Welcome to our Universal Orlando Resort summer 2019 trip report! This trip was mostly a chance to visit the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, but will also mark the beginning of our coverage of Universal on this site. This post covers rope drop to Hagrid’s followed by a day with Universal Express Pass.
About This Trip Report
This trip report covers an August visit to Universal Orlando Resort. As it includes much coverage of the new Hagrid’s attraction, it should be largely useful for the coming months. However, note that as the holidays ramp up, you’ll want to be aware of how they impact your trip. In particular, Halloween Horror Nights is a huge event at the resort beginning September 6.
Trip reports usually supplement our existing coverage, but in this case we are building a significant amount of content based on these visits. Although we’ve visited before, we’ve never done so as serious bloggers. As a result, you might feel like the times and photos are similar to, say, our one-day itinerary posts.
I decided it was still worth doing the separate trip report, though, because some people enjoy the less formal nature of trip reports and are just here to see what a trip looks like, not to plan one themselves. Here are all the posts in this trip report (links open in new tabs):
Universal Orlando Trip Report Part 4 — Hagrid’s Rope Drop and Express Pass Day (this post)
Arrival at Islands of Adventure
My original plan for this day was for it to be my Islands of Adventure day. Yesterday’s day at Studios was a smooth success, so I was hoping to replicate that at Islands of Adventure. Things did not go as planned.
Seeing a line to buy coffee at 7:17AM, I knew I was running a bit behind the crowds on this Saturday morning. I made the walk to Islands of Adventure, arriving at 7:38AM for a 9AM scheduled open.
My goal was to rope drop Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. I already talked a tiny bit about Hagrid’s in yesterday’s post, and it’ll come up several times more in this report.
Basically, there’s no best way to get on Hagrid’s—every options has pros and cons, and I’ll be trying to discuss them as I work through the rest of this trip report.
The rope drop crowd wasn’t so bad, and my position in line was probably near enough to get me a quick ride on Hagrid. But I was curious about this guy…
It’s pretty obvious we all assumed he worked there and was at those turnstiles to tell people to go elsewhere, though I never saw him actually do that.
Finally, he put on his Hogwarts robe, so I went and talked to him. It turns out he just dresses in nice Hogwarts-themed clothes.
So now I found myself in the second spot in this line. He arrived at 7:10AM to secure one of the last front-row spots, by the way. A family that arrived at 6:45AM claimed to have been the first there.
The gates opened right at about 8:30AM, and the running (not me) began. I kept an okay pace and managed to be in the second row when we were held up just outside Seuss Landing.
At 8:50AM, Team Members escorted us to Hagrid’s. Here are some thoughts on rope drop.
Hagrid’s Rope Drop (Briefly)
I didn’t think this rope drop was too bad—Slinky Dog Dash is worse, but there were chokepoints and lots of people taking alternative routes around Seuss Landing.
My later experience (part 6) farther back in the pack was much worse, which isn’t surprising as people farther back have more to make up by gaining ground.
I wouldn’t try to “hack” this rope drop. The formal queue begins well outside Hogsmeade. If you try an alternative route to Hogsmeade, you simply won’t be in line. It’s not like the entrance to the ride is just open for you to walk through if you somehow beat people there.
Two days later (part 6 of this report), I did see people within Hogsmeade and coming from the Hogwarts Express joining the queue at 9:07AM. That was when I was walking through that point, and the wait wound up being an hour.
The walk to the queue took 16 minutes, and I was inside the last room of the Hagrid’s queue at 9:06AM. And nothing happened.
And still…nothing happened.
Hagrid’s has had operational issues since day one. This means it goes down for large chunks of the day, often closes early, and sometimes opens late.
It wasn’t until 9:45AM that the ride actually began operating, and I was off right at about 10AM.
Now, if this were a normal visit to the park, I think I would have gone to Skull Island Reign of Kong (15 minute wait) or Jurassic Park Adventure, hoping to visit Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man in the afternoon.
But on my to-do list for this trip was to try Universal Express Pass. And this was the perfect chance for that. I used my phone to purchase a 2-Park Express Pass (one ride per ride, not Unlimited) for $139.99+tax, and I instantly had the barcode in my “Wallet” on the Universal app.
Express Passing Through The Parks
Express Pass is Universal Orlando’s “skip the line” system. The quotes are intentional—as we’ll see shortly, the lines for Express Pass can be decently long. We’ll be reviewing and breaking down this product in full in a separate post.
My goal wasn’t to get through as many rides as possible with Express Pass, by the way. If it were, I definitely would have made some different decisions throughout the day (including, you know, riding more rides).
Rather, I needed a good sense of how much time is really saved with Express Pass, and that meant targeting a variety of standby times.
I started with The Incredible Hulk Coaster, which had a 45 minute posted wait at 10:53AM. It took me 23 minutes in the express line, five of which was due to downtime for the ride.
There’s little point in making this a narrative. Here’s a list of rides I used Express Pass on, along with their posted waits and my wait:
The Incredible Hulk Coaster — 45 Posted, 23 Express
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man — 65 Posted, 11 Express
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall — 25 Posted, 11 Express
Skull Island Reign of Kong — 80 Posted, 33 Express
Jurassic Park River Adventure — 25 Posted, 9 Express
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — 45 Posted, 10 Express
Hogwarts Express — 30 Posted, 3 Express
MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack — 45 Posted, 6 Express
The Simpsons Ride — 20 Posted, 17 Express
Transformers — 30 Posted, 10 Express
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem — 40 Posted, 17 Express
Revenge of the Mummy — 30 Posted, 10 Express
ET Adventure — 35 Posted, 13 Express
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts — 45 Posted, 22 Express
There are tons of reasons why you shouldn’t just compare posted wait times to my wait times. But you’re going to do it anyways so I’ll save you the math—that was 560 minutes posted wait time and 195 minutes actually waited. Very roughly, my Express wait times average 1/3 the posted wait time.
It’s sort of crazy…I still spent over three hours in line, including 33 minutes for one ride. For 14 rides, I waited an average of about 14 minutes. Universal’s rides are about six minutes long (that’s a total spitball), so figure 20 minutes spent per ride. I’ll cover all of this more in my post on Express Pass.
Last note about Express Pass. I was scanning the QR code on my phone all day and it was a real pain for Team Members because it only worked half the time. As none of them asked me to try my park ticket (annual pass), I don’t assume that was on option.
If you buy a physical Express Pass in the park, you can just scan that, and things are much smoother. I recommend trying to do that. They can be bought from most merchandisers and at dedicated stands throughout the park.
Other Highlights from the Day
Express Pass rides and Hagrid’s (not on Express Pass) accounted for somewhere near 6 hours of the 12-hour (9AM to 9PM) day at the parks. Given that so many of my Express Pass rides were at peak waits, I surely could have ridden all 29 rides on Express Pass had I wanted (and maybe I’ll prove that one day).
But I spend the rest of the day just enjoying a beautiful day in the parks. I spent a ton of time in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, taking lots of pictures I’ll never use. I think I’ll put up a gallery of them soon, though. Here’s Hogwarts, for now:
I was able to catch a performance by Celstina Warbeck & The Banshees. It’s a good show in Diagon Alley, but I do prefer the cool puppets of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
I built my own vegetarian meal at The Three Broomsticks—kids mac and cheese (with grapes and applesauce) and potatoes. The mac and cheese was really watery and flavorless, but the potatoes were great.
I love sitting on the steps at Diagon Alley, particularly at night. It’s a fun chance to get a different perspective on things, including cool shots like this:
The dragon blows fire every ten minutes, by the way. Most of the time you can see the pilot light come on in his mouth a bit before he begins making his noises, and then he blows the fire.