Universal Orlando Opens Its Most Ambitious Ride Yet
As of 3:30 a.m. on June 10, eager fans were already lined up at the gates to Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure, hoping to be the first guests to ride the park’s newest ride on its official opening day. Excitement over the Jurassic World VelociCoaster has been high throughout the ride’s construction and preview runs. In addition to being the park’s newest roller coaster, it also happens to be the its tallest, fastest, most technologically-advanced attraction yet.
The VelociCoaster is part of Universal’s Jurassic Park area, adding to the existing Jurassic Park River Adventure (an intense flume ride where you’re caught in the middle of a Tyrannosaurus rex escape), the Pteranodon Flyers (a kid-friendly aerial ride), and some non-ride attractions like a Raptor Encounter and Camp Jurassic. But the VelociCoaster is unlike any other ride at that or any other park.
There are much taller and much faster rides than the VelociCoaster, what Universal is calling “the apex predator of coasters,” which is meant to simulate the feeling of being on the hunt with the velociraptor pack in Jurassic World. Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, the tallest and fastest in America, tops out at 456 feet tall and 128 mph, whereas the VelociCoaster’s maximum height is 155 feet and top speed is 70 mph. But while it might not be breaking any records for its height or pace, it’s genre-defying in many other ways.
To start, VelociCoaster is a cinematic ride that blends movie magic with thrills in a way that Universal truly excels at. The ride queue, with its “real” animatronic velociraptors breathing on and snarling at guests, is as much a part of the experience as the coaster is. There’s even a moment when riders jetting off on their coaster ride are chased by raptors, though the people in the ride car don’t have a clue it’s happening.
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Mr. DNA, the cartoon double helix that first explained how InGen extracted dino DNA from insects preserved in amber in the first Jurassic Park movie, is the one who walks riders through the procedure for boarding. This ride is so intense that not only are you required to leave your belongings in a locker, you must also go through a metal detector to ensure you don’t have anything in your pockets, like a phone, that would almost definitely fall out on the ride.
There are Jurassic Park and Jurassic World Easter eggs hidden throughout, from real movie props to a glass of “water” with those iconic ripples from when the T-rex approaches in the original movie. And then there’s the pre-show movie, with Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt as Claire Dearing and Owen Grady, where she’s explaining how thrilling it will be to ride a roller coaster that’s inside the velociraptor paddock and he, of course, is saying that putting yourself in that level of danger is a terrible idea.
“We have this brilliant IP [in the] Jurassic World franchise, which was ahead of his time when it first came out and it’s still bringing in a new generation of fans. We want to compliment that and give it even more life,” said VelociCoaster art director Gregory Hall. “Being able to expand upon that was very important.” One additional element the ride adds to the Jurassic World IP that’s unseen anywhere else in the movies: the actual velociraptor paddock. “When we were talking to the filmmakers, Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures, we realized that this is the first time ever that the raptors are on public display. In the films they’ve escaped, but it never shows when the guests are actually seeing them in public display in the park.” On some of the paddock walls, there are deep scratches in the concrete from where the dinosaurs have attempted to escape.
Then, there’s the roller coaster itself.
The ride has 4,700 feet of track, and lasts about three minutes. (Kingda Ka, by comparison, has slightly over 3,000 feet of tracks but lasts just 50 seconds.)
Much has been discussed by theme park enthusiasts about the ride’s “top hat” feature, a 155-foot vertical elevation that descends into an intense 80-degree, 140-foot drop. But that happens halfway through the ride. The second half of the experience includes several seconds of zero-gravity inversions, including a 360-degree horizontal barrel roll above the lagoon in the center of the park. “This roller coaster goes through so much rock work,” Hall said. “It goes through a building. It goes 155 feet in the air. It has an inverted stall over water. The over-the-water barrel roll is the world’s first, and it has this crazy sensation of weightlessness while you’re upside down.”
And all of this is happening while riders are only secured by a lap bar. There are no shoulder restraints on the most intense ride Universal has ever built. In fact, most people’s feet don’t touch the ground in the ride car, so there’s truly a feeling of free-flying at 70 mph.
That’s where Universal Orlando has truly blended its two strongest assets: its movie IP and its ability to build totally unique rides. The VelociCoaster is the first ride where you’re experiencing the same feelings as the characters in the movie on which it’s based.
This VelociCoaster creates such an intense sense of fear with its innovative seating design and ride experience that, for a minute, you might just forget you’re in Universal Orlando and think you’re in another theme park, one filled with real dinosaurs, where everything is always on the verge of going terribly wrong, but it’s the most thrilling thing you could ever hope to experience.