Spoiler-FILLED Review: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World

in Islands of Adventure, Movies, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando


Excitement is building as Universal Orlando is letting more guests by the day into their new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. Recently, limited soft openings have allowed all park guests to finally enter the area, enabling many excited visitors to experience the groundbreaking new attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

I have had a chance to ride Forbidden Journey three times this week and have already written my completely spoiler-free thoughts on the attraction. If you’re not interested in potentially “ruining” the ride by reading details about what’s inside, I recommend reading that article rather than what I am including below.

From this point forward, this post will be filled with spoilers as I take you step-by-step through the entire Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride experience, offering both descriptions of each scene as well as my own personal thoughts on how well those scenes work. Get ready for an exciting ride…

The introduction

Now that we’re prepared to unleash Forbidden Journey spoilers, I recommend you first watch our video tour of the incredible Hogwarts Castle queue that stops just short of the ride’s loading area:

As you can see, Forbidden Journey truly begins the experience long before you sit down for the ride. A slow walk through the queue takes roughly 20 minutes, longer if you care to stop and watch each of the scenes several times. The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom actually features three separate bits of dialogue between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as three different spells that get cast in the room, each with its own unique special effects. They’re all worth stopping and watching, though the one seen in its entirety in the video above is definitely the most entertaining.

Upon passing through everything you saw above, just past the Sorting Hat, you arrive in the “Room of Requirement,” which acts as the loading area for Forbidden Journey. This room is impressive not because it is filled with detail like all of the other Hogwarts Castle areas, but rather because of how well it hides the massive contraption that you’re about to strap yourself into.

Loading area

Upon first arriving into the Room of Requirement, you are greeted by Hogwarts students who ask, “How many muggles in your party?” You get the feeling like you’re really being escorted out of the castle by a group of students eager to help you skip a boring lecture on Hogwarts history. It’s a nice touch.

When approaching the loading area, you catch your first glimpse of the “enchanted benches” that you’ve been told will guide you out of the castle and to a Quidditch match. These four-seat vehicles glide horizontally along a mirrored back wall, reflecting floating candles above and making the room seem much larger than it is (though it is already a large room to begin with). The “benches” really appear to be nothing more than that. There is no indication at that time that they will do anything except slowly float along the ground, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

A unique element to boarding Forbidden Journey is that the ride vehicles never stop moving. Guests are required to step onto a slow-moving platform and take a seat while in motion. The loading process has been compared to Disney’s Omnimover system, utilized on attractions like The Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. But comparisons to those attractions end there as each of the four seats on the vehicles features an over-the-shoulder harness like those found on many roller coasters. Once you sit down in the snug seats and pull the harness down, you realize that there is no way this ride is going to be a slow-moving adventure.

Speaking of snug seats, it should be noted that a good number of guests are unable to ride Forbidden Journey due to their height and/or girth. There are test seats outside the attraction as well as before you reach the Sorting Hat. While Universal has released the ride’s minimum height requirement of 48″, they haven’t officially stated any maximums. But if you feel like you are taller than most or rather overweight, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to ride. Fortunately, you can still walk through the queue and enjoy the scenes presented within Hogwarts Castle.

For those who do fit properly in the seats, the Forbidden Journey begins with gentle music as you glide along the moving platform, which is surprisingly long. It takes somewhere around 15-30 seconds to make it from the initial loading area to the ride’s first scene.

Bringing the ride home

The entire ride (which lasts around four minutes) is far too dark to be captured well on video. Moreover, no video of this attraction would ever do it justice. Plus, you’re asked to stow any bulky bags or equipment in lockers before entering the queue. If you do hang onto anything, there’s also a small bin in the seat backs.

So rather than posting four minutes of video featuring almost nothing but blackness, I (with the aid of my wife Michelle) created a high-quality stereo audio recording of the entire attraction, which I have embedded below for your listening enjoyment. So you can either listen now and then continue to read my descriptions of each scene, or you can read the rest of this article first and then come back to listen afterward. Either way, I recommend listening using headphones to hear all of the details.

[wpaudio url=”http://media.libsyn.com/media/insidethemagic/HarryPotterandtheForbiddenJourney.mp3″ text=”Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey full ride audio” dl=”0″]

The ride begins

As you reach the end of the horizontally moving platform, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey truly begins upon spotting Hermione Granger once more. She stands ahead of you up on a balcony, ready to assist you in leaving the castle. Played by Emma Watson (of course), this rather lifelike image appears to be created using the same “musion” technology that places her, Ron, Harry, and Dumbledore in the ride’s queue (as you saw in the video above). This time, unfortunately, the effect is somewhat less believable and she looks less like she’s standing in the room with you and more like a video projection. But you only see her for a brief moment as she enchants your bench and whisks you away through the “floo network.”

Now, having recently watched all of the Harry Potter films, I am familiar with the notion of traveling by floo. Wizards and witches interested in making their way quickly from one part of the Wizarding World to another need only sprinkle some “floo powder” into a fire, state clearly where they want to end up, and jump in. But even knowing all of this, I didn’t grasp the fact that we were about to enter the floo network. We had been told by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the earlier classroom scene in the queue that we would be traveling out of the castle by “enchanted bench,” not by the floo network. And although just after passing Hermione you do travel through a bright green cloud of fog, I never made the connection to the green flame that accompanies any floo network passage.

