Call That New Ride 'Harry Potter and the Perpetual Breakdown'

Universal Studios Florida/APThis rendering shows how Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride is supposed to look.
Things haven't been going according to plan in Central Florida's theme parks. Over the past few days, we've seen mishaps at Disney (DIS) -- one that required folks to be evacuated from a monorail, and another that cost a rider on the normally tame Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride parts of his fingers.

Operational breakdowns have also struck Comcast's (CMCSK) nearby Universal Studios Florida, where riders were stuck on its Transformers ride for reportedly about an hour on Tuesday before being escorted off. However, the most glaring problem child of the parks has to be Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

The attraction officially opened on July 8 as part of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The queues have been long, the breakdowns plentiful. Maybe wizards just don't want us mere muggles to get in on the fun.

Time Travails

The Diagon Alley expansion is impressive. Park guests can explore the streets of faux London and the fictional Diagon Alley where shops, eateries and the mysterious Knockturn Alley have been thrilling guests downing frozen butterbeer refreshments and chocolate chili ice cream as they wave interactive wands at window displays that spring to life.

The Hogwarts Express train ride that connects the Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas in two theme parks is hands down the industry's neatest themed turn at a means of transportation. (Take notes, Disney.)

However, the long delays and perpetual setbacks at Escape from Gringotts must be debilitating to the otherwise well-received addition. Media coverage on opening day turned from excitement to frustration when breakdowns left patrons waiting more than seven hours for a ride. A week later, wait times have averaged two to three hours most days.

Making a Bank Withdrawal

There's nothing wrong with the rich details of the ride's queue. It includes a majestic bank lobby with audio-animatronic goblins leading to the office-lined hallway that ends in a pre-show. That in turn leads to a goblin explaining the ride's safety features, a sensory elevator experience and a spiraling staircase that winds its way up to the loading platform.

The problem is that the seemingly perpetual breakdowns leave aspiring riders stalled. They get on Twitter. They get on Facebook. They post snapshots of bored park guests doing the same.

This is what Universal didn't want. The otherwise-spectacular ride -- and I won't play spoiler beyond saying that it's an immersive 3-D experience with some coaster elements -- is getting tagged as unreliable. Dedicated forums are ripe with stories of riders stuck on the ride and in some cases having to be escorted off the attraction if the outage can't be remedied quickly.

Universal should get it right -- in time. There's too much at stake, and there's something to be said about raising the bar at a time when Disney World a few exits away is playing it safe. It's rare when a trouble ride is closed rather than fixed, with Rocket Rods an example from Disneyland.

However, Universal is more likely to tone down problematic elements of Escape from Gringotts than it is to shutter the attraction. Muggles just need to be patient.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any Motley Fool newsletter service free for 30 days.

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When the Back to the Future ride at Universal first opened it was breaking down daily. My wife and I got stuck on it twice which required climbing out of the car over a large drop and then walking a narrow catwalk and through long halls. If anyone fell they would have been badly injured.

July 18 2014 at 10:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Our family already has our "Harry Potter Experience" planned ....... for early October. Anyone who chooses to brave the crowds at ANY theme park when a much-anticipated addition / rides first open .... and in the Florida heat of mid-summer .... needs their heads examined. I mean, it's not like the park is going anywhere.

Of COURSE the lines are long. Of COURSE new rides are going to have glitches. Duh.

July 18 2014 at 8:24 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

What breakdowns ? The wait time at Diagon Alley is 3 hours. There's no breakdowns, just huge crowds.
Here's the formula for Butter Beer: Add a teaspoon of butterscotch ice cream topping to a large mug. Pour in enough cream soda to reach one inch from the brim. Then fill the remaining space by swirling in Redi Whip whipped cream. Serve.

July 18 2014 at 7:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It's Universal, they don't have to be friendly and reliable like the other theme park. That isn't their goal to be customer friendly.

July 18 2014 at 7:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply