Theme Park University reader John writes in today’s question. “What information do you have about the Hagrid Coaster being delayed and perhaps needing (eventual) significant redesign? Orlando Weekly had a short article that test rides showed intolerable roughness. And, test rides causing premature track wear. They guessed that’s why soft openings have not occurred. I wonder if testing on these types of tracks and vehicles were done in cooler climates??”
John, a HUGE thank you for sending in this question. It seems that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure floating around out there already. Considering the ride isn’t scheduled to open until June 13, any kind of soft opening prior to that date is considered a bonus for fans anxiously waiting for the ride to open.
First, let’s take a step back and explain what a soft opening is. A ride can open to guests as part of their test and adjust period before an official grand opening. It’s actually pretty uncommon for no soft opening at all for any major new attraction these days. Sometimes you can start soft openings a month in advance and sometimes you may only have it open the day before.
This may come as a shock to many of you, but I think it needs to be said. You can’t rely on footage from helicopters or what little you can see over the construction walls to determine how test and adjust is going. In a world where it seems like you can learn everything from pictures from @bioreconstruct on Twitter (which are admittedly great), you’re only getting about 10% of the picture.
In reality, test and adjust really starts years in advance as computers do most of the heavy lifting for big rides like Hagrid’s. Once you have a track layout complete with brake zones, load and unload stations and launches, you can start to pinpoint what could be problem areas. Then you take the weight specifications of the trains and what they can handle and you can simulate what running the attraction is going to be like before it even breaks ground.
Many problems are troubleshooted long before the first ride vehicle ever leaves the station. In the case of Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure (and many other mega-attractions that are built at Disney and Universal), these are completely custom creations. Now, have they made a motorbike coaster with launches before? Of course? What about switch tracks? Yup. How about a drop track? Naturally. However, when you add all these elements together, this particular version is 100% unique.
Not to mention extremely expensive. Based on the amount of animatronics, landscaping, the track itself, plus what it cost to excavate the old Dueling Dragons coaster, I’d venture to say this is one of the most expensive rides Universal Parks has built to date.
Now to get into specifics of your question, John. Does Hagrid’s have patches of “intolerable roughness”? Not that I have heard. It’s an Intamin manufactured motorcycle ride. I’ll let the coaster fanboys debate on how rough those are (not my particular wheelhouse).
More specifically, the wear you’ve seen on the track is pretty standard on rides that have been testing for a few weeks. That’s just what wheels on a roller coaster do.
Something that you didn’t mention John, that I’d like to take a stab at: the length of the trains. According to the article, apparently, they are considering decreasing the number of cars per train. That’s absolutely crazy. Not only does that decrease capacity, but the entire ride would also need to be recalibrated. Each zone of track measures how long the train should be in it. If you take even one row out of the train, the programming and timing for the entire ride would have to be recalibrated. You’d have to delay the opening months, if not a full year to make that kind of adjustment. All of the weight and timing calculations through each section of track would have to be reprogrammed and that takes a substantial amount of time to get up and running again safely.
What all this comes down to is actually pretty simple. If all these rumors were true: the ride was intolerably rough, premature track wear or an eventual redesign of some of the track? Most likely this ride wouldn’t be opening on time, much less have any sort of soft opening.
If Universal or Intamin felt that the ride was unsafe and/or needed significant work, you’d want to nip that in the bud now. Even to have a delayed opening is better than having to shut the ride down 6 months to a year later when it’s still at the height of its popularity.
I’m going to have to call major BS on the Orlando Weekly article. Assuming Universal Team Member previews go well, I expect to see soft openings sometime this weekend (around June 8th). Then once the public rides it, they’ll see that the ride is ready to go.
Disclaimer: remember what I said about the ride being custom? Just because there are soft openings or even a grand opening, it doesn’t mean the coaster won’t go down for technical difficulties from time to time. Universal Operations Team Members have to get used to loading vehicles and how to deal with certain situations. Plus they’ll be adding trains to the track as demand becomes necessary which adds more difficulty. However, all of that is normal opening new attraction stuff. Hope this answers your question, John!
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