Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Review

I finally had the opportunity to experience #HagRide at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. After two previous attempts to ride the mindblowing attraction, I was able to mount my motorbike and be hurled into a world of adventure. My experience was enhanced because my sister and brother-in-law were visiting, and we got to ride it together for the very first time! Additionally, I was able to share the experience with my friend Dani (her review here) because she was just 30mins ahead of us in queue–we found out each other was at the park in queue for HagRide on Twitter–small world! If you’ve heard it characterized as a storycoaster, you’ve heard correctly. HagRide represents the best of coaster and dark ride technologies all rolled up into one innovative attraction that is unparalleled by any other I have experienced. And if you’re like me–averse to the proliferation of screen-based attractions–then you’ll be immensely delighted that this storycoaster is full of practical effects, sets, props, and groundbreaking animatronics. And to answer the question that is likely on your mind, I only waited for 1.75hrs. Would’ve been 1.5hrs but it was momentarily delayed–no surprise there. Is it worth the 3+ hour wait that many are still reporting? For that, I will not provide commentary; however, my brother-in-law who isn’t a big theme park fan because of the wait times said, and I quote, “that was worth the wait.” Thankfully we had unlimited Express Passes because we were staying at the Royal Pacific Resort, but HagRide does not offer an Express Pass queue nor does it open during the hour-early resort guest hours. Bottom line, this coaster is one that you do not want to miss during your visit to Wizarding World Orlando!

I feel that I have been in the Forbidden Forest ever since I began receiving the Press Releases containing artwork, progress photos, and descriptions of the highly anticipated addition to Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando. Every time I read about a new magical creature or the animatronics, I grew increasingly excited. Unfortunately yours truly still isn’t important enough to Universal to be invited to the media events, but I am glad that I at least get the media emails from the resort to keep up with the goings-on at the park. Thankfully, I can now provide you with the review of my first time on the motorbike (I rode the motorbike, my sister and brother-in-law were directly behind me in the motorbike/sidecar respectively). Although it is not fair to compare it to any existing theme park attraction because of its uniqueness, if you compare it to the two existing Harry Potter attractions, then it has the ride vehicle innovation of Forbidden Journey and the storytelling of Escape from Gringotts. The queue and attraction include more than 1200 live trees to truly immerse you in the forbidden forest. Longtime visitors to Islands of Adventure will recognize parts of the queue as belonging to the former Dueling Dragons turned Dragon Challenge coaster. I love looking for the remnants of the past as incorporated into new attractions.

The story begins in the queue–specifically–the preshow (from which, you are looking at 45mins to 1hr wait). Just as Dumbledore opened Hogwarts to muggles, the premise for the story found in Forbidden Journey, Hagrid opens his Magical Creatures class to muggles! Love the parallel there. During your tour, you will encounter magical creatures with which you are familiar and a brand new hybridization created by Hagrid known as Blast-Ended Skrewt. During the preshow, you also get a first-look at your ride vehicle, Sirius Black’s flying motorbike (that you can also see in the video on the Hogwarts Express as you travel from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade). After the preshow and prior to mounting your bike, you continue to meander the labyrinth of hallways filled with dragon and other creature eggs, graffiti from Hogwarts Students dec the walls, yes even venders selling food and drink in queue because of the long wait time. Because Hagrid loves the students, their sneaking around and all, he is wokring with Arthur Weasley to finish the train of motorbikes that will take students and you out into the Forbidden Forest in large groups to see the Blast-Ended Skrewt. Of course, something goes terribly wrong and hijinks ensue! Prepare for the ride of your life as there are launches, twists, turns, and even some pitfalls along the way.