While this may seem like a minute detail, it actually is rather representative of the entire Forbidden Journey ride. A lot of scenes seem to come and go for no reason other than to simply entertain. The overall story of the ride is set up in bits and pieces throughout the queue via messages delivered by a series of moving portraits, Dumbledore, Ron, Harry, and Hermione, but the entire message never fully comes together. Is the ride’s story about the fact that muggles (non-wizards) are being allowed into Hogwarts for the first time? Or is it about the fact that Hagrid has “lost a dragon,” as is mentioned in passing a few times? Or is it that Harry, Ron, and Hermione really want us to see a Quidditch match? Or is there really no story at all?

Decades ago, Walt Disney Imagineering (then WED Enterprises) developed the world’s first theme park based largely on one simple design “rule”: Everything starts with a story. Even something as seemingly small as the recent name change of Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel to Prince Charming Regal Carrousel was accompanied by an extensive story explaining the new name. And yet, in Forbidden Journey, it seems like story comes last behind state-of-the-art technology and in-your-face effects.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying Universal’s approach to Forbidden Journey is wrong. Even without a strong beginning, middle, and end-style story, the attraction is still an amazing ride unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Moreover, my favorite theme park attraction of all time, Disney’s Haunted Mansion, also only features a loose story that is not entirely clear to the average theme park goer. There are times when a clear plot isn’t needed for an attraction to work. But when it comes to a ride based on a 7-book and soon to be 8-film series, I was simply expecting a more coherent story to carry me through the experience. But instead, Forbidden Journey provides an impressive whirlwind tour of almost every scene and character you’d expect to show up in a Harry Potter-based adventure.

With all that aside, let’s return to the action…

Scene 1:

Upon entering the floo network, you find your enchanted bench suddenly lift up off the ground, through the green fog, and instantly begin flying through tight stone corridors. At the time of riding, I thought these were meant to be Hogwarts hallways but now I realize they are representative of flying through the chimney to get to the observatory.

How it’s done: Lifting off of the ground should be rather unexpected for any guests not realizing that the “enchanted benches” are actually some of the most technologically-advanced ride vehicles currently employed in any attraction, anywhere. These seats are attached to the end of a giant robot arm, created by a company called Kuka Industrial Robotics. Similar arms can be seen at Disney’s The Sum of All Thrills attraction at Epcot, though those arms are placed in a fixed position on the ground and feature just two seats on the end.

The arms utilized in Forbidden Journey are often referred to as a “robocoaster”, as the entire arm assemblies travel along a track while also offering complete freedom of motion in any direction for riders. The system is incredibly smooth and never jerks riders around. Quick motions from left to right, upward and downward, and any combination in between are never coupled with any harshness or unpleasant feelings. While the arms are technically capable of placing riders completely upside down and spinning them around, Forbidden Journey never does this.

But all of this technology is completely hidden from the view of riders. You will never actually see the rig you are attached to, though if you’re really interested in seeing it in motion, there area a few areas of the ride that can offer you short glimpses at the vehicle ahead or behind you if you know where to look. But I recommend not searching for it, as it does ruin the illusion of flying (as if reading this article hasn’t already).

In the specific instance of flying through the stone-walled chimneys, the robot arm acts as a motion simulator base with guests looking at projected images. You don’t actually fly through a physical set quite yet and, honestly, the chimney projection is not all that convincing. Fortunately, it is short and the next scene is far more immersive.

Scene 2:

Upon arriving in the observatory, you’ll find yourself flying at the top of Hogwarts Castle, looking out onto the surrounding scenery. Harry yells out the obvious fact that Hermione succeeded in making you fly and that he and Ron will be meeting up with you shortly. Passing from right to left, you gently fly through the wooden observatory, staring out at the sky and rolling hills. Each scenic view is presented through a large ornate archway. You pass by two of them and then are suddenly thrust through a third, flying beyond the comfort of solid ground and out into the open air next to Hogwarts Castle.

How it’s done: The entire observatory is a real set. It’s a startling switch to go from the video projection of initially flying through the chimneys and suddenly ending up in a highly-detailed real environment. This type of switch takes place numerous times throughout the ride and always left me thinking that the video-based sequences felt very fake whereas the scenes featuring real-life elements felt, well, real. It’s a combination that, in my opinion, works better in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, likely due to the fact that Spider-Man uses 3D glasses and projections. The video sequences on Forbiddden Journey are 2D and evoke a feeling more similar to The Simpsons Ride and Disney’s Soarin’ attraction, where it’s fun to experience them but you realize they’re not real while you’re watching it.

But while the juxtaposition of real life scenes with projected ones seems a bit odd at times, the actual transition between the two is incredibly smooth. Unlike Spider-Man which clearly takes you from screen to screen, throwing a few real-life elements in between, all of Forbidden Journey’s scenes seamlessly flow into one another, regardless of which type of scene you’re traveling across.

