On July 24, 2017, Universal made an announcement that was widely expected but which was nonetheless sad to many a Wizarding World of Harry Potter fan: Dragon Challenge, that massive, formerly-dueling inverted roller coaster, would be shutting down for good on September 5 of that year.
Ever since then, the company has kept its wizarding cards close to its vest, refusing to comment on the replacement ride – even while erecting the new track in record time and making such Potter moves as including the Boy Wizard in the Cinematic Celebration nighttime show and cancelling (well, at least temporarily) A Celebration of Harry Potter. Oh, sure – contained in that original press release were a few vague hints about what would be coming in 2019, such as the fact that the new experience would be a “highly themed” roller coaster that would be both thrilling and family-friendly and which would reach “a new level of storytelling with an action-packed adventure,” but that was about it.
Until now, that is – well, sort of.
Author J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore dropped the first poster for the mysterious new Harry Potter coaster, and while we don’t have anything as fancy as a name or an exact opening date, we do have plenty of clues as to what the attraction will have in store for us – three, in fact, and we’re going to break them all down right now.
1. The Forbidden Forest
The setting of this new ride has been the cause of much hypothesizing and debate among the Harry Potter faithful, and for good reason – there are so many rich and inviting environments contained within Jo Rowling’s sprawling mythology, any number of them can make for a dynamic ride experience. Now, however, we can rather confidently say that the much-hoped-for Forbidden Forest is, indeed, going to be the location that the new coaster twists and turns its way through, given both the poster’s preponderance of trees and their proximity to the famed Hogwarts Castle, which can be seen towering in the distance.
Utilizing the Forbidden Forest not only breaks new Wizarding World of Harry Potter ground (much as Universal promised last year), allowing for a whole host of new scenes, characters, and creatures that we haven’t yet encountered in the likes of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Escape from Gringotts, it also logically builds upon the contours of Hogsmeade’s geography, thereby keeping intact the illusion that guests are just in one place (and time) in Harry’s wondrous world. Furthermore, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the former Dragon Challenge, whose queue led riders through the forest – and past the Weasleys’ flying car! – on their way to their Triwizard Tournament task (an experience that you can relive step by step in our overview and guide).
Finally, allowing guests to actually set foot in the Forbidden Forest opens up a whole host of Easter egg opportunities, giving riders something extra to hunt for on repeat visits, and also opens up tons of merchandising possibilities, giving stores all across Hogsmeade (and, just perhaps, Diagon Alley) something extra to carry on their exclusive store shelves.
2. The creatures
One of the reasons that makes the Forbidden Forest so appealing in a theme-park context is, of course, its denizens – a surprisingly large number of magical creatures call the area home, and a fair good number of them are of the more menacing variety. It’s literally the stuff that attractions are made of.
The concept art provides only one hint here: Cornish Pixies, who got their moment in the cinematic sun in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Professor Gilderoy Lockhart let the little buggers out of their cages and allowed them to cause all sorts of mischief in the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom. They could not only become the stars of their own scene(s) in the new ride, they could also provide some much-needed comedic relief – and, even above and beyond all this, they would represent some brand-new elements that have yet to be witnessed in any of the other Wizarding World attractions, getting back to Universal’s promise.
Their presence could also hint at other forest dwellers making appearances, as well. Centaurs, unicorns, Acromantulas, thestrals, and, just perhaps, trolls and werewolves permanently live in the area, and, additionally, there is also a good selection of special “one-off” characters who dwell there, even if temporarily: Hagrid’s giant half-brother, Grawp; Fluffy, the three-headed dog seen in Sorcerer’s Stone; the dragons required for the aforementioned Triwizard Tournament; and that certain Ford Anglia that Ron Weasley and Harry himself accidentally deposited in the woods. While some of these have already popped up in other attractions – the Acromantuals and dragons can be encountered in Forbidden Journey, while the centaurs and thestrals (kinda) make an appearance in the Hogwarts Express – others would still be brand-new. And all, of course, would be nothing short of exciting to run into while careening down a twisting coaster track.
3. The mysterious building
We’ve saved the most ambiguous item for last.
There is some sort of mysterious building in the background of the poster, essentially positioned between Hogwarts Castle and the bulk of the Forbidden Forest. And while the structure certainly seems to fit Hogwarts’s architectural design, we just can’t be sure what, exactly, it is or, therefore, what function it seems to serve. We’ll simply need to wait on confirmation from Universal on this front, plain and simple.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t guess. There are three different explanations for the mystery building: (1) it’s a location designed by the filmmakers for this November’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (hey – parts of the movie do take place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry); (2) it’s a place hinted at in the novels that we’ve yet to see realized visually; or (3) it’s an entirely new creation made by Universal expressly for the ride. We’ll know whether number one is correct in just a few short months, while two seems farfetched but certainly not out of the realm of possibility (how many fake storefronts or signs in Diagon Alley fall into this category?). The third option has been the least employed by Universal over the years, though the few instances can really stand out – such as the Globus Mundi travel agency that was first just a sign in Carkitt Market and then, as of December 2017, a mini-line of new merchandise in the parks.
No, there’s nothing conclusive here, but at least Harry Potter fans will have something new to chew on while waiting for the big media blowout that we now know will occur sometime in 2019’s early months.
The new Harry Potter roller coaster is expected to debut in 2019.