The prologue and the promise
Using a Portkey to sneak into our back offices, a group of our most trusted informants has sketched out nearly the entirety of the Hogwarts Express ride experience, including character cameos, scene descriptions, and, even, Easter eggs – for both ways. Needless to say, there are huge spoilers ahead, so tread carefully!
As before, we suggest you cue up the Harry Potter soundtrack, grab a Butterbeer, and prepare to board the ride of a lifetime. One final note: the images used in this post have been added to illuminate the adventure, but none is being seen here for the first time.
Let the magic begin…
Hogwarts Express: Platform 9 3/4
The wait inside the cavernous King’s Cross Station was long but still somehow enjoyable: the theming is impeccably detailed here, much more than anything seen in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade – and that’s saying a lot. You’ve braved the endless switchbacks of the Muggle side of the station, and now, at long last, that iconic barrier between platforms nine and 10 is within eyesight.
You notice right away that there is obviously some sort of magic at work here. Although the wall looks to be completely solid, people are somehow stepping through it – usually at a run, but of course. You can’t quite figure out how Universal Creative managed to pull this one off, but then it’s your turn to plunge through, and excitement takes over all else.
As you run towards the brick wall, there is still some rational part of your brain that dimly realizes there’s actually a passageway for you to pass through, hidden from view from all the others thanks to mirrors, and that when you run through it, you are greeted with smoke effects, but you don’t care – you’re so fully immersed in the environment and on your impending arrival in the wizarding world, all such practical matters fly away.
On Platform 9 3/4, it really is an entirely different world. The Harry Potter music swells and the Hogwarts Express, sitting right there in front of you, billows her steam and sounds her whistle. You can’t quite get over just how authentic-looking it all is – especially the train, which even contains the same bolts and fabric in the interior of its compartments (as you’ll soon see). Just watching it pull out of the station on its way to Hogsmeade is like an attraction unto itself.
You have just enough time to make one last observation before you get to board for yourself: this is truly unlike any other theme park ride on the planet, even aside from all that marketing hyperbole about actually being transported from one physical destination to another – literally every single person alive can step aboard and ride for herself. All around you, there are people in ECVs, children in strollers, even a few individuals trailing oxygen tanks behind them; there are no height restrictions, and the friendly witch and wizard attendants allow younger passengers to sit in their parents’ laps. The sheer amount of inclusion just goes to make the attraction all the more magical.
And then, before you even realize it, you’ve walked down the oh-so-familiar corridor of the Hogwarts Express and are standing in a cabin of your very own.
Hogwarts Express: The journey to Hogsmeade
As you excitedly take your seat and the train pulls ever-so-smoothly out of King’s Cross Station to embark on its six-minute journey to Hogsmeade Village, you hear some wonderfully familiar voices and see some instantly recognizable silhouettes as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger make their way down the hallway to their own compartment. They’ll be sitting not that far from you!
Outside the window, you breathlessly watch as various famous London landmarks flit by, followed shortly afterwards by the beautiful Scottish landscape.
And then your heart is suddenly in your throat as the train abruptly stops and the lights go out in your compartment. You know what this means.
As the temperature plummets faster than you can believe and the windows become frosted, you hear the telltale moaning of a Dementor – and then it’s right there next to you, just outside the cabin door.
It’s surprisingly, amazingly creepy, but it only lasts for a moment; a sudden bright lit fills the room, accompanied by Harry’s voice as he shouts out, “Expecto Patronum!” A beautiful stag made out of pure light runs down the hallway towards the Dementor, buffeting it away from you. Right behind the Patronus are Harry, Ron, and Hermione again, making sure all their friends aboard the Express are safe.
It’s an incredible experience, but the coolest part is yet to come. Just as the trio runs down the corridor, a kindly old lady’s voice asks if anyone wants any chocolate from the trolley, and, not waiting for an answer, she drops a box of Chocolate Frogs in front of your door. They quickly escape from their confines and enter the compartment, hopping all over the floor – and your feet. It’s a simple trick (you realize it must be feet ticklers that are doing the job, just as they do in so many other theme park attractions), but it’s still a magically immersive one.
The next time you manage to look out the window, you’re already in the Forbidden Forest, with the Centaurs galloping alongside you to form a type of honor guard. Past that is the Great Lake and, beyond that, Hogwarts Castle itself. It’s a majestic sight, amplified by the fact that you’ve never before seen it from this particular angle; the castle has never looked more imposing or more dramatic.
It’s the most perfect welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry you can think of, and as you pull into Hogsmeade Station to disembark, you can’t get the huge smile off of your face.
Hogwarts Express: The journey to London
Happily back in your compartment, you see Hagrid waving goodbye to you through the window. You can’t help but wave back, as silly as that may be.
A sudden commotion on the other side of the room turns your attention to the cabin door, which has the face of Ron Weasley plastered against its window. He mistakes you for a first year, apologizes, and then is off to the next compartment down the way.
By this time, you’re making your way back around the Great Lake, and the grand parade of cameos starts: Buckbeak the Hippogriff swoops down to glide over the water, just as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and then, in the Forbidden Forest, the Weasley twins jockey with one another for the best position outside of your window, tossing some fireworks as they do to make a splendid display for you – and also, of course, to advertise their shop in Diagon Alley.
Halfway to London, the Malfoys’ luxurious manor can be spotted in the distance, but it’s what’s next to the building that truly draws your eye: Lord Voldemort himself, who is standing beside giant stones arranged in a circle. He flourishes his wand, there is a bolt of lightning (not unlike the end of Deathly Hallows, Part 1), and then, before you realize it, he’s replaced by an old-looking tree, making you do a double-take. It was all so fast – did you really just see that?
The next cameo, fortunately, is a bit more noticeable – and wackier. As you make your way through downtown London, the Knight Bus emerges from between two buildings and madly careens through traffic and squeezes its way under bridges. Finally, you’re back at King’s Cross, and Mad-Eye Moody, ever on patrol (as in Order of the Phoenix), is there to officially welcome you back.
You’ve arrived. It might not have been as momentous a trip as the way to Hogsmeade was, with its Dementor attack and Chocolate Frog rampage, you reflect as you get up out of your seat, but it certainly was fun to see – and your friends who made the journey with you managed to catch some Easter eggs that you had missed.
You decide to describe what you saw to each other over a nice scoop of ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s.
The fine print
There are several further elements on both legs of the journey – including such additional character cameos as Hedwig and Hagrid aboard his flying motorcycle – that we have opted to not include. We figure it’s best to let some things be a surprise for you on your first journey.
It’s our time to bow out, and Universal now takes the stage. Go behind the scenes of the Hogwarts Express:
To learn more about the Harry Potter expansion at Universal Orlando, including our very latest projections for soft openings and the grand opening, visit our Complete guide to Diagon Alley.
If you liked this ride-through on the Hogwarts Express, then you might really enjoy our ride-through of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (just note that article is a little older, so it’s not quite as up-to-date as this one).
Finally, to discuss the very latest developments with our community, we invite you to join us in the new OI Forums.
The magic continues
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