Florida 03/22 – Universal’s Islands of Adventure

The only major company left to register our presence with at this stage was obviously Universal Studios. The luxuries of the car and timekeeping over the last few days had reduced shuttle buses to a last resort and it was once again of no particular use to us here. Instead we parked right next to a sign of E.T. looking wistful.

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With some teasing sights just off in the distance.

Day 5 – Islands of Adventure

With so many of the Florida greats having simply gone by in a flash over the last few days and leaving less impact than I had imagined, IoA was the first park I really stopped for a moment to think ‘I’ve dreamed of coming here for basically all my life.’

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And thus there was a bit of a buzz upon seeing this and the adventure begins sign.

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But of course I’m not sure any previous visit would have quite been the same, now that Velociwoci is here, looming over the lake. 2 trains on track at once? That’s a promising start.

Though it looks not too far from here, the decision to power straight to it, past all the other classics along the way was a little excruciating. This was the first properly HOT day and the lack of shade in the crudity of cartoon land was stirring up an early onset of vampire mode. It was also crowded to the point of discomfort in that you could never just walk normally without crashing into something.

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Having plunged through most of Jurassic Park land as well, still not sure where we were actually going, it was a relief to find this welcoming sight. For future reference – go the other way round the lake and save yourself a hassle.

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#1 Velocicoaster is definitely a spectator friendly attraction. The views from the plaza (if you enter from the right direction), throughout the queue and just generally in and around the surrounding area are rather spectacular. Let us just take a minute to appreciate the lack of nets at this point in time.

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The first indoor section of queue is a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve never seen the films, but I have to assume they’ve invented this obnoxious cartoon character made out of blobs to talk on TVs about the loose article policy that has nothing to do with anything. It’s annoying, particularly when the ride inevitably breaks down and he just keeps on talking. This however is interspersed with a really cool trailer or maybe TV advert about the ride. Apparently we wanted more speed, height and teeth at Universal. Well thankfully they’ve got teeth.

From there you get Dr. Wu talking science stuff about how they look after dinosaurs, some really neat moments of seeing an on-ride launch through screens and Velociraptors following it, moving raptor heads in lab restraints and then the inevitable locker and security faff.

The final hype room and queue before the station has a video with the main characters from the film. One of them saying what we’re about to do is a bad idea and the other trying to cover it up. It’s got some great details in it, like vital stats and little HUD maps of the people and creatures in the story, changing in real time. Unlike the first room, the dialogue seems perfectly pitched to match the length of time you spend in the room under normal operation, which I thought was smart (or just luck).

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I suppose I’m supposed to be talking about an actual rollercoaster here aren’t I. A quick trundle out of the station leads to the first launch section where, like Slinky, you get a bit of teasing easing backwards motion as stuff goes down. I never fully worked out whether all four cages were meant to have screens with raptors breaking out – it seemed intermittent but very nice when it worked.

The first launch hits this weird element above which is a rather disorientating start as you’re thrust back into sunlight at strange angles. There’s some really tight rockwork here, the kind that makes you really think twice about putting your hands up but then that sort of ends after two moments and you hit a particularly sweet inversion that did all sorts of things in different places.

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If I’m honest, the number of laps we got over two visits wasn’t enough to get my head around the layout in the first half, so it will remain a bit of a Taron mystery to me for the foreseeable. Much like Taron in fact I did find it a bit meandering and without powerful purpose in this portion and, perhaps most disappointingly to me, the scenery doesn’t really add to the experience like I imagined it would. There’s a downwards slither between raptors very reminiscent of what even Cheetah Hunt managed to do better the previous day and for at least the first two laps I worringly didn’t even notice they were there.

The entry into the second launch marks a significant change in tempo, with that gorgeous rawness of an Intamin hitting those fins running. The top hat is of course a highlight, trims notwithstanding, with quite an intense entry and twist when seated near the front or a satisfying ‘first drop’ type feeling from the back row.

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I didn’t think the stall was all that. Much like Gwazi it was a little too quick to give that wow factor, though I love it’s placement.

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The fast turns are packed with some fun airtime of both the sideways and twisted variety, including a little teasing change of direction moment which I particularly warmed to. It’s a little weird to see all these clashes of scenery as you blast around.

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This speed hill was a bit hit and miss depending on positioning, but it leads into the only moment I had heard of before riding.

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And what a moment that Mosasaurus is. Blue Fire did it first, but they added the water and the all important viewpoint. It’s a great final fling to leave that lasting impression on a layout.

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Once again, there are actually other things to do here. Hogsmeade was a right pain to navigate with the dense crowds always found around Harry Potter stuff.

