After having taken three rides on the new “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park, I can safely say that it is like nothing you have experienced before. But does that mean it is a “game changer” or just a unique ride that doesn’t quite live up to the hype? Read on for my thoughts…
(Quick note: As the title of this article suggests, this is a completely spoiler-free review of the new ride. If you’re interested to know all the details about it, check back later for my spoiler-filled review, elaborating on what I have written below.)
Getting to ride Forbidden Journey (as I’ll refer to it from here out) was a long time in the making. Anticipation for this attraction, and the rest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, has been the highest I’ve seen for any theme park addition in recent history. Personally, my own excitement level for this ride has been rising since I saw the first signs of Hogwarts Castle being constructed many months ago.
Finally having a chance to preview the rest of the Wizarding World this past weekend relieved some of the built-up anticipation, but Forbidden Journey wasn’t working at the time, leaving it as the only element of the highly-detailed theme park expansion I hadn’t yet seen. But today was my moment to finally step foot onto the ride that has been hailed as a new generation of theme park attractions, utilizing only the latest and greatest technology.
I had previously walked the halls of Hogwarts Castle, having taken the “castle tour” that Universal was offering this past weekend when Forbidden Journey was not operating properly. So I knew the ride’s basic premise, set up by the various scenes shown to guests within the queue.
Upon finally sitting down in one of Forbidden Journey’s unique ride vehicles (which I won’t discuss specifically here – spoiler-free!), I was feeling anxious, excited, and, for lack of a better word, giddy. I had managed to avoid reading any specific details about the ride online as to not spoil it for myself, though I had a pretty good assumption of what I would be seeing simply due to the fact that it’s a ride based on the Harry Potter series.
As to the contents of the ride, in this spoiler-free review all I will include is that if you’ve seen the movies or read the books and ever imagined what a Harry Potter theme park ride would be like, you’ve likely dreamed up many of the scenes present in Forbidden Journey. But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of surprises.
From the moment Forbidden Journey begins, guests are thrust into the world of Harry Potter. Familiar sights and scenes are present throughout the ride. I won’t include the actual ride duration here (spoiler-free!), but I will say that it feels longer than it actually is – and I mean that in a good way. Each time you may think the ride is ending, you’ll be amazed to find that there is even more excitement in store.
Encounters along the way evoke excitement, thrills, and even a few sudden startle-scares. In fact, many of the scenes are scary enough that younger gets may actually find them downright frightening. The dimly-lit queue sets the stage for the ride rather well, as most of the scenes within Forbidden Journey are quite dark. Through carefully placed lighting, well-timed special effects, and a fine-tuned ride system, guests are sure to not miss a single happening, but can also be guaranteed to never have a firm grasp on which way is up. Forbidden Journey has the unique ability to simultaneously be completely disorienting and yet still keep the focus on what’s happening around you. And scenes do literally unfold around you. I don’t think there is an inch of the space allotted for this ride that isn’t utilized as part of the show.
It’s tough to compare Forbidden Journey to any other attraction. It’s a truly unique experience, as it combines several styles of rides. It’s a motion simulator. It’s a dark ride. It’s a thrill ride, albeit a somewhat gentle one. Many are comparing it to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, another state-of-the-art (despite its age) ride that is also at Islands of Adventure. While there are some clear comparisons to be made there, simply due to the fact that both rides utilize a combination of real life elements and film projections, that’s where the comparison ends. Forbidden Journey takes the Spider-Man concept, minus 3-D, and runs with it.
Where Spider-Man takes guests through a comic book world with animated characters, Forbidden Journey immerses you into one featuring real actors and realistic scenes. As such it is easier to scrutinize it. Suspension of disbelief is easy when you are inserted into Spider-Man’s world of primary colors and zany over-the-top characters, but for a ride set in the world of Harry Potter, a certain sense of really real reality needs to be present. Some of the scenes in Forbidden Journey do make you feel like you have entered into true-to-life, but out-of-this-world places. Even so, some moments still fall a bit flat and reveal some obvious flaws that rip you out of the fantasy briefly. These may be improved in time, as Forbidden Journey is still in “technical rehearsals.”
While the amount of entertainment that is packed into Forbidden Journey is impressive, I do feel a couple of the scenes are unnecessarily long and repetitive. Likewise, the actual story line of the attraction is fairly weak and gets lost rather quickly amongst a splattering of familiar Harry Potter scenes and characters. Throughout the ride, Forbidden Journey feels less like it’s telling a story and more like it’s merely a montage of memorable elements from the Harry Potter series all crammed into a single attraction. The Potter-verse is huge and nearly everything that isn’t seen elsewhere in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is included in this ride – sometimes to a fault.
Some of the creatures you encounter throughout the ride are definitely more lifelike than others. Similarly, some of the scenes are more elaborately decorated and designed than others. The result is a slightly disjointed experience, where one second you’re staring at something that you believe could really reach out and touch you, but the next you’re looking at what could be described as oversized Halloween decoration (albeit a rather expensive and complex one). Fortunately, the totally believable sets and characters far outnumber the less-than-realistic ones.
Your Forbidden Journey through famous Harry Potter scenes takes place surprisingly gently. While there are many loud and literally in-your-face elements to be found throughout the ride, the actual movement you feel is completely smooth. Unlike Spider-Man, which spins and whips you from scene to scene, Forbidden Journey calmly glides between them. This gentleness is incredible given the range of motion guests encounter, quickly maneuvering left, right, up, down, and even occasionally (and briefly) turned onto your back, though it never places you completely upside-down. The ride sustains its grace throughout all of its quick motions and never subjects riders to any type of jerkiness. It may very well be the smoothest ride I’ve ever been on. Hardcore thrill ride junkies will find Forbidden Journey’s motion to be on the tame side, but casual riders who find any roller coaster to be exciting will find plenty of thrills throughout this ride.
Each ride vehicle (minor spoiler!) has four seats and the experience varies greatly depending on which you end up in. I have sat in three of the four spots and found the far left seat gets the most scares and the far right seat offers the most thrilling motion. But the best of the three is definitely the second seat from the left. While the experience isn’t hugely different from seat to seat, both my wife and I found the most enjoyment from sitting in that particular seat. Perhaps you could consider it the “sweet spot” of the ride.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has shaped up to become my favorite Universal Orlando attraction, but definitely not my favorite overall theme park attraction (Disney’s Haunted Mansion easily still holds that title). A big part of what makes Forbidden Journey work is that it’s actually the climactic chapter on an entire experience that begins the moment you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Walking through Hogsmeade Village, approaching Hogwarts Castle, and winding through its many corridors meeting characters along the way, all set the stage for the ultimate journey through the universe of Harry Potter. If you consider the entirety of Hogwarts Castle to be the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” attraction, and not just the ride portion of it, then I am truly amazed by it. Unfortunately, the ride portion itself, while quite spectacular, does suffer from some flaws that are not present elsewhere in the Wizarding World. A stronger story carrying from beginning to end would have really pulled the entire ride together in a perfect package. As is, those without any prior Potter knowledge will still have fun, but may leave the ride puzzled as to what exactly they just saw.
But I must emphasize again that what Universal Orlando has created with this attraction is truly like nothing you have experienced before. The magic of Harry Potter’s Wizarding World has been completely embodied by this attraction and, even with its flaws, it is still a jaw-dropping journey that no one should miss.
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: