A Virtual Guided Walk Through of Hogwarts

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20130406-082942.jpg One of the things that separates Disney theme parks from others is their attention to detail and story. For example, have you ever noticed on Pirates of the Caribbean that one pirate who has his leg hanging off of the bridge over your heads? There’s hair on that leg! It’s such a minute detail, but Disney’s philosophy is “if it wasn’t there, people would notice.”

Well, Disney has gained competition in the past few years, and its name is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Nonsense, you say? No one could possibly measure up to Disney’s standards? HA is what I say back at you! Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling made sure the grounds of Hogsmeade were painstakingly accurate with little nuances and hidden gems that the greatest Potter fans would be sure to pick up on. Don’t believe me? Well, let me take you on a virtual tour of Universal’s resident castle: Hogwarts.

20130406-082958.jpgTHE QUEUE
At the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you pass through the gates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under statues of winged boars. You won’t see it during a sunny day, but at night notice how the columns attached to the gate magically light up to reveal the title of the attraction.

Once through the gates and into the castle, you enter the dungeons. Here chaos ensues because you must put all bags of any size and pretty much anything you can’t fit in your pockets into a locker. Lockers are free for the time you wait in the queue, but do yourself a favor: have a non-rider carry all your stuff or pay the extra bucks and place your articles in a locker at another location such as Dragon Challenge to save yourself the hassle and keep your party together.

Once past the insanity, you wind through a dark path within the dungeon. Once your eyes adjust, take note of the many large pieces from the books and movies. The Mirror of Erisid from Year 1 is on your left. Notice the inscription along the top; when read backwards (or “mirrored”) it says, “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” You may ask, “Why can’t I see anything in the Mirror of Erised?” it’s because you’re only a silly muggle, of course! The statue of the One-Eyed Witch on your right contains the secret passage to Honeydukes. Lean over the railing at the statue, and you’ll see Professor Snape’s office just to the left.

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The dungeons lead you back outside into the gardens and greenhouse classroom. Here is where you will do the majority of your waiting on a busy day, and there’s not much to look at – just a bunch of plants. Usually right as you come outside there will be a stand selling drinks within the queue to keep you nice and cooled off. The keen-eyed fan might notice at the top of the hill a row of potted mandrakes. You can see an unearthed mandrake  (and hear it squeal!) down in Hogsmeade in one of the fake storefronts by the bathrooms.

After you’ve traversed row upon row of switchbacks in the greenhouse, you’re back inside in what is known as “The Oxford Corridor.” This is where any fan of Harry Potter will start geeking out over the scenery and props. On your right, you will pass statues of the architect and the first headmaster of Hogwarts, as well as the house points, which are large hourglasses containing colored jewels that represent each House and their standing in competition towards the House Cup. As would be expected, Gryffindor is in the lead.

Continuing through the Oxford Corridor, you will come across a large golden statue of a griffin that marks the entrance to Albus Dumbledore’s office and a large tapestry of a unicorn that marks the entrance to the Room of Requirement. Strictly speaking, in the layout of the queue, these are in the wrong locations in the castle regarding their respective rooms, but the average guest would not know this.

Moving along, we enter a gallery lined wall to wall with hundreds of pictures and portraits. Most importantly you will see moving portraits of the four founders of Hogwarts, each holding important items pertaining to them from the story: Godric Gryffindor with his sword, Salazar Slytherin with his locket, Helga Hufflepuff with her chalice, and Rowena Ravenclaw with her tiara. Before the attraction was built, these characters had been mentioned in the books but never seen in the films. Therefore the actors were cast specifically for the ride.

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Through the portrait gallery, we enter the the headmaster’s office, where we are greeted by none other than Professor Albus Dumbledore, himself. He welcomes us to Hogwarts and warns us there is a dragon loose, but it shouldn’t be a problem. He invites us into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to hear a lecture from Professor Binns on the history of Hogwarts which is sure to be, well… boring. Things to note before we leave are the Penseive, the Sword of Gryffindor, and Fawkes the Phoenix’s cage – all along the back wall opposite Dumbledore. Also another cool effect: look for a red book high on the shelf on the right. At one point, Dumbledore will summon it to magically switch places on the shelf.

