Hey everyone! I don't do these often, but I did one for Everest the moment I got on it, and now that I've ridden three times, now I'll do one for Forbidden Journey.
First off, I didn't want to repeat what's already on the web on other early reviews. But there are some things out there that are wrong or that I just don't agree with. So I will not leave out anything. Also, feel free to ask questions. I'll be most happy to answer whatever you can dish out!
The queue begins at the gates to Hogwarts. The school's name is displayed in the stone gate itself... but if you look very closely you will find a very similar effect that is found on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror / Hollywood Tower Hotel fiber optic sign. This one is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey / Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's a nice touch. Also located at the entrance are test seats. The height requirement to ride is 4 feet tall, but if you're over 6' 7'' you might be too tall to ride depending on if your height is in your upper or lower body. If you just have long legs, you're good. If your upper torso is big, forget about riding. Also, you must be secured very tightly. So larger guests won't be able to ride either. If you can't ride, don't fret though. The castle's queue is excellent in its own right.
After walking through the gates, you enter the cliff of the mountain that Hogwarts sits on top of. Once inside, lockers are located to your right, and the queue continues to the left. Only larger items need to go into the lockers. Smaller items stored in your pockets should be fine as long as they are secured. As you move under the castle through the Hogwarts Dungeon, you'll see some artifacts, such as the Mirror of Erised, a magic mirror, which, according to Albus Dumbledore, shows the "deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts." Unfortunately, it didn't appear to do anything on my visit, and I was unable to determine if it actually does do anything. Continuing through the dimly lit dungeon, savvy guests will notice that the lighting is all done in a way that makes logical sense, as opposed to theatrical. You don't see any lighting that looks theatrical in nature, and all the ceilings are completely finished. IE no exposed ACs or black ceilings commonly found in show buildings. This is the real deal. The lighting is done like you would expect Hogwarts to have lighting, nothing looks artificial, save for the Exit signs, which are there for legal and safety purposes.
Upon leaving the castle dungeon, you enter the outdoor section of the queue. This area is dominated by the castle greenhouse. There's really not a lot to the greenhouse, it's just there. It is very well aged though, and has vines wrapping about. I believe mist will come out of the blooms on the vines eventually, but it was not working when I walked through. The greenhouse disguises a series of ramps that actually take you to the second floor of the show building. Once inside Hogwarts, the theming continues to be be excellent.
The interior rooms of Hogwarts are primarily made up of scenes from the films, and they are executed brilliantly. I was only hoping to see more stairs and moving portraits. (The room that houses the portraits is very tall, but far too small and doesn't capture the amazing moving staircase scene from the first film very well.) The four main portraits in the "portrait room" are that of the founders of Hogwarts. They tend to argue quite a bit. Other portraits are present as well, my favorite being the fat opera lady. (I'm sorry, I don't know her name) The portraits are very well done. The technology behind them is a very dimly lit LCD screen that has a sort of painted molded glass in front of them. It almost looks like canvas, and I think adds a lot to the experience. One thing I did notice though is that the loops on these portraits are far too short. Same with really everything in the queue. If you were to get stuck in the queue, I'd wager you'd hear the same thing over and over every 2-5 minutes. And that's not just with the portraits, which brings me to the next technology used in the queue...
Video Pepper's Ghost. It's used at the Disaster attraction next door at Universal Studios Florida, and to Disney fans, it's a video based version of the famous ballroom scene done for The Haunted Version. In the Potter queue, it's used to bring Albus Dumbledore, Ron, Harry, and Hermione to life. Albus comes alive in a faithful recreation of his office, where he welcomes you to Hogwarts. You learn here that it is actually the first time that Muggles have been invited inside. Albus mentions that you have been personally protected by his own charms that he has cast upon you. He then directs you to the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, to enjoy a lecture on Hogwarts by a professor. When you enter the Classroom, you're sure to notice that Ron, Harry, and Hermione are on the balcony, and they insist that the lecture you're about to see is going to be incredibly boring, and that it would be much more exciting to see the Quidditch game. In order to get there though, you'll have to sneak out of the castle and fly there... though, you being a Muggle, a broomstick just won't work for you. So instead, Hermione will enchant a bench to fly to get you there. Ron demonstrates one of his own charms, which doesn't quite work... he makes it snow or thunderstorm instead. Hermione fixes it, and then they leave, back under their invisibility cloak.
You then enter the Gryffindor Common Room. This is where you are reminded to be ready to board... or leave. One interesting tidbit, if you're wearing flip-flops or really any type of shoe that is not secure on the heel, you'll be supplied with rubber bands to attach them to your heel. The ride is not safe to ride with you sitting on your shoes, (contrary to Dragon Challenge, formerly Dueling Dragons) and Universal will not hold your shoes for you. So rubber banded my feet went.
Down the final hallway, we encounter the sorting hat. The sorting hat delivers the safety spiel. A perfectly done animatronic! Then, it was on to the boarding area.
