Monday, June 19, 2023

Top 10 rides at Universal Islands of Adventure

By Ian C

Hello Penguin Slappers, this is a slight deviation from our usual satirical storyline, delving into the depths of serious reporting. The following post reveals my top 10 favorite rides at Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Universal Islands of Adventure
 © Universal Islands of Adventure

These are the top 10 rides ranked according to my own personal enjoyment based on numerous factors, including thrill level, comfort, fun, immersiveness and other factors both objective and subjective, but too difficult to explain here.

Full disclosure, I did not ride 2 of the 3 water rides, nor am I able to ride spinny things very well without extreme nausea, so the Storm Force Accelatron was not even a thought here, and the Carousel put me out of commission for 20 minutes.

Also, please note that I wanted to include all the ™, © and ® symbols for this review, but I got bored proof reading and double checking them, so I stopped doing it. Besides, pretty much every other word in this post is somebody's IP so just assume that it is protected by applicable laws.

#10 Doctor Doom's Fearfall® 
This is a tower drop type of ride where you are launched upwards "faster than the Space Shuttle" in order for Doctor Doom to extract fear which he will then use to defeat the Fantastic Four. What form this fear takes is unknown, and how it will be used was not explained, however all the henchmen were adorned with breathing apparatus...! I should mention that once the upwards part of this ride is complete, the downward phase takes place. And then you bounce up and down for a few cycles before returning gently to planet Earth minus all your fear.

The line was fine, with a little bit of backstory as you weaved up and down the cattle barriers, but the bulk of the story comes over the speakers as you are strapped in to your seat and await the launch. The anticipation of being hurled skyward actually produced more fear than the actual liftoff, but once you are at the peak of the tower there are some quite amazing views of the entire park.

This ride can be found in the Marvel Super Hero Island area of the park. You can't miss it, it's 185ft tall.

#9 Skull Island: Reign of Kong
This is a 4D bus ride where 6 rows of 6 people get smooshed along plastic pews for a ride around a virtual junglescape inhabited by giant prehistoric type creatures and of course the good, bad-guy gorilla, King Kong himself.

The line is strongly themed and gets dark and spooky once at the indoor part. This line can go from a 5-minute wait to a 60-minute wait very quickly, depending on how the crowds are flowing from other rides. The visuals and sound effects of the line get you in the mood for the ride itself, you get to grab a pair of 3D glasses just before you board the bus. There is an outdoor part to this ride, but it was not in use for my trip around the jungle, so we went straight to the cave and in to the storyline. No spoilers here, but the bus shakes and tilts in time with the action on the 3D screens and you will get splashed with various types of saliva as creatures get close, it's just water, but the effect is very, umm, effective.

This ride is the only attraction in Skull Island, you cannot (probably) miss it while walking from Toon Town to Jurassic Park.

#8 Jurassic Park River Adventure™
This is the only water ride on this list because it was the only one where I was not going to get soaked and have to spend the rest of the day walking bowlegged with damp underwear. (insert "your mom" joke here and move on quickly). Here you get to ride a Jurassic Park Raft on a gentle tour of safe and friendly dinos, when suddenly you are knocked off course into the Raptor Enclosure. Oh no, the raptors have broken free of their facility and all the mean and nasty dinos are running wild. Your raft gets dragged up a conveyor to a **NO SPOILERS HERE** but just in the nick of time, the raft drops down an 85 ft chute and creates a giant splash before you float back to safety.

Some rows on this ride get wetter than others, and like I said No Spoilers, so I am not going to share which seats are in the danger zone.

JPRA is nestled in the center of Jurassic Park.

go visit Thunder Falls Terrace Restaurant, the food is great, especially for the carnivores, plus you can get a seat and watch the giant splashes from the River Adventure ride. There is also a splash zone there if you want to take a quick shower.

#7 Hogwarts™ Express: Hogsmeade™ Station
I debated as to whether to include this since it is a ride, but the "train" also acts as a form of park-to-park transportation, and as such you will need a park-to-park ticket to experience it. OK so debate over, I included it, as you have probably already noticed. The first thing to note is that this ride has 2 different shows, one for each direction you travel. Secondly, the Hogsmeade Station is more functional than fantastic, compared to Platform 9¾ at Hogwarts Express: King's Cross Station. If you are planning to experience this, I would suggest riding from King's Cross Station first.

Whichever way you go, you are placed in a compartment of a corridor style train, like in the HP movies. The clever concept of placing a TV screen where the outside window goes stops you from looking out over the backlot during the journey. The frosted window of the corridor side acts as a screen for a back projection of character action, as if they were travelling along the train corridor.

The immersiveness of the town spills over onto the station and the train which leads you seamlessly back to London without having to pause the magic and go yomping back through Lost Continent, Seussville, Port of Entry, Toothsome, Hard Rock, Minionland, New York, San Francisco and finally back to London. However, if the wait is more than 25 minutes then it could be a coin toss as to whether you want to wait for a train or walk it. Or fly over on a broom... (possibly coming in 2025 or not)

The train station can be found in Hogsmeade village almost at the border with Lost Continent

#6 Flight of the Hippogriff™
This next ride on the list is another HP attraction in the form of a "kiddie coaster". That is, this roller coaster goes up a climb and comes back down again at a moderate speed (28 mph max) with a few quick Gs from some tight banked turns but no inversions or head wrenching movements. The ride is set in the pumpkin patch by Hagrid's hut where Buckbeak the Hippogriff was hanging out in the movie.

