Back in ancient times – say, the 1990s – if you wanted to see a blockbuster movie on opening day or be the first on your block with a hot new toy, you simply had to stand in line. In today's era of on-demand streaming, advance seat reservations and one-hour delivery, the idea of wasting time in a physical queue seems increasingly absurd. But last week, Universal Orlando demonstrated that people are still willing to trade hours of their life in exchange for magical thrills – at least as long as a certain Wizarding World is involved.
Unless you've been hiding inside the Chamber of Secrets, you've probably heard about the June 13 grand opening of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, the latest addition to Islands of Adventure's nine-year old Harry Potter-themed area. The new indoor/outdoor "story coaster," which replaced the Dragon Challenge inverted roller coasters, made national news last Thursday for the 600-minute-long line of fans that snaked all the way through Lost Continent and Seuss Landing to the park's entrance.
Of course, I was right there in the middle of that mishigas, and although I didn't endure the full 10 hours, I did end up investing nearly seven and a half hours for my high-velocity visit to the Forbidden Forest. In the days since its debut, demand for Hagrid's has hardly dampened, with estimated wait times regularly reaching 300 minutes, forcing the queue to shutter for capacity hours before park closing. Much like its predecessors Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts, I expect off-peak wait times to settle down to around an hour after the attraction's novelty wears off and the operations team increases the hourly throughput, but at least for this summer, you can count on spending a minimum of two to three hours waiting if you want to learn about the care and feeding of blast-ended skrewts.
So, could any theme park ride really be worth waiting half a day or more for? If you're in the park on a one-day ticket, the answer is likely no, even for the most hard-core Potter-heads. However, as a local annual passholder, I'll admit that this attraction comes as close to being "worth" such insane wait times as any I've ever experienced. With a top speed of 50 miles per hour and no loops, Hagrid's adventure isn't so extreme that it will scare off tweens and grandparents, but don't underestimate its twisty turns: With more launches than any coaster on earth and the longest track in Florida, it's already liberated more than a few lunches. Better yet, the ride is populated with detailed sets, Easter egg props and lifelike animatronics – all without a pair of 3-D glasses in sight.
Its combination of the best elements of Expeditions Everest, Slinky Dog Dash and Revenge of the Mummy made Hagrid's Magical Creatures instantly land a spot on my personal all-time Top 5 list alongside Spider-Man and the Haunted Mansion, and that's after only one ride-through.
Even so, I can advise anyone planning to endure through the humid hell for themselves, there's a better way. Only a pricey VIP tour can cut you to the front of the line (even Universal Express passes aren't accepted yet) but these tips will help cut down on the pain.
1. ARRIVE EARLY. NO, EVEN EARLIER.
On opening day, I foolishly thought arriving two and a half hours before the park was scheduled to open would be sufficient, and found myself at the end of a very long queue when I entered the park shortly before 6:30 a.m. My friends who arrived an hour earlier appeared on the Today Show and were off the ride by 10 a.m., while I didn't get my turn until shortly before 2 p.m. If you're going to wait anyway, might as well do it before it gets hot.
2. STAY HYDRATED
Universal did a great job of supplying guests with cold water while we waited, as well as using a DJ and costumed character to entertain the crowd. They also sell snacks and beer, but that could end badly once you hit the turns.
3. BRING AN UMBRELLA
Chances are it will rain at least once, and bad weather is this ride's Achilles' heel: One bolt of lightning within five miles of the park will shut it down, and it can take an hour of inspection before restarting.
4. TEST-DRIVE THE SEAT
Like Forbidden Journey and Gringotts, this ride's unique vehicles may be unfriendly for taller and larger guests; Hagrid himself couldn't fit. The motorcycle seat sits higher and provides more freedom of movement; the sidecar is lower and closer to the creatures but a bit cramped. Test them both outside the entrance before investing hours in wait.
5. BEWARE OF SINGLE RIDER
I made a tactical error and opted for the Single Rider queue, which skips the preshow (another Musion hologram, this time featuring Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid and Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley) and the Easter egg-filled queue. That sacrifice saved me less than an hour, and I wish I'd stuck it out in standby.
6. WAIT FOR THE VIRTUAL LINE
Universal says they'll offer a Virtual Line through their smartphone app, which will let guests wander the rest of the park until appointed time. You'll still have an hour-plus wait upon returning, but it's better than standing still all day. Unfortunately, at press time the system still hadn't been implemented. You can save a bit of pain by waiting until it is.