Towering above the Wizarding World of
is Hogwarts, the signature structure of the new Universal Orlando attraction at
. In the Potter books and films, the castle is home to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but the Orlando version houses the rollicking new ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Even if you don't want to get on board, you should wait in line. The queue for Forbidden Journey winds through the castle and is filled with Potter relics set in rooms that resemble scenes from the movies. Immersive is an understatement.
The ride comes with a backstory. For the first time in history, muggles — that's author
's term for non-magical folk — are being allowed to tour Hogwarts school.
The queue is both dark and picturesque. Guests tend to bump into one another while absorbed in the surroundings. Here's what to expect on a walk-through.
Passengers enter the castle through the dungeon, appropriately but disorientingly dark after being in the bright sunshine. To the immediate right are storage lockers. The queue begins to the left. If the single-rider line is available, there will be a wool-vested team member to guide you, but be aware. With this shortcut, you miss about 90 percent of the Hogwarts queue experience.
Folks taking the regular castle tour spend little time on the ground level before encountering the first bits of Potter pieces, the Mirror of Erised and a statue of the one-eyed witch. Soon, they are back in the sunlight, under the cover of the castle greenhouse. (There's a drink cart stationed here. It's handy, but tiny-bladdered visitors should keep in mind that the public restrooms are way over near the middle of the Hogsmeade village.)
The greenhouse is open-air, a bit humid and decorated with hanging greenery and a few mandrakes, none of which give off a deadly shriek. This stretch has ramps that lift the queue up to the next level.
Entering the castle proper again — you're back in air-conditioning for good — a long hall showcases statues of Hogwarts' architect and its first headmaster. A curved room houses a golden statue of a hippogriff (half eagle, half horse).
Portraits dominate the next rooms and corridors. The "living" paintings of the founders of Hogwarts' four houses discuss matters ranging from a lost dragon to disdain for a certain boy wizard. (That Salazer Slytherin has a bad attitude about Harry.)
The portraits hush up as we enter the office of headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who welcomes us muggles. It's a faithful re-creation of the space as seen in the Potter films. He stands high above his audience and although he has a glow about him, the look is mystifyingly three-dimensional.
From here, we're ushered into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where Harry and his pals Ron and Hermione conspire to rescue us from a deadly dull lesson on the history of Hogwarts. In this room, we see the cloak of invisibility in action, a giant skeleton and, sometimes, inclement weather.
On our way to the Gryffindor common room, we pass by the Fat Lady portrait and assorted relics, including an edition of the Daily Prophet. In the common room, four never-before-seen characters explain safety precautions before we enter a hallway that ends with the Sorting Hat, which spiels off more rules.