UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
By: Lance Hart
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: PART 3
The Hogwarts Express
(6/25/14) So how much did I love the new Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando? It’s a bit embarrassing… a lot embarrassing actually… but to be completely honest, it made me start to tear up in front of a complete stranger. While being interviewed by the Palm Beach Post about what Kerry and I thought about it, and how amazed we were by it all, tears of joy started to pour from my eyes. I’ve never had that happen to me before in a theme park… ever! In fact the only other times I can recall that happen was during the birth of my three children. And I’m not a huge “Potter” fanboy… I freely admit that while I have seen and enjoyed all of the movies, I’ve never read any of the books. Looking back it is clear that the experience of standing in the middle of the bustling Diagon Alley was just such a powerful experience, that it was capable of triggering that kind of reaction from me. Simply amazing… and now that I’ve been home for the past several days, I’m really starting to miss it.
With that said… it is time to start PART III of Screamscape’s Official Review of Diagon Alley, focusing this time on the Hogwarts Express. As is only proper, your experience with the Hogwarts Express is somewhat unique. You do not board the Hogwarts Express in Diagon Alley… instead you must exit Diagon back out into the London area and then look for the Kings Cross train station. While I already knew what I was looking for, in hindsight, this alone will be a unique experience for those who may be unfamiliar with the film or book series.
While it is easy to spot the Kings Cross building and entrance, there is not a single sign in sight announcing that this is the entrance to the “Hogwarts Express”. There is nothing to direct park guests to enter into that building to travel to the “Islands of Adventure” theme park. You will see no wizards, no Butterbeer carts, no places to perform magical acts with the wand you may have purchased in Diagon Alley… just simply train station employees there to scan those with the right kind of ticket, and send them down the pathway towards the right train platform. Just as it is in the movies… the existing of the Hogwarts Express is a secret from the rest of the ‘Muggle’ world wait for you to discover it.
Once you pass through the station entrance, if you have the right kind of ticket that will permit park to park travel only of course, you will be directed to walk down a very long hallway towards the train platforms, full of London themed advertising along the walls. Passing through here into the lower level of the station itself, you will then find a large queue area, with luggage scattered about, along with even a functional snack stand area to buy goodies to pass the time if you have to wait. From here you will work your way towards a large staircase (or elevator if you require one) that will bring you to the upper level of the station. From here you are directed the staff to go around the corner to find your platform where you will soon encounter signs for Platform 9 and 10. Of course, anyone familiar with the series will know that the Hogwarts Express departs from Platform 9¾, which you arrive at by passing through a brick wall. I’m happy to report that Universal has managed to create this experience for you, as you will see the guests standing in line ahead of you appear to pass right through the brick wall between Platform 9 and 10. For those dying to see how this is done, look for the video link at the end of the story to see the magic in action.
A few turns later and you will find yourself standing on Platform 9¾, waiting for your chance to board the Hogwarts Express itself. Friendly staff will place you in a row to board one of the three passenger cars. Each car contains 7 passenger cabins to ride in, each cabin will comfortably hold 8 riders, for a total of 168 guests per train, and double that number to reflect the riders coming the other way on the other train. The travel time over to the other side is about 3 minutes, and with two trains always running on the line, I’d expect to see this line move quickly, with maybe another 2 to 3 minutes unload/load time between trips. If they can manage 10 trips an hour, you are looking at an attraction that will move around 3360 guests an hour.
I can let the pictures and video footage speak for themselves regarding the detail and quality of the Hogwarts Express train itself. Clearly they went to great lengths to create these cars to be replicas of what you see in the films, both on the outside as well as on the inside as you move down the hallway towards your cabin to take you seat. The benches inside are comfy and the cabins seem to have ample room, as your eyes are pulled to the ‘window’ where you can see steam slowly rising up from below while you wait to depart.
Just like riding on a real train, the whistle will blow and you’ll gently jerk forward as you depart the station, both in real life as well as on the perfectly timed projection window to the world outside where you are soon treated to the sights and sounds of London as you head for the countryside on your way to Hogsmeade Station and Hogwarts.
Upon your arrival in Hogsmeade, you are supposed to depart the train and exit through that train station into the Islands of Adventure theme park, but in this case we were allowed to step outside to briefly see the station before returning to our cabin for the return trip to London once again, where you will experience entirely different footage and events. Speaking of “events”… not all the action takes place outside the train’s window. The frosted glass wall and closed doorway to the passenger hallway of the train car has been designed to help tell the story. Silhouettes of other passengers and events taking place in the hall will be seen as images are projected onto the surface from hidden sources outside the cabin. The effect is quite realistic; especially when anyone (or thing) actually touches the glass surface and comes more into focus briefly.
When you watch the video below, you will also see some video clips showing off some of the action you will see along your journey. I tried to cut them up a bit and just show select highlights, rather than trying to shoot and show off your entire trip in order to leave some surprises for you to experience on your own.
All said and done, I will have to say that this is another genius creation by Universal Creative. While the concept, hardware and technology are nothing new, the very idea of turning a theme park transportation attraction into a highly themed ride experience is and it wont be long before guests who have ridden the Hogwarts Express end up down the street at Walt Disney World and start to wonder why they are so bored and not being entertained during the long monorail ride to and from Epcot, not to mention the very long and boring bus rides they will be subjected to moving from place to place. Universal has managed to turn what would simply be a method of transporting guests between their two parks into yet another must-see attraction… trying together the overall story and theme of visiting Hogwarts at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley inside Universal Studios Florida.
The overall effect here is also sure to have a massive impact, as casual guests to Universal Orlando will no longer feel that they are skipping a day at Disney to visit one of the Universal parks, but instead will feel compelled to buy the multi-day / multi-park pass in order to experience everything that Universal Orlando has to offer. This will also reflect in more than just ticket sales, as the ongoing upgrade of wonderful new dining options being added to CityWalk will also lure people into spending more time at the Resort, which in turn will reflect in more guests opting to stay on site at any one of the four Universal Orlando Resort Hotels, including the brand new value level Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Watch for our report on this fantastic new property in the near future!!)
Simply put, more guests staying on site at Universal Orlando resorts, and spending more than one day at the Universal theme parks means that they may be spending less time at the competition. In fact, after Kerry and I spent several happy days in a row at Universal Orlando last week, we both realized that we were perfectly happy spending every second of our time at the Universal Orlando Resort. We had no need or desire to go anywhere else… and if that isn’t a sure sign of guest satisfaction, I don’t know what is.
Click here to go to the start of our review of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: DIAGON ALLEY
Click here to go back and see our review of the first phase of Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade Village