Universal Orlando’s long-awaited new land, Skull Island, and its big attraction, Reign of Kong, has begun random soft openings, with a grand opening date set for “Summer 2016” (as in, any minute now!). We joined a media tour for a look at the attraction this week, with insights from two of its creators.
As you enter Skull Island, two things become abundantly clear: one, all is not well, and two, something very large—with teeth—makes its home here, and the natives both honour and fear it. The first thing that tips you off is the incredible rockwork, with carvings of a massive beast at every turn. And the island is well named, as skulls can be found everywhere, lined up on ledges in the rocks and impaled on long bamboo spikes. As if that isn’t grisly enough, many of the bamboo fences are bound together by hair. Human hair? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Further along, things grow even more worrisome. A crone, native to the island, recites an eerie, mystical chant, but the only word you’ll understand is “Kong”. The chamber walls surrounding her are carved with giant ape skulls, and above her a carved skull glows with fiery intensity. Chants of “Kong” echo through the chamber as the natives are whipped into a frenzy. But it’s not over yet.
As you venture further into the site, mummified bodies hang from the walls and skulls are piled high, and in one horrifying moment, a native makes it absolutely clear you’re not welcome here. As your expedition vehicle comes into view, cargo lines the pathway, some of it marked Live Animals, and some—more menacingly—holding explosives. What in the world is going on here? And are you sure you want to board that truck?
Of course you do, and, once you’re on board your truck, and your driver (a very clever animatronic!) enters the walled-off area of the island through massive wooden doors carved with the image of the great ape, the chants of “Kong” should act as your final warning. As you’re prompted to put on your safety goggles (3-D glasses you picked up before boarding), the realm of Kong unfolds before you in absolutely magnificent detail. And if you think your expedition is in for far more than it bargained for, you’re right!
We refuse to spoil it for you, save to say you’re in for one dangerous, thrilling, dinosaur and creature-filled adventure, and, if you’re like us, the moment your expedition ends you’ll want to get straight back in the queue and ride again. And again. And probably again. Because this is one seriously immersive experience, with so much going on and so much to take in you really can ride several times and still not see it all.
Helpful Hint: While the story unfolds on both sides of the vehicle, and the view is excellent no matter where you sit, the experience from the right-hand side is the most intense, both in terms of graphics and 4-D effects. Seat younger children and timid riders in the centre or on the extreme left for the least frightening ride.
After our first ride we met with Adam Rivest, Show Producer, Universal Creative, who filled us in on the back-story, saying, “The people here are all members of the Eighth Wonder Expedition Company. They are one of the first groups to come to the Island, having arrived about a month or so ago, and they set up a bit of a base camp so that they can explore the island. But they needed more help, and that’s why we’re here as recruits: to help them explore the area they have discovered.”
The attraction is not based on either the 1933 movie or the 2005 Peter Jackson version, although much of the visual style and some of the story themes from Jackson’s film are represented here. Instead, the story begins before the attempts to capture Kong and take him to New York occur. “This is all brand new from the ground up,” Rivest said. “I especially love the immersiveness of the entire attraction; the moment you walk under that Kong arch, you are transported. There are no video monitors, nothing modern at all (besides the child-swap room). This is 1931 and we did everything we could, even down to having exposed filaments in the light-bulbs. We wanted it to feel as authentic as possible.”
Mike West, Executive Producer, Universal Creative, joined in, explaining the advancements Reign of Kong enjoys in comparison to Universal’s former Kongfrontation ride and other existing attractions: “Our challenge is to keep bettering ourselves. We don’t want to say let’s do it as good as that previous ride, we want to do it better, especially things like the queue. Since the Forbidden Journey Harry Potter ride, which has such an amazing queue, we were challenged to beat that, to make it bigger and better. I try to look at it as not a queue and a ride, but just as one story. So the story builds up through the queue and the pay-off is the ride. But it is all one piece, one immersive experience. It was also important to make it a multi-dimensional experience, especially with King Kong himself, because that’s who everyone has come to see.”
The vehicle holds 72 people and vehicles can depart every two minutes. It’s a dynamic ride, somewhat jerky, as you would expect from remote island exploration, and at one point there is a ‘sensory fall’, along the lines of the fall from the building in The Adventures of Spider Man.
We expect Reign of Kong to draw long queues, though they should move fairly quickly, as the ride can process 2,160 guests every hour. And, while most of the queue is covered and has the benefit of fans or air conditioning, if your group doesn’t mind splitting up, the Single Rider Queue might be a good idea to save time (you’re going to want more than one ride, remember!).
The usual thrill-ride warnings are in place, including no expectant mothers, and those with heart, back, neck, blood pressure or motion sickness are advised not to ride. A strobe effects warning applies, and while there are no actual strobes in the ride, some of the CGI may prove bothersome.
The minimum height requirement is 36 inches (3 feet), while children 36-48 inches must be accompanied by an adult. Some youngsters may also be frightened by the intensity of the graphics, and the animatronic creatures. Standard wheelchairs can be accommodated (but not motorised or Electric Convenience Vehicles), or disabled guests may transfer.
We said we won’t spoil the ride for you, and we’re keeping that promise, but we will give you one little hint: you will meet Kong, and when you do, pay attention to the incredibly life-like movements of his mouth as he assesses the situation and decides if you should be allowed to leave in peace. But whatever you do—don’t look him in the eye!
To book tickets to see the brand new Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride in all its teeth-gnashing glory, check out our range of great value ticket offers right here.
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