UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Lance Hart
SKULL ISLAND: REIGN OF KONG (2016)
(6/27/16) Greetings everyone, I'm writing this briefly from Universal Orlando where Screamscape was invited down to take a test ride on the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction and I wanted to get my impressions down while they were still fresh. While the attraction is still closed to the public, they have been quietly soft-opening it in the later afternoon / early evenings lately for those lucky enough to be standing nearby. While they don’t have an official grand opening date for it yet, they did tell us that they felt it would be very soon.
With that in mind, we were led into the queue area for the attraction, which features a very impressive amount of hand carved fake rockwork to create the experience of being transported to Skull Island in the 1930’s… ahead of the expedition to the island documented in the Peter Jackson film. You arrive in the midst of an exploration effort from the Eighth Wonder of the World expedition company who has set up a base-camp and is making runs around the island with a small group of off-road trucks and a motley crew of brave explorers, each there for their own particular reasons. As mentioned before you will eventually be led on a tour of the island in one of five 72 passengers trucks (12 rows of 6), each equipped with a different driver (a complex animatronic) who will share a little of their own personal back-story in the first segment of the tour. Each has a different personality and will help create one of five different possible experiences for you by how they act and react to the perils of Skull Island all around you during the journey.
Now I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit… so lets dive back into the queue experience which kind of reminded me a bit of the old removed “skull” section of the Dueling Dragons queue. Much like that attraction, the queue for Skull Island is very much a big part of the overall attraction experience, but taken to an entirely new level. After passing through the outdoor queue you will entire a dark gothic looking temple structure full of wicked looking rock carvings, as if someone was trying to warn you to keep away. Inside you will pass through some large ornate rooms and then into dark narrow passageways, and if you keep your eyes open you might see some special apparitions.
Clearing there is something powerful present in these caves, and you will look encounter a special figure who chants and tries to communicate to you something that is clearly very important to everyone, but unfortunately she doesn’t speak English and the exact nature of what she is saying isn’t clear, other than the word “Kong”. Is it a greeting? A warning? You aren’t sure as you move deeper inside. Here things get a little darker as you encounter a few bodies set up on display… along with some special surprises that I’ve never experienced in an attraction queue before.
Paragraph Spoiler Alert for those who want to know! The queue actually contains some live actors hidden away who will jump out and scare you as you pass by. As a fan of Halloween Horror Nights I loved seeing this aspect brought to life in the queue, and they actually did manage to “get me” soon, causing me to blurt out an “Oh $#1T!!!” along the way, so applause to them! I’m not the easiest person to scare.
With that out of the way, we eventually move into a loading dock area where large crates of supplies have been dropped off (A lot of explosives and weaponry apparently), along with some large crates with air holes and warnings about containing dangerous unknown creatures… apparently samples of the local wildlife they are sending back for study. In one large glass container they have a small but particularly nasty looking worm-like creature… a Carnictis. Surprise… it’s still alive and not too happy about being contained in a giant glass aquarium-like structure. Moving along you a given a pair of safety glasses and approach the giant truck for your expedition around Skull Island.
The vehicle is very impressive as it has no track and can move along very quickly along the rough terrain, venturing outside briefly into the jungle for a proper approach to the huge 36 foot tall entry doors into a large temple structure. It is here you are introduced to your driver who tells you a bit about themselves and what’s been going on so far at Skull Island. It is also worth noting that in case of bad weather (rain, lightning, etc…) your ride experience will still go on, and there is a short-cut door that can be opened to allow the ride experience to take place, minus the small outside run, which is a fantastic bit of forethought in my opinion when you consider just how many other attractions are forces to close down in bad weather.
Entering the temple, you are instructed to put on your glasses as you enter the darkness and begin with a quick encounter with some sleeping giant bat like creatures hanging upside-down a few inches from the truck. They appears to be stirring from the light coming into the cave unless the doors close behind you and the truck moves on to find other members of the expedition group. From here things progress quickly, as your truck will pass by a couple of large scenes told through 3-D projection screen technology that are quite impressive. They set the scene and kick off the action that will drive you through the rest of your adventure, as the exploration team members are scattered by strange creatures and fighting for their lives. I enjoyed the second scene quite a bit as you quickly find yourself coming face to gaping maw with full sized Carnicnis creatures. I was mouth agape in awe and wonder as one of the heroes fought off the creatures and even managed to blow a few holes in the ones interested in getting to us inside the truck. Here is where the “mouth agape” part comes into play, as the goopy creatures are blown up I found myself getting hit in the mouth with the splatter, and I had to suppress my natural urge to spit it up. The timing and excellent 3D look of the scene unfolding before me was just so damn convincing, I was sure for a moment that I had a mouth full of Carnictis goop.
From here you move on to the next scene which is inspired by the action that takes place on the King Kong 360 attraction that opened a few years ago at Universal Studios Hollywood. For those worried that they just copied the scene entirely, this is not the case. The scene has been extended on both ends and had various elements replaced and re-animated, replacing the Hollywood park’s backlot trams with an Eighth Wonder truck and more. The end result is similar however, as your truck is surrounded on all sides by T-Rex style dinosaurs and other hungry creatures, and the arrival of King Kong who goes into battle to fight them all, keeping you safe along the way, bounding from one side of the tram and back again. Here is where you almost feel overwhelmed, because there is simply so much action taking place on both sides of the tram that you will need to ride this attraction several times before you can try to understand the full picture of what is taking place all around you. No worries though, if you only ride once I’m sure you will follow Kong around from one side to the other, but don’t be surprised if you feel something slobbering on you from behind because chances are there is indeed something there. The jungles of Skull Island are very dangerous and inhabited with hungry creatures of all shapes and sizes.
The action isn’t done as your driver manages to get you away to safety however, as you quickly find yourself in a face to face encounter with the might Kong himself on the right side of the truck. Here is where old-time Universal guests may have a brief flashback of the old Kongfrontation attraction, but this is an animatronic of an entirely new century. The movements are so much more fluid and lifelike, with facial movement that seems very realistic and entirely free from the comically memorable “banana breath” of the old attraction. This is a living breathing King Kong, live in the flesh, right before your eyes and he is inspiring to behold and a great final scene to end the attraction with.
As I said before, my initial reaction was that I wanted to jump on another truck and try it all again, but unfortunately we were only allowed to take one ride through Skull Island. The fact that I wanted to do it all again right away bodes well for the attraction and the re-rideability factor it should maintain over the years to come. The other great thing is capacity… Skull Island is a serious high capacity attraction. With the trucks holding up to 72 riders and dispatch times said to send off a truck every 2 to 2.5 minutes you are looking at an hourly capacity of between 1,728 to 2,160 passengers per hour which is fantastic.
While I was allowed to take pictures of the queue, I was asked not to take any pictures of video of the ride experience itself, which is fine, as I wouldn't want to spoil it for you all. You’ll jump have to get down to Orlando and try out Skull Island: Reign of Kong for yourself. You won't regret it.