Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is one of Universal’s most critically-acclaimed attractions — and one of the most unreliable in the entire theme park industry.
Operational difficulties are to be expected with new attractions, especially when they’re as technologically ambitious as the Hagrid coaster. The ride features seven launches, a vertical drop track and several animatronic figures.
“It’s very typical for a sophisticated ride of this type to have bugs and issues that they have to work out,” said Dennis Speigel, theme park consultant of president of International Theme Park Services. “Five to six months into the ride, that appears to be a little long to me” to be having such issues, he added.
To get a sense of just how often Hagrid’s has been unavailable to guests, Orlando Rising turned to Touring Plans, a subscription service offering customizable itineraries to avoid long lines at major theme parks.
Touring Plans provided Orlando Rising with data covering the 170 days after the Hagrid ride opened, covering June 13 (counted as day 0 on the charts below) through Nov. 30.
The site also calculated monthly averages for how often the ride was operating while Universal’s Islands of Adventure was open to guests.
There has been no discernible pattern to the downtime at Hagrid’s, according to Touring Plans statistician Steve Bloom — and its availability got worse months after opening.
November saw a “relative improvement” in the ride’s availability, Bloom said, but even during this period, the ride couldn’t always stick to its operating schedule. Between Nov. 4 and Dec. 2, Hagrid’s was operating when Islands of Adventure opened in the morning only 67 percent of the time.
This would have led to disappointment for guests who adopted the typical theme park strategy of arriving ahead of “rope drop” to ensure a short wait for a park’s most popular attraction.
The lower availability for Hagrid’s isn’t all that surprising; since the beginning of the ride’s operation, Universal has limited its operating hours, first opening it later than the rest of Islands of Adventure and later closing it early.
But it has also frequently been closed within that limited schedule. As Touring Plans found, no new attraction at Universal or Disney in recent memory has experienced as much downtime as Hagrid’s coaster.
“Other attractions may have had some hiccups during the rollout of a new attraction, but nothing at the magnitude of Hagrid’s,” Bloom said.
To make a fair comparison with Hagrid’s difficulties, Touring Plans provided Orlando Rising with the same availability data for other recent theme park additions over their first few months of operation.
The differences were startling. 2014’s Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and 2016’s Skull Island: Reign of Kong, for example, were consistently available during 90 percent of the park’s operating hours almost immediately after opening.
In contrast, after Hagrid’s was operational for 96 percent of the park’s hours on its opening day, it took another 44 days for the ride to hit even 80 percent availability. Hagrid’s didn’t top 90 percent again until late November.
Recent additions at Walt Disney World have also been more reliable. For example, the Mouse’s big summer 2019 addition, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, has never fallen below 90 percent availability during park hours at either Disneyland or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Here’s how Hagrid’s availability compared to the early days of Smugglers Run at Disneyland, Slinky Dog Dash at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom:
The only recent Disney or Universal attraction that comes close to the amount of downtime seen at Hagrid’s, according to Bloom, is the Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure.
A rethemed version of the existing California Screamin’ coaster, the Incredicoaster opened on June 23, 2018. Here’s how it and Hagrid’s fared during their first five-and-a-half months:
So how does it get fixed?
The good news for Universal is that the ride has been well-received critically.
Any permanent adjustment to Hagrid’s would come, as Speigel said, “when the guests rebel” with complaints and survey responses showing their dissatisfaction.
Universal did not respond to Orlando Rising’s request for comment on this story and has not publicly divulged the issues behind the ride’s frequent downtimes (which, at one point in the early fall, were caused by a bee infestation).
Whatever the exact malfunctions are, Speigel said Universal will be working to fix them in collaboration with the ride’s manufacturer, Intamin, a Swiss company responsible for attractions like Escape from Gringotts, Incredicoaster, and The Simpsons Ride.
Disney may also be watching the operations closely as it builds its own storytelling coaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, for Epcot.
“Anybody else that’s looking at a similar mechanical experience, will also be aware of this and want to make sure that all of the components — the audio and video, the operating mechanics — all of that is working together in harmony, before they spend millions of dollars on a ride like this,” Spiegel said.
Universal could take a page out of Disney’s book and institute a virtual queue system, as Disney World has used for the first days of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. While Universal initially announced it would utilize a virtual line for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, such a system has never been implemented for those eager to experience the ride.
“Disney’s use of a virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance is a brilliant strategy for an attraction with operational problems,” Bloom said. “People don’t lose time waiting for an attraction that may be offline for an unknown amount of time. If the ride has to be reset guests don’t lose their place in line.”