I was really trying to figure out the best way to write out a review of the area but it seems that everyone around has done a pretty good job of doing wonderful reviews about it (except for the extremely biased people, it seems). So I decided to take a slightly different approach with this review, and highlight the things I didn’t like about the area.
Now I should clarify that I love this place; it’s really amazing and I do love it and I plan to keep coming back in the future (mainly after the initial crowd rush is over of course). I really don’t want to write this to deter people to not going: You should. What I am writing are things I didn’t specifically look for. Please don’t think of me as one of those people who just need to have something wrong with it. They are things that I just happen to notice while studying all the intricate details the place has to offer (there are plenty; I know I haven’t seen them all yet). After all, Universal’s claims stated that this was the most immersive and detailed thing they’ve ever done so I think it equally fare to judge it as such. For dates of reference, these trips were done on June 4th, 5th, and 13th.
Walking into Hogsmeade was certainly one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in a theme park. Thinking back, it was probably the only time I ever shed some tears walking though the reality of what I had seen in the moves and imagined in my mind for over a decade while reading the books. I watched it being built from people sharing their photos as well as witnessing it myself from a few visits to the park. Finally, I was allowed to pass under that arch.
My eyes fell on the Hogwarts Express bellowing steam in small amount before it was release a gaping amount once in a while. One thing I noticed however is that I didn’t hear the whistle. As far as I had known, it was supposed to make a sound when the steam blew but it did not on any of the three days I was there. If it has at any point before or after I’d appreciate it if someone could let me know.
Moving on past the train it was overwhelming to look at the rest of Hogsmeade around me. I couldn’t tell from standing on the temporary bridge months ago but once you’re inside the buildings look and feel much bigger than I thought they would be, and that was a pretty cool feeling. On this front I really cannot complain as the detail is amazing and I spent quite a bit of time looking over all the snowy roofs (though I did not recall any smoke from the chimneys that I’ve seen some videos have). I was even pleased to find that there were really no exact pattern on any of the walls. Each of them shared the same look and feel but were entirely unique.
The only awkward part in the Hogsmeade skyline seems to be the last spire that is over the second entrance to Hogsmeade (between The Magic Neep and the gates of Hogwarts) as there is no snow on it. On the flip side it does match the main entrance to Hogsmeade by not having snow but because it also doesn’t match the style the main entrance has it becomes mismatched. I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to be as it looks to small for a proper tower structure.
The shops of Hogsmeade are awesome as I’m sure many have already described. Even with most of the items out of stock when I had gone, they hid it well by spreading merchandise around to avoid having empty shelves. I echo the complaint that the stores could have been made larger. I don’t think they should be too big, but even during soft openings it was a hassle to get from one side to the other and with the appeal that Harry Potter has around the world I can see it becoming an issue for years to come even if it’s just during the busy summer months as we already see since it’s now open.
The worst stores with the crowding issue are Dervish & Banges, Owl Post, and Ollivander’s Wand Shop mainly due to the fact they’re connected, and in the case of Ollivander’s Wand Shops and Owl Post especially as they are 2-in-1. The problem starts in Ollivander’s Wand Shop with the 25 people watching the ceremony one of them is partaking in. Once done, they run into the Owl Post to purchase wands, but because of the dual purpose, they can also send postcards and buy stamps. This flood of people on top of the ones already in the Owl Post and Dervish & Banges really causes a bad traffic jam.
I believe the ideal situation would have been take the Owl Post and move it into its own little shop, probably underneath where the clock of the Owlery is located, widen Dervish & Banges into the Owlery about five feet or so (this would also include the portion where the wands are located), and leave it at that. Another approach would be to have remove the wand section (and Ollivander’s Wand Shop as well), let Dervish & Banges take it over, and then merge the building next to it (where the Spintwitches storefront is located) and turn that entire building into Ollivander’s Wand Shop.