Normally a soft ride like this would not feature so highly in a list like this, so what happened? The fun Buckbeak animatronic at the beginning of the ascent, and the outstanding views of Hogwarts Castle at the top of the ride truly appeal to the Wizarding World fanbase. Watch out for the first drop, it's a doozy.

The Hippogriff ride can be found just by the entrance to Hogwarts Castle by Hogsmeade.

#5 The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®
This is the second motion simulator ride on our list so far. Dark rides, as they are known to coaster aficionados, are becoming more popular with theme park designers since they can be made more simply and cheaply than bolting together miles of steel rails for a physical roller coaster. They take up less space, they have lower repair/running costs, they are weatherproof, and the technology and innovation improves (mostly) with every iteration.

The story, explained while waiting in the line, tells you about a new SCOOP vehicle for training rookie reporters. Meanwhile news reports about a bunch of Marvel bad guys play on TV screens. By the time you get to your SCOOP vehicle with your 3D glasses you are fully briefed, but barely prepared for what comes next.

A mix of 3D projections, real sets and props, real fire and water effects literally surround you as the SCOOP vehicle spins and bumps around the ride. The simulation is mechanically and visually synced smartly enough to trick your brain into thinking you have been lifted 400ft into the air before being dropped back down to the ground. This would have been the highest ranked dark ride on this list 10 years ago, but there is always something newer and shinier being developed.

Spidey is hanging around about halfway through Marvel Island

#4 The Incredible Hulk Coaster®
Now we are getting to the big boys, the top 4. Hulk is a coaster made for those who graduated from Top Gun academy, with high-speed turns and 7 (seven) inversions. The first inversion starts before the last car comes out of the launch tunnel, and by launch, I mean 0-40 mph in 2 seconds.

You play the role of a test subject in a gamma radiation experiment, as you work your way around the facility learning more about what could happen as a result of the testing. Unperturbed by the thought of turning big, green and nasty, you continue up the levels of the building until you reach the launch zone. The cars have 8 rows seating 4 riders per row which means that you can hear 31 other people screaming like little girls for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

This ride is fast and smooth and hits 4-G and a maximum speed of 67 miles per hour, but the most important statistic is that it takes you about 30 seconds to figure out which way is up, by which time you have missed a quarter of the ride.

"Maverick, I told you not to sneak your aviators on the ride"

Because of the twists, turns and flips you are not allowed to carry any loose items on this ride, and you have to go through a metal detector in order to prove it. I took the picture above to show that there is a safety net in place to protect the crowds from the actions of stupid people.

Hulk is going to be the first thing you see when you enter Marvel. It's pretty much visible from most areas of the park.

#3 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™
Many people have ridden this and have refused to ride it ever again. It is queasy making even for the most rugged of quidditch players, and one young wizard likened it to eating an entire box of Puking Pastilles.

This could almost be the perfect Dark Ride, all the way from when you first set eyes upon Hogwarts castle, you are transported to the Wizarding World. There is a brief reminder of reality as you are asked to place everything you own into a locker before approaching the entryway to the castle. You meander around hallways lifted directly from the imagination of the HP set designers, who were integral in the design of this replica. Everywhere you look there is a piece of the movie staring back at you, my only regret was that the ride was a walk on when I got there, and I didn't walk slowly and take in all the outstanding detail. This is one of those attractions where you want there to be a line.

A holographic projection of Dumbledore sets the stage for the story and a little later, a similar projection of Harry, Ron and Hermione moves the story along. Once you reach the ride cars you realize that it is not just the visuals of the line that are unique, but also the ride itself. A moving walkway keeps pace with a four-seater bench, allowing you and your wizard friends to sit down and pull the restraints over your shoulders. Then suddenly in a puff of smoke the floor disappears, and you are lifted on a fabulous four-minute forbidden flight.

The mix of immersive screens, live action animatronics, "fire" and fog effects and a ride car which can (and does) move in any direction, leaves the riders breathless and dizzy after experiencing flying, quidditch, dementors, dragons, a whomping willow, forbidden forests, spiders, dark marks, did I mention dementors? and Dumbledore.

For many it is simple motion sickness, for some it is sensory overload, and for a few it is a Confundus Charm. There are a handful of us whose vestibular system is able to withstand the effects of these dark rides and exit in the same state as when we entered. Yet, I still cannot ride the carousel without getting dizzy.

Hogwarts is the big castle at the top of Hogsmeade. Can't miss it, I could see it from my hotel half a mile away.

#2 Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure™
The title is almost as long as the line to ride it. If you ever see this ride with a 60-minute wait, join the line. This is another well-constructed, immersive line which occupies your time with visuals and sounds that send you back to the books and movies and makes you not think of how bloody long this bloody line takes to get through. It honestly does not seem as long when you are moving in a single direction, even when the line doubles back it is not so bad. When you get through the tunnels and into the holding pen and you have the zig zag cattle lanes, that is when you realize how slowly you are moving.