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We wanted to check out #2 Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure next, but were somewhat disturbed to find that the queue started all the way out here, in the Lost Continent. Really breaking that immersion today aren’t we.

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This ride involves locker faff like no other and the general lack of organisation really bugs me. It’s nothing short of chaos, with staff in random places trying to control people returning from the attraction and people trying to get to the actual attraction either before or after the lockers. In this particular instance it also blocks several other entrances on route, including the train ride and adds an unncecessary stress to the day that has me worked up now even thinking about it.

I just wanna ride the motorbikes.

And, 90 minutes later we did just that. The highlight of the wait was the very first outdoor section where you get to marvel at the number of trains on track at any one time and sadly this is very fleeting. The indoor queue seemed to go on forever and the preshow was broken, but it had some moments of interesting scenery.

Someone must have jumped onto the station conveyor belt too hard because as soon as we boarded we got held up in there for several minutes of nothing but revving. I do love these Intamin bikes, they’ve come such a long way from Mick Doohan.

A really long way, what a ride. It’s just so joyful to behold from start to finish. I couldn’t help but laugh when, during the first scene, Hagrid says that’s enough for the day and tells us to head back when 90% of the ride is yet to come. The onboard commentary is a welcome feature as you swoop about from launch to launch and helped to paint the picture a little more after our lack of preshow. God damn Arthur Weasley was about the gist of it.

Great animatronics, great immersive scenery, an extended backwards! section with a smartly played out of control feeling (while it’s narratively out of control) through multiple uses of yet more launch track. Can’t go wrong with a drop track, I think the only thing that lets it down is the slightly muted final section which feels like the most powerful launch yet and then ends after one corner. Family coasters have been redefined though, everyone really exceeded themselves on this one, what an absolute marvel.

Until the lockers.

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We weren’t out of the woods yet however, we needed even more lockers. After being thoroughly unimpressed with the Tokyo edition of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, we felt like giving it a second chance here, perhaps just the lack of 3D glasses would be enough to save it.

I’m now even more worried for the state of our health that day in Japan (I did legitimately fall asleep during the Terminator show that day, only to be rudely awakened by the seats dropping) because this one played out so differently to how it was in my head. It was actually paced appropriately, spending all the right amount of time in each scene, enough to understand the screens, enough to appreciate the more impressive set pieces, enough to add tension to the scares. It wasn’t bouncing around at a million miles an hour in an incohesive mess that would make anyone feel ill. And rightly so.
Redeemed.

Until the lockers.

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Talking of things that were a blur in USJ, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman’s alright, I guess. I’m not sure an increased sense of awareness helped this ride however, I remember being somewhat more impressed by it before. Perhaps it’s my oversaturation with this ride type these days or maybe seeing the most recent Spiderman film actually lent weight to these characters who are now back to being crude caricatures with no substance beyond an evil laugh.

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I never expected to love a legend like #3 Incredible Hulk, but these things haven’t aged well, retracked or otherwise. I think it’s best described as it once was to me by a guy from work – that bit where it launches up… and woop… crazy.
I’ll give him that, the inversion out of the launch is the clear highlight of the ride. Beyond that, the repetitive sequence of loopings just grinds me down. It also gets surprisingly ugly after that corkscrew over the station. I always pictured some of these veteran Florida attractions to have nailed their respective aesthetics, aircon vents and sand weren’t what I had in mind.
Also that indoor queue was just awful.

After bemoaning the location of Disney Springs, we took the opportunity to go and enjoy some ice cream in City Walk in order to clear that mess from the head.

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Upon return it was time for the quirks of The Cat in the Hat. This was far more elaborate than I had anticipated and almost makes it worth the entire land it takes up in the park. Fever dream dark rides are always a winner.

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As was the welcome return of Poseidon’s Fury. The over-acting of the guide is a bit of an acquired taste and it does drag on a little in those first couple of rooms, but the sheer spectacle of this show attraction cannot be denied. Water, fire, that epic disappearing backdrop moment, bliss!
It also pretty much inspired some of the greatest Fantawild attractions to date, so I’ll always have a soft spot for that.

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Due to their weather-induced popularity, we had tactically left the water rides until quite late in the day. There was still a bit of a queue for Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, not helped by a breakdown as soon as we entered, but we persisted with nervous anticipation. They’d been cheeky outside and not offered complimentary lockers unlike the rest of the park, so in defiance everything had had to come on board with us. In my head, this ride had a reputation for being extremely wet.

