By this point, we feel like we’ve been in the Forbidden Forest with Rubeus Hagrid for forever now – we’ve pored over the concept art, analyzed the importance of having the jolly half-giant as the protagonist of the ride, deconstructed its story, and, of course, toured its queue. Because of this long history, you might assume that we would be cool, calm, and collected members of the media when we set foot on the titular motorbike for ourselves, finally getting to experience the attraction directly on a special invitation by Universal.
You’d be wrong.
We’ll just go ahead and say it – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is our favorite ride at Universal Orlando Resort, hands down. It has the fun and frenetic feeling of the first flagship Harry Potter ride, Forbidden Journey, along with the more involved story of the second one, Escape from Gringotts, providing some pretty immersive – not to mention fun – moments along the way. When you wrap it in the package of 1,200 real, live trees and a unique ride vehicle that provides multiple experiences, you have a home run that’s pretty hard to beat.
Let’s try and break that sweeping statement down into some specifics, shall we? (And, yes, there will be some light spoilers involved in our explorations, so proceed at your own discretion.)
First, a brief recap of Hagrid’s story
You haven’t been obsessively following all of our myriad Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure updates? (Or maybe you’ve just awoken from a particularly dull lecture in Professor Binns’s class and can’t quite recall all the assorted details and factoids.) Not to worry – let’s get you caught up on the Forbidden Forest situation in no time at all.
Just as Professor Albus Dumbledore opened up Hogwarts School of Witchcraft Wizardry for one day only to muggles (which is the basis of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’s story), Professor Rubeus Hagrid has done the same for his Care of Magical Creatures class. And we unsuspecting muggles are in for a real treat, too – he’s going to take us to see his own personal hybridization, the Blast-Ended Skrewt, employing Sirius Black’s flying motorcycle in order to do so.
Guests first make their way past Hagrid’s hut (you only see the back half of it, since the front half is already spotted in the queue of Flight of the Hippogriff – a deft touch, and one of our favorite little thematic details) and then on into the Forbidden Forest, where the groundskeeper-turned-teacher has instructed us to meet him in some ancient, hitherto-unseen ruins; here, Hogwarts students have been sneaking out to goof off for centuries (which their various layers of graffiti on the walls are testament to), and here Hagrid has been secretly maintaining a nursey for all sorts of contraband critters, including dragons (thankfully still in their eggs!) and, of course, his Skrewts. Lastly, also here is none other than Arthur Weasley, who is helping the magic-challenged Hagrid to duplicate Sirius’s motorbike and arrange the copies in long trains so everyone can fly out en masse to the outbuilding that has been transformed into the Blast-Ended Skrewts’ new home.
It is along the way that – of course! – something goes terribly wrong, and the ride takes a turn (almost literally).
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get back to what makes this latest addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade so spellbinding.
Hagrid is a lot of fun
This may sound like an obvious statement, but it’s really not – while some rides may be more technically impressive, they may not quite deliver in the fun department; others, meanwhile, may be fun in the short run, but a lack of technological prowess or narrative substance makes the long run ultimately untenable.
We’re beyond happy to say that Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure fires on all these cylinders (no mechanical pun intended), and that it’s not only fun, but also exhilarating. In fact, OI’s owner and publisher, Taylor Strickland, did something that he never does: yelled out in excitement while taking the various banked curves and twists and rocketing towards the next show scene, where one audio-animatronic figure or another awaits the next batch of muggle
And, indeed, all these elements are worth getting excited over. The world-record-breaking seven launches along the roller coaster’s track keep you constantly moving – unlike some other launch coasters, on which you feel like you’re beginning to slow down before you hit the next speed boost, Hagrid never lets up on the momentum. And there are enough twists and turns to appeal to coaster aficionados while still being accessible to the average (and, perhaps, thrill-averse) rider. That’s a kind of magic all its own.
Hagrid is really, really impressive
There’s a lot of technology packed into this just-over-three-minute ride. At one point, riders get shot up a spike 65 feet into the air at a more-than-70-degree angle, which then seamlessly transitions to your being sent back down the track – backwards, of course – with the story justification being that your charmed motorcycle is stalling and then falling out of the sky. The track switch that has to be done, opening up the new path so that you don’t crash into the roller coaster train behind you, is unbelievably fast, and it really does help trick your mind into thinking that you’re on a magical adventure.
Then there’s the 16-foot drop section, which comes next in the ride’s sequence – Devil’s Snare ensnarls your bike and threatens to trap you, until Hagrid is able to swing by and save the day, dropping you straight down onto a new section of track. It’s exhilarating but not at all intimidating, once again pulling off that balancing act of not being too thrilling for a family-friendly attraction. But the truly impressive part of the entire experience is how all this advanced tech enhances the story but is never the focus of it – everything is in service of the narrative.
And how, exactly, that narrative is delivered is the last truly remarkable aspect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Typically, in a “story coaster” – as Universal has taken to calling it – the story itself is sliced up and then delivered in chunks, with each of these portions resulting in the ride vehicle slowing down to allow its passengers to absorb all of the show scenes. Then it’s back to the thrilling, traditional coaster sections, which typically leave all of the storytelling behind. It’s no exaggeration to say that Universal’s latest Wizarding World addition has done the best job yet – of any theme or amusement park anywhere in the world – of almost effortlessly weaving the two disparate elements together; it doesn’t feel like Hagrid ever fully leaves the narrative components behind, and, conversely, it never feels like you’re slowing down just to see the next obligatory chapter being delivered.
Hagrid demands re-rides – instantly
There are several fantastic beasts that Rubeus Hagrid takes muggles to see, whether purposely or inadvertently, and each one is rendered in loving, exacting audio-animatronic detail – Fluffy, the three-headed dog from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is particularly noteworthy, with his imposing size and fluid movements. And then there’s Hagrid himself, who is extraordinarily lifelike – and potentially revolutionary, as the results may be enough to convince author J.K. Rowling that screens aren’t the only way to bring her various characters to life on any and all future attractions.
The only problem in this regard – if, indeed, we may use that word – is that the magical creatures are so beautiful to look at, and there tends to be so much else going on around you in their scenes, that you’ll want to hop back on Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure almost as soon as you jump off. And it’s not just that – the difference in the ride vehicle’s two seats (the motorbike proper and its sidecar) is just enough that you’ll feel compelled to check the other one out, and then the queue is practically teeming with hidden details and well-placed Easter eggs to the larger Harry Potter mythology. Add all of that together, and you have Universal’s most re-rideable attraction yet.
And we can’t wait to do it all over again. And again. And again.
Orlando Informer Podcast: be sure to listen to this week’s episode of the OI Podcast to hear even more of our thoughts on Universal’s newest E-ticket attraction. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or give a listen here.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure has its official opening on Thursday, June 13. In the meantime, you can read all of our in-depth coverage of the entire Wizarding World in our complete insider’s guide.
What are you anticipating the most about Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure? Discuss it all with 70,000+ other vacation planners and Universal fans in our OI Community Facebook group.