As a side tangent I must mention the wands. The 13 wands that were created were not as unique as one would think. While a few did look special, there was a few that had simply had their handle or tip swapped out. It was a poor example of a mix-and-match approach to create a new wand. For $25 it was saddening to find that not all the ones were as unique as I would have wanted.
Too late now of course but changes like the above could have definitely helped a bit in handling the sardine-like situation that occurs immediately after the Wand Choosing Ceremony is over. I can’t say they couldn’t have anticipated the amount of people coming in and I wished they had done it a little different.
As for the rides, there’s definitely a bit of mixed feelings. I just want to remind people reading this that I did not specifically look for things to look down on. It’s just that while I was enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes of the area another, part of me was carefully studying the details that made up this new addition. I appreciate the hard work and dedication it took for Universal to spread itself across several fronts to bring this world to life, I really do but I also can’t help but note the things that detracted from the experience.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a fantastic change from what it was originally. The theming was well done I can’t make any complaints about it except that the Buckbeak animatronic has an odd hole in its head that I had only noticed because of an odd flicker of light I had thought I’d seen. Apparently if you look at Buckbeak from the side, you can see right through his head and see light on the other side. Pretty minor, yes but it caught my eye instantly the first day I was there. Otherwise I love the way it looks and amazed at how they made the feathers look real.
Dragon Challenge on the other hand is a dismal downgrade from what it was previously. It was amazing to walk past the original stone dragons that marked the entrance to Dueling Dragons. All that we have left now is a wall with a golden egg above it. The winding path is mostly unchanged from what I can remember, but at least it’s nicely adorned with banners supporting three of the four Triwizard Tournament. Why only three is represented throughout the entire line is a mystery, and I’m not entirely sure why they choose to do this.
In any case, the first quarter of the line has nice props and theming but once you pass a certain point it’s just plain gray wall. I knew the line of Dueling Dragons was long, but with the Dragon Challenge “theming,” smooth gray walls really feel to drag on through the winding line. Personally, I’d hate to be in there whenever the lines become long during summer.
I know the subject has been beaten to death in several places online, but I too have to toss my name into the bowl of people who wish the tracks were repainted to to reflect the dingy, old feel that the rest of the are has. It still screams Dueling Dragons to me. I know, I know, it’s still the same coaster but with all the other changes they did, a paint job would do wonders. Not to mention the trains are much rougher than I remember a year or so ago but I digress.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. What can I say? I loved the ride however there are a few of things that truly bugged me about it both in the queue and the ride itself.
The facade itself it phenomenal with a couple of exceptions. One of the two parts I found distracting unfortunately was if you go under the bridge, between the rock cliffs, you can see beneath the courtyard. I am perplexed as to why they would leave this area accessible. Perhaps they were planning to turn this into some underground sitting area (future Slytherin Common room or something maybe) in the future and ran out of time/money? It’s an unknown feature but I was also fascinated to see the inner shell of the facade. The other part is that it seems that walls of the castle are flat. While there is an illusion of bricks it isn’t difficult to notice that the surface is entirely smooth, breaking the appearance of individual bricks that are supposed to be making up the foundation and walls.
The greenhouse definitely feels tacked on and not an integral part of the experience. Besides the fact is terribly uncomfortable during the day (it starts to feel very hot and muggy even early in the morning), there is nothing to really see beside some non-moving mandrakes, and even then you only get to see them just before you enter the castle. Instead of the black railing they used to keep the line orderly, they could have used rows of plants like you’d find in the garden section of Home Depot. enclosing the greenhouse with walls leaving the top open-air could’ve really helped sell the idea of a greenhouse as well. If there was any real sign that the project could possible be over budget, this is where I’d look first. For being a next-generation queue they really fell short here.
Once in the castle (marked with the Architect of Hogwarts statue) I was disappointed to see the black railings continue in here as well, which really killed the idea of one walking through Hogwarts. I do understand why they were there, but I had wondered if they could have figured out another way to keep people in a line. Generally speaking, I don’t think they needed the black railing throughout the entire line either.
The grand corridors that were described within Hogwarts were also shrunken in the line. I didn’t feel as in awe as I’d have thought. The corridors became simple hallways, and there was nothing that gave me an idea of just how large Hogwarts is, and certainly not a place that could handle over a hundred students walking through it. There was very little room for anything other than going through the line. From what I understood in interviews, the line was going to be large enough for you to move to one side so you can stay and watch the different presentations if you wanted. What was actually done was entirely different as there was very little room to move to the side and just watch if you wanted. There was very little in the way of observing the environment without causing inconvenience to other people in the line behind you. The time it took to get from one room to another also felt way too short (such as leaving Dumbledore’s office and it only takes a few steps to end up in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom), further ruining the “You’re actually in Hogwarts!” effect.
I was surprised that there was no line control when it came to the storytelling portion of the line, which caused you to walk into the middle of dialogue and miss the immersive point they were trying to go for. It reminded me too much of regular queues in many other rides, and I know that’s something they were trying to get away from. Walking in the middle of the snow scene really kills the surprising magical effect.
Another aspect that was somewhat distracting is how quickly and how short the looped scenes are. The portrait, Dumbledore, and DADA classroom dialog were way too short that, when the line was a little slow, you could hear repeat at least twice, or even three times if you’re [un]lucky.
There’s definitely a few more things I would touch upon in the line but this review is much longer than I had anticipated and I have yet to get to the ride itself! At least the things above were the most pressing in my eyes I wish could be changed.
As to the ride itself, I have very few complaints. It was definitely amazing and I appreciate the complicated technological mayhem that ensues every time a kuka arm leaves the station. It was a crazy ride, one that I can’t wait to go back and ride again.
One of the big issues that shocked me was how easily you could see the other kuka arm and track without really trying. I don’t think it’s as noticeable in the center two seats (and I haven’t experienced the far right) but on the far left it really destroys the magic of the ride when you can see the other benches on arms swinging around next to you without even trying. I love to see these things from behind the scenes as I think it’s amazing, but when I’m on the ride I shouldn’t see that. Perhaps in the future they’ll add more of a blind spot on the left and right of the vehicle, but right now it really kills the immersion aspect.
I was also expecting the large spider to move when you get to that portion of the ride. I am unsure if it Aragog or not, but the simple flash of light seemed less thrilling then if it were moving (and reminded me too much of the Yeti at Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom). If they could get a dragon to breathe fire on you, and the Whomping Willow to hit you, they could’ve made the pinchers and a couple of legs reach out to you, right? Of course the effect could just not be working and it really does do that, but just wasn’t the times I went.
Speaking of Whomping Willow, there was an obvious inconsistency when you come across it in the ride and that is a mysterious day/night switch between seeing the Ron and Harry in the start of the ride and the end, and when you come across the Whomping Willow. As far as you can tell from the start of the ride to the end you can easily tell it’s daytime. When you come across the Whomping Willow it’s dimly lit and if you look beyond it, it’s dark (in fact I believe you can see the metal bars on the roof; could they not attach a painted sky to the ceiling above the Willow?). It’s obvious the tree is outside this scenes has no reflection of the time of day it’s supposed to be. The same can be said about the dragon attack on the bridge.
Finally, there were the Dementors. They were well done, especially the soul-sucking portion of the ride. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a cold effect that’s so key to the description of Dementors. If there was a chill effect, it wasn’t working when I was there. That scene would be perfect if you could feel the icy chill of the Dementor’s Kiss.
In the end, I’m really excited about what the area has to offer and I can’t wait to see all the merchandise when they restock as the times I’ve gone most of the items were not shipped yet or were already sold out. While I did note these things, I do not let them get in the way of enjoying the park and I ask you to do the same (especially after reading highlights like this). Universal has created something very special here and I hope they continue this trend for years to come with their future attractions.
Thanks for reading,