Yer a roller coaster, Hagrid. And a thumping good one at that…
Wizards and muggles alike descended upon Universal Studios Orlando last week to check out the brand-new addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While it’s lengthy title — Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure — is a little rough around the edges, rest assured that everything else about this ride is not.
It’s a spectacle to behold and an unbelievable thrill to experience, even bringing a profound warmth to my stone-cold Slytherin heart. Dare I say that this is the best ride to come out of the Harry Potter theme parks and Universal Studios as a whole. And the public seems to agree — within an hour of its official opening, it boasted a staggering 10-hour wait time and has seen multi-hour waits in the days since.
EW had the opportunity to visit the ride before it opened, and here are all of the features, secrets, tips, tricks, and Easter eggs that Hagrid’s has to offer — lots of photos included!
In accordance with the geography established by the films, the ride is nestled adjacent to Hogwarts Castle within the Hogsmeade section of Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The coaster tracks and queue building are situated in an area that spans over seven acres (more than Orlando’s Hogsmeade AND Diagon Alley lands combined), designed to look like ruins of abandoned school grounds. Universal’s creative team also added a lake and planted over 1,200 trees so riders will feel complete immersion in the Forbidden Forest during the duration of the three-minute, nearly a mile-long outing.
From the opening scene in Sorcerer’s Stone delivering baby Harry to the steps of the Dursley’s home to the ill-fated battle of the seven Potters in Deathly Hallows, Hagrid’s trusty motorbike has remained one of the most iconic modes of transportation in the franchise. Now, fans will finally have the chance to board the famous, occasionally temperamental, vehicle for Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class (because it wouldn’t be a COMC class if there wasn’t something unpredictable and potentially dangerous with flying capabilities to take you for a ride, right?).
Just like class, Hagrid’s voice guides you along your journey and points out all the mysterious critters you should be keeping your eyes peeled for. More on those later…
Good news for all you riders with a fear of heights: unlike most roller coasters which are situated hundreds of feet into the air, this takes a more grounded approach! And there are no fully upside-down moments here (save for one close call I’d rather not spoil) and another jaw-dropping incident that free-fall ride enthusiasts should get a kick out of.
My favorite part? The coaster features more launches than any other in the world (seven total) and reaches a top speed of 50mph. If you can, I highly recommend taking this baby for a spin at night. You feel that much more engulfed by the forest, with only the bike’s headlight to guide you along the way.
This is arguably the most unique element of the adventure. Given you’ll be waiting a decent amount of time in line, it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss and decide on the ultimate question: Motorbike or sidecar seat?
Trust in Harry Potter art director and creator of the ride, Alan Gilmore, to inform your decision: “There are seven motorbikes and each seat gives you a completely different experience. My favorite one is the front motorbike if you’re a little bit of a thrill seeker.”
Out of chance, I rode in the front row both times and can concur, it’s exhilarating. Personal preference would be the motorbike seat, as you get to sit up higher and grip the handlebars like you would a normal bike. It’s such a new and singular feeling that I have never felt on a roller coaster before, plus you also get the added joy of hitting the “dragon fire” button to blast you out of a sticky situation (just wait until Hagrid instructs you to do so).
Luckily, you’ll have plenty to entertain yourself while enduring those long waits. The queue is an experience in and of itself and there’s plenty to feast your eyes on (see later in this post). “[The line] is very dense.” says Gilmore. “Our filmmaking ambition was to take a queue and a ride and make them into one thing. So, there is no separation, the ride and the queue are all the same experience. It’s basically a series of movies…And like a movie, you can control it. You can control the light, you can control the storytelling.”
You’ll also step into the motorbike workshop, where a pre-show introduces you to Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) as they demonstrate some of the “adjustments” they’ve made to the bike to properly accommodate your class’s journey.
It’s not lost on anyone that Hagrid loves wild beasts as much as Dumbledore loves knitting patterns, so expect to see many on your excursion. Centaurs, pixies, and unicorns, oh my! Even Fluffy, the colossal three-headed canine, makes an appearance. And leave it to Universal to spare no detail – you’re met with scents all along the way, including giant dog breath. You may also have a brief run-in with Devil’s Snare, the hostile constricting plant straight out of Sorcerer’s Stone.
Most notably, you’ll encounter a creature from the books that has never been seen before in the films. Enter the notorious Blast-Ended Skrewt (Notorious B.E.S., if you will), a hybrid of Hargid’s own making by breeding Manticores and Fire Crabs. Get too close though and — unsurprisingly — it’ll blast you from its rear-end. But fear not, it smells better than you might expect.
Taming the skrewt is the gentle half-giant himself, Hagrid, brought to life via a stunningly detailed animatronic with the voice of Robbie Coltrane (the actor returned to the role to record new lines specifically for this).
THE EASTER EGGS
Harry Potter uber nerds, this section is for you. I spent a good two hours scanning every inch of wall, ceiling, and décor of the queue to bring you a comprehensive list of all the notable Potter tidbits adorning this ride.
After a winding outdoor path past some vegetation, a winged saw-horse, and the backside of Hagrid’s Hut (part of the adjacent Flight of the Hippogriff ride), you head into the aforementioned ruins. Upon entering, you’ll pass a gorgeous relief sculpture of a mermaid from the Black Lake surrounded by a couple of Grindylows.
