Review: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
By Dave Shute
I’ve checked out Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter multiple times, most recently in November. This page is one of several reviews of Hogsmeade, which include:
- The Flight of the Hippogriff
- Dragon Challenge
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- The Hogwarts Express
REVIEW: HARRY POTTER AND THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY
It has attracted many gushing reviews and at least one unrealistic and cranky one.
The truth, for most, will be somewhere in between.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey deploys state-of-the-art theme park technology to create a stunning queue, and a mostly marvelous attraction.
However, in some ways the technology isn’t supported as well as it could be. In other ways, the designers got a little too excited by the technology itself.
The upshot is that for most people the ride is a “don’t miss” if you are at Universal Orlando anyway.
However, for first time visitors to Walt Disney World, I would not take a morning out of a Disney visit to see the Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter unless your kids just won’t give you any peace otherwise.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY OF HARRY POTTER AND THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY
Many reviewers have called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey a combination of Epcot’s Soarin and The Haunted Mansion.
I get the comparison–the ride has projections of images like Soarin, and physical environments with scary figures that recall, in a much scarier way, the Haunted Mansion.
But the better comparator at Walt Disney World is the Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur.
- Like Dinosaur, the ride is powered by a motion simulator–in the case of Forbidden Journey, a quite advanced one.
- Like Dinosaur, cool and surprising audio-animatronics emerge, sometimes when you least suspect it.
- Like Dinosaur, the overall story of the ride is very thin, and simply an excuse for a sequence of vignettes that don’t tie to or build on each other.
- Like Dinosaur, the ride vehicle is so much so the real star of the ride that it calls too much attention to itself.
- And like Dinosaur, if you are at all subject to motion sickness, the ride will be one of seemingly unending misery.
The experience begins with the queue itself.
(You really need to do this, as the ride vehicles have storage for, at best, a pair of sunglasses, wallet, and phone. Nothing bigger than a glasses case will fit.)
You then enter the queue, first outdoors, and then in a greenhouse that is not quite as steamy, even in June, as one might fear.
Then you go back inside the castle, and the magic begins.
I’m not gonna give away any spoilers, but the quality of the experience of the waiting line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is far, far better than anything else in the theme park universe.
This queue itself is almost the price of entering Universal Orlando.
(Do not use the single rider line until you have experienced the main queue. The queue really is so good that it is worth the hour or more of extra waiting. The single rider line is best for return visits to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey–not your first.)
At the end of the queue, you strap in to a four-person bench. There’s a mock-up of the bench before you enter the Castle–if you are concerned, test your fit. (Riders of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey also have to be at least 48 inches tall.)
Then you are off!
The ride–and again, I’m not gonna give away details, because as in all such things, the mystery of what happens next is a big part of the fun–begins with projected images, then moves into physical spaces, and varies back and forth between the two environments.
The problem is that the projected images are not well done, and the physical environments seem poorly paced.
I’m not sure what the issue is with the projected images–too slow a data rate? Not enough time spent on animation? Regardless, my first thought, on seeing the first image, was “that’s really blurry and thin on detail.” This is the case with later projected images as well. Not a great first impression.
The physical environments are much easier to look at, and sometimes quite fun. However, the pacing through the physical environments is not well matched to the pacing of the images (you move too quickly in the projected areas, and it seems that you move too slowly in the physical environments), so the reaction becomes not one of marveling at what is present, but rather wondering what’s next.
Meanwhile, your ride vehicle is zooming around, sometimes in accord with the action, but often quite purposelessly.
For those with cast-iron stomachs, the zooming is fun, although at times a pointless distraction from the rest of the ride. For those with moderate or higher degrees of motion sickness, the zooming will get old very fast, and re-present itself as severe discomfort.
To compare the potential for motion sickness with Walt Disney World, I’d put it between Dinosaur and the orange side of Mission: Space.
- If you can take the orange side of Mission Space, the Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter will pose no problems at all.
- If Dinosaur feels like the outer edge of your capability, seriously consider avoiding the Forbidden Journey.
- If Star Tours or the Tower of Terror is too much for your motion sickness, then absolutely avoid the Forbidden Journey.
Note that even if motion sickness is an issue for you, the queue is still very much worth seeing–go through the queue, and then bail before boarding the ride itself.
Universal Orlando is a place for thrill rides, and the technology deployed at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey creates the opportunity for a very cool, very thrilling simulation of wizarding flight.
That said, flight simulators are famous for making people upchuck.
In my view, the designers have dialed up the zoom too intensely–perhaps because the quality of the projected images is so poor, and the physical environments too slowly-paced?–and, as a result, have left too many of their audience on the runway.