Scene 3:

Once you have flown out of the observatory, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley emerge, flying on brooms ahead of you. They are dressed in their Quidditch outfits and want you to follow them to the match. However, upon approaching a large Hogwarts Castle bridge, you briefly slow your flight as you spot Hagrid standing there, holding a large broken shackle at the end of a chain. He wonders if you’ve seen a dragon around. Well, sure enough, a huge dragon appears moments later and begins to chase you, Harry, and Ron, spitting fire while twisting and turning around you. Ultimately you take a turn toward what appears to be the Forbidden Forest.

How it’s done: This entire sequence is a video projection onto a dome surrounding you on all sides. Since the projection stretches all around you, you and the other three passengers with you in your vehicle are essentially immersed in your own private flight around Hogwarts. It’s a very unique twist on the motion simulator technology that makes The Simpsons Ride and Soarin’ possible. Unlike those attractions during which you’re likely to catch a glimpse of other riders and their vehicles, there is no chance of this happening on Forbidden Journey.

Unfortunately, these video projections are the home of my biggest complaints about this ride. While the actual physical motions of the vehicles are quite smooth, the video you’re moving in synch with is all over the place. One second your flying upward, then the next you’re taking a turn, then you’re back up, then down, and so on. I understand the designers’ desire to simulate what it would really be like to fly alongside Potter and the gang, but instead of flying with experts, I was left feeling like I was a first-time flyer that couldn’t keep under control. Because of the fast, hectic pace, you never get a moment to really take it all in.

As a result, you can almost never focus on anything. The projection moves so fast that everything ends up a blur. There are moments where it might as well not even have been Daniel Radcliffe or Rupert Grint playing their famous roles because you can’t even tell who they are due to the blurriness of the projection. It’s a truly unfortunate downfall for an otherwise fantastic attraction.

Scene 4:

Now, I’m not entirely sure of the location of this next scene. To try to evade the dragon, you take a sharp left turn into some kind of wooden building. Another part of Hogwarts? Perhaps some random wooden shack in the Forbidden Forest?

Update (6/6/10): As pointed out by “DniScribe” in the comments below, the wooden structure you enter while evading the dragon is supposed to be the covered bridge that is connected to Hogwarts Castle.

Regardless of what it is, the important thing is that the dragon is still chasing you, igniting the wooden structure around you, sending you flying for cover around every turn. Ultimately, after dodging your way through this collapsing building, you find yourself face-to-face with the dragon when it spits fire, sending you flying in a completely different direction.

How it’s done: This entire sequence is made up of real-life elements. You make a left turn out of the previous video projection sequence and into an area surrounded by wooden beams. Along the right side are wooden embers glowing red along with what appear to be claw marks. Just beyond those, a giant dragon wing is flapping outside the building as the roars get louder and closer. The wing is a memorable moment as it’s the first time in the ride you encounter a real life character of any kind. But it’s only setting the stage for the surprise that’s to come.

Just past the wing is one of my favorite moments of the ride. You continue weaving through the building until directly ahead a big expanse opens up revealing that you have reached the top of the structure. The ceiling comes to a point above you and you think you’re going to head along the top but suddenly you take a fast dive down back into the building. It’s a tough scene to describe, as there aren’t any specific landmarks to discuss, but it’s the first time during the attraction that you get a roller coaster-style sudden drop.

Just beyond that drop, the entire room lights up glowing red as an enormous animated dragon head appears right before your eyes. By animated, I don’t mean it’s a video or cartoon. I mean it is a real-life, full-size, articulated figure that is horned, grizzly, and quite angry. Fortunately, it appears that it could only lodge its head into the building and can’t quite get you. But it is literally only a few feet from you when it opens its mouth, screams, and blasts you with “fire” created by a whole lot of fog and flickering lights. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the ride.

Scene 5:

You’ve obviously found Hagrid’s missing dragon, but that’s the last you’ll see of him. You’re separated from Harry and Ron and nowhere near the Quidditch match. But rather than your enchanted bench leading you back to them, instead you suddenly find yourself deep within the pit of the Acromantulas (giant spiders). Darkness surrounds you but the occasional flash of light reveals that you’re surrounded by spiderwebs and plenty of 8-legged creatures. While at first they don’t seem so bad, as they’re no bigger than a large dog, it’s not long before they begin to launch venom at you. If that wasn’t bad enough, you encounter Aragog, parent to all of the smaller Acromantulas. You spend a moment getting to know Aragog up close before moving on deeper into the pit. Fortunately, Hermione magically appears amongst the spiders to whisk you out of there and back to the Quidditch pitch.

How it’s done: While extremely exciting, this scene is a bit baffling. I don’t entirely understand how we transition from getting blasted by a dragon within a wooden building to suddenly being down deep in the pit of the Acromantulas. That aside, once you’re there, the ride vehicles really come alive. This is another real-life scene, not a video projection, and it is very dark, often pitch black, and really disorients you. Only flickering strobes light the way, revealing spiders around every corner, on the walls and dangling from above. While winding around the spiders, you’re turning left, right, up, down, and even tilted sideways.

