The often-overlooked Flight of the Hippogriff at the back of the new themed land in Universal Studios Hollywood is a short but fun ride that’s perfect for young kids anxious to climb aboard their first roller coaster.
The family-friendly coaster by German-based Mack Rides will be slightly taller (50 feet), longer (1.300 feet) and faster (40 mph) than the Florida version of the roller coaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Like the rest of the land, the Hippogriff queue is remarkably themed with detailed replicas of locations from the Potter books and films. In this case, the locale is Hagrid’s hut. After passing a pumpkin-head scarecrow and a pumpkin patch filled with 100-pound orange, yellow and green behemoths, riders waiting in line come upon the home of Rubeus Hagrid, wizard, groundskeeper and sometimes Hogwarts professor.
Hagrid’s flying motorcycle sits out front, the sidecar covered in mud. You can’t go in the moss-covered hut, but you probably wouldn’t want to anyway -- with Hagrid’s boarhound Fang barking inside. Next to the front door stand a super-sized rake and ax, ideal for an 11 1/2-foot-tall son of a giant. A cart waits nearby carrying a load of animal cages and a jumbo-sized can of flesh-eating slug repellent.
Inside the coaster station, themed to look like a stable for magical creatures, the heavy-timber rafters are filled with tools, barrels and more cages.
The coaster train looks like a wicker basket, with a lead car that suggests the head, wings and feet of a hippogriff, a legendary creature with the front quarters of an eagle and the hindquarters of a horse. The seatless back car of the train features a clever crossover area where employees and visitors alike can pass from one side of the track to the other.
As a sign of respect, riders bow to an animatronic hippogriff in a nest of knotty tree branches as the train leaves the station. The top of the modest five-story lift hill offers a panoramic view of the crooked chimneys and snow-topped roofs of Hogsmeade village and the towering 200-foot-tall Hogwarts Castle.
Built on a compact footprint, the tightly-twisting Hippogriff coaster zips and dips as it navigates a 720-degree clockwise spiral before diving into a trio of banked S-turns with a few airtime hills. The front row affords a spectacular view of Universal’s upper lot while the back offers a few more thrills as the train crests hills and races through helixes. The 40-second ride is short by any standard but a blast for young riders still earning their coaster credentials.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is currently in "soft opening" mode, which means the highly-anticipated themed land is sporadically open in advance of the official grand opening on April 7.
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