Into the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, this place is CRAWLING with props from the movies. In fact, you can find at least one artifact from each Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Harry ever had- Quirrell’s traveling trunks, Lockhart’s autobiographies and the large dragon skeleton, Lupin’s spine candles, Moody’s walking stick, Umbridge’s Defense Against the Dark Arts for Beginners books, and Snape’s slide projector. Also notice the chalkboard in front. The lesson for the day is the Patronus charm. Might that come in handy later?

As we’re waiting for our boring lecture to begin, a door magically opens all by itself and we hear three familiar voices. From beneath the invisibility cloak appear Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who invite us to something a little more exciting – a Quidditch match! They’ll need to sneak us out, though. Ron tries to use magic but ends up altering the weather. Hermione corrects him and explains she has enchanted some benches to fly us out to the field and to meet her in the Room of Requirement.

One of the cool thoughts put into every room is that each “loop” has at least two different scenes. This is to help alleviate the problem of getting caught in the same place for longer than expected and seeing the same scene over again. I bring this up now because the Defense Against the Dark Arts room is the easiest place to spot the differences. In one scene, the students are worried about getting caught by Mr. Filch and Ron makes it snow in the classroom, while in the other it’s Professor McGonagall and Ron makes it rain outside.
Off to the Quidditch pitch! We take a shortcut through the Gryffindor common room where the Fat Lady’s portrait stands ajar at the entrance, giving us her two cents about letting every single muggle in without the password. Inside the common room, you’ll find three moving portraits – an etiquette teacher, an aviator, and a famous Quidditch player – all butting heads on the proper way to ride an enchanted bench and what you should and should not do. Farther down the hall, you will find the Sorting Hat giving out safety warnings for all who wish to ride. Fun Fact: The two poems that the Sorting Hat recites here are indeed written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series!

I’m also a big theme park nerd, so whenever I go through the castle I like to point out this part of the ride mechanics: everything at Universal is on a points system. So, for example, if the dragon isn’t blowing smoke, that might be like one point. Once you reach ten points, Universal shuts down the ride and starts fixing stuff. Because they are giving out safety instructions, both the common room portraits and the Sorting Hat are an automatic ten points. This is because if the safety instructions are not given, then it’s a hazard to guests. And you probably never listened to those portraits in the first place, did you? I bet now you will!

RIDE EXPERIENCE (Spoilers ahead!)
Once tight and secure aboard our ride vehicle – excuse me, “Enchanted Bench” – we are surrounded by dark mirrors and floating candles that represent the Room of Requirement. At the end of the room, Hermione waits above a large fireplace. We will be traveling by Floo Powder today, so on the count of three we all need to shout our destination: “Observatory”.

POOF! We’re off through the network of chimneys and a land in the astronomy tower where Harry and Ron meet us in their Quidditch robes, amazed at Hermione’s brilliance. They apologize for the crazy nature of the benches, but promise they haven’t lost anybody yet, “Not this week, anyway.” We pass Hagrid, the gamekeeper, who is still searching for that dragon from earlier. Oh, there it is! And, uh oh, she’s hungry! The dragon chases us around the grounds of Hogwarts and traps us in a covered bridge. As we make our way through, the dragon claws and tears apart at the wooden structure before it eventually collapses and we come face to snout with the larger than life creature and her smoky breath.

We narrowly escape, but not into better circumstances. We find ourselves racing through the Forbidden Forest, where the weather has apparently changed and there is now lightning. We are surrounded by many large spiders, led by the biggest of them all, Aragog. Hermione appears out of nowhere and tells us the Forest isn’t safe (as if that weren’t obvious!). She casts a spell that repels the arachnids and warns us of the Whomping Willow tree ahead. The Willow catches us and bats us us away, but luckily we land back on track – the Quidditch Pitch!

The game against Slytherin is already well underway as we watch Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fight to catch the Snitch. Suddenly, a band of dementors appears! Harry tells us to follow him to safety. We dodge left and right through the stadium, but ultimately the dementors chase us into a dark cavern that turns out to be the Chamber of Secrets. We pass the basilisk skeleton, the large bust of Salazar Slytherin and- oh, no! – the Dark Mark that signifies Voldemort and his Death Eaters! That can’t be good.

20130406-083045.jpgMore dementors surround us and try to suck out our souls, but then “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry swoops in to save the day. He leads us out of the collapsing cave and back to Hogwarts, where apparently he miraculously caught the snitch in all that commotion because Gryffindor wins the game! As the celebration commences in the Great Hall, Professor Dumbledore invites us to come back anytime and reminds us to tuck our elbows in as we travel back through the Floo Network towards the exit.

Wow, what an amazing attraction, right!? Disney quality, wouldn’t you say? And that’s just one part of the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter! What’s your favorite detail or reference in the entire land? Leave it in the comments below!

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Posted on April 11, 2013

20 Responses to “A Virtual Guided Walk Through of Hogwarts”

  • As a huge Harry Potter fan I can honestly say that the whole thing is enough to make you cry with joy.

  • You say that you have to store your stuff. can you bring a camera along?

    Jenn

    • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 10:39 pm EDT

      The best rule of thumb is anything that can fit in your pockets is good to go. There is a tiny seat back compartment, but it’s only as big as a paperback book. So you could bring your camera phone or a small point-and-shoot, but not a big professional DSLR.

  • You can bring a camera, but it has to fit in your pockets in the end. If someone any your party does not meet height requirements, take them in the line anyway. It is amazing. There is a sideroom for non-riders in the end that shows the movies. (As the cool Aunt, it meant I got to ride twice in a row.)

    • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 10:44 pm EDT

      If the person doesn’t meet the height requirement though, they need to be at least 14 years to wait by themselves in the [Child Swap] sideroom. Otherwise an adult needs to stay with them because the Universal Team Members can not be held responsible for your children.

    • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 10:48 pm EDT

      Fun Fact: The movie playing in the Child Swap room is the first 20 minutes of the first film on a loop. (It ends with Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express and then starts over again.) However, it has the proper British title card of Harry Potter and the PHILOSOPHER’S Stone!

  • We enjoyed our experience but I kept thinking I wish Disney had been able to do it! It was too dark to really be able to see all of the detail. We got there right as the line started, so didn’t have to wait 2 hours like most, thus no noticing many of the details. Do not try to take anything with you on the ride other than a very small camera! The locker situation is crazy! Again so dark and so many people crushing to find a locker! That was the worst experience and we were trying to leave! They need to put more lockers in somewhere other than the entrance to the ride. It was fun and I wished we would have gone a second time even though the line was so long, but we didn’t want to mess with the lockers.

    • I agree, this attraction and the Harry Potter section as a whole were OK but nowhere near Disney quality. I think the Hogwarts queue was a highlight well worth seeing but it was too dark to really get much detail. Disney would never have the madness of that locker situation. And I’ll ride any roller coaster and I found the Forbidden Journey ride to be really rough, and the scenes cut so quickly that it was impossible for me to follow the story. Family are HUGE Harry Potter book and movie fans but were disappointed by Islands of Adventure, won’t be back until major additions.

  • If there’s a long wait, split up and use the single rider line. We were able to ride 5 times during a posted two hour wait.

    • Note- Single rider line bypasses most of the rooms described in the article. You end up in the common room for the instructions from the portraits and then the sorting hat. But you don’t see the greenhouse, Dumbledore’s office or the class room. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get in the regular line at least once to see all the cool stuff!

      • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 11:00 pm EDT

        Here’s a hidden secret, but don’t let it spread around. ;D If you ask at greeter for a “Castle Tour”, they will put you in a separate line that takes you through the inside of the castle without the 2 hour wait then send you to the exit right before you get on the ride. You see everything the normal line sees except portions of the dungeon, the greenhouse and the Oxford Corridor.

  • I agree…too dark!

  • I would bring as little into Universal if possible as a rule. Their water rides will get you SOAKED and A LOT of the rides don’t allow bags. You really don’t want to spend your trip waiting at lockers, so I would recommend a good pair of cargo pants/shorts as the ultimate solution. My boyfriend and I each had on shorts that had a lot of pockets and were able to take phones, a couple of small snacks, money, etc. I would recommend zip lock bags to store these things in so they don’t get wet. And I doubt you will be able to easily take photos on the ride. It is jerky and fast moving and unless you don’t want to enjoy to scenery and can keep a death grip on a camera, I would plan on not taking pictures during the actual ride. It is also quite dark though the queue, so it is hard to get a lot of good pictures from my experience.

    As far as Hogsmeade. It is wonderfully done! And something I would say, is if you are in need of a quick snack, skip the carts outside and head into Honeydukes. We got a rock cake (sort of like a scone) and a cauldran cake for less than $7 and both were delicious.

    I think where Universal loses out if you are looking for a comparison is on the edges. For instance, on Dragon Challenge you look out on an ugly construction area. Hopefully they will figure out how to better hide some of the equipment and construction in the future.

    • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 10:55 pm EDT

      My WWOHP snack of choice is a bag of Fizzing Whizbees (pieces of chocolate with Pop Rocks inside) from Honeydukes and a frozen Butterbeer from the Hogs Head Pub.

      And it’s kinda hard to put a giant umbrella or dome over the construction site and/or block your view on this tall open aired coaster! And Disney shouldn’t get off so easy- have you noticed you’re driving through the Cast Member parking lot on the speed portion of Test Track?

  • If you are visiting Universal Studios, I highly recommend staying onsite. This gives you early entrance to WWoHP one hour before the park opens. It’s one of the few ways to see both the Ollivander’s Show and the Forbidden Journey rides without excessive lineups. You also get unlimited Universal Express for the rest of the park. One night’s stay can get you 2 days of these perks (check in day and check out day).

    The rest of the park does not comare to Disney, but WWoHP certainly does! If you are a HP fan it’s a must-see!

    • by Andrew Berry on April 11, 2013, at 11:15 pm EDT

      I think we actually put it in the Unofficial Guide this year that if you have a family of four or more, it’s worth pulling out a calculator and pricing out Express Passes vs. a one night stay in a Universal resort, whether or not you even sleep there that night. On the weekend that was compared, it was like $56 per day per Express Pass versus the comparable value of about $44 per person staying a Universal resort (you get Express Pass on your room key on the day you check in AND out). Plus like you said Universal resort guests get Extra Magic Hours in the Wizarding World every day.

      Keep in mind, though, that the new Cabana Bay Resort will not be getting Express Pass on their room keys, and they probably won’t be getting those Extra Magic Hours either.

      • I haven’t heard about the new resort, but if it doesn’t come with the perks we aren’t staying there! We like the Royal Pacific Hotel. It’s the closest to Islands of Adventure (a nice walk) and a beautiful property. Coincidentally, it’s also the cheapest of the onsite hotels.

      • Oops, I forgot to add something: unless they’ve changed things since last June (the last time we were at US: Orlando) the express passes you buy aren’t as good as the ones from being a hotel guest, because they can only be used on each ride once. The Hotel guests have UNLIMITED express pass. This is how we rode the Hulk coaster 10 times in a row, literally walk-on each time! We have been so spoiled with this that we’re never going to Universal any other way again. ;-)

  • I think the theming at Universal (especially Harry Potter) surpases what you see at Disney. I haven’t seen a heck of a lot of innovation at Disney in years. Competition is good though, and I’m looking forward to these two going toe to toe, in the end we win :)

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