Depending on which seat you’re in, you may get quite wet during this scene, as many of the spiders spit at you. The left two seats are far more likely to get wet, possibly to the point where you’ll be dripping when you exit the ride. It’s fun and unexpected, but also possibly excessive at times.

Coming face-to-face with the giant Aragog spider is an exciting, but rather brief moment. If you blink, you might miss it entirely. Unlike the fully animated dragon from the previous scene, Aragog doesn’t seem to move at all. The motion of your vehicle combined with strobe lights offer a slight sensation of motion but really you just fly past the creature.

But the appearance of Hermione in the midst of all of this has me completely confused. You see her from the shoulders up peering through a hole in the wall. She is a video projection very similar to the one you saw at the very beginning of the ride. This time, however, it is completely out of place. She is just standing there, encouraging you to get out, but not really doing much else. I don’t understand how she got there or why she is there. But before you pass her, she tells you to watch out for the Whomping Willow on your way to the Quidditch pitch, which sets the stage for what’s to come.

Scene 6:

Leaving the Acromantulas pit, you are on your way back to Hogwarts Castle and, along the way, come mighty close to the famous Whomping Willow. In fact, you’re close enough to get whomped into the next scene.

How it’s done: This is one of the simpler scenes to describe and yet it works very well. You’re swung around and tilted on your back, facing upward, and you find yourself dangerously close to the Whomping Willow. And it’s really there. I’m sure there’s some clever visual trickery used here, but because you’re facing upward and staring at the top of this giant tree, you feel like you’re fifty feet in the air flying within inches of it. But the Whomping Willow is famous not only as a giant tree, but as a giant tree that swings its branches at you. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens here. This is once again a real-life scene and just as this real-life branch comes swinging at you, you’re thrust to the right and directly into the halfway point of the ride.

Scene 7:

Yes, that’s right, we’re only halfway through! Everything you have read since you first took off into the floo system has happened in the span of a mere 2 minutes. The good news is that you’re now back on course, as you’ve been whomped all the way to the Quidditch pitch and thrust right into the action. Suddenly, you’re caught back up with Harry and Ron in the middle of the Quidditch game. Harry yells out, “Where have you been,” as if you’d simply been strolling around a field. If only he knew you were nearly burned by a dragon, consumed by an Acromantula, and pummeled by the Whomping Willow. But it doesn’t matter, as the Quidditch game is in full swing and you’re in the middle of it.

The match is between Gryffindor and Slytherin and that means Harry is going head-to-head with Draco Malfoy. As always, Malfoy’s game is a bit dirty, talking trash and bumping Potter off course. After a few passes around the arena, it suddenly becomes clear that winning Quidditch is no longer the most important task at hand. Dementors have arrived.

Potter urges you to follow him as he leads you out of the Quidditch pitch and into total blackness.

How it’s done: This entire sequence is another video projection and it’s a ton of fun to fly through a Quidditch match, ducking and dodging around the flying quaffle (ball) while watching Ron defend his goal. The pace is so fast that you can never catch more than a brief glimpse of the action before it goes whizzing past you. I’m sure it’s quite representative of what flying in a real Quidditch game would be like, but I would prefer the action to have slowed down just a bit so I could actually see what’s going on. It’s all a bit like watching a Michael Bay movie if it were first-person. It’s nearly impossible to focus on anything specific, but it all still works for the most part.

You spend about 20 seconds flying around the Quidditch game before those creepy Dementors appear and chase you and Harry off. They chase you for another 15 seconds while you follow Harry before he leads you out of the arena.

Scene 8:

Dementors. Lots of them. They’re big, scary, and come way closer to you than you would ever have imagined you’d get to one. You’re twisting through complete darkness with more Dementors popping out from every corner. Some even follow you. Somewhere along the line you realize you’re in the Chamber of Secrets, as you fly by the skull of the Basilisk and through the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin. And just when you think you’re safe, you spot Lord Voldemort’s Dark Mark appearing amongst a cloud of fog and you know your luck just ran out. After that, more Dementors get even closer to the point where you can no longer escape their grasp. One locks you in its kiss, at which point you literally see your own soul being ripped from you in the form of your own face materializing in the fog. But fear not, as Harry Potter always comes to the rescue.

How it’s done: I believe this is the first time I have ever actually been physically startled by a dark ride scene since I rode Disney’s Haunted Mansion when I was very young. These Dementors are SCARY and they’re real. This is no video projection. As your vehicle gently glides through blackness, as if you are in a daze, you are suddenly thrust into super close proximity to the first Dementor, which seems to appear out of nowhere. It is huge, likely 10 feet tall, with skeleton bones emerging from its black draped cloth. And it’s fast. Something so large shouldn’t be able to creep up on you this quietly and quickly.

The first Dementor is unexpected and frightening. The next is scary. After that, unfortunately, the next few get a bit repetitive. They’re still extraordinarily cool, but you begin to scrutinize them a bit more the longer you have a chance to see them. What begins as a unique and scary character slowly devolves into a fabric-covered Halloween decoration. Perhaps some of the Dementors are more detailed than others. Or perhaps it’s that you get a better look at some of them when the lights come on. Either way, I remember some of them not looking as interesting as others.

