alone they wouldn’t have really made the ride all that great. Also, some of the screens seemed a little too dark to me. I wasn’t sure if they were always that way, but they seemed a little too dim at times. Also, the bit of the Wizarding World that I saw was very cool too. I don’t have a theme park ride scale like my roller coaster scale yet, but I think I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10. I tend to stick to roller coasters at theme parks so I can’t compare the Forbidden Journey against Disney’s many themed and dark ride attractions. I can say that it greatly surpasses the modern dark rides that I’ve ridden (Curse of Darkastle at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the original Amazing Spider-Man also at Islands of Adventure).
If you haven’t been, this area and this ride are well worth a visit to Islands of Adventure. Never mind attractions like the inverted roller coasters of Dragons Challenge (Formerly Dueling Dragons – Fire & Ice), the world-class launch coaster Incredible Hulk, the upgraded Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and the rest of the park.