The attraction at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that Universal Orlando is most excited about is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride they revealed to press and "Harry
Potter" fan site webmasters on Wednesday. MTV got a chance to be one of the first inside Hogwarts castle, which is much more than just a pretty and accurate exterior.
Wizarding World creative director Thierry Coup said a couple months back that just waiting in line for the ride portion of Forbidden Journey was worth the time, and Wednesday's visit explained why. Many of the iconic rooms and areas of Hogwarts castle that have been described in the "Harry Potter" books and seen in the movies have been re-created inside Universal's version of Hogwarts castle.
"It's the most immersive queue ever created," said Alan Gilmore, production consultant for the park and art director for some of the films. "Every moment here is a wonderful moment, really. You just take it all in."
The experience starts at the entrance to Hogwarts, where statues of winged boars like the ones from the film version of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" can be seen. A sign below says, "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," but Gilmore revealed that when the park is opened on June 18, there will be a "magical" effect that will make it seem as though the words "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" will appear etched by wand over the sign. Guests will enter through the dungeon level of the park, where they will walk through in either the express, singles or regular line. The express line will miss out on the majority of the tour of Hogwarts. The dungeon area is designed with no "walls," to look as though it has been carved out of the mountain. Attendees will walk by the One-Eyed Witch statue and the Mirror of Erised, which Harry Potter sees in "The Sorcerer's Stone."
After passing through the dungeon area, visitors will go outside to the Hogwarts greenhouse, where Professor Sprout's class studies Herbology. Coup and Gilmore said there is still horticulture to be planted before the park opens — but there were "sleeping" mandrake roots in a cage near the entrance back into the castle and there will be a giant vine, like in the films, creeping around the greenhouse.
The entrance back into the castle is what Coup called the "Oxford Corridor," and was basically a re-creation of the many corridors Harry and his friends walk through in the films. There is a statue of the architect of Hogwarts, who is standing with a lion, badger, snake and eagle to represent the four houses. At the end of the corridor is the griffin statue which, in the books and film, provides a magical staircase to Dumbledore's office.
Past the statue are moving paintings, which Universal used special technology to re-create. The first is of Professor Swoopstikes, who is talking about insects to the guests. The next one is of people watching Quidditch, and if visitors watch long enough, Swoopstikes will enter the Quidditch painting. The next room is the portrait room with about 100 paintings, both moving and not, of the founders and major people involved in Hogwarts. The paintings talk to themselves and to the guests, mostly questioning why Muggles are in Hogwarts, with a script designed to avoid repetition.
Finally guests will arrive in Dumbledore's Office, which is their intended destination in the castle according to Forbidden Journey's story line. Express guests will have skipped all the previous rooms and end up in the office after walking from the dungeons through a different portrait gallery.
Gilmore said this room was a more faithful reproduction of the office than in the films — it was something he and the films' production designer, Stuart Craig, always wanted to do. It looks identical to the room in the films, with all the same paraphernalia and knickknacks lying around.
A 3-D projection of Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore greets the guests for their planned lecture from the ghost Professor Bins on the history of Hogwarts — after all, "today" (or every day in the Wizarding World) is the "first" day Muggles are being allowed to tour Hogwarts.
Guests then walk into the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom, with a skeleton of a dragon hanging from the ceiling while a chalkboard with a Dementors and "Expecto Patronum" lesson sits at the front of the room. Harry, Ron and Hermione appear in the back of the classroom from under an invisibility cloak and convince visitors to skip the lecture and go see a Quidditch tournament instead.
Visitors are supposed to meet Hermione in the Room of Requirement, but have to walk past the animated portrait of the Fat Lady and through Gryffindor common room in order to do so. There are three moving paintings in this room: one of a Quidditch player, one of an etiquette teacher and one of a professor who explains in magical terms how the ride portion of Forbidden Journey will work. Here guests who don't wish to ride the attraction but wanted to see the castle can leave if they wish.
The tour ends in the Gryffindor common room, though the Sorting Hat and Room of Requirement are still ahead. It is in the Room of Requirement that guests can get on the ride, described as a "magically enchanted bench," and see various beloved scenes from the series. Universal would not share the details of how this portion would work, instead saying they would prefer to maintain a "magical" element to the ride.
The entire experience of the queue and ride are expected to be around an hour, Coup said, though to him "time stands still when you're in there." He said he always loved the stories and would read the books and show the movies to his son when he was growing up.