Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Rating: * * * * *
Type: Next-generation dark thrill ride
Time: About 30 minutes for the tour, 4 minutes for the ride
Short Take: The best theme-park ride in the Western Hemisphere
As you emerge from Hogsmeade and round the corner, you'll catch sight of an awe-inspiring vision: the majestic spires of Hogwarts Castle, home to the ancient school where Harry and his schoolmates learn the ways of wizardry. Perched high atop a craggy cliff face, the edifice is actually an empty shell perched atop a massive camouflaged show building, but thanks to clever use of forced perspective it appears even larger and more imposing, if less colorful, than Cinderella's digs down the road. Pass between the school's stone gates (which mystically glow with the attraction's name at night) and enter the castle dungeon to begin your adventure.
Tip: Duck into the first cliff crevice for a glimpse behind the scenes.
Forbidden Journey is actually comprised of two attractions in one. The first is the queue, cleverly disguised as an elaborate walking tour of Hogwarts, which has opened its doors to non-magical Muggles like yourself for the first time in its ten-century history. (For serious continuity nerds, your visit occurs on a day "frozen in time" outside of the Potter canon, sometime between the events of Goblet of Fire and Half-Blood Prince.) Waiting in line is rarely considered entertainment, but here is the exception; with more details and effects than most entire attractions, this surpasses Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure as America's most impressive holding pen. If you were to walk slowly through the queue with no one ahead of you, examining the artifacts and watching all the effects, it would take almost 30 minutes. The production values are high enough that even those uninterested in the ride should still experience the castle tour.
Tip: Universal Express Plus is not valid on this attraction, but there is a non-rider experience offered which includes almost all of the normal line's magical effects, including a private portrait gallery, with little or no wait. Ask the first attendant you encounter inside the castle for the "castle only tour." At the end, ask how to transfer to the single rider line, which starts in the final chambers. You'll experience most of the castle queue plus the ride for only about one-third to one-fourth of the standard wait time!
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