When you eventually reach the loading bay, you are faced with another of those fancy moving walkway contraptions which allows the operators to keep the trains moving since there are 12 of them on the almost mile long track at any one time. Another unique point about this ride is that the 2 side by side seats are a motor bike and sidecar, just like the one Hagrid drives, with each seat offering a different perspective of the ride.

Once strapped in, the adventure begins. This ride differs from a typical coaster since it speeds up and slows down to view points of interest along the track, like a Blast Ended Skrewt, or Fluffy the 3 headed dog. The fast portions get up to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour, but 20-30 mph is typical for most of the open parts of the track. A running commentary from the late Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid accompanies the riders as they ride around the forbidden forest and then back to safety, slowing down and speeding up a total of 7 times.

This ride set many records during its construction. Most expensive, longest track, most launches, hairiest host, slowest and longest line. It is an amazing coaster, with many new and innovative ideas which also has a fantastic build up and great execution. Even if you are not a fan of HP or have never seen the movies, you should take a look at this thrilling coaster.

Here is another top tip for those of you who want to ride Hagrid's. There is no Express Pass for this ride unless you have a VIP tour ticket and those things are expensive, save your money. The single rider line does move a little faster than the regular line, but your party will be split since these are 2-seater cars. Either go super early with early admission or go back late after everyone has gone home tired and broke. Caution: this ride often suffers delays at the end of a busy day and can be a little surly early in the morning, so just suck it up and join the line, having made sure to block out 2 hours of your day.

Hagrid's is at the opposite end of Hogsmeade to the castle, right after the station. Just look for the line...

#1 Jurassic World VelociCoaster
This was a close one between 1,2 and 3 and in the end the Raptors ran fastest and won the race. Another ride with great theming and great execution, and no wonder it was my favorite. VelociCoaster is very fast with tight turns, loops, a 100ft zero-g stall, and a heartline roll. You get whipped around, lifted out of your seat, and hang upside down. With a maximum speed of 70 mph, 2 launches and a 140 ft drop, and a total of 4 inversions and just a lap bar between you and certain doom.

The experience begins with a tour around the Raptor center with the premise that the raptors run free around the paddock, and that a coaster was built in the paddock to give the beasts some extra exercise. Cut to the big screen further along the line, a further addition to the storyline showing Owen Grady, raptor trainer extraordinaire, expressing his concern over the safety of the riders given how smart and agile the raptors are.

This movie repeats ad nauseum until you get onto the side-by-side car with just a lap bar (I know I said this before, but can you imagine going upside down over water for almost a second with just a lap bar? It certainly adds to the thrill). The train pulls out of the loading station and waits for a moment by the raptor cages, and then whoosh; 0-50 in 2 seconds. The ride twists and turns around a rocky, raptor ridden land alternating from high-g to zero-g, weaving so close to the set that you think your head will be ripped off.

Then you find yourself entering another tunnel section which looks like the end of the ride, and are accelerated from 40mph up to 70 mph in order to climb the 'top hat' portion of the ride, as you make a quarter turn to reach the top, 150 ft above the ground, you have just enough time to recognize the entry building to the ride before dropping 140ft down the other side. It gets pretty tame after that with a some turns and zero-g humps which shift you around your seat, then the 100 ft long upside down hanging by your thighs bit, a few more turns and then the Mosasaurus Roll, a heartline roll at 53 mph over the water before a final turn and home to safety.

VelociCoaster is located in Jurassic Park tucked away behind the DinoCenter.

Honorable Mentions
There are 4 rides in Seuss Landing which are geared mostly towards kids which didn't make the list, plus 2 water rides in Toon Town. Also not on this list is Jurassic Park's Pteranodon Flyers, which requires a small child to chaperone, and the aforementioned Marvel version of the Teacup ride, Storm Force Accelatron.

There are a lot of opinions and facts out there about each of these rides if you make a simple g**gle search. There are hundreds of POV videos of the rides and about 3 million other top ten lists.

Honestly, I could have put Hagrid's and VelociCoaster the other way around. They are both great coasters but so dramatically different in style it is tough to compare them directly. Hulk could have been in the top 3 if I had written this post on a different day. The one thing to take away from this is that none of the attractions are duds (mostly) depending on your own preferences. If the airplane taking you to Orlando gave you motion sickness, then you probably shouldn't ride Forbidden Journey. 

If you have young kids, then you will probably spend a lot of time on the slower rides. Most rides have 'Child Swap' so one parent can ride the big kid rides while the other watches the kiddo, then they trade and the other parent rides, so you don't have to miss out. Or you can leave the little shits at home with grandma for the week and enjoy some freedom and maybe an adult beverage. Just remember, you can't ride Pteranodon Flyers without a smaller family member - that's the tradeoff.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you gained a little knowledge of the park, or some insight into my mind. I should be writing a partner post covering the Top 10 rides in Universal Studios soon and I will set up a link to that shortly after.

Please use the comments section below to share your Universal Islands of Adventure stories, and your top 10 with us and our readers.

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