One of the things that separates Disney theme parks from others is their attention to detail and story. For example, have you ever noticed on Pirates of the Caribbean that one pirate who has his leg hanging off of the bridge over your heads? There’s hair on that leg! It’s such a minute detail, but Disney’s philosophy is “if it wasn’t there, people would notice.”
Well, Disney has gained competition in the past few years, and its name is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Nonsense, you say? No one could possibly measure up to Disney’s standards? HA is what I say back at you! Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling made sure the grounds of Hogsmeade were painstakingly accurate with little nuances and hidden gems that the greatest Potter fans would be sure to pick up on. Don’t believe me? Well, let me take you on a virtual tour of Universal’s resident castle: Hogwarts.
At the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you pass through the gates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under statues of winged boars. You won’t see it during a sunny day, but at night notice how the columns attached to the gate magically light up to reveal the title of the attraction.
Once through the gates and into the castle, you enter the dungeons. Here chaos ensues because you must put all bags of any size and pretty much anything you can’t fit in your pockets into a locker. Lockers are free for the time you wait in the queue, but do yourself a favor: have a non-rider carry all your stuff or pay the extra bucks and place your articles in a locker at another location such as Dragon Challenge to save yourself the hassle and keep your party together.
Once past the insanity, you wind through a dark path within the dungeon. Once your eyes adjust, take note of the many large pieces from the books and movies. The Mirror of Erisid from Year 1 is on your left. Notice the inscription along the top; when read backwards (or “mirrored”) it says, “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” You may ask, “Why can’t I see anything in the Mirror of Erised?” it’s because you’re only a silly muggle, of course! The statue of the One-Eyed Witch on your right contains the secret passage to Honeydukes. Lean over the railing at the statue, and you’ll see Professor Snape’s office just to the left.
The dungeons lead you back outside into the gardens and greenhouse classroom. Here is where you will do the majority of your waiting on a busy day, and there’s not much to look at – just a bunch of plants. Usually right as you come outside there will be a stand selling drinks within the queue to keep you nice and cooled off. The keen-eyed fan might notice at the top of the hill a row of potted mandrakes. You can see an unearthed mandrake (and hear it squeal!) down in Hogsmeade in one of the fake storefronts by the bathrooms.
After you’ve traversed row upon row of switchbacks in the greenhouse, you’re back inside in what is known as “The Oxford Corridor.” This is where any fan of Harry Potter will start geeking out over the scenery and props. On your right, you will pass statues of the architect and the first headmaster of Hogwarts, as well as the house points, which are large hourglasses containing colored jewels that represent each House and their standing in competition towards the House Cup. As would be expected, Gryffindor is in the lead.
Continuing through the Oxford Corridor, you will come across a large golden statue of a griffin that marks the entrance to Albus Dumbledore’s office and a large tapestry of a unicorn that marks the entrance to the Room of Requirement. Strictly speaking, in the layout of the queue, these are in the wrong locations in the castle regarding their respective rooms, but the average guest would not know this.
Moving along, we enter a gallery lined wall to wall with hundreds of pictures and portraits. Most importantly you will see moving portraits of the four founders of Hogwarts, each holding important items pertaining to them from the story: Godric Gryffindor with his sword, Salazar Slytherin with his locket, Helga Hufflepuff with her chalice, and Rowena Ravenclaw with her tiara. Before the attraction was built, these characters had been mentioned in the books but never seen in the films. Therefore the actors were cast specifically for the ride.
Through the portrait gallery, we enter the the headmaster’s office, where we are greeted by none other than Professor Albus Dumbledore, himself. He welcomes us to Hogwarts and warns us there is a dragon loose, but it shouldn’t be a problem. He invites us into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to hear a lecture from Professor Binns on the history of Hogwarts which is sure to be, well… boring. Things to note before we leave are the Penseive, the Sword of Gryffindor, and Fawkes the Phoenix’s cage – all along the back wall opposite Dumbledore. Also another cool effect: look for a red book high on the shelf on the right. At one point, Dumbledore will summon it to magically switch places on the shelf.
Into the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, this place is CRAWLING with props from the movies. In fact, you can find at least one artifact from each Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Harry ever had- Quirrell’s traveling trunks, Lockhart’s autobiographies and the large dragon skeleton, Lupin’s spine candles, Moody’s walking stick, Umbridge’s Defense Against the Dark Arts for Beginners books, and Snape’s slide projector. Also notice the chalkboard in front. The lesson for the day is the Patronus charm. Might that come in handy later?