HagRide excels in both its delivery of the narrative and spectacle. It is both impressive from a technical marvel perspective and experiential one. The long and short of it is that HagRide is FUN! You will want to ride it again and again. Although you will probably not want to wait 3+ hours, time and time again. Whereas I do not typically scream on or truly get lost in an attraction, this one successfully transported me to the Forbidden Forest in both mind and body. I screamed and whoah’d multiples times! Not knowing what lies ahead held me in suspense, and delivered in spades, after every windup. I was holding onto the handlebars of the motorbike as if I was actually on one. If I closed by eyes, I’m confident that I would truly feel that I was on a motorbike zooming through a forest. Every moment, every prop, set piece, and turn earns your screams and laughter! You’ll be captivated by the production design and incredible animatronics the entire time and even after you exit the attraction!

Impressive. That is the one word, aside from fun, that truly captures what it is like to experience HagRide. The combination of technologies integrated into the design of the attraction has never been seen before. No flight simulator can replicate what Universal Orlando Resort was able to deliver in this attraction. There is even a moment that you shot up a nearly vertical ~70ft track section, just to pause for a few seconds then shot backwards through the dark–think Expedition Everest, but BETTER and more intense. That’s not the surprise that awaits you on HagRide, there are seven launches and a 15ft drop (won’t tell you were it is). There was such a huge possibility that the focus could have so easily been on the technology–see what we can do now–but I am pleased to report that the technical advancements never take away from the narrative. There is a perfect balance of spectacle vs narrative; the show and ride technology serve the park guest by enhancing the experience. HagRide effortlessly weaves the story into the mechanics of the attraction in such a manner that you will truly want to experience it again and again to witness what you may have missed on the first time around. I certainly need to return for more re-rides to continually take everything in.

With so much to see on HagRide, you will likely notice some detail in the queue or on the ride that you may have missed before. Definitely make the time to experience Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure!

You can catch Ryan most weekends at Busch Gardens Tampa, SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, or Walt Disney World. So if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him in the parks.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and has been writing on theme parks for more than five years. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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SeaWorld Christmas Celebration 2018 Review

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, no theme park does Christmas better than SeaWorld! From the food to shows to lights, SeaWorld Christmas is a spectacular event. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to experience it multiple nights in order to make sure you create memories that will last for a lifetime. Although I’ve attended Christmas Celebration in the past, it is so magical that I just love experiencing it again and again. Perhaps you are like me in that you attend as many theme park and resort events at possible at Christmas, but if you can only select one for you and your friends/family, then I highly suggest SeaWorld Christmas Celebration!

Before we get into the shows (which are largely unchanged from previous years), I want to talk about the food. Oh, and speaking of food, you’ll want to treat yourself to the sampler lanyard (5 or 10 items) for all the delectable food and drink cabins. My invitation to the media event came with the 5 item sampler, but I can see the advantages of the 10 item option if you plan to attend multiple nights or are there with another person or group. As far as the 5-item lanyard, my friend Dani and I were able to share it and had plenty to eat and drink. Prior to setting out into the park, the SWO public relations team provided many food and drink items for us during the media mixer. My favorite is the s’mores waffle cone! Absolutely delicious. We also had the Christmas dinner and candied popcorn. Out in the park, we had the donut pulled pork sandwich (not included in the sampler), brisket macaroni and cheese, and chicken and waffles! Yes! Chicken and waffles, you heard me. For drinks, we had the Jingle Juice. All the speciality beverages I saw were hot (just FYI). For a cold beverage, there are options but they are not the specialty drinks.

We attended Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, Winter Wonderland on Ice, and Shamu’s Christmas Miracle. Unfortunately, we did not attend O Wondrous Night because of scheduling conflicts. Of course, we also enjoyed the Sea of Trees show on the lagoon that runs throughout the evening. Clyde and Seamore’s show is always hilarious!! You are in for a laugh for sure. Since we were attending during the same showtime as O Wondrous Night, it wasn’t terribly packed but was nicely filled. Largely unchanged, this show is pretty much the same as it was last year, but it is still such a fun show and will have you laughing the whole time. One of my favorite parts of the show is actually the pre-show when the audience all joins together to sing familiar Christmas songs and carols. Although it is a show geared towards the younger members of the audience, there are jokes and references for us adults to chuckle as well. At one point, one of the trainers forgot his line, and there was a comedically self-aware moment. And the Frozen jokes were great. New for this year were some meta jokes about the stores in the mall. So incredibly funny! Poor Blockbuster haha. Do yourself a favor and sit down for a heaping helping of laughter and merriment as Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas!

