For anyone who has ridden a two-wheeler at high speed through a mystical forest in search of rare beasts such as Cornish pixies and blast-ended skrewts, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure holds no great surprises.
Anyone who hasn’t, though, should get aboard this most epic of rollercoasters, the newest addition to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida. Just when you doubted that the park could raise the bar any higher, along comes what they call the world’s first “story coaster”, which flies above and through a forest of 1,200 trees at 50mph on a narrated, mile-long odyssey.
The plot is laid out for guests in a two-minute show built into the queueing process, featuring 3D projections of the whimsical patriarch Arthur Weasley and the gamekeeper at Hogwarts, Hagrid, played in the films by Robbie Coltrane.
We assume the role of Hogwarts students enrolled in Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class and embark on a journey into the Forbidden Forest, where we meet animatronic beasts that include unicorns, centaurs, Fluffy the three-headed dog and a blast-ended skrewt (beware the critter’s vile-scented flatulence as you pass). An animatronic version of Hagrid was created over the course of thousands of hours, with technicians even taking a digital scan of Coltrane’s mouth to ensure accuracy.
Riders sit two abreast — one on Hagrid’s sputtering flying motorbike, the other in a sidecar — and go through seven launches as the vehicle accelerates, then slows, then accelerates again; and not always forwards.
At one point we are fired 20m up a track at a 70-degree angle, then swept backwards. Another time we are in the cavernous lair of centaurs, amid the tendrils of a Devil’s Snare — a murderous plant that puts victims in a chokehold — when the rail beneath us suddenly plunges 5m, landing us on a new track. Just as I am catching my breath and taking in the scenery, off we go again at a screaming pace, heads pushed back, bodies pressed into our seats.
Despite all the hurtling, I feel somewhat cocooned in the sidecar. So on my second go I ride the motorcycle, which gives you a slightly higher centre of gravity and a greater sense of vulnerability. There are no seatbelts, just lap-bars.
The most visually spectacular element of the set is the ruins through which the ride passes. We could be in Scotland, in the crumbled remains of a medieval abbey. “We researched all over the British Isles and created our own special place — a medieval, gothic place older than Hogwarts,” says Alan Gilmore, the art director for the Harry Potter movies and the Wizarding World. “This is a place never seen before, deep in the dark forest.”
The ruins have never been described or visualised in the Harry Potter books or films; it is for guests to imagine their origins and context. “It’s all about Hagrid and the students; where they come with him to learn and hang out,” Gilmore says. The author of the books, JK Rowling, worked with Universal Creative to develop the ride’s set and storyline, checking on the fidelity of every detail.
I’m not the only one impressed by the coaster. “I still haven’t taken everything in . . . It’s major,” says Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. I ask him how many times he has been on the new ride and whether he liked it. “Three times. Bloody brilliant,” he says before heading off to ride it again.
Need to know
Jacqui Goddard was a guest of Universal Orlando (universalorlando.co.uk). Endless Summer Resort is Universal’s new “value” property, offering budget-priced rooms with an ocean inspired theme. Virgin Holidays has seven nights at the resort with flights, car hire and a three-park explorer ticket from £1,099pp (virginholidays.co.uk)