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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: DIAGON ALLEY


Orlando, Florida
Universal Studios Theme Parks
By: Lance Hart


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: PART 2
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts

    (6/24/14) I’ll pick up today right where I left off yesterday in Part I of Screamscape’s official review of Diagon Alley… standing in the shadow of the mighty fire-breathing dragon perched atop the Gringotts Bank building. To answer some the most common questions I’ve received regarding this incredible icon… Yes and No. Yes… it does really breathe fire (and it is very impressive) and  No… it doesn’t seem to move at all. Furthermore, the dragon is LOUD!! When dining inside the Leaky Cauldron for example, it’s not uncommon for the entire crowded restaurant to suddenly fall silent as the mighty beast roars just down the street.
    If the early Media / VIP Preview event in the land was any indication, the dragon is not only popular, but will likely be the most photographed part of Diagon Alley as everyone tries to take the best pictures of the dragon, including the ever elusive fire-breathing shot, which I failed to get myself. When and how often the dragon breathes fire, as it seems to sometimes just roar without the fire, was completely random during my preview visit. It’s hard to say if it will stay that way or if the dragon will ever follow some kind of schedule or pattern. Either way, when he starts to roar, you will see people rushing outside from the shops to try and catch a glimpse of the beasts’ fire.
    Caution: From here on you may be subject to SPOILERS… I’ll try to keep them light and mostly about the queue, but you’ve been warned.
Below the dragon and to the right is the entrance to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction, typically flanked by bank security guards standing watch, who will direct you to take any loose belongings over to the lockers to the right of here. Once past the guards you will venture into a highly decorated and quite fancy looking entry room that leads to the massive Gringotts Bank lobby, which is wall to wall with animatronic Goblin bank tellers hard at work. From here you are directed to have a security ID photo taken of you so you can open an account, and be escorted down to the vaults.
    Following this brief procedure you are given a temporary ID card and enter a long hallway that feature interesting live-motion newspaper clippings on the desks, counters and walls, along with some creepy extra large paintings of goblins. Keep an eye on the frosted glass areas and you may spot some familiar characters walking past or pausing to have a conversation you can eavesdrop on. Making your way deeper into the bank you pass by the troll armory and into the office of Bill Weasley where you experience a brief pre-show featuring Bill and a goblin who is preparing to take you down to the vaults. Bill decides he will go down the vaults with you and you are directed into the next room to board an elevator to make the long journey down into the earth where you will find your cart.
    Without spoiling things too much, it goes without saying that your trip in the elevator is a small mini-ride experience all by itself that is quite fun and convincing. Once you reach the bottom, the elevator doors open to a new hallway where you can pick up a pair of 3D goggles and venture down the dark passage towards a huge spiral staircase leading you up to where you will finally enter the massive loading station chamber. This is one large and impressive room, with stalactites hanging from the roof and loading platforms for the vault carts to be found on both your left and right side. The layout of the loading station is similar to the one found on Revenge of the Mummy, and even the cars themselves seems to have taken a slight design nod from there as well, featuring three rows per car, seating four riders across. The seats here are tiered however, so the back row is elevated much higher than the front row. Also the cars depart and travel as attached pairs as well, instead of individual cars as seen on Revenge of the Mummy.
    While the cars only use a lap-bar only restraint, be warned… the restraints are a bit on the snug side for larger riders, and also feature an uncomfortable extra padded shin/knee cross bar that can best be described as being highly annoying. If you are on the large side, especially in the upper legs and belly area, you can expect to have some issues trying to fit into the carts, unless they perform some modifications before the grand opening. To me, this ultra-snug restraint system would seems more at home on an extreme speed style coaster ride… something like might launch you at over 100mph and send you soaring 300-400 feet in the air, rather than what is appropriate for the more dark ride style ride experience you will have in Gringotts.
    Don’t get me wrong… you will experience moments of high speed, twists and a drop, but not quite in the same way that they have built the restraints on this coaster for. For a ride experience that was intended to be a bit more family friendly and allow smaller children (42”) who are not tall enough to ride Forbidden Journey to ride (48”), the restraints will also see a segment of the population who may be able to squeeze into Forbidden Journey and Dragons Challenge finding themselves unable to ride Gringotts due to their lower dimensions. I’d love to urge Universal to find a way to relax the lap-bar system a bit, even if it means putting a retractable seat-belt system to use instead. I’ve been told that if you find that the restraints may be too snug, you might want to try and ride in the back row, as those seats offer a little more leg room and may be more accommodating.
    Ok, enough of that… lets talk about the ride system itself. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the experience for anyone here, but I’ll say this loud and clear: it may look like a coaster… but it sure doesn’t ride like any roller coaster you’ve even been on. This thing will move in ways you never thought possible, stopping and starting again several times along the way as you journey from scene to scene down in the vaults. In many ways it is more of a dark ride and simulator style experience that also features roller coaster style thrill segments. The story told on the ride is also a unique one, as it takes place during the events of the raid on the bank as seen in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 film. While the Forbidden Journey ride is more of a ‘greatest hits’ style experience, the Escape from Gringotts has cleverly found a way to take you down into the vaults where you experience your own “slice” of the timeline and adventure that follow, meeting up with the movie characters to relive key moments from the film from your own perspective, while also traveling your own unique path through the bank vaults. While you don’t have to have seen the film to enjoy the attraction, remembering this particular part of the film will increase your enjoyment of all the action that takes place.
    I will reveal one thing… that as you near the final act of the ride, you will experience a coaster “launch” sensation that is quite thrilling. I tell you this because what follows after this particular moment was lost to me as dark wizards chose to put an evil curse upon the ride and my adventure came to an end. We were unable to continue by rail and had to return to the surface world on foot. While this particular adventure is a tale for another day, I will say that having the opportunity to “walk” through Gringotts is another moment I wont soon forget. The journey provided a unique peek behind the curtain at the magic that has been brought to life by the visionary geniuses at Universal Creative, led by Mark Woodbury. The building used to house Gringotts is massive and features both massive and highly detailed sets, blended in with projection screen systems to bring all the action and characters to life in front of your eyes in glorious 4K 3D.
    Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is yet another game changing attraction from Universal Orlando. Universal Creative has truly managed to create an entirely new attraction style in the process that, once again, is like nothing you have ridden before. In fact you could say that they have “set the bar even higher”, but in this case, they have taken a chainsaw to the bar, set it on fire, scattered the ashes and reset their sights on the stars above.

UP NEXT: Ride the Hogwarts Express!















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