Winter Wonderland on Ice returns this year! Arrive early for the preshow! Enjoy the beauty of the violin as a fantastically talented violinist plays Christmas music as you wait for the show to begin. Much like the Christmas on Ice show at Busch Gardens, this show features many talented figure skaters in beautifully choreographed skating numbers to your favorite Christmas songs. To be honest, I still prefer the Busch Gardens show, but those skaters are at the park year-round so they can put more time into the show design. That being said, with SeaWorld placing the show on the water’s edge, the exquisite Sea of Trees can be seen behind the ice stage. Since the show is outdoors, SeaWorld is able to integrate some lite pyrotechnics in the show! As a figure skating hobbiest, I have a high degree of appreciation for these shows. I love watching the movements and picking out the ones that I am able to do! Note: I still have a long way to go haha. Bayside Stadium is packed for this show, so make sure to arrive early.

The Christmas Village at Port of Entry is always a treat! With special a’cappella groups, the Christmas village train set, and of course, you can meet Rudolph and Friends! This is the area where you can also enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, craft beer, and cookies! Located near the Christmas Village is Santa’s Base Camp where you can meet the big man himself. With many places to sit down and relax, this is a great place to slow down and take in the smells and songs that make this “the most wonderful time of the year.” I came across the most adorable plushies, once of which is a promotional item! I saw a Shamu with a Santa hat and a Santa Sloth!! There is also a hedgehog and other cuddly plushy animals that will be hard to resist.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW him!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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“Where are You Christmas?” A Review of “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

img_7604One of my favorite times of the year at the Disney Parks is the holiday season. And not just November through December but September through October too. The autumn and winter holidays offer so much opportunity for seasonal offerings that make the Holidays a special time of year for friends, family, and lovers. Of all the holidays, Christmastime is the generally the highest attended and most looked forward to at the Disney Parks. Whereas Universal Studios Florida is the king with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as Queen during Halloween, the big D is arguably king at Christmas–perhaps the Jingle King? Putting a Christmas spin on Pumpkin King. For years, hundreds of thousands of park guests flood the Disney Parks to enjoy everything from Cinderella’s Castle draped in icicle lights to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to the late Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and even Holidays Around the World at Epcot’s World Showcase and Jingle Cruise (the holiday overlay at Jungle Cruise). Not to even mention the elaborate gingerbread houses and other creations at the Disney Resorts. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a slow mitigation of Holiday offerings. Most notably the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios (DHS) and Animal Kingdom’s Jingle Jungle Parade. Along with so many anxious park guests and Cast Members, I too was curious how DHS was going to adjust its Christmas offerings with the conspicuous absence of the Osborne Lights. Sunday night, I was finally able to watch the new Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM show at DHS, and if I had to sum up the experience in one word, it’d be a lukewarm “meh.” But as you know, I will provide you with many more words, haha…….

After the announcement of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM as the special seasonal nighttime spectacular offering at DHS, I was still sad that there were no more dancing lights but I was looking forward to the new show and how it was going to play out. Taking place in the center of the park at the replica of the timeless Grauman’s Chinese Theatre serving as the show building for the opening day attraction The Great Movie Ride and icon of the park, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM (Jingle BAM from hereon) is a colorful display of map projections, lasers, and pyrotechnics. Many of your favorite Disney and Pixar animated films are included as well as a sequence from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. In addition to the familiar film clips, there is a loosely integrated narrative with Santa’s elves and then a message from the big man himself. Accompanying the outstanding map projections of gingerbread men, presents, snow, and other holiday iconic images are a vast array of lasers crisscrossing the sky adding an immersive effect to the courtyard and Hollywood Blvd. No nighttime spectacular at the Disney parks would be complete without pyrotechnics. Jingle BAM boasts a fantastic finale of fireworks that dazzle the sky.

