Diagon Alley - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
The main draw for Diagon Alley (and the rest of Universal Orlando at this moment) is the thrilling new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. This is a multi-dimensional (part roller coaster, part dark ride, part simulator, and almost entirely 3-D) thrill ride that's basically a combination of Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers / Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
Take note that the story and events for this attraction are from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. If you're familiar with that story then you'll better understand this ride.
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank with the dragon perched on top of it is the icon for Diagon Alley. You'll see people crowding the main street in Diagon Alley, staring at the dragon, taking pictures of it, and waiting for it to breathe fire again. The dragon looks so impressive and is so lavishly detailed that it steals the show. You want to go exploring in Diagon Alley, but it's nearly impossible not to stop and gaze at the dragon. Universal did an unbelievable job with this structure.
When you finally break the curse of the dragon and approach the ride, you'll find the entrance on the right side of the Gringotts building. The entrance is right next to the golden statue of a goblin standing on top of a tower of gold coins. These goblins take their banking seriously.
When entering the building we have the option of taking the main line queue (definitely do this if you're a first-time rider), or going to the right side and taking the single-rider line. Be cautioned that there is no wait time posted for the single-rider line. While this line should generally be shorter and move faster than the regular line queue, depending on the workers in the loading station, that can backfire. On my last trip through the single-rider line, the wait took DOUBLE the wait time posted for the regular line queue.
After entering the regular line queue for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gingotts, guests briefly step outside to the overflow (a.k.a. extended line queue for the really busy days) before returning to the lobby for Gingotts Wizarding Bank. The bank's lobby has a high vaulted ceiling and several incredible chandeliers. On both sides of the room are a series of goblins hard at work. Occasionally the goblins look around at the guests before returning to their banking. At the end of the room is a goblin who talks about safety requirements to enjoy this ride.
Once we pass the head goblin and round a corner, the line queue goes past a series of bank vaults. The vault on the right side is open and in front of it is a cart with gold bars. After that we're assigned to see a photographer to have our photograph taken and grant us permission to access the deeper, more secure bank vaults. This is really your "on-ride" photo for this attraction. You'll have a chance to see the photograph and purchase copies when you exit the ride.
After the photograph we go pass through more hallways in Gringotts. There are several desks with newspapers from the Daily Prophet (with stories such as the death of Professor Dumbledore, and Snape becoming the headmaster at Hogwarts), and offices for various workers at the bank.
The story here is that we're here at Gringotts to open personal bank accounts. The photo was for our "bank record." At the end of the hallway is Bill Weasley's office. Inside of Bill's office we see him and a goblin welcome us to Gringotts, and he assures us that it's the safest bank in the world. This is basically the preshow for the ride.
At the end of the preshow we're instructed to take an elevator down to the deepest part of the bank so that we can access our bank vault.
We're then assigned to one of two elevators. A goblin on a video screen gives us another brief reminder of the ride requirements before the elevator's doors open. The elevator "arrives" at our floor, we step inside of it, and the doors close and we quickly descend nine miles to the deepest of bank vaults at Gringotts.
The elevator ride itself is a neat experience. The floor shakes, wind blows on you, and the screens at the top of the car give the illusion that we're really descending deep into the Earth. Don't worry though --- this is a very mild simulation and the elevator car really doesn't go anywhere.
The elevator's doors open and we begin the final part of the line queue. On the left side are bins where we grab our 3-D glasses for this ride. The line queue then climbs a spiral staircase and we reach the ride's station.
The loading and unloading station for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts looks really cool. There are stalactites above us in the ceiling, and the tunnels look like they've been underground for years. This ride also uses a dual-load station to help increase the speed of the loading and unloading process.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts - ride review (with spoilers)
Each ride set of vehicles for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts consists of two cars, each of them with three rows of four riders. The rows are slightly staggered in height so that those in the back can see above the people in front of them. Although the two cars are connected and form a small train, each car is capable of its own simulator movements including spinning 360 degrees.
After our individual lap bars are secure and we're wearing our 3-D glasses, our cars move forward into the bank vaults and we begin our journey.
Our ride vehicles go around a bend and we come to a stop in one of the hallways. An alarm sounds and a goblin warns us that there's an intruder in Gringotts. On the right side of the screen Bellatrix appears and accuses us of breaking into her vault. She zaps us with her magic wand and the ride vehicles suddenly tilt forward. Actually, it's the whole track that tilts forward and pitches us at a downward angle.
