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I was all ready to tell you about how I tackled Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures: a roller coaster I was terrified to ride. It seemed simple at first. Wait on line for four hours or maybe seven hour or even 10 hours. Do that in the sun, the rain and the humidity, indoors and out, with little to eat beyond one meh hot dog. Yesterday I stuck it out in line for 11 hours at Universal Orlando.
Then I quit, so I never got to try that roller coaster after all.
How I Waited in Line for 11 Hours and Never Got to Ride the Coaster
Here’s what happened. TPG Family hired me to try Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure on the very first day it opened the public — yesterday, June 13. I arrived at Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventures theme park in time to join the line at a smidgen before 8:30am.
I went in knowing that Disney parkgoers often wait as long as four hours to ride Avatar Flight of Passage at Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And, waits can be as long as five hours at Walt Disney World during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Additionally, I’d read that the debut of the highly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, just last week at Disneyland, went smoothly. I never once heard a mention of 11-hour waits for a single ride, so I figured I’d entertain myself for two to four hours in line before experiencing the reputed thrill ride of a lifetime.
No thanks to an employee who led me awry, I spotted a queue in Seuss Landing, near the front of the park. As I stepped in, a staffer holding a sign told me the wait would be more than eight hours. Egad! But heck, I was on assignment so I took my place, worried about how I’d get water and how I’d use the restroom. I also kind of figured Universal was overestimating the wait time and it would really be shorter. That’s the last time anyone told those of us in line anything.
What Universal Did Right…
For the next 11 hours, a very civil group of Harry Potter die-hards, theme park enthusiasts and, mostly, vacationers who happened to be in town snaked Seuss, then areas behind The Lost Continent and then the entry ramps to the Hagrid ride. Sometimes we moved; often we stood still.
Universal did some things very right for us. It let us slip out of manned gates to use the restroom (not that anyone told us; we just eventually asked) and, if we dare, scoot out to buy a bite to eat. In one area, a DJ played music; the crowd danced to the “Cupid Shuffle.” In another, a talking fountain did a very bad stand-up comedy routine. Characters showed up twice; by the second time, no one paid attention.
In a couple of spots, we came across giant thermoses filled with cold water for our bottles as well as free bottles of chilled water. Occasionally we came across a snack stand selling chips and drinks. One lady worked the crowd selling foot-long hot dogs, and thank goodness because by that point I’d practically bawled when a line neighbor threw ketchup-doused fries into a trash can instead of offering them to me. I was famished.
The weather varied. It rose above 80F and the sun burned our skin. Later in the day, it rained and became cool and breezy. Most of the time, the air was humid but the sky was cloudy, so the temperature was bearable. We often had shade above us.
…And What It Did Wrong
But Universal also messed up. All the employees were friendly, but none of them had information to share. We’d ask a gate watcher how far away we were from the ride. “I’d guess 35 minutes from here,” he’d say. We’d ask another nearby. “I’m pretty sure it’s three hours from where you’re standing now.” Their guesses were based on almost nothing.
So, we waited. Folks checked their phones and found what the wait was at the very back of the line (at one point 600 minutes, which is 10 hours). They’d share that a friend who arrived at 6am. just exited the coaster at 10am, and claimed it’s the best one they’ve experienced in their lifetime. Before their batteries died, they surfed to some app that showed a storm was hovering and deduced that our line was standing still because the ride was shut down for safety reasons, as lightning could strike. Of course the ride needs to cease operations in that case, but we never knew for sure because no one in a position of authority ever walked the line and informed us. The general consensus among the guests was that the ride shut down three times due to weather delays and once, that we know of, for technical reasons.
So, over the course of 11 hours, we walked, stood, leaned and sat on the ground. We talked, laughed and stared into space. We were all relaxed, enjoying the journey, figuring we had to be near our goal sometime soon.
Why I Left Without Riding the New Coaster
Only that time never came. At 6:03pm, nearly 10 hours after we’d gotten in line, we entered the interior of the Hagrid attraction. Then we walked and stood for another … who could keep track? At this point, we were wet and soggy. By the time we heard the third taped announcement about a delay that could take as long as 45 minutes, we were all sitting inside Hagrid’s castle and shivering. We all still planned on staying — heck, we’d put in all that time — but then a live announcement mentioned something about a technical issue and at least another 20 minutes. One determined mother went outside, hunted down someone knowledgeable, and came back to report that the ride was having both technical and weather issues.
I’d been ready to bolt before that but fellow waiters had bellowed, “No! You can’t do that! You gave 11 hours of your life for this! Stay!” We did all seem like kin by then. I would have hung around. If someone came in and talked to us. If some hourlies brought small samples of butterbeer and maybe a sliver of pretzel for each of us. If someone treated me like an adult and showed respect for the fact that I’d paid $125 for a ticket and spent the next 11 hours waiting to do something and never had anyone in the know explain what was going on.
But it was near 7 at night. I was chilled, hungry and thirsty. And I had no idea at all when the line would move so I could make that final half-hour trek to the mile-long Hagrid ride with the seven launches, free-fall drop and a long spell riding sideways.
I went home.
Then I got a text from one of my “line family” telling me they departed soon after.
She later heard that those who stayed around were later offered free passes for the next day, but also that one of our crew was still there and thinks that’s not true. This woman complained at Guest Services and was given dining passes.
This morning, I heard from another line mate that finally made it onto the ride after waiting 14 hours. He said it was a phenomenal experience, so no regrets.
I’m sorry I didn’t get to ride on Hagrid’s motorcycle or in his sidecar. I’m glad I got to experience the process of trying a major theme park ride on its first day open to the public. I’m glad to have had such an iconic Orlando experience and to have done that with such good-spirited fellow travelers. I’m glad Universal took so many steps to make its guests comfortable.
Communication, though: That would have made the difference. The hourly employees knew nothing, and that’s who we encountered, so we spent the whole day in the dark, until we left when it was almost dark.
What did I learn from this experience? Should I ever try to nab a ride on a new attraction opening day, I will pack healthy snacks, a hat, a refillable water bottle, waterproof sandals, a raincoat, a backup battery and sunscreen. I’ll also wear clothing that dries quickly. Most important: Bring a relaxed attitude.
Featured image by Rona Gindin
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