Full disclosure: I’m not a rollercoaster guy. I get scared of heights, start to imagine that this is the time the otherwise safe coaster will fall apart, and generally don’t like being jostled around. I am, however, a huge fan of the detail Universal’s theme parks have put into their Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. Happily, Universal Orlando Resort is bringing both of these worlds together with a thrilling new ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which officially opens to the public June 13 in the park’s Hogsmeade area.
For those Harry Potter fans (or Fantastic Beasts, I guess) who haven’t traveled to Universal for the experience, the Wizarding World is split into two halves over two parks: Islands of Adventure houses the original Hogsmeade; while Universal Orlando is home to Diagon Alley. The two are connected by the Hogwarts Express, a themed ride itself that changes depending on which direction you’re heading. And while both areas of the park are delightful, Hogsmeade started to feel a little lacking as soon as the relatively massive/more immersive Diagon Alley opened.
Hosgmeade is home to various shops and experiences, including the ability to use an interactive wand that allows you to do “real” magic interacting with the environment. It also houses the spectacular Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride that’s built into a facsimile of the series’ iconic Hogwarts school. There’s also a lighter rollercoaster, Flight of the Hippogriff, that’s themed around the school’s groundskeeper Hagrid’s hut.
But until recently, a third ride, Dueling Dragons, just sort of… Existed. It had been there before the Wizarding World opened, and didn’t feel like it was part of the same park. So the folks at Universal scrapped it, and rebuilt the attraction from the ground up as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride.
Where Flight of the Hippogriff features the front of Hagrid’s hut, the Motorbike Ride takes place (and in fact shows off) the back of his hut, leading into the appropriately dangerous Forbidden Forest that borders Hogwarts. As fans of the movies know, students aren’t allowed into the Forbidden Forest, what with the whole “forbidden” thing and all; but Hagrid tends to take his students there anyway for the most dangerous lessons possible.
That’s the idea of the ride, something Universal is appropriately calling a “story coaster.”
The ride was opened to selected media and assorted VIPs by a bevy of stars from the movies on Tuesday night (June 11) including Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, James and Oliver Phelps, and Warwick Davis, who led the assembled crowd in a chant of “wingardium leviosa” in order to clear some crates blocking the way to the ride. It was actually pretty magical, to be quite honest:
Before that, though, I had a chance to preview the ride… And it’s nothing short of spectacular.
If you’re planning on checking this out, a word of caution: the lines for this rollercoaster, which travels up to 50 miles per hour and features some massive drops, as well as going backwards, will be huge for a long time. Luckily, that’s been anticipated with an incredibly long queue area that has exciting Easter eggs for fans of the films nearly the entire length of the line.
That starts right at the beginning as you weave around the back of Hagrid’s hut, through the woods, and to the edge of some ruins bordering the Forbidden Forest. Keep your eyes peeled for sights of some magical creatures in the woods (we spotted a salamander), and keep your ears open for some spooky sounds, as well.
From there, you enter a massive cave filled with drawings left by students of Hogwarts. Notes have been left from students famous and not: one says “watch out Malfoy, there’s a hippogriff behind you; while another is a simple heart with the letters “L + J” in there, as a reference to Harry Potter’s doomed parents.
Once you make your way through that room, you’ll come upon a short movie featuring Robbie Coltrane reprising his role as Hagrid, working with Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) on souping up his motorbike. Things go predictably wrong, and the movie (it’s projected on a screen over a real background, the same effect they used in the Diagon Alley-based Escape From Gringotts ride) sets up the second idea of the ride: beyond the magical creatures lesson, Hagrid’s bike has gotten super-charged with dragon fire, and in the process released a ton of magical beasts from their cages including the mischievous Cornish Pixies. Oh, and you’re going to get a little wet.
