Since the late '80s when Disney and Universal both raced to open their movie-studio-stylized theme parks in Orlando, the war between theme park juggernauts has raged on. Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative continuously volley back and forth, positioning their respective blockbuster IPs, ride systems, and storytelling tools against one another in a joyful rivalry that keeps both resorts moving forward.
But sometimes, the comparisons are just too hard to ignore... In 2017, both Disney and Universal made big moves toward the 'thrill" end of the spectrum with nearly simultaneous announcements of two very different, IP-powered "story coasters" – the newly-minted name for coasters that position guests in the midst of an unfolding plot – complete with a beginning, middle, and end. Today, let's take a quick look at the strategy, storytelling, and statistics behind Orlando's two new "straddle coasters" to see which you think won this thrilling head-to-head.
Universal: Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
When Dragon Challenge – the fabled, intertwined, once-dueling B&M inverted coaster pair – was closed in September 2017, it was anyone's guess what Universal would do the with the massive plot of land it opened in the otherwise-cramped Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Though the meandering roller coaster, its towering central stone abbey, and thousands of trees were all placed throughout 2018, it wasn't until February 2019 that Universal revealed the details of what would become Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Its opening date – June 11, 2019 – is one that will live in infamy for guests who attended. Lines reportedly grew throughout the day to 12 hour peaks, with guests reporting miserable conditions, unimaginable frustration, and an unforgivable lack of updates from Universal Team Members. Of course, even after full-day waits, guests exiting the ride pretty unanimously shared one thought: that was the best ride I've ever been on. Though some probably have changed their tune after the adrenaline wore off, "Hagrid's" really is a spectacular roller coaster and a spectacular ride.
Guests board unique, magically-duplicated versions of Hagrid's iconic motorbike (choosing between the "bike" seating and the lower "sidecar") and head off to the Hogwarts stables to rendezvous for a Care of Magical Creatures lesson gone awry. When Hagrid's fiery, scorpion-like blast-ended skrewts break free of their enclosure, the magical bikes reroute riders on a wild chase through the woods.
Along nearly a mile of track, the bikes go sweeping over a lake of mermaids, zipping past the snarling, three-headed cerberus "Fluffy," launching past Cornish pixies, and more. A surprise no-hold spike signals a loss of power, with vehicles headlights flickering out as they plummet backwards into the dark Forbidden Forest, where a hidden drop track and steaming skrewts lead to a final, full-power launch back to civilization... all without a single screen in sight.
Even if you don't know much about roller coasters, the stats of Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure sure do tell a story... With nearly a mile of track, the ride weaves through both indoor and outdoor show scenes. Along the way, riders are boosted by seven launches (more than any other coaster on Earth) plus switch tracks, spikes, vertical drops, and more, with animatronics, on-ride music, and narration to boot... It's quite literally a blast; three minutes of joy. It's not too intense or too scary, but it's still thrilling and feels like a victory for kids and non-thrillseekers to tackle.
Perfectly at the intersection of thrills and theme, some enthusiasts assert that Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure is, on balance, the best ride in Orlando. But does Disney's newest thrill ride beat it? Vote on the next page!