The next room you come upon is a fun one. At first glance, it looks like a dingy circular room defaced with unintelligible graffiti of Hogwarts students past. But look closely here, it’s chock-full of amusing nods to the Harry Potter universe.
Here are all the ones I could make out:
A painting of a hippogriff dominates the room. Get a little closer and…
“Watch out Malfoy, there’s a hippogriff behind you!” a joke about Malfoy being “attacked” (I use this word lightly) by Buckbeak in his third year. Someone award whoever wrote this 10 points for superb wise-cracking.
Written behind you over an archway, “Merry thought was neither merry nor thoughtful today.” Poetry? Ramblings of an unhinged prefect? I welcome any thoughts.
Next, another faded painting, this time of what I believe to be an Occamy nesting an egg. First seen in Fantastic Beasts, these winged snakes with bird heads grow and shrink to occupy the available space around them.
Underneath that, the Ravenclaw house motto, “Wit Beyond Measure is Man’s Greatest Treasure.”
Now for my favorite: take a look at the bottom left corner and you’ll see a heart with two initials written inside. My Potter senses are tingling.
James and Lily Potter! Gryffindor sweethearts and Harry Potter’s devoted parents (you’ll have plenty of time waiting in line to dry your tears).
Now back to that Occamy… another apparently hungry students writes, “Now that was a fancy breakfast” with an arrow pointing to the nested egg. Are scrambled Occamy eggs part of typical breakfast fare in the wizarding world? Newt Scamander would not approve.
Moving right along — we next see a festive bird I believe to be a Fwooper (a magical avian with insanity-inducing screeches) with “I miss my owl” next to it.
Here we have some more ramblings of students going through psychological crises at the ripe age of 12, “Classes are really taking their troll on me.” Is this considered wizard trolling?
Oh hey, some Hufflepuff pride!
And that’s my cue to get out of this room, as I’m beginning to feel like Charlie Day in the Pepe Silvia scene from It’s Always Sunny.
Along the following hallway, you’ll find a mural featuring two dragons and the words “Dueling Club.”
This is actually Universal’s own homage to the Dragon Challenge ride that occupied this space before Hagrid’s was built. Challenge was, in fact, a rebranding of the even older Dueling Dragons, two coasters that existed in the space before the Harry Potter lands were even built. It featured neighboring inverted coaster tracks — red “Fire” and blue “Ice” — that would “duel,” bringing riders within inches of the other train. With the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, the coasters were rethemed so that guests could chose to ride the Hungarian Horntail coaster or the Chinese Fireball, similar to the Triwizard Tournament champions in Goblet of Fire.
Now here’s a drawing of a sad Mandrake for fun.
Take a look at the fireplace in the next room – it appears some roaming fire salamanders have left their ashy tracks all over the place.
More student doodles! Here we have some unicorn paraphernalia, a werewolf or “wuff,” and some fan art for Celestia Warbeck, the wizarding community’s hottest singing sensation. Never seen in the films, J.K. Rowling gave readers a deep dive into her history via Pottermore and park visitors can even catch her performing back in Diagon Alley across the way at Universal Studios.
A faded sketch of a centaur. Cute.
And a giant rat with some thestrals…
It appears Hagrid owns a hefty amount of eggs of various sizes.
There’s also an informational hanging poster about eggs that was in fact created by MinaLima, the design studio behind all of the films. According to Gilmore, they were “hugely involved” with Universal in helping create some of the more artistic elements of the queue — “…especially the Monster Book. They are so much part of this iconic world.”
Eggs, eggs, and more eggs. But, oh wait, what’s that glint of gold that just caught my eye?
It’s none other than the Golden Egg from the first challenge of the Triwizard Tournament. Another nod to the Dragon Challenge ride, this having lived in the line for that as well. It’s a bit of a tough find, tucked away in the bottom shelf of a cabinet.
Is this the giant squid of the Black Lake finally getting some love?
Another drawing of an Occamy.
This one stumped me. I can only guess this is a Crumple-Horned Snorkack given the horn and hump, but they’ve never been spotted outside of Luna’s ramblings so…
After the egg room, you’ll venture through some caverns and ultimately find Hagrid’s workshop. Here you’ll find some more MinaLima art in the form of instructive creature cards.
Even everyone’s favorite kleptomaniac, the Niffler, makes an appearance.
A big part of the ride’s narrative is Hagrid’s dabbling in illegal experimental breeding to create the gnarly Blast-Ended Skrewt. Seen here around his workstation are materials on the parent species, the Manticore (a beast of mythological origin with a lion body, human face, and scorpion tail) and the Fire Crab.
The books on the tables are also open to the corresponding magizoological pages. Those books should look familiar by the way — it’s the Monster Book of Monsters, of course.
Finally, you’ll wait in one last serpentine room until you get to board your bike. This room is pretty straightforward, except for something occasionally having a fit above you through the wooden slats in the ceiling. Could it be some Skrewts having temper tantrums or perhaps the motorbike going for a test run?
While there’s so much more Potter goodness to take in during the actual ride, I’ll think I’ll keep those spoilers to myself.