Escaping Gringotts: A Hogwarts Professor Visits Universal, Day 1.

Date: 7 July 2019

T-shirt choice:  2017 Queen City Mischief and Magic.

Status of Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure: Open briefly.

After an early morning flight (on American Eagle, which made the Ravenclaw in me smile) from Charlottesville, we arrived in Orlando by mid-morning. We caught an Uber to our hotel, the on-site Cabana Bay, a giant Universal property that takes its retro 50’s and 60’s theme to heart, right down to the Alberto V05 shampoo in the bathroom.  Happily, our room was available early, and we were able to eat a quick lunch and hop the hotel shuttle over the Universal Studios Park by early afternoon.

We are here to see the whole park, not just the Harry Potter attractions, so we spent the early part of the day doing other rides. Universal’s specialty is the virtual reality thrill ride: experiences where you get the illusion of entering a scene, sometimes with the aid of 3D glasses. We enjoyed several experiences like this, including Shrek, Despicable Me, the Simpsons and Transformers.  But, we eventually made it over to the Diagon Alley Entrance and crossed through the brick wall to the Wizarding World.  More after the jump! Spoilers for the Escape from Gringott’s ride.

It was wonderful to see my kids react to the amazing recreations, from the Knight Bus to #12 Grimmauld Place to the Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.  We also posed for pictures at the replica motorbike there. The new Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure was in the other park, and we had already decided not to brave the crowds for that on day one. According to our iPhone ap, it was open briefly when we first arrived, but shortly thereafter underwent a series of delays before finally shutting down for the day. Given the apparently erratic availability, and our collective doubt that any ride was worth spending hours in line for, we accepted that this photo op might be the closest we get to the motorbike adventure.

We would up having dinner at the Leakey Cauldron, which was great fun. We sampled the butterbeer, of course, but my daughter and I got Tongue-Tying Lemon Squashes, which I think are much better. And, somehow, during my 2014 visit, I missed seeing the huge, actual leaky cauldron in the fireplace.

After dinner, the phone ap told us the Escape from Gringott’s ride was reasonable, so we headed over there,  This ride was the brand-new feature in 2014, and was hyped almost as much as Hagrid’s motorbike is now, and so it was one I was looking forward to.  (I had a pinched nerve in my neck in 2014 which kept me off most of the rides for “Open at the Close.”) The decorations in this building are among the most impressive in the Wizarding World, which doesn’t skimp on any details. The animatronic goblins are fantastic, and, as my husband noted, there are even ladders on the back of the tall desks that the little tellers would need to climb to reach their seats. On the way down to the ride itself,  there are features like office doors of other goblins, anti-Mudblood pamphlets, and Daily Prophets with moving pictures scattered on tables.

The premise of the ride is that the park visitors are there for a tour of the vaults. In the first room, you are greeted by a surly videotaped goblin who is searching a cluttered office for keys. He opens a deskdrawer, releases a shower of fireworks and Bill Weasley appears at the door. The goblin expresses surprise, but Bill reminds him this is his office, and Accios the hidden keys for him.  The goblin grumbles about Bill not being around for a while. Bill offers to go on the tour with the muggles, so he can sneak out with them, and asks the goblin not to tell any he’s been there.  Once you get into the ride itself, you learn this is the day the Trio plan to steal the Horcrux from Bellatrix’s vault, and Bill has emerged from hiding to assist them if needed.

Our “tour” coincides with the Trio’s invasion. You get to see the ruined remains of Bellatrix’s vault, and the Trio’s escape on the dragon. Voldemort and Bellatrix turn up too, searching for Harry and trying to attack the muggle visitors at the same time. The 3D graphics of the ride itself are amazing— when Nagini is attacking the cart it looks like she’s hovering right over you, and the vibrations are perfectly timed to make it appear like she is actually striking the cart. There is a jolting stop when Bill uses Arresto Momentum to stop your cart from plummeting into the chasm, and you get sprayed with residual water when Bill shields you from the dragon fire with Aguamenti. Despite everything else they have going on, the Trio generously offers the visitors a ride out, towing them with a magic spell behind the dragon.  My family thought the ending was a bit anti-climatic, just a burst into darkness, then being dropped safely back with Bill in the wrecked main level, rather than exploding out of the roof, but we can’t really expect the Trio to take us to the lake with them, can we?

All told, it was a brilliant ride, and one on my list to re-visit if we find time later in the trip.

My earlier dilemma about whether or not to purchase an interactive wand was solved by my son deciding he wanted one, so we headed to Ollivander’s after escaping the bank. We watched one of Ollivander’s wand-choosing shows, and it was fun to see the little girl’s delight when the wand chose her. My son, after much consideration, selected an ash one for himself. We tried a few of the spells out in Knockturn Alley, where the dancing skeleton was easily the most impressive. even my husband remarked on the level of detail in this seemingly out-of the-way spot. For example, there is a small wizarding tattoo shop where you can peek through the windows to see moving tattoos, and a set of shrunken heads that, if you have a wand, can be charmed into singing “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

Our final act was to take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade, where we arrived just in time for the evening light show on Hogwarts Castle. This is a short but colorful light- and fireworks show where they light up the castle. Each house gets a mention; the most visually impressive part was seeing the Slytherin snake slitherin’ up the tower.

In sum, a busy but productive first day. We arrived back at the hotel exhausted.

Come back tomorrow to hear about Day 2!



  1. Kathleen Van Every says

    I would love a trip like this. As someone with degenerative discs in the spine who almost fell to pieces after an old fashioned Mousetrap roller coaster ride at 6 flags(?) over 7 yrs ago, would I be wise to not ride any of the rides? Are any of them just regular and gentle like Pirates of the C (used to be)? I am trying to figure out if it is still worth the time and $ to go if I can’t tolerate the rides. thanks for your reporting.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    The only “gentle” Harry Potter ride is the Hogwarts Express, which is delightful and with different graphics in the two directions. But all the others, even the “family friendly” Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, carry warnings against people with back or neck injuries riding.

    I’ll be reporting on other features (shops, shows, etc.) on the next few posts, so hopefully you can make a decision. Personally, if I could not ride, I would try an “Open at the Close” style private event for Harry fans, to make it a more intimate event.

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