As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.
Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
APPEAL BY AGE
- PRESCHOOL 2 stars
- GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
- TEENS 5 stars
- YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
- OVER 30 5 stars
- SENIORS 4 stars
What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.
DESCRIPTION AND COMMENTS
Owned and operated by goblins, Gringotts is the Federal Reserve of the wizarding economy, and the scene of memorable sequences from the first and final Potter installments. It’s known for its toppling column facade, chandelier-adorned lobby, bottomless caverns…and the heart-stopping rail carts running through them. The theme park adaptation is the centerpiece of Diagon Alley, and the the ultimate expression of the “virtual reality” rides Universal has been refining since IOA opened.
Like Forbidden Journey at IOA, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts incorporates a substantial part of the overall experience into its elaborate queue, which (like Hogwarts Castle) even non-riders should experience as an attraction in of itself. You enter through the bank’s lobby, where you’re critically appraised by glowering animatronic goblins. Your path takes you to a “security checkpoint” where your photo will be taken (to be purchased afterwards as an identity lanyard in the gift shop, natch), and past animated newspapers and office windows where the scenario is set up.
Unlike Forbidden Journey, Gringotts doesn’t rush you through its queue, but allows you to experience two full pre-shows before approaching the ride vehicles. In the first, goblin banker Blordak and Bill Weasley (Ron’s curse-breaking big brother, played by Domhnall Gleeson in the best Musion hologram yet) prepare you for an introductory tour of the underground vaults. Then you’re off for a convincing simulated nine-mile plunge into the earth aboard an “elevator” with a bouncing floor and ceiling projections. All this is before you pick up your 3-D glasses (identical to those at Transformers) and ascend a spiral staircase into the stalactite-festooned boarding cave where your vault cart awaits.
Also unlike Forbidden Journey, and indeed all the Wizarding World, Gringotts is not set in a nebulous “moment frozen in time” where incidents from various stories simultaneously coexist. Instead, visitors enter the bank at the exact moment that Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Griphook have arrived to liberate the Hufflepuff Cup Horcrux from Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault. Only in this retelling of Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s iconic action scene, you (as Muggles opening new bank accounts) are ingeniously integrated into the action. Familiar film moments featuring the vaults’ guardian dragon play out in the ride’s background, as (in scenes that could have been taking place just off camera) Bellatrix and Voldemort appear to menace you with snakes and sinister spells, before the heroic trio pauses their quest to save your hapless posteriors. The storytelling, which is much more coherent than Forbidden Journey’s collage approach, may disorient scholars of Potter canon, but it’s an intelligent way to allow fans to relive a favorite adventure without merely recapitulating the plot.
Gringotts’ ornately industrial ride vehicles consist of two-car trains, each holding 24 people in rows of four. The ride merges Mummy‘s indoor launched roller coaster aspects, with Spider-Man‘s seamless integration of high-resolution 3-D film (the finale dome completely surrounds your car) and massive sculptural sets (some of the rockwork inside is six stories tall), while adding a few new tricks like independently rotating cars and motion simulator bases built into the track.
The result is a ride that, though it doesn’t break completely new ground like Forbidden Journey and Spider-Man did, combines favorite innovations from its predecessors in an exhilarating new way. It isn’t quite the perfect attraction some might be anticipating. The visuals are sometimes murky, and the dialogue difficult to discern. And it’s slightly disappointing that no animatronic figures, moving set-pieces, or actual pyrotechnics appear in the ride, though you will get spritzed with water, blasted with warm air, and sprayed with fog — this is Universal, after all. Finally, though Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes reprised their screen roles, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson did not return. Harry and pals’ CGI stand-ins look ok, as they are never seen up close, but Hermione’s voice double is dreadful (an error even more apparent aboard the Hogwarts Express).
Nitpicks aside, whether Escape from Gringotts is THE greatest themed thrill ride of all time, or merely ONE of the greatest, can be happily debated by park fans until the next great leap forward comes along.
Gringotts is the pot of gold at the end of Universal’s rainbow that a kazillion crazed guests are racing toward. Though the interior line is gorgeous and air-conditioned, the mostly-unshaded outdoor extended queue holds 4,000 guests; you don’t want to be at the end of it. If you’re a Universal resort guest and you qualify for early entry, use it. Otherwise, arrive at the turnstiles, admission in hand, 35–45 minutes before park opening and be ready to haul butt. On most days you will need to retrieve a return time ticket (see xref below) before attempting to enter Diagon Alley, and then queue up again for Gringotts. As an alternative, try the attraction at the very end of the day. As long as you are inside the entrance before closing time, you should be allowed to ride, as long as it doesn’t break down. But be warned that, as with any ride this advanced, Gringotts can be expected to experience some downtime almost daily, at least during its initial months of operation.
As far as physical thrills go, Gringotts falls somewhere between Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain, with only one short (albeit unique) drop and no upside-down flips. It was designed to be less intense (read: less nauseating) and therefore more appealing to families, with fewer height, weight, and size restrictions. The restraints are similar to the Mummy’s, with bars across your lap and shins, but slightly more restrictive. Use the test seat to the left of the front entrance if you are unsure, and request the 3rd or 6th row for additional legroom.
The ride feels noticeably different depending on which row you are seated in. The front is closest to the action, and has the scariest view of the drop, 3-D effects look better further back. The 6th row gets the most coaster action, especially from the initial fall, but the screens are slightly distorted. Row 3 may be the sweet spot.
Like most of Universal’s thrill rides, you must leave your bags in a free locker. Luckily, unlike Hogwarts the lockers were separated from the attraction entrance, greatly improving guest flow. Universal Express is NOT currently accepted at this attraction. If you don’t have bags, and don’t mind breaking up your group, the singles line will greatly cut your wait, but you’ll skip all the pre-shows past the lobby. If you want to see the queue but not ride, ask an attendant if a “bank tour” is available.