My memory is a bit fuzzy as to exactly when you notice that Harry has led you into the Chamber of Secrets. Somewhere during this scene, you’ll definitely recognize the Basilisk skeleton as you go flying by it and later the giant stone head of Slytherin is quite obvious as you pass right through its mouth. Both are quite impressive set pieces.

The Dark Mark appears amongst the blackness via a creepy video projected onto a fog screen. If you’ve been on the updated version of Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom or at Disneyland and you’ve seen Davy Jones appear from the “waterfall,” then you know the type of fog screen I’m referring to. But in this case, rather than simulating a waterfall, the fog is used to make a giant skull appear.

The last Dementor you come face-to-face with has a wide open glowing mouth, simulating the Dementor’s Kiss, which is said to suck your soul right out of you. This hilariously creepy effect is achieved by projecting an image of your own face onto the same type of fog screen as above. Earlier in the ride, flashes of light were actually flashes used to take your photo for this moment. Out of the three times I rode it, I only saw my own face once, as the effect doesn’t always work. But when it does, it makes for a really excellent experience.

The scene ends with Harry exclaiming, “Get away from them!” Presumably he’s yelling at the Dementors and not you.

Scene 9:

Just as your soul is being ripped from your body, Harry Potter flies into the Chamber of Secrets with you and unleashes an “Expecto Patronum” onto the Dementors, driving them away. Unfortunately, at that moment, the chamber begins to cave in, but Harry leads you to safety and back to Hogwarts Castle. “To the Great Hall!”

How it’s done: Just after Harry exclaims “Get away from them!”, you’re thrust back into the final video dome projection of the ride. It’s almost over, but Harry’s got to take care of those pesky Dementors. But unlike his previous encounters with them, which required careful spell casting and great skill to create a Patronus Charm, he seems to be able to fire one off as if it’s nothing. With this being the climax of the ride, I was expecting a huge glowing Patronus blast like the one seen in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” It’s a moment that had the potential to be a real “wow.” Instead, the spell is rattled off rather matter-of-factly, blasting a single on-screen Dementor away before we continue flying behind Harry. It’s a bit disappointing and somewhat unfulfilling.

I’m not entirely sure why the Chamber of Secrets begins to cave in, other than the fact that it’s a pretty standard end to this kind of a ride. Your vehicle dodges falling rocks in all directions (much like in every other motion simulator you’ve ever been on) and when you emerge, Harry lets out the cliched line, “We made it!”

The flight back to Hogwarts Castle is a beautiful scene, passing over water and around a few turns before entering the Great Hall. Since you actually get to take a breath and look around for a second, it’s one of the better uses of the video projection sections of the ride. And it’s also the last.

Scene 10:

Your Forbidden Journey concludes when you reach the Great Hall and are immediately welcomed back by the entire Hogwarts school. At first you see a large crowd of students all cheering you on, including Harry Potter, the Weasley twins, and Ginny and Ron Weasley. After passing through there, you wind up in the moving portrait hallway where Dumbledore and more students wave and say goodbye. Dumbledore suggests that you “tuck your elbows in” just before you pass through the floo network once more on your way back to where you began. A quick flight through the chimneys and you’re welcomed back safely.

How it’s done: These two final scenes are the most similar to Islands of Adventure’s Spider-Man attraction. Each consists of a large floor-to-ceiling video projection surrounded by real life architecture. While both scenes are really nothing more than giant projected movies, the illusion of 3D is created by a perspective shift in the background. The same technique is utilized throughout the scenes in Spider-Man. As your vehicle moves from left to right, the foreground of the video remains static while the background of the shot shifts perspective, allowing you to see more as if you were truly traveling past a real space rather than a flat screen.

These final two scenes are a bit hokey, featuring a bunch of characters just standing around cheering at you. But they do serve as a final goodbye, allowing you to see everyone you have met on your Forbidden Journey one last time. You get the feeling that you truly were an outsider warmly welcomed into Hogwarts for a special occasion and are left feeling a bit sad that it’s all over.

Overall Impressions

Clearly Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has had an impact on me or I would not have written more than 5,500 words about it. It’s one of the most exciting and unique theme park attractions to be built in many years and certainly one that visitors to Orlando will flock to for years to come.

I tried not to nitpick the ride too much in my descriptions above. I have a tendency in reviews to often focus on the negative and not praise the positive enough. In the end, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an incredible attraction. Individually, some elements don’t come off as well as they likely could have. Video projections are sometimes blurry and hard to focus on. Scenes seem to come and go without any connection between them. But while the ride doesn’t necessarily take you through a linear story, it definitely takes you on an exciting adventure that very much mirrors Harry Potter’s own. You stumble through one enthralling happening after another, never quite sure how you’re going to make it out – but ultimately you always do.

As Harry Potter himself describes his own experiences, “…the truth is, most of that was just luck. I didn’t know what I was doing half the time. I nearly always had help.” And that basically summarizes Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Universal Orlando has created a believable world that you might already know a little (or a lot) about – but in the end, it takes a little luck and a whole lot of help from familiar faces to see you through the incredible adventure that leaves you wanting to experience it all over again.

To wrap this up, here’s the on-ride photo we purchased after our first ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We’re the two younger riders on the vehicle’s left side (closer to the dragon). I think the big smiles on our faces say it all.

And if you’re interested in seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before it grand opens on June 18, don’t miss our in-depth coverage:

  • Tour the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – 7 videos, 150+ photos
  • Walk through Hogwarts Castle and the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – Video & photos

    1. Kelly Smith

      One other thing. I spoke to management and they recommend NOT going to the ride first thing in the morning when there was a two hour wait just to enter that section of the park this past Mon thru Thur. Instead they said lines are no longer than 45-60 minutes after 3:00 P:M. I never waited in line longer than 1 hour in the afternoon.

    2. rachel

      I love harry potter so i am so excited to go in the fall! I am still deciding if I should go on forbidden journey or not. I HATE rollarcoasters and big drops where you feel your weight drop. are the drops on the ride like a rollar coaster at all? And how fast is it? I hate the feeling of not being able to breath because I am being zoomed from one place to another.I may just walk in the queue…

      1. Ricky Brigante

        No, there aren’t any real drops in this ride at all. The ride is not terribly fast. It moves you through each scene fairly quickly, as in you only see each scene for a short amount of time, but there is not any really fast movement.

    3. Claire

      I went first thing in the morning, right after breakfast, and I regretted it because I was queasy for at least an hour afterwards. It really kind of spoiled it for me. I am prone to motion sickness, though, so I wasn’t surprised. For those who are, I recommend going on an empty stomach!

    4. Jaycee

      I have a lot of trouble handling drops, but I am a Harry potter Fanatic and want the full expierience. Would you descibe the drop in this ride as comparable to Spiderman or more like The Mummy?

      1. I would compare it to Spidey ride since they both have very similar simulated ingredients, whereas the Mummy ride is more of a proper rollercoaster. One thing to note though is that the Forbidden Journey’s robotic arm creates more pronounced awkward angles than Spidey. For instance, you would find yourself tilted in a way so that your feet points upwards (not completely upside down, mind you, but in a good angle). But if you are a HP fan, hey, just go for it! You would not regret it as it is something that should not be missed by a HP fan.

    5. Thanks for this exhaustive review! We visited WWOHP last weekend and had a fantastic time. The highlight was the Forbidden Journey ride and we went for it thrice (wishing we could have done it more!). Your review really helped in filling up the blanks since I was dying to figure out certain sections/scenes which I had missed (or did not understand well). Fully agree with you on most of the points here. I too felt underwhelmed about the ending. It should have been a massive Patronus driving away all dementors. Instead, we get a feeble incantation. And I wasn’t too thrilled with the dementor-sucking-soul effect as it was clearly a just big LED-like light in the dementor’s face. It should have been more realistic. Other than that, the ride kicked ass!

      1. Frog

        Errrr… Well obviously the effect wasn’t working the day you went, because everyone I’ve talked to loves this effect! Did it show your face? Normally it shows your faces projected onto the fog, so that might have taken away from it too if you had the misfortune of it not working when you went on it…

    6. Charlie

      An amazing ride as the review describes. The sync between the visual and the physical was almost perfect. If they would convert the 2D projections to 3D, this would be the most outstanding ride in the amusement park world – the switch between the physical sets and the 2D projections was a little disconcerting but still worth the long wait!

    7. Niki

      Hi! Thanks so much for the awesome review!
      I plan on going to Orlando Florida with my family this march, and hopefully be going to Universal to check out this amazing park <3

      From what I've read (and seen) the ride looks amazing! I'm not a roller coaster person, but I read some of your replies and you said its not at all like a roller coaster, which I'm very happy about.

      I love HP, but I'm a bit un sure about the Dementors. I don't like this coming right up to my face like that. Is it really that scary? I'll close my eyes if I have to, but I really don't want to miss anything lol.

      And also, how dark does it get? I mean, is there any source of light coming from anywhere? As long as there is a bit of light, I'm good (:


      1. Ricky Brigante

        Yes, there is always a bit of light somewhere… otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see anything! :) The Dementors do get close, but back off quickly. It’s just a startle or two.

      2. Hello

        I not really know i understood completely that which you supposed by that, is it
        possible to broaden much more in cosmetic deals ?


    8. Mari

      Hey, Thanks for the review!!
      I do have a question that sort of ties in with the other “is it like a roller coaster” questions. As other users before me, I do not like drops; I’ll get on the Flying Unicorn, but that’s as far as I go.

      So how big is the drop, like foot wise? I can handle Spidey well enough, but I’m just a wuss when it comes to drops. ^^;

      1. Ricky Brigante

        You will not have a problem. It’s not really a “drop” as much as a controlled pull downward… maybe 5-7 feet. It’s over before you realize it even happened. If you can handle Spider-Man, you can definitely handle this ride.

