Description And Comments

This ride provides the only opportunity at Universal Orlando to come close to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore as portrayed by the original actors. Half the attraction is a series of preshows, setting the stage for the main event, a dark ride. You can get on the ride in only 10-25 minutes using the singles line, but everyone should go through the main queue at least once. The characters are incorporated into the queue and serve as an important element of the overall experience, not merely something to keep you occupied while you wait for the main event.

From Hogsmeade you enter the attraction through the imposing Winged Boar gate and progress along a winding path. Entering the castle on a lower level, you walk through a sort of dungeon festooned with various icons and prop replicas from the Potter flicks, including the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. You later emerge back outside and into the Hogwarts greenhouses. The greenhouses compose the larger part of the Forbidden Journey's queuing area, and despite some strategically placed mandrakes, there isn't much here to amuse. If you're among the first in the park and you hustle to the attraction, you'll move through this area pretty quickly. Otherwise ... well, we hope you like plants. The greenhouses are not air-conditioned, but fans move the (hot) air around. Blessedly, there are water fountains but, alas, no rest-rooms.

Having finally escaped horticulture purgatory, you reenter the castle, moving along its halls and passageways. One chamber you'll probably remember from the films is a multistory gallery of portraits, many of whose subjects come alive when they take a notion. You'll see for the first time the four founders of Hogwarts: Helga Hufflepuff holding her famous cup, Godric Gryffindor and Rowena Ravenclaw nearby, and the tall, moving portrait of Salazar Slytherin straight ahead. The founders argue about Quidditch and Dumbledore's controversial decision to host an open house at Hogwarts for muggles (garden-variety humans without special powers). Don't rush through the gallery - the effects are very cool, and the conversation among the portraits is essential to understanding the rest of the attraction.

Next up, after you've navigated some more passages, is Dumbledore's office, where the wizard principal appears on a balcony and welcomes you to Hogwarts. The headmaster's appearance is your introduction to Musion Eyeliner technology, a high-definition video projection system that produces breathtakingly realistic, three-dimensional, life-size moving holograms. The technology uses a special foil that reflects images from HD video projectors, making it possible to produce holographic images of variable sizes and incredible clarity. After his welcoming remarks, Dumbledore dispatches you to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to hear a presentation on the history of Hogwarts.

The classroom is recognizable from the Potter films, although in this version there are no desks. As you gather to await the lecturer, Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger pop out from beneath an invisibility cloak. They suggest you ditch the lecture in favor of joining them for a proper tour of Hogwarts, including a Quidditch match. After some repartee among the characters and a couple of special-effects surprises, it's off to the Hogwarts Official Attraction Safety Briefing and Boarding Instructions Chamber - OK, it's actually the Gryffindor common room, but you get the picture. The briefing and instructions are presented by animated portraits, including an etiquette teacher. Later on, even the famed Sorting Hat gets into the act. All this leads to the Requirement Room, where hundreds of candles float overhead as you board the ride.

After all the high-tech stuff in your queuing odyssey, you'll naturally expect to be wowed by your ride vehicle. Surely it's a Nimbus 3000 turbo-broom, a Phoenix, a Hippogriff, or at least the Weasleys' flying car. But no, what you'll ride on the most technologically advanced theme park attraction in America is . . . a bench? Yep, a bench. Not that there's anything wrong with a bench.

A bit anticlimactic, perhaps, but as benches go, though, it's a doozy, mounted on a Kuka robotic arm. When not engaged in Quidditch matches, a Kuka arm is a computer-controlled robotic arm similar to the kind used in heavy manufacturing. If you think about pictures you've seen of automotive assembly plants, Kuka arms are like those long metal appendages that come in to complete welds, move heavy stuff around, or fasten things. With the right programming the arms can handle just about any repetitive industrial tasks thrown at them (see for more info).

Bear with us for a moment - you know how we Unofficials like technical stuff. When you put a Kuka arm on a ride platform, it provides six axes - six degrees of freedom, with synchronized motion that can be programmed to replicate all the sensations of flying, including broad swoops, steep dives, sharp turns, sudden stops, and fast acceleration. Here's where it gets really good: Up to now, when Kuka arms and similar robotic systems have been employed in theme park rides, the arm has been anchored to a stationary platform. In Forbidden Journey, the arm is mounted on a ride vehicle that moves you through a series of live sets and action scenes projected all around you. The movement of the arm is synchronized to create the motion that corresponds to what's happening in the film. When everything works right, it's mind-blowing.

When the ride was being designed, it was assumed that Kuka's robotic programming could easily produce the various movements called for in each scene. What nobody considered, however, is that the program was designed for maximum industrial efficiency. If, to correspond to the action in a given scene, the Kuka arm had to simulate 22 different motions, the software, not knowing a theme park ride from a diesel plant, would think, "OK, let's knock these 22 movements down to 13 and save half a minute." Because this would throw the timing of everything out of whack, Universal ended up having to create its own program that would behave as it was told and not be so anal about efficiency. Luckily for us, Universal worked out the kinks, and Forbidden Journey is now remarkably reliable for such an advanced attraction.

High-tech hijinx aside, is the attraction itself ultimately worthy of the hype? In a word, yes! Your 41⁄2-minute adventure is a headlong sprint through the most thrilling moments from the first few Potter books: You’ll soar over Hogwarts Castle, narrowly evade an attacking dragon, spar with the Whomping Willow, get tossed into a Quidditch match, and fight off Dementors inside the Chamber of Secrets. Scenes alternate between enormous physical sets, complete with animatronic creatures, elaborate lighting effects, and high-definition video-projection domes that surround your field of view, similar to Soarin’ or The Simpsons Ride. Those Kuka-powered benches really do “levitate” in a manner that feels remarkably like free flight, and while you don’t go upside down, the sensation of floating on your back or being slung from side to side is certainly unique.

The seamless transitions between screens and sets, and the way the domes appear to remain stationary in front of you while actually moving (much like Dreamfinder’s dirigible in the original Journey into Imagination at Epcot) serve to blur the boundary between actual and virtual better than any attraction before it. The greatest-hits montage plotline may be a bit muddled, but the ride is enormously effective at leaving you feeling like you just survived the scariest scrapes from the early educational career of The Boy Who Lived.

Having experienced Forbidden Journey for ourselves, we have two primary bones to pick. First, Islands of Adventure team members rush you through the queue. To understand the storyline and get the most out of the attraction, you really need to see and hear the entire presentation in each of the preshow rooms. This won't happen unless, contrary to the admonishments of the team members, you just park yourself and watch a full run-through of each preshow. Try to find a place to stop where you can let those behind you pass and where you're as far away from any team members as possible. As long as you're not creating a logjam, the team members will leave you alone as often as not.

Another alternative is to tell the greeter at the castle entrance that you want to take the castle-only tour. This self-guided experience lets guests who don't want to ride view the many features of the castle via a different queue. You can pause as long as you desire in each of the various chambers and savor the preshows without being herded along. At the end, if you decide to ride, ask to be guided to the singles line - using this strategy, you'll maximize your enjoyment of the castle while minimizing your wait for the ride. Note that the castle-only tour is often unavailable on peak-attendance days.

Another gripe: the dialogue in the preshows is delivered in English accents of varying degrees of intelligibility, and at a very brisk pace. Add an echo effect owing to the cavernous nature of the preshow rooms, and it can be quite difficult for Yanks to understand what's being said. This is especially evident in the staccato repartee between Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

Related blogs:
A Virtual Guided Walk Through of Hogwarts

Touring Tips

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey quickly became the most popular attraction at Islands of Adventure, and one of the most in-demand theme park attractions in America. While much of the attention to has turned towards Gringotts at USF, the best way to ride Forbidden Journey with a reasonable wait is to be one of the first through the turnstiles in the morning or to visit in the final hours of the evening.

Upon approaching Forbidden Journey's front gates, those who have bags or loose items and therefore require a free locker may be directed into an extended outdoor queue. Our wait-time research has shown that in some cases, not needing a locker can save you as much as 30 minutes of standing in line. If you do need to stow your stuff, be aware that the Forbidden Journey locker area is small, crowded, and confusing. It may make more sense to stash your things in the lockers beside Dragon Challenge and pay the fee if you go over time. Alternative, have one member of your party hold your bags for you in the child swap.