Then you head back to the queue, and without walking you through all the secrets, you’ll see dragon eggs, salamander footprints leading out of a fire, a note referencing Fantastic Beasts breakouts nifflers, and a workshop where Hagrid is working on breeding blast-ended skrewts. These creatures are also important: they’re basically like scorpions with two stingers who fart fire out of two butts. You know, normal stuff.
If you’re not interested in coasters, this is where you’ll want to check out. For everyone else, what makes this ride so special is that it’s set up like Hagrid’s bike. Which means you have a choice to make before you get on: do you want to ride on a bike; or in the sidecar? Having ridden in both, the sidecar is the safer option, you’re basically sitting in a small, tight seat. The bike is safe too, of course, but it doesn’t feel safe. You’re held tightly by a bar over your lap, so there’s no danger of falling off. But holding the handlebars of the bike as the coaster zooms makes it feel like you’re hurtling out of control. Which is, of course, the point. These bikes are set up in a line to keep things moving, but it basically guarantees that everyone will want to ride this ride at least twice.
The ride doesn’t stop there in mimicking Hagrid’s bike, either. Like it does in the movie, the ride actually sputters, stops, suddenly slows down, jolts and speeds forward, without ever feeling like you’re being jerked around. As mentioned, it speeds around death defying curves over a gorgeous lake, up heights, and even backwards. All the while, you’re able to check incredible animatronics of Hagrid with a massive skrewt, the pixies torturing the Weasley’s sentient car high above the track, and even Fluffy, the three-headed dog who usually lives under Hogwarts.
Naturally for Hagrid, things don’t go according to plan, and your coaster reaches the end of the track… So you speed backwards. And just when you think you’re going to do the whole ride Ginger Rogers style, remarkably, things change. You find yourself in the Forbidden Forest proper, spot centaurs, and get caught in deadly devil’s snare. Hagrid frees you with a spell, lumos, and then you drop. Like, dead drop, about 10 feet, straight down to a floor below. It’s terrifying. You speed out of there, the dragon’s fire really kicking in, until you slow down and see a unicorn. Hagrid thanks you for attending the lesson, and asks you to not mention to anyone at Hogwarts what happened.
What’s most incredible about the ride is how seamlessly it mixes the coaster and story elements, and all with “real” figures. Escape From Gringotts has coaster elements, but tends to stop and show you a movie for a bit between those points. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is more seamless, but a lot of the thrill of flying through a quidditch pitch is created through movie magic, not real thrills. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures almost never stops moving for three solid minutes; and even though you’ll definitely miss things along the way, it feels like a satisfying, full experienced from top to bottom.
Oh, and let’s talk about riding it at night, which the party I rode with all agreed was even better. Initially it seemed like the coaster, er, coasted on the gorgeous “woods” scenery you’re speeding through, contrasted by the dark of the Forbidden Forest. But at night, all of Hogsmeade is glowing, down to lights on the bikes themselves. Lights shoot out of trees surrounding the coaster as you pass, and if you time it right, you’ll see a light show emanating from the park’s Hogwarts set-up. Plus, your eyes don’t need to adjust the same way from light to dark when entering the Forbidden Forest section, which means you can see the centaurs/devil’s snare/etc. that much more clearly. So I guess if possible, you’ll want to ride this at least four times.
Too long, didn’t read, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride is a stunning achievement that makes you feel like you’re riding along with Hagrid. Add in feeling like you’re visiting Hogwarts on Forbidden Journey, and Gringotts on Escape from Gringotts; plus the entirety of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and you have a Harry Potter fan’s dream. It’s also an experience that caters to nearly every age group and interest level. If you want to just check out the scenery? You’ve got that. If you want some light, fun rides, you can do the Hogwarts Express, or maybe Flight of the Hippogriff. Like things a little more intense and immersive? Escape From Gringotts, and Forbidden Journey.
And if you want something for the more intense rollercoaster fan who doesn’t want to feel like they’re stepping out of character, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride nails it… Even if you’re not a rollercoaster guy.