      2. Max

        15 feet i’de say

    9. rachel

      Thank you so much for the encouragement! I normally HATE rides and chicken out before going on, but I went on Forbidden Journey and LOVED IT! I got there early, so I went on it 5 times in a row with no wait! If any of you hate roller coasters or feeling your weight drop, really do not worry. Trust me, I am scared of EVERYTHING, but this ride was so epically amazing. Tip: If you do not like feeling your weight drop, do not sit on the end on the left, when the ride tips you feel everything a lot more. I went on it once on the right and once on the left, there was a big intensity difference. And the dementors only go right up to the people sitting in the middle, if you are scared there. I personally loved the ride, but feel like the ending could have been better. It was also very difficult to understand the plot because you move so quickly, it was until my 3rd time that I understood what the characters were saying. I also think that they take the picture at a weird part, it should have been when the dragon breaths fire, when you are expected to scream or smile. Personally, the scariest part was when you go on your back, because it seems like you are about to go upside-down but don’t. :)

    10. Max

      Ok, i have been on the ride myself and i do agree that it could have been better, but i have been going to the Universal and IOA parks since i was 4 and this is my favorite ride now. There is no down to this ride besides the constant breaking down and the constant confusingness makes this ride a bit brutal but this ride will never get old.

    11. Jenny

      i absolutely loved this article because i always like to read about the ride before going on it. my question is that is it scarier than the ride dinosaur from animal kingdom at disney because my little sibbling was scared during that ride but i read that this was a family ride. are the spiders, dragon, and demon thing realistic and very scary? Im just worried about him having some sort of freak out and end up crying at the end of the ride. thank you for your time :)

      1. Ricky Brigante

        Yes, I would say Forbidden Journey is scarier than Dinosaur. Dinosaur is darker, as a whole, but Forbidden Journey has much more going on with a larger scale. The dragon does not entirely look like a real creature, but appears quite close. The Dementors are surrounded by darkness and seem to come out of nowhere.

    12. Kelly Young

      Thank you so much for this detailed description. My 9yo daughter was REALLY nervous about going, but we had flown all the way from California to go! She was sobbing as they pulled the restraints down, and I felt like a horrible mom – but she went a second time and now is telling all her friends how awesome it was. The first time she asked throughout, “where’s the drop?” – so I would say the “drop” is only 5-7 ft and really isn’t noticeable as a drop like a roller coaster. Definitely less than Pirates of the Carribean. She and I both closed our eyes a lot the first time around spiders & dementors, but opened a lot more the second time, and it wasn’t very scary. We are super wimps, and the part in the chimneys was really mild to me. I think people with motion sickness are likely to have more problems than super wimps. anyway, thanks to everyone for the comments. Definitely err on the side of going on the ride – it’s fine – you can always close your eyes. Also, they are doing a thing where you pick up a slip of paper near Sinbad with a return time (usually in just 1-2 hrs) – worked well to spread visitors out. We waited < 1 hr for the actual ride (Feb 24). We got a total of 3 slips of paper and went back to the HP land 3 times through the day (can't get into HP land at all without the paper).

      1. Ricky Brigante

        Thanks for your report. As I’ve written in a few comments above, the “drop” isn’t really a drop at all, but rather you being pulled downward in the ride vehicle. And it is quite short. It’s a fun sensation for just a second and then you move on.

        1. Kelly Young

          Yeah- you were definitely right. Someone else said something about 15 ft – so that was wrong info.

        2. Jon Lefkove

          What about any other parts? Tilting backwards on your back,or forwards.What about all of the motion by the spiders? I watched a video with people screaming over there? I wished I knew how everything felt,I think I might be forced onto this ride.I remember I had my eyes closed through most of the back to the future ride back in 1999.

          1. Jenn

            I don’t remember any drops as much as I remember a lot of tilting when I went on this ride. As the reviewer says, it’s sometimes confusing as to what direction you’re supposed to be moving. You feel as though you’re going forward, and then back, left and right, as decent speeds. I’m prone to motion sickness, and I was only good until about half-way through (reading the review, I’m guessing this was at the “drop” which felt more like falling backwards). After that, my motion sickness took over, and the ride seemed to go on forever! I couldn’t wait to get off! Since I was so focused on not puking, I don’t remember much of the actual scenes. Needless to say, THE RIDE IS INTENSE! NOT FOR THOSE PRONE TO MOTION SICKNESS! PERIOD!

            1. Jennifer

              OMG I am glad I’m not the only one! This ride made me feel so confused and awful. My husband and I came here for part of our honeymoon in June of 2011. We’re from San Diego, CA and I have always loved rides. Have been plenty of times to Disneyland, Six Flags (all of those crazy rides), Legoland etc. This was my first experience with motion sickness I suppose. I had a huge panic attack and wanted off I closed my eyes for the rest of the ride and prayed. The way the ride is I couldn’t enjoy it and focus on anything. WAY too jerky and just flashes of the screen and too dark of screens. I yelled at my husband to tell them to stop the ride but he was just like calm down… it’s ok… I was mad at him afterwards. From then on now I can’t go on 3D dark rides without my brain flipping out and going into panic mode. Motion sickness medicine only kinda helps but I think it’s more of a panic thing so that’s why. It was also super hot and humid during that season even locals were complaining. I was kinda feeling sick from the heat wave and the humidity was tiring. I’m used to mostly dry heat.