For all the wonderful potential the show has, it unfortunately fails to leave even half the lasting impression that the Osborne Lights left in the hearts and minds of park guests for 20 years. There are a few key elements that contribute to the mediocre reception of Jingle BAM: (1) DHS is not designed/laid out for a nighttime hub show (2) narrative is weak (3) plays out very flat–lacks depth (4) the fireworks are nowhere close to being centered behind the Chinese Theatre (5) fails to elicit a positive emotional response from the park guests (6) Santa’s message is generic and forgettable and (7) there is very little “Christmas” to be found in the show, period. However, it’s not all bad. The show is an outstanding combination of programming, projection technology, and brilliant lasers. The lasers greatly enhance the experience when the snow falls along Hollywood Blvd. From a technical perspective, the show is an incredible spectacle of what happens when art and science are combined.

Unless you arrive one or more hours before showtime or purchase the special dinner/dessert package viewing area, you will quickly notice that your view is most likely obstructed by anything from palm trees, to tech booths, to light poles, shoppes, or even children on the shoulders of parents. Let’s face it, the latter is unavoidable. If you’ve ever been to DHS, you’ll remember that the courtyard in from of the stage in front of Great Movie Ride (GMR) is quite small. Possibly a 1/3 of the size of the one in front of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). So, there isn’t much physical space to work with when accommodating thousands of guests in the same location for a 15min show. Although Osborne Lights moved over the years, it was a staple to the local holiday celebrations, for sure, as well as those who would travel hundreds of miles. Very quickly, for those of you who do not know the history of Osborne Lights, the show was originally on Residential Street (a street of TV houses) until it was moved to its former location on Streets of America (production standing set). Families and friends could casually stroll through the millions of lights that danced every few minutes–synced to classic and contemporary holiday hits! No showtimes. Just continual twinkling and dancing from sunset to one hour after the park closed.

Much like the hub area, the backlot area was also unable to support the majority of the park guests at any one (1) time. So, the continual dancing was important because guests could attend at their leisure. Compounding the physical space dilemma, there are also new palm trees that were installed after the hat was removed, two giant towers that are tech/electrical/equipment booths for the “temporary” stage that sits where the hat was, and several light poles. Once you back up toward Hollywood Blvd, your view is also blocked by the other trees and shoppes. Unlike Magic Kingdom, which has a low grade incline from the train station to the castle, there is no incline from the entrance of DHS to GMR; therefore, the possibility of an obstructed view is greatly increased. Never mind that GMR is less than half the height of Cinderella’s Castle. Between the level surface from the entrance to GMR, the palm trees directly in front of GMR, and the tech booths blocking the view from Hollywood Blvd, it is clear that this park is not designed for a hub show. At least a hub show that runs only once. And you know what? There is little that can be done about the layout of the park. So. The Imagineers and entertainment leadership should recognize those shortcomings and develop a way that a decent view of the show is possible from the central area of the park.

I love the concept of storytelling–in all forms. So, naturally I was curious as to how a story was woven into Jingle BAM. Even now, I am attempting to piece together what the story was. Essentially, the elves are looking for Santa because he is missing. Turns out that he has been captured by Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas. After Boogie’s song number, Santa is rescued. Following Santa’s rescue, he has a message about friends and family. More specifically, he directs the message to the City of Orlando. But, it just doesn’t strike an emotional tone. It plays off as canned and generic. Tiny Tim’s closing remarks “God bless us, everyone” from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Christmas Carol packs much more meaning and impact. Interestingly, it is the other bookend and answer to the novel’s opening line “Marley was dead to begin with, there’s no doubt about that.” I think a holiday message about friends and family is very important, but this one just plays off as forced–like other elements of this show. There is definitely a story and message there, but it is weak. Perhaps it would have been more effective to include some holiday spirit or nostalgia in his closing remarks. I think the show would play out just as well–if not better–if the plot of rescuing Santa wasn’t present. Not that I think the show should be without a story, but the story should be more coherent. Stories, such as this one, should also attempt to elicit an emotional response from the audience but it does not extend its reach beyond the surface level.