As we’re waiting for our boring lecture to begin, a door magically opens all by itself and we hear three familiar voices. From beneath the invisibility cloak appear Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who invite us to something a little more exciting – a Quidditch match! They’ll need to sneak us out, though. Ron tries to use magic but ends up altering the weather. Hermione corrects him and explains she has enchanted some benches to fly us out to the field and to meet her in the Room of Requirement.
One of the cool thoughts put into every room is that each “loop” has at least two different scenes. This is to help alleviate the problem of getting caught in the same place for longer than expected and seeing the same scene over again. I bring this up now because the Defense Against the Dark Arts room is the easiest place to spot the differences. In one scene, the students are worried about getting caught by Mr. Filch and Ron makes it snow in the classroom, while in the other it’s Professor McGonagall and Ron makes it rain outside.
Off to the Quidditch pitch! We take a shortcut through the Gryffindor common room where the Fat Lady’s portrait stands ajar at the entrance, giving us her two cents about letting every single muggle in without the password. Inside the common room, you’ll find three moving portraits – an etiquette teacher, an aviator, and a famous Quidditch player – all butting heads on the proper way to ride an enchanted bench and what you should and should not do. Farther down the hall, you will find the Sorting Hat giving out safety warnings for all who wish to ride. Fun Fact: The two poems that the Sorting Hat recites here are indeed written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series!
I’m also a big theme park nerd, so whenever I go through the castle I like to point out this part of the ride mechanics: everything at Universal is on a points system. So, for example, if the dragon isn’t blowing smoke, that might be like one point. Once you reach ten points, Universal shuts down the ride and starts fixing stuff. Because they are giving out safety instructions, both the common room portraits and the Sorting Hat are an automatic ten points. This is because if the safety instructions are not given, then it’s a hazard to guests. And you probably never listened to those portraits in the first place, did you? I bet now you will!
RIDE EXPERIENCE (Spoilers ahead!)
Once tight and secure aboard our ride vehicle – excuse me, “Enchanted Bench” – we are surrounded by dark mirrors and floating candles that represent the Room of Requirement. At the end of the room, Hermione waits above a large fireplace. We will be traveling by Floo Powder today, so on the count of three we all need to shout our destination: “Observatory”.
POOF! We’re off through the network of chimneys and a land in the astronomy tower where Harry and Ron meet us in their Quidditch robes, amazed at Hermione’s brilliance. They apologize for the crazy nature of the benches, but promise they haven’t lost anybody yet, “Not this week, anyway.” We pass Hagrid, the gamekeeper, who is still searching for that dragon from earlier. Oh, there it is! And, uh oh, she’s hungry! The dragon chases us around the grounds of Hogwarts and traps us in a covered bridge. As we make our way through, the dragon claws and tears apart at the wooden structure before it eventually collapses and we come face to snout with the larger than life creature and her smoky breath.
We narrowly escape, but not into better circumstances. We find ourselves racing through the Forbidden Forest, where the weather has apparently changed and there is now lightning. We are surrounded by many large spiders, led by the biggest of them all, Aragog. Hermione appears out of nowhere and tells us the Forest isn’t safe (as if that weren’t obvious!). She casts a spell that repels the arachnids and warns us of the Whomping Willow tree ahead. The Willow catches us and bats us us away, but luckily we land back on track – the Quidditch Pitch!
The game against Slytherin is already well underway as we watch Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fight to catch the Snitch. Suddenly, a band of dementors appears! Harry tells us to follow him to safety. We dodge left and right through the stadium, but ultimately the dementors chase us into a dark cavern that turns out to be the Chamber of Secrets. We pass the basilisk skeleton, the large bust of Salazar Slytherin and- oh, no! – the Dark Mark that signifies Voldemort and his Death Eaters! That can’t be good.
More dementors surround us and try to suck out our souls, but then “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry swoops in to save the day. He leads us out of the collapsing cave and back to Hogwarts, where apparently he miraculously caught the snitch in all that commotion because Gryffindor wins the game! As the celebration commences in the Great Hall, Professor Dumbledore invites us to come back anytime and reminds us to tuck our elbows in as we travel back through the Floo Network towards the exit.
Wow, what an amazing attraction, right!? Disney quality, wouldn’t you say? And that’s just one part of the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter! What’s your favorite detail or reference in the entire land? Leave it in the comments below!