It was a military operation to get in, what with the awkward seating, evil lap bars and our continued attempt to protect the valuables at all costs. Most of the layout was filled with equal parts dread and excitement, having no clue when the worst part was to come or if it was already over. The indoor drop was the worst, but nothing to write home about. One of the effects on the biggest lift hill was unfortunately aimed, but not the end of the world. The big drop was good fun, but it ain’t no Chiapas. We survived, sort of. I got sun cream in my eye and spent several minutes in agony.

It was now dark and our Dudley designated bag protector decided that that was enough wetness for one day. This was a stroke of luck of astronomical proportions, because this meant sitting out Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. The other two of us boldly walked straight onto it, with me at least still having it in my head that what we had just ridden was ‘the wet one.’

Well I never believed it possible, but Valhalla has been bested in the water department. It started out like any other rapids, a few corners through a canyon with some bumpy water and mild peril over who was going to hit that bit backwards and get a bit wet through the side. Then came a shower head. Thick, volumous drops of water straight across the entirety of our seating area, at a slow pace, gave me a thorough soaking akin to stepping into an actual shower for 30 seconds.

Things become a blur from here on out. I believe a similar thing happened soon after, to much surprise, and then we hit a lift hill. I turned round on said lift hill to see what was coming and saw what can only be described as a nightmare. Several powerful jets of water waving up and down but shooting directly into the path of oncoming boats and rides. None of these things are turning off, are they? As I turned my face to shield myself from the worst of it, I was, essentially, waterboarded to the point of both having a sun cream relapse and having to remove my glasses for safety.

The rest of the ride was spent in terrifying blindness and experienced vicariously through having it described to me. I hear there was nothing to see at the top of the lift, some epic drop and tubey section that I would have adored had this been a Hafema, or perhaps if I wasn’t dying. All I could do was hold on and scream while being soaked, to the bone, again and again without mercy. I’ve never been so unwillingly violated by a ride for as long as I can recall. But was it worth it?
No.
Valhalla has pay off. It earns it’s sadistic tendencies. It is (perhaps was) one of the all time greats as a dark ride. I don’t mind being drowned when I can shout YES, FIRE and have an explosion in my face while subseqeuently swallowing dangerous amounts of chlorine.
Popeye is just some rapids ride that took it too far. I dread to think what would have happened if the bag had come on. Full on trip ruined at the very least.

With the copious amounts of water attempting to drag the clothes from my very skin, I declared a medical emergency as we unceremoniously stomped across the platform and out the exit. Never have I needed a theme park toilet more in my life. Frustratingly, never had it been more difficult to find one. Several minutes in some cubicles later, filled with worrying exclamations from the pair of us, I re-emerged as a sodden husk of a person. To my surprise, a man and his son were standing right outside the door, who looked me up and down and said ‘please don’t do that’. To this day, I haven’t managed to fathom what he meant, but it was a welcome moment of comic relief.

After some further vain attempts to dry ourselves with hand dryers and paper towels, we knew it was time to trudge on – the day was not yet complete.

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And so most of my time on Skull Island Reign of Kong was spent trying not to inadvertently get people wet. The queue was rather spooky and ominous, feeling darker than your usual Universal style attraction. The on-truck experience was rather impressive on the whole, some of the larger set pieces have an enthralling scale to them.

It goes downhill a bit when things get immersive in a tunnel, feels like I’ve seen this sequence of gorillas punching dinosaurs a hundred times, particularly when it’s the only portion of the film I have accidentally caught on TV. There was an obnoxious amount of screaming going on and I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not, I feel like this sort of thing was only genuinely scary in the 1930s. The big Kong head at the end made up for it at least, though it was a shame they found a way to build ‘put your 3d glasses on’ into the narrative, yet didn’t do the same for ‘take your 3d glasses off’ in order to benefit this particular moment of wonder.

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With that there was time for one night time lap with the raptors, hoping it would dry me off some more. It was a suitable spectacular experience, I’d say the ride only got stronger throughout our first few goes on it and though it certainly warranted more laps, I didn’t feel like it needed much more reflection. It’s better than Taron, not as good as Taiga and will inevitably land somewhere in the lower half of my top 25. Not the list destroyer I had perhaps hoped for, but a world class ride nonetheless.

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This was all planned around being cheeky. It worked well on Slinky and it would work well here too. #4 Flight of the Hippogriff had been maintaining an insufferable 90 minute queue all day (while Veloci bottomed out at a mere 30), so we caught the late night ‘show’ thing on Hogwarts that isn’t very good and then slithered into the queue for the last cred of the day moments before it closed.

Park complete.

Day 6

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