Universal Orlando: First Time in a Long Time and Potentially the Last Time
Last week, I reviewed a very long list of rides, shows, attractions and other experiences which would be new to my family on our up-coming Universal Orlando vacation. I borrowed the concept from my old pal and blogging idol, Daffy Stardust, who posts similar articles prior to an excursion to Disney World. His articles usually cover first, last and first-time-in-a-long-time experiences. But as relative novies to Universal, our list of new-to-us experiences was long enough to fill an entire article unto itself. So today, I am back to cover the other two categories.
I have personally only been to Universal Orlando twice. Both times, I spent a single day in the parks and both times hit the highlights. My first visit was in 2008. We were staying in a rented vacation home and split our time among Disney, Universal and Sea World. Only my father-in-law and I visited Universal as the kids were too young to enjoy it. He’s not a coaster fan and did not want to get wet, so that limited our agenda somewhat. Additionally, Universal Studios was experiencing technical problems which resulted in several closures for the day. In the afternoon, it started raining pretty hard so we decided to pack it.
In 2015, I returned with the wife and kids. We had two-park tickets and Express Pass, so we were able to squeeze in all of our must-dos. This meant reriding some of my favorite attractions from the 2008 trip. As a result, Men in Black and Spider-man won’t qualify for “first-time-in-a-long-time” status. Neither will the Jaws ride which was replaced by Diagon Alley in 2014. So basically, we’re talking about attractions I rode in nine years ago but didn’t revisit on our last trip. It’s not a very long list.
Despite the risk of getting wet, I was able to convince my father-in-law to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure. I got a little nervous when the only other people on our ride pulled ponchos over their heads. The water in the bottom of the boat didn’t bode well for our goal of staying dry. I assured my father-in-law that we would be fine, but the truth is I couldn’t be sure. I had never been on the darn thing before. Lucky for me, we escaped with a mild splashing. I have heard stories of people getting soaked.
Overall, I liked the ride. I am generally in favor of attractions that involve riding in boats. Jurassic Park starts off as a fairly calm boat ride past some non-threatening dinosaurs. Eventually the boat takes a wrong turn into a restricted area which is rife with raptors. It’s not quite as scary as it might be. Unlike the Jaws ride, the menace remains at a safe distance on dry land. However, the ride has a pretty spectacular finish when the boat comes face to face with a giant T-Rex. Just when it appears the giant dino may make a snack of us, we escape down a plunging waterfall. It’s just the payoff the ride needed.
We ended up skipping Jurassic Park when we went with the family. By the time we got to Islands of Adventure that day, we were running out of gas and the kids weren’t keen to be menaced by dinosaurs. Even this year when we have plenty of time to experience the ride, it’s going to take some arm twisting on my part to get Josie on board. I don’t think Kara will do it no matter what I try to bribe her with. But one way or another, I’m going to see that T-Rex again. Mindy, who has yet to experience the attraction, also wants to check it out. So we’ll either need to be very convincing or we will have to do a rider swap.
Working our way around Islands of Adventure, our next stop is in Hogsmeade. When I visited Universal in 2008, it was during the dark pre-Potter days when this part of the park was still themed to the Lost Continent. Basically, a bunch of former Imagineers took unused ideas from Animal Kingdom’s Beastly Kingdom expansion and used them to fill out the new Universal park. When Universal acquired the rights to J.K. Rowling’s popular series, they rethemed most of the old land to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Despite the massive marketing push that accompanied the opening of the new land, only one new attraction was added. The rides were updated versions of the existing attractions. Beyond the name and the queue, very few changes were made to the Dueling Dragons roller coaster. It was redubbed the Dragon Challenge and heavily themed queue was reworked a bit to be more in line with the Potter mythology. But the ride is the same as the one I experienced nine years ago.
After Daffy’s 2016 visit to Universal, he named Dragon Challenge as an under-rated ride based on the short lines. It was because of those short lines that I was able to ride the coaster in the first place. Since my father-in-law was coaster-averse, I decided to limit myself to one solo ride. And since there was no line for Dueling Dragons, I gave it a try.
I learned something about myself that day. Turns out, I don’t handle inverted coasters as well as I used to. The swooping and soaring motion that simulates two dragons in flight left me someone queasy. I enjoyed the ride, but I wasn’t disappointed to be unable to ride it again in 2015. Since that trip, Josie has grown into a coaster junkie. She enjoys the inverted coaster at our local amusement park, so I am sure she will want to give Dragon Challenge a try. So I’m going to try popping a couple Dramamine and give it another try.
The ride actually has two different tracks which offer different experiences. I think I rode the blue track last time, so the red track would be new to me. For many years, the intertwined tracks created what appeared to be close calls between the dueling coasters. But after a few incidents in which guests were injured because someone dropped loose objects while riding, the cars no longer operate simultaneously. That’s a shame, but it’s a small price to pay for a safe ride experience.
Rumors have been swirling that Dragon Challenge is due for replacement some time in the next year or so. The new ride would be better suited to the family demographic that is drawn to Hogsmeade. So, this is likely not only my first time in a long time, but it is also probably my last time on Dragon Challenge.
For our final blast from the past, we’re switching parks. Revenge of the Mummy is a hybrid of a roller coaster and a dark ride. I actually underestimated the coaster elements of the ride the first time through. Fortunately, my father-in-law enjoyed it enough to forgive me despite the fact he broke his sunglasses (which were in his pocket).
Not surprisingly, there were no takers for this slightly scary thrill ride. The dark portions are likely a deal breaker for Mindy who gets claustrophobic in Spaceship Earth. I think I can coerce Josie to ride along with me, but if not I’ll go it alone. That’s the joy of having an Express Pass in my pocket. I can quickly squeeze in a solo ride without being missed.
My recollection of the ride is that it was a little rougher than I would have liked. There is a backwards portion of the ride and I believe there were some abrupt stops along the way. Also, the darkness is disorienting, so it’s hard to brace yourself for what’s to come since you can’t see the track around you. Now that I have a better idea of what I’m in for, I wonder if my experience will change.
I’m not sure I will get to all three of these rides. They are not high priorities for most of my travel party. And depending how well the Dramamine controls my motion sickness, Dragon Challenge isn’t that high of a priority for me. But I definitely loom forward to having the opportunity to revisit these attractions. It’s been a while!