The over all experience of the show lacked depth. It felt very flat–like a projected image, ironically enough. All surface level and spectacle but no substance. One of the major attractions to and benefits from Osborne Lights was the total immersion into a winter wonderland. Immersion is so incredibly important in themed entertainment. The Osborne Lights provided more than a show–an experience! Even more importantly than immersion is the concept of experiential attractions. And this was an experience like no other. Jingle BAM lacks these all too important elements of immersion and experience. Instead of experiencing the seasonal holiday offering, park guests watch as third party spectators. The only time it becomes mildly experiential is when the Florida snow begins to fall. One of the most important elements to the experience of the Osborne Lights was the park guests’ ability to go from spectator to participant. The transition from spectator to participant is a popular trend in themed entertainment attractions because it offers a much more visceral experience. But what about the other nighttime Disney shows??? Aren’t they more of a spectacle than experience? Short answer: yes. Wishes, Illuminations, Fantasmic, and the Tree of Life are all about the sheer spectacle of it all. And there’s nothing wrong with that…provided that is how it’s always been. However, Wishes is set apart because of the strong emotions the music and pyro evokes from the park guests. It truly is a magical experience. But the problem occurs when the park offers a participatory experience and replaces it with something more along the lines of a glorified short film.

Most Disney nighttime spectaculars offer a phenomenal dazzling array of pyrotechnics and fireworks. Keeping in line with the tradition of magical Disney fireworks, Jingle BAM also offers an impressive choreographed firework display and dynamic finale. Unfortunately, those fireworks are not behind the Chinese Theatre–not even close. The majority of the pyro and entire firework finale is way off stage left (house right). illuminating the sky above the Animation Courtyard, the fireworks cause the park guests to turn their heads 90-degrees (away from the center of the show). Although DHS would have to close the Pixar area during the Galactic Spectacular (Star Wars nighttime show) in order to keep guests safe from the falling debris, the fireworks shot off above the Chinese Theatre making for a phenomenal nighttime show that was truly spectacular whether you are a Star Wars fan or not. The show was incredibly impressive. With the fireworks way off to the side at Jingle BAM, it feels more like a distraction than the finale.

Lastly, the show simply does not have that holiday spirit. Other than Santa and a couple Christmas songs, the show has a very generic feel. So much so that, take away Santa and replace a few other elements and the show could silly be modified to run as part of daily operations. That certainly displays efficiency, but this is a seasonal offering during Christmastime and should feel special. Guests should have the impression that they cannot get this experience anywhere else. As it stands, this map projection show is not unlike the one at Magic Kingdom. Since Disney has two popular versions of A Christmas Carol as part of its IP, I was shocked that neither make appearances in the show. What is more Christmassy than the timeless classic??? The lack of Christmas music is compounded by the absence of Jack Skellington’s lyrics in the song What’s This? from The Nightmare Before Christmas. As part of the score for Jingle BAM, the accompaniment from What’s This? can be heard, but no lyrics. Although many people celebrate the holiday season differently and various elements are held more dearly than others, there should have been a mixture of classic and contemporary holiday hits to create a festive atmosphere. The magic of Christmas is very much lacking in this seasonal show. Where are you Christmas?

Over all, Jingle BAM is a cute show. Is it a replacement for the late Osborne Lights? No. Is it filled with holiday cheer? Not particularly. But perhaps this is the start of something that will grow to become nostalgic for guests that are just now experiencing the Disney parks for the first time. With map projection shows taking the place of more practical effect shows, we could simply we witnessing the next evolution of nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World. As I recognize the need to evolve and develop new ideas in order to keep the parks relevant to current generations, perhaps Disney Imagineers can find a way to combine both the Osborne Lights and the map projection concept in a new dynamic show–a new experience. In the short term, if Disney Imagineers could find a way to modify the current Jingle BAM to go from a one (1) showtime to something more continuous like the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, then that would quickly solve the physical space and adequate viewing dilemma.