Bellatrix laughs as our vehicles race downward and zip around a few turns while in the dark. This is the main part of the roller coaster segment of the ride. Don't expect anything too intense as we're wearing 3D glasses, so it's not like the roller coaster is going to do anything too crazy. For comparison, this small part of the ride is about half as thrilling as Revenge of the Mummy. Even though the roller coaster part is fairly tame it's still a lot of fun.
Our vehicles go around another bend and Bill Weasley uses his magic to stop us. On the screen we see that he's riding with a goblin on one of those Gringotts cars that we see in the movies. As Bill is apologizing for that incident with Bellatrix, in the back we see Harry Potter riding into the scene on a separate car. With him are Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
Just as the gang is warning us of approaching trouble, their car is rocked and they fall into the cavern below. Suddenly a pair of security trolls (dressed in metal suits of armor) attack our ride vehicles. One of the trolls grabs our car and sends us flying into the next chamber. As we fly through the caverns there are real set pieces around us (such as the track for other vehicles and the rocky walls), further adding to the perception of reality in the ride.
We go spinning into another cavern only to face three more security trolls. A troll tries to attack us but he falls off a ledge. Unfortunately for us, the troll grabs our car and we fall with it down a waterfall further into the cavern. Before we crash, Bill Weasley uses the "arresto momentum" spell to stop our fall. Of course, we're not *really* free-falling in this segment. It's just the illusion of doing so thanks to a simulator along with realistic, 3D images.
Bill makes light of the situation just as a fire-breathing dragon (the same dragon that we saw on top of the building) walks into the scene. Riding on it are Harry, Ron and Hermione. They've retrieved the Horcrux from Bellatrix's vault, and they're on their way out of Gringotts. Suddenly they're attacked by Bellatrix's forces, so they ride on the dragon and begin to climb out of the bank vault. Meanwhile, Bill Weasley uses a spell to send us into a different bank vault for our own safety.
Our vehicles go flying through the lower chambers of Gringotts and a goblin points the way to safety. We come to a stop in a nearby vault, but things quickly go from bad to worse. The wall in front of us breaks and out of the smoke emerges Nagini, the pet snake of Lord Voldemort.
Lord Voldemort appears with Bellatrix. Voldemort thinks that we know where Harry Potter is hiding as he was recently in Bellatrix's vault. Bellatrix is still angry with us, so she uses her wand to zap us again. Our vehicles move away before Voldemort can zap us as well.
We come to a stop inside of a very large cave filled with lava. The interesting thing with the ride here is that it looks like we're at the end of the tracks. We're now surrounded by a large screen showing the 3D scene.
Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix fly into the cave and confront us again. Voldemort is willing to use his magic to torture us so that we'll help him find Harry Potter. He conjures a huge fireball, but before it can attack us, the fireball is destroyed by the fire-breathing dragon. The dragon then tries to breathe fire onto Voldemort and Bellatrix, but they use magic to block the blast of fire, and then they quickly flee from the room. Hermione then casts a quick spell that reveals a secret opening for us to escape.
A secret door opens in the screen and our ride vehicles quickly race forward. There's a brief thrill as we accelerate into the dark passage and then climb a short hill and make a quick turn. This part *might* cause a little bit of motion sickness for some riders. The thrilling segment ends just as quickly as it began.
We're now in a safer part of Gringotts and we see the trio hanging onto the dragon as it climbs back to the surface. Bill Weasley bids us farewell and reminds us that Gringotts is ". . . the safest place on Earth." The vehicles then return to the station.
After climbing out of the ride vehicle, we have to descend a staircase before walking down the hallways to the ride's exit. On the left side is a place where you can view the picture that was taken in the line queue, and then purchase it if you desire. Otherwise, the exit hallway continues to the lockers and Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment store.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts - final thoughts
This ride is a really cool experience from start to finish, especially if you're familiar with the events in the Deathly Hallows films. The theming is outstanding, the details are sharp, the music is straight from the films' soundtracks, and the ride itself is a LOT of fun. Universal Orlando has clearly "upped the ante" with this ride.
One of the better parts of this ride is that it's a little bit tamer than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey next door at Islands of Adventure. If you can handle Transformers / The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and some minor roller coaster segments, then you should be able to enjoy Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
As it was stated earlier, you'll really want to experience the regular line queue if it's your first time on this ride. Don't be discouraged if there's a 30-minute wait. The line tends to move at a decent pace, and it'll take at least 10 minutes to experience parts of the line like the photograph, the preshow with Bill Weasley, and the elevator ride to the depths of Gringotts. The single-rider line skips almost all of the cool theming and you miss the back story with the ride. Plus, the single-rider line is NOT guaranteed to have a shorter wait time than the regular line.
If you can handle the simulator and brief roller coaster segments, do NOT pass up a chance to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts!