Great Movie Ride from above

If you’re a fan of Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando, it’s likely that you can close your eyes and instantly conjure up an image of your favorite ride.

The Haunted Mansion? There it is, with its foreboding looks and a creepy graveyard out front.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey? There’s Hogwarts Castle, with the mighty towers and turrets seen in the movies about the boy wizard.

Disney and Universal have done an incredible job of bringing to life fantastical places and convincing guests that they are really there. But, in reality, the illusion is only designed to work from certain angles. There’s no need for Universal to recreate the entirety of Hogwarts – it just needs to reproduce enough of it to give visitors the impression that the entire castle is present, even if some of it is hidden from view.

We love being immersed in Orlando’s theme parks. But it’s also fascinating to see just how little of these amazing structures Disney and Universal actually have to install in order to cast their spells on us. Thanks to the magic of satellite and aerial imagery, that’s now easier than ever before.

Let’s take a look backstage (from above) at 10 iconic attractions to see what is actually hidden just beyond the façades…

10. Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom)

From the ground:

Haunted Mansion from the ground

From above:

Haunted Mansion from above

The Haunted Mansion is one of the Magic Kingdom’s most iconic attractions, with its impressive exterior providing a hint as to the spooky goings-on within.

In fact, the actual Haunted Mansion façade is relatively tiny in comparison to the size and length of the dark ride within. Hidden behind it is an enormous, warehouse-style structure that contains the actual scenes that the Doom Buggies pass through.

9. Hall of Presidents (Magic Kingdom)

From the ground:

Hall of Presidents from the ground

From above:

Hall of Presidents from above

Very close to the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square is the Hall of Presidents, where guests can watch past and present leaders of the United States say a word or two.  The red-brick colonial hall evokes old-style meeting houses – but, of course, it is really just another enormous ride building in disguise.

Liberty Square itself seems relatively small to visitors, but the footprint of the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents is actually very substantial.

8. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure)

From the ground:

Hogwarts Castle from the ground

From above:

Hogwarts Castle from above

Hogwarts Castle is Universal’s answer to Disney’s iconic castles, and performs a similar function by drawing guests through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade towards its headline ride. It looks for all the world as though Universal has transplanted a full-scale recreation of the fictional Scottish castle into Islands of Adventure.

From above, it’s clear that only very small sections of Hogwarts have really been installed. The “rocks” underneath the castle were actually created using concrete (so, too, were the “wooden” beams in the Three Broomsticks and the snow on the roofs of Hogsmeade’s buildings).

7. Hogwarts Express (Universal Orlando Resort)

From the ground:

Image: Universal

From above:

Hogwarts Express from above

From Hogwarts Castle, it’s a short walk to Hogsmeade Station, where you can catch the Hogwarts Express train over to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Two trains run the line – one in either direction.

As you’ve probably guessed, the Hogwarts Express does not really run between London and Scotland. Instead, it winds its way through a backstage area of Universal Orlando. All of the steam puffing out of the trains is strictly for show. The trains actually operate like a funicular railway of the type that usually runs up and down a steep hillside, being pulled along by a cable rather than driven by engines.

The system was built by funicular railways specialist Doppelmayr, who boast: "Hiding behind the detailed reproduction of the renowned steam train is a modern funicular ropeway constructed by the world market leader in ropeway engineering."

There may be two trains travelling back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but that doesn’t mean there are two separate tracks for them to run on. Instead, both trains share a single track – except for one point in the middle, where they are able to pass each other.

6. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios Florida)

From the ground:

From above:

Gringotts from above

Diagon Alley’s equivalent of Hogwarts is the towering Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which comes complete with its very own fire-breathing dragon.

Again, only a tiny amount of the bank is actually visible. That enables Universal to hide a truly cavernous ride building, which contains the roller coaster-cum-dark ride.



I had a serious laugh out loud at the auto "corrected" KINK dropped in front of Magic Kingdom. Oh my!

You'd swear those ride buildings are bigger when your in them!

The first picture of the Haunted Mansion from the ground is not the Walt Disney World version of the ride. I'm assuming that is the Disneyland version of the ride.

In reply to by Ryan (not verified)

LOL. The photo of the Haunted Mansion from the ground is from WDW.

In reply to by Ryan (not verified)

The picture of The Haunted Mansion is indeed Walt Disney World's version. The Disneyland version is a New Orleans style mansion and looks very different than WDW's

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