With candles floating above you, you enter the boarding area. The loading system is omni-mover-like... but interestingly enough, the belt moves much more quickly than other attractions like, say, the Haunted Mansion. This is accomplished by entering the belt from the side as opposed to from either end, and by the assistance of an intermediate belt located between the fast moving belt and the actual cement floor. This middle belt moves about half-speed to assist you in the speed transition. The belt itself is not really a belt, but a series of interlocking plastic parts... just like the one found on Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit. You then take your seat.
For the techies, I give you the specs: The ride is exactly 4 minutes and 6 seconds long. Each vehicle (an enchanted bench) can hold four guests. Each seat is equipped with an over the shoulder restraint, side walls, overhang (think Soarin' but much lower), and an individual sound system. The technology behind the bench... that's another story. Your bench is actually attached to an amazing giant robotic Kuka arm on a track. (Just a normal bus bar for your ride tech geeks. It's not a coaster track by any means) The neat thing is that you'd never notice that it's on an arm unless I told you, because you never actually see the arm during the ride... unless you look off to the side and try to find out instead of just sitting back in your seat. Okay, so enough with the seating specs, let's get on to the ride...
Your "bench" is dispatched by a wave of the ride operator's hand, all done without stopping once. Hermione magically appears in front of you, enchants your bench, and you're up and away. The ride begins with a transitioning movie screen, just to get you out of the castle, and then you enter the first of three movie carousel sections of the ride. (Think Horizons or the original Journey into Imagination.) Your kuka arm base and the carousel of movie screens are traveling at equal speed, but to the rider, it feels like you are completely stationary... just like a motion simulator for four people... similar to Soarin'. This effect and the movies are extremely well done though. So well done, that it took me three rides to even realize how it was accomplished so seamlessly. Okay, I know I'm getting way too far into the technology now, so I'll concentrate on the story from here on out.
Upon leaving Hogwarts, you see the three main characters, and then you encounter Hagrid, asking if you've seen his misplaced dragon... well, bingo, you just found the dragon. The dragon begins chasing you. First in the movie, and then you kind of roll-out of the movie... these are extremely well built scenes and sets. Things get VERY close to you. The large wooden bridge that crosses the ravine of Hogwarts has been charred by the dragon, and as you move through it, you encounter the wings of the dragon, and then the dragon comes face to face with you... about a foot in front of your face. He breathes smoke on you, and then you get out of there! But you've found yourself in the Forbidden Forest. From this point on, the ride gets very dark and downright creepy. You encounter tons of spiders, many of them slinging web on you. Aragog is among them, but I'm not sure if he actually does anything. If he's an animatronic, he wasn't moving when I rode. During the spider sequence, there is a lot of lightning around you, and one of those flashes is a photo. Projected wall fog AKA "The Davy Jones Effect on Pirates of the Caribbean" is also used here to go through a spiderweb.
Eventually we see a quick video of Hermione telling us to get out of here, and she'll help us make our way to the game, but watch out for the Whomping Willow. Well, sure enough, we come face to face with the giant tree, and it gets EXTREMELY close to us. Too close for comfort really. Then we finally make it into the Quidditch match. This is another video carousel segment of the ride. We chase after the golden snitch for a bit with Harry, but then, out of no where, for no apparent reason, DEMENTORS! They come after us, and they really do. We're back in the live portion of the ride now, and the dementors are really popping up just about everywhere. One dementor targets us and starts feeding on our souls, and we do see our souls being sucked out of us in front of us... like your face is starring back at you thanks to that photo that was taken when we were in the spider sequence. We then move into the final video carousel, and Harry gets rid of the dementors, and takes us back to Hogwarts and the Great Hall.
The Great Hall itself is nothing more than a couple of video screens, so that was a bit of a let down... but okay. Albus thanks us for coming, and then sends us back to the Room of Requirement, which is where we boarded our benches. He reminds you to "watch your elbows," and after a quick video of hallways, we wind up right back where we started, on the moving belt.
Exiting, you walk down a stairway, and enter the gift shop. On-ride Photos are available for purchase, and the lockers are just off to the right to get your items that you stored.
And that is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It is by far the most fantastic and innovative attraction I have ever ridden. Although the storyline has a few holes, and it's not entirely without some malfunctioning elements, I will say it is probably the best attraction I have ever ridden, anywhere. Indiana Jones is a close second, followed by Spiderman.
Now, as for what to compare it to... you can't compare this thing. But there are people that say it's like Spiderman. IT'S NOT. It's like a combination of Soarin', Dinosaur, Horizons, Disaster, Sum of All Thrills, and Haunted Mansion, all thrown into a ride at the same time with a theme of Harry Potter. NOTHING is like it. Only time will tell if it lives up to its expectations, but let me tell you, I had very high expectations, and it exceeded mine.
It does have room for improvements, but since it's still a soft opening, I expect more improvements to be made soon anyhow, so I'm not going to even comment on a few issues I had with it.
So, bottom line, it's a 10 out of 10. Your thoughts? Questions? Comments? Donations?