Universal warns you to secure or leave behind loose objects, which most people interpret to mean eyeglasses, purses, ball caps, and the like. However, the ride makes a couple of moves that will empty your trousers faster than a master pickpocket - ditto and worse for shirt pockets. When these moves occur, your stuff will clatter around like quarters in a slot-machine tray. Much better to use the small compartment built into the seat back for keys, coins, phone, wallet, and pocket Bible. Be prepared, however: team members don't give you much time to stow or retrieve your things.

The single-rider line is likewise unmarked, as relatively few guests use it. Typically, on most attractions, the wait in the singles line is one-third the wait of the standby line. At Forbidden Journey it can be as much as one-tenth. Because the ride experience is individual (you can't see the other riders, including members of your party), the singles line is a great option, as this wife from Edinburgh, Scotland, discovered:

Trust me, sitting next to hubbie on Forbidden Journey, romantic though it may be, is not as awesome as only having to wait 15 minutes as a single rider.

To get in the singles line, enter the left (no-bags) line and stay to the left all the way into Hogwarts Castle. After you pass the locker area, take the first left into the single-rider line.

If you see a complete iteration of each preshow in the queue and then experience the ride, you'll invest 25-35 minutes even if you don't have to wait. If you elect to skip the preshows (the Gryffindor Common Room, where you receive safety and loading directions, is mandatory) and use the singles line, you can get on in about 10-25 minutes at any time of day. At a time when the posted wait in the regular line was 2 hours, we rode and were out the door in 15 minutes using the singles line.

Universal has toned down the Kuka programming, and added fans to each seat that blow cool air on rider's foreheads, in a somewhat successful effort to reduce motion sickness. We nonetheless recommend that you not ride with a full stomach. If you start getting queasy, fix your gaze on your feet and try to exclude as much from your peripheral vision as possible.

If you have a child who doesn't meet the minimum height requirement of 48 inches, a child-swapping option is provided at the loading area. Even if your child meets the height requirement, consider carefully whether Forbidden Journey is an experience he or she can handle; because the seats on the benches are compartmentalized, kids can’t see or touch Mom or Dad if they get frightened.

In response to many larger guests being denied rides when Forbidden Journey first opened, the end seats on each flying bench were redesigned to accommodate a wider variety of body shapes and sizes. Though these modified seats allow many more people to ride, it's still possible that guests of size can't fit in them. The best way to figure out whether you can fit in a regular seat or one of the modified ones is to sit in one of the test seats outside the queue or just inside the castle. After sitting down, pull down on the safety harness as far as you can. One of three safety lights will illuminate: a green light indicates you can fit into any seat, a yellow light means you should ask for one of the modified seats on the outside of the bench, and a red light means the harness can't engage enough for you to experience the ride safely.

In addition, IOA team members select guests of all sizes "at random" to plop in the test seats, but they're just being politically correct: they're really looking for large people or those who have a certain body shape. Team members handle the situation as diplomatically as possible, but if they suspect you're not the right size, you'll be asked to sit down for a test. This is the time to suck it in to the max. To ride, the overhead restraint has to click three times; once again, it's body shape rather than weight (unless you're over 300 pounds) that's key. Most team members will let you try a second time if you don't achieve three clicks on the first go. Passing the test by inhaling sharply is not recommended unless you can also hold your breath for the entire 4 1/2 minutes of the ride.

With The Wizarding World and especially Forbidden Journey soaking up so many guests in IOA , the waits for attractions in the other themed areas are minimal up to around 11 a.m.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Wait Times

This chart shows you roughly how long you'll wait for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when you visit on a day with a given Universal's Islands of Adventure Crowd Level. The blue bars represent the average "peak" wait time (that is, how long the line will at its busiest). The bottom and top black lines represent the range of peak wait times to expect (for you fellow nerds out there: it's the 5th percentile and 95th percentile of peak wait times). Please note that these are estimates, and for a better forecast for your travel dates, see Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Wait Times.

Attraction Photos

Special Comments

Expect long waits in line.

Special Needs

Other Attractions in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade

Touring Plans with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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