Rebuilding Islands of Adventure: A look at 2013 and beyond

Rebuilding Islands of Adventure: A look at 2013 and beyond

In the not too distant future, Universal Studios Florida will, for the first time in the resort’s decade-and-a-half history, have pulled ahead of its sister park, Islands of Adventure, to become the crown jewel of Universal Orlando Resort — and it will be all thanks to a stunning and brand-new array of attractions: Despicable Me, Transformers, a Springfield “land,” and, of course, Harry Potter’s London.

Needless to say, this just won’t do; in an era when Universal is suddenly much more competitive with the likes of Disney, it’ll need to be firing on all cylinders at all times and at all areas of its resort. This means that the company will be put into a position over the next few years to attempt a (re)balancing of the distribution of power by pruning, expanding, and maybe even reshuffling its only non-film-studio-based theme park in the world. (Which is not to mention the sad fact that, as remarkable as the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is or as fun as Jurassic Park River Adventure may be, we’re talking about rides with stories that have gone unchanged since 1999. It’s more than time for a revamping.)

Time to write a new adventure.

Time to write a new adventure.

Here’s my short list, then, of what should be tackled next – assuming, of course, that I can completely run the zoo all by myself, with only the slightest of external realities (read: Disney’s owning of Marvel) intruding themselves – once 2014 comes to a triumphant close and guests start pouring into Islands anew through an actual, working Hogwarts Express train station.

A brief note before we begin: unlike last time, in which only a handful of individual attractions were the target at Universal Studios Florida, Islands represents a much broader challenge, resulting in entire swaths of the park needing to be upgraded or otherwise redressed. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?

LOST CONTINENT

Of all six islands, Lost Continent is by far the one that is in most desperate need of some love – and not just because a significant portion of it was scooped up and transformed into the bulk of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, leaving it literally a husk of its former self. Poseidon’s Fury, the only walkthrough attraction at the park, and the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show, its only real show, are easily IOA’s two weakest attractions and essentially have been since the day it opened 13 years ago. The land’s only saving grace is Mythos, the multi-award-winning restaurant that just so happens to be one of the most immaculately themed dining experiences currently in the industry.

Given such a dearth of quality rides – or, indeed, any rides at all – many have been openly campaigning for Lost Continent’s outright dissolution, assigning most of the land to Harry Potter and allowing the rest of it go to Suess Landing (where, it’s been rumored for a while now, at least one new major attraction is planned). And if whispers swirling around the development of Diagon Alley over in USF are to be believed, Universal was tempted to do just that: the show building for Poseidon was seriously considered for the new Gringotts indoor rollercoaster, although it was ultimately decided that it would’ve been too small to accommodate such an expansive ride.

A glimpse inside Mythos at Islands of Adventure.

A glimpse inside Mythos at Islands of Adventure.

For my money, Lost Continent provides the best theming detail outside of the Wizarding World, and Mythos is such a treasure that demolishing the area en masse would be a grievous mistake. There’s absolutely no question that the two current attractions have to go, and, just as with the Fear Factor Live building over at USF, there’s strong reason to remove both wholesale and replace them with brand-new, thrill-pushing rides. The ancient civilization feel of the land is literally rife with potential narrative elements and ride mechanics, and the fact that this is the only section of the entire park to not be based on licensed material should be seen as a giant – and liberating – boon. Indeed, this may be Universal’s one chance to address the one crucial question (or is that accusation?) that hovers over the entire company: why does it not have its own version of the Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean or Horizons?

Still, even with all that said, I would like to see some sort of stunt spectacular remain at the Lost Continent, given its solo status at Islands of Adventure. Maybe something with Stargate would be appropriate…

JURASSIC PARK

Let’s be frank: when I walked through the gates of Jurassic Park for the very first time, with the torches flickering and that music blaring, my heart pumped, my palms got sweaty, and my mind instantly reverted back to being that ridiculously excited 13-year-old sitting in the theater and experiencing the film for the very first time.

Imagine just how dramatically my spirits crashed when I realized that the land was, essentially, one giant kid’s area with little to do for adults and possessed precious little immersion beyond the familiar sight of the Discovery Center and the pervasive presence of the music. (Granted, I arrived at the worst possible time, with River Adventure down for maintenance and Triceratops Trail in limbo.)

Pteranodon Flyers requires that adults have a child with them to ride.

Pteranodon Flyers requires that adults have a child with them to ride.

It’s more than time that Jurassic Park stopped wasting its vast potentialities and became competitive with the Wizarding World(s) in terms of attractions, or the Lost Continent, in terms of theming detail. Luckily for us, there are three basic tacks to take to achieve this grand ambition.