    13. Stephanie Sumners

      Thank you so much for the review! I was so worried about this ride since I refuse to go on roller coasters, and I scared my husband so bad about eight years ago when he made me get on Splash Mountian but I actually got off the ride on the side right before the big drop. (It shut the ride down. I had a really bad panic attack)We did get to see the back of the ride though.lol. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I really want to go on the ride when we go back to Orlando this summer, and you made it possible for me not to be scared about what I’m getting myself into. Thanks.

    14. BDS

      Wondering how the ride would be for a person with a fear of heights?

      1. Ricky Brigante

        There are no heights to be afraid of on this ride.

      2. Sarah

        It says in the warnings that people with a fear of heights should not go on the ride. I guess even if there are no real heights, it still looks and feels like you are flying.

    15. Michelle

      I was wondering if you could talk more on the “snug” fit of the ride. I’ve read that those that are “chesty” or have a waist more then 38″, you will not be allowed on the ride. We have people in our party of various heights & weights (5’2″ – 6’4″) and a few very “chesty” gals. Can you help us out on this? It seems a waste of time to wait thru everything and then not be able to ride.

      1. Ricky Brigante

        Since the attraction opened, Universal has added seats that can accommodate some larger folks, so you may not have a problem. There are seats outside the attraction that you can test prior to entering the line, so you don’t have to worry about unnecessarily waiting. With that said, the queue is just as entertaining as the ride itself, so even if some of your party can’t ride, they’ll still enjoy walking through the castle.

        Unfortunately, no specific measurements have been released regarding what sizes can and cannot ride.

    16. Tampa Jen

      We went this weekend – I took my tween daughter on it and she absolutely loved it. I have some other comments, though :)

      The review is right – the movie goes way too fast to enjoy; it’s very herky jerky. The ride itself if is technically excellent – until it stops and leaves you there for four minutes :P. Seriously. It got stuck. However, the biggest issue for me was that I was absolutely sick to my stomach for over an hour afterward. I don’t get seasick, carsick, or coaster sick, but this ride was horrible for me. Loved SpiderMan. Loved The Simpsons – but HP was too much for me to handle. Really thought I was going to barf. But, as I said, my tweener loved it, so maybe that’s more important :) If you’re sensitive, I would say you’re probably going to vomit lol…

      1. Jon Lefkove

        Was it because of the car’s motions,the video or both?

        1. Jenn

          My motion sickness was due to the car’s motions. Closing my eyes did not help at all, but actually made it worse. Although the video makes it hard to tell what direction you’re supposed to be moving, and that certainly didn’t help. Half the time it was hard to tell if I was supposed to be “flying” forwards or backwards, confusing my inner ear.

      2. Jenn

        I felt the exact same way. I started feeling sick about halfway through the ride, and it took an hour afterwards to fully get over it. This ride is NOT for those prone to motion sickness!

      3. David

        This ride was awful for me. I’m not a coaster person but I enjoy log flumes. I’ve also taken the spider man ride and loved it. However, somewhere about half way through this HP ride I started to feel queasy, and it only got worse… Even closing my eyes didn’t seem to help. By the time I got off, I was on the verge of vomiting, and it took me over an hour to stop feeling really nauseous. The last time I was motion sick was in 1998 on a small aircraft in extreme turbulence (tornadic weather over Denver) so if you get even slightly motion sick then avoid this ride.

    17. Caitlin

      I am going on this ride this week and i am terrified. I dont know what it is. I read all these reviews saying how great it is but i am still scared. Should i be? How long are you on your back for? Does it feel like you go upside down? Is it a scary ride? Thankyou!

    18. Ken Poppins

      Need a question answered. Those video domes. Is one video dome assigned to each ride vehicle, so they’re essentially moving with us? My guess is that there might be a series of two or four in a giant carousel and we just rotate with them. Help!

    19. David

      Just went to Universal today. Got to ride Harry Potter 8 times! The rest of my family only wanted to go once – it did make them a bit queasy from motion sickness. I loved it! The single rider line was a big help – got to go several times very quickly.

      Ken’s question about the video domes was one thing I was very curious about. Since the ride vehicles are spaced fairly close together I was wondering how the video was managed for each vehicle. Yes, there is a separate dome that travels with each vehicle through those sections. I leaned forward just enough to see the the edge of the dome. And if you look closely as you transition back to the live sequence you can see the dome video turn off and the dome continue off on it’s own track to circle around.

      This was my first time on this kind of ride. Later in the day I went on Spider Man and see how that was the stepping stone to Harry Potter. There the video screens are all static and it’s more obvious how you go through live sections and then stop in front of a screen for a video sequence. The traveling video domes are very, very clever.

      I did not find the video to be such a problem – I felt the synchronization was great with the video and the motion of the the ride vehicle.

      I had a great time!

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    25. Jackie

      Thanks so much for posting this! I’m going to share it with my sister, she loves Harry Potter but isn’t much of a fan of thrill rides.


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