Behind the Scenes with Incredible Hulk and Skull Island: Reign of Kong
PHOTO: HULK SMASH COASTER! (Photo courtesy of Universal)
Universal Studios Orlando is upping their game in big ways this summer, and TravelPulse got the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the resort and both preview and experience the new features.
New for 2016 at Universal is a massive ground-up redesign of “The Incredible Hulk,” which is not only one of the most popular rides at Universal, but one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved coasters in the world. In addition, “Skull Island: Reign of Kong” is a brand new, immersive virtual reality ride opening up at Islands of Adventure.
Gregory Hall, the lead designer on the Hulk project put the entire expansion into perspective when he compared everything Universal is doing today with what they were able to accomplish with “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It was in that project that Universal proved to themselves and the world at large just how high they could raise the bar, and it’s a heckuva standard to live up to.
This behind-the-scenes visit proves that the team at Universal is more than up to the task.
The Incredible Hulk
If there was one thing that Hall and his team needed to accomplish with the redesign of the Hulk roller coaster, it was simply: Don’t mess with success.
The biggest change to Hulk is the structural integrity of the track. The former track was hollow, which was a design feature meant to be loud and fierce. The coaster literally roared with Hulk-like intensity. It was incredible, yes, but could lead to a rough ride. Now, the track is solid and smoother. The sound of Hulk’s roar was replaced with on-board audio and a track customized for the ride by Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy. The music lends extra drama and even an increased sense of speed to the entire minute-long ride.
The car itself was completely redesigned to look more modern, fierce and given headlights that really pop from across the park at night.
The queue for the ride is another huge change and is more immersive than in year’s past. The increased visibility of Hulk means that more and more children (and their parents) are familiar with the character, and the attraction now involves stepping into that world in a much more concrete fashion. The new “life-size” Hulk sculpture in front of the exhibit lends a sense of import to the ride and actually includes a section of the former track getting “Hulk smashed” as guests walk by.
The ride itself is so similar to before that longtime fans will feel like their old friend never left—maybe just got a significant facelift. The speed, the turns, the g-force and the death-defying dips and flips are all there.
Hulk is meant to be massive, awe-inspiring and altogether incredible. This is all that and more.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong
If we’re talking being immersed, Hulk may have stepped up a notch, but Skull Island is in a whole other stratosphere.
I do not say these words lightly, but if anyone is wondering whether or not to shell out money for a Universal vacation, I promise you that the queue alone for Skull Island is worth the price of admission.
Mike West of Universal Creative took the lead on designing the ride, and was gracious enough both to preview the attraction and lead us through it. From the great stone Kong-shaped gate to the massive temple entrance ahead, every single piece of the ride is meant to draw you into a world meant not only to keep you on the edge of your seat, but to fire every piece of your fight-or-flight instinct.
In fact, it’s more than immersive; it quickly becomes otherworldly.
West explained how the design of the queue expands and contracts, as if the very design is an artery pumping guests throughout the attraction. In the background, an NBC old-timey radio program warns of the danger head. West also mentioned that we would meet some friends throughout the process, but with friends like these…
The first great room includes an animatronic tribal witch-priestess shouting and incanting in an unintelligible language. One word, of course, stands out: “KONG!” is repeated throughout which causes the fires behind her to roar all the more. It is lifelike, and even in a setting that is entirely safe, it feels like you’ve just gotten yourself into something that you’re not entirely ready for.
As the path winds to the next room, shadows start to betray and then move. I mentioned, later, how real the animatronic tribesmen in the walls seemed to be. Once one popped out and shouted at me, I couldn’t handle any more corners without trepidation. I was then informed that the tribesmen were real actors and not machines. I’m still shaky on this fact, but it’s a credit to the team at Universal that the line of reality was so blurred at this point that my senses were screaming “get out” rather than “inspect closer.”
Finally, the ride itself.
The path of the ride itself is tame. Guests are transported in an enclosed car modeled after a safari truck with no safety harness, belt or bar of any kind. The thrill here is psychic, not physical.
Kong is a virtual reality ride, reminiscent of simulators popular just about everywhere these days but rarely done with the expertise managed here. Riders will be shocked, freaked out, scared, uneasy, grossed out and just overall entertained while simultaneously wondering what the heck they were thinking before then wanting to do it all over again.
The ride is also immensely repeatable, since the action-packed scenery reveals something different for everyone. Sitting in various places on different sides of the car is almost like an entirely new ride.
In short: Skull Island might be your favorite ride you haven’t ridden yet.
More by Michael Schottey
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