Firstly, we need to tear the Discovery Center completely down and start over again from scratch (and maybe even take up a bit more real estate in the process). There’s absolutely no reason why the “ride” that the characters in the first film go on, watching the process of how dinosaurs are engineered, can’t be replicated for the theme park. Watching a Velociraptor birth is a step in the right direction but could be drastically expounded upon, as can the more educational aspects of the current building (such as the quiz show). And even the food court upstairs is fatally flawed – in an age when Three Broomsticks and the newly reopened Cafe La Bamba are the standard for quick-service meals, the Burger Digs is, well, just inexcusable.

Secondly, River Adventure, Camp Jurassic/Pteranodon Flyers, and the Discovery Center don’t create a compelling lineup. We’ll need to add a non-water-based ride that isn’t for kiddies, something that pushes the relationship with the films and books. There’s the oft-rumored wooden rollercoaster, which – if done in the style of some of Cedar Point’s best, such as the Mean Streak – would be absolutely spot-on (though admittedly short on the theming aspect), but it’s the just-percolating story of an indoor, amber mine-styled coaster that really has my head spinning and heart pumping all over again.

Finally, there’s the most nebulous but, also, the most critical ingredient to the recipe. If the Simpsons area is going to be getting, say, Homer’s car, and if Hogsmeade has a long line of fully animated storefronts, why does Jurassic Park just have trees and food carts? There are so many opportunities to make the area feel like the “real” island from the source material: the inclusion and use of a dock, interactive photo ops in place of the roped-off Ford Explorer and T-Rex, or an audioanimatronic Raptor like the one seen at Universal Studios Singapore…

A rebuilt Lost Continent and a sharpened-up Jurassic Park would flesh out the newly-connected-to-USF-Wizarding-World nicely, helping to balance out the level of excitement and foot traffic between the two parks – and it would also pave the way for the next round of attractions that Universal Creative is surely just beginning to sketch out.

Just imagine what 2020 is going to look like.

When you’re ready, let’s look at rebuilding Universal Studios Florida.

 

About the author

Marc N. Kleinhenz’s first dream in life was to be an astronaut. His second was an Imagineer. While neither completely worked out, he now writes books, flash fiction, and articles for 26 sites and counting (including IGN, The Escapist, and The Huffington Post). He’s co-created two podcasts and has even taught English in Japan. Imagineering school won’t be too far behind.
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9 comments
Jerry
Jerry

I know for sure they will utilize the jurassic park area because of the new film!!! Its just islands of adventures is sadly too small for more things :( But i know for a fact 2014 or 2015 will be the next "Year to be here"!!

Doug
Doug

Yeah I would like to see them keep Toon Lagoon, but do something with the huge unused ampitheatre space.

Rob
Rob

Well Triceratops Trail is currently in demo for the long rumored Amber Mine Train for Jurrasic Park and seen numerous accounts that Posedion Fury is getting converted in 2015ish to Mt. Crumpit for a "family drop coaster" similar to the Verboten that opened in Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2012.

Actually didnt address the needed re-theme of Toon Lagoon before newspapers are completly forgotten

Also rumors of testing a lagoon show for IOA on a few sites also

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer

Yeah, I don't know if I'd like Toon Lagoon to change. Certainly newspapers have lost some influence, but the comic strip theme still serves well as nostalgia, sort of like Main Street USA. (I'm not saying Toon Lagoon is on par with Main Street USA, I'm just saying it is an ode to by-gone times.)

Cassy
Cassy

Toon Lagoon is themed off of cartoons and I have yet to meet a teen boy who didn't love to read cartoons.

Hopefully Universal is listening to you, Marc! Great ideas.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Marc N. Kleinhenz

Yeah, Toon Lagoon, for me, is a bit like the Lost Continent:  please keep the general theming but increase the details and, quite possibly, overhaul the rides.

And thank you for the kind words.  But if Universal is, indeed, reading my stuff, they're probably slapping their foreheads and rolling their yes.  =)

~M.

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer

Another much needed addition to Islands of Adventure is better use of the lagoon.

At one point in its past there was a boat ride of sorts between Port of Entry and Jurassic Park, but it has been closed for years. (In fact, if anyone has photos of video of the boat ride, I'm willing to provide compensation -- contact me.)

But, going forward, a better idea would be to start a lagoon show. Great news for us then that two weeks ago OI contributor Derek said the rumors have started!

Wouldn't it be cool if IOA has a lagoon stunt show similar to the one performed years ago at the USF lagoon?

Dynamite Nights Stunt Spectacular was an attraction that opened with Universal Studios Florida on June 7, 1990. The attraction was a live stunt show themed to Miami Vice located on the Lagoon in the center of the park. The show featured pyrotechnics and explosions, mixed with live actors on jet skis.[86][87][88] The 20-minute show was always performed during the final hour of the park before its closing for the day. It closed on February 17, 2000, almost 10 years of performances. Many of the props and sets in the show still remained in place until 2006, when the show was replaced by Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular.

Source: Wikipedia.

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