This week Universal Orlando officially opened their groundbreaking new attraction Skull Island Reign of Kong. This multi-sensory thrill ