Posted on Friday, June 20th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
On Thursday, we gave you an early look at Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, the new flagship ride of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter‘s new Diagon Alley expansion. But Gringotts is not the only ride that will be opening on July 8th 2014 — Universal Studios Orlando’s Diagon Alley actually expands the Harry Potter story over two theme parks, and at the connecting tissue at the center of it all is the Wizarding World’s Hogwarts Express ride. Today I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this new ride which spans two theme parks, and give you my reaction/thoughts on the experience.
Background Info on Wizarding World’s Hogwarts Express Ride
For those of you who haven’t been following the announcements, park guests at the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Islands of Adventure park will now be able to board the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade, which will transport you from the Scotland setting to King’s Cross Station in the London waterfront area of Universal Studios Orlando theme park.
And the reverse trip is also possible; guests of Universal Studios Orlando will be able to board the train in Kings Cross station of the London bayfront backlot and travel to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. The ride will likely convince many one-day, one-park ticketholders to upgrade their tickets to a park-hopper. (I’ve even heard there will be kiosks to upgrade your ticket at either end of the tracks.)
But its not just a simple train ride (ala Disneyland), as the trip in each direction represents a different immersive adventure featuring many characters we have come to know and love. More on that in a minute.
King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios Orlando
Park guests who enter Kings Cross Station will see a pretty faithful recreation of a British train station.
The queue goes down a long corridor with subway style advertisements on the sides. You’ll notice that once you enter the underground station, there is an exceptionally long queue. I’m not sure if park visitors will wait hours to transport themselves between the parks and get the Hogwarts Express experience, but Universal has set up enough room to accommodate a gigantic line.
The King’s Cross queue is so long, they even have a little shop set up in one of the subway rooms to allow those in line the ability to buy snacks as they wait.
Finding Track 9 3/4
Once upstairs, guests will be able to transport themselves to track 9 3/4 just like Harry did in the movies, by running through a brick wall. The cool visual magic trick allows you to disappear through the wall between tracks 9 and 10 to enter track 9 3/4. You can see a brief clip of me walking through the wall below:
The effect is pretty cool, and it looks much better in person. It’s unreal. The only problem is that the effect is only visible to those watching from across the way. You are not able to experience it for yourself; there’s no way to see yourself disappear through the wall. (Unless you have a friend record it with their camera or phone, which could be problematic if the queue is long.) A delayed camera on the other side would be a great idea, so you could see the magical effect of yourself walking through the brick wall. But I could see why they might not have wanted to do something like this, as it would break the fourth wall in establishing the theme of the attraction.
Once you enter track 9/34, you are presented with, yes, another queue. But theres a lot to take in and get excited about. Like…
The Hogwarts Express
Looks like luggage from some London wizarding students on their way to Hogwarts.
The Hogwarts Express, how cool is that? Its an amazing sight in person, especially when steam is coming off the train as it’s getting ready to leave the statin.
You will board cabins that can fit up to 8 people each. Each cabin looks exactly like it does in the films.
Wizarding World’s Hogwarts Express Ride
I apologize about the low resolution of the above photo. Our professional DSLR camera ran out of batteries and the inside cabins are low on light. This iPhone photo is all I have, so thats what we’ve got.
Since each train car has seven cabins and there is a total of three cars on the train, that means over 160 people can take the ride at the same time. The train is not a simulator — it actually transports guests slowly across an elevated track to the adjacent theme park. But the window is actually a screen that shows the journey from London to Hogsmeade (or reverse).
The scenes outside feature the scenery you encounter on the trip. They are mostly computer generated, with cameos from popular Harry Potter characters played by the stars of the films. For example, on the trip to Hogsmeade, you will see Hagrid and the flying car, among other things.
But the window screen is only half of the experience. Before the train leaves the station, the train conductor locks the cabin doors.
And it is through this semi-translucent that we will overhear and see interactions with other Hogswarts students on the train, including our favorites: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley (seen above in silhouette). Some crazy encounters will happen just on the other side of that cabin door. You really feel like you’re in the middle of the movie. I can’t tell you how cool this experience is.
The Hogwarts Express ride is more tame than your traditional Universal theme park ride. The train is not on hydraulics. Death eaters won’t knock the train from side to side. Its just a fun immersive experience on a train ride from park to park.
That said, the seats vibrate a tiny bit — You will feel the train going over the old railroad track below you, and when certain things happen outside, the bass will shake you a little bit. The ride experience is scored with music from the Harry Potter movies, with the John Williams theme and all.
My only complaint about the Hogwarts Express ride experience is that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson were unavailable to reprise their roles for this attraction and some of the sequences that involve the characters feel a bit off without Radcliffe and Watson. The voice acting of Hermione sounds notably different from Emma Watson.
When the train reaches Hogsmeade Station, you exit right out front of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the entrance to Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts is rightfully the flagship ride of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley expansion, but the Hogwarts Express experience should not be overlooked. Its more than just a shuttle from park to park, its a well themed immersive experience.
Wizarding World’s Hogwarts Express Ride Videos
Universal has released a video of the Harry Potter stars riding the Hogwars Express ride in advance of the Diagon Alley expansion opening. Watch that video below:
I’m not going to spoil all of the Hogwarts Express adventure, as you should experience it for yourself. But for those who want to see it before they go to the park, our friends at InsideTheMagic have captured the trip on video:
London to Hogsmeade
Hogsmeade to London
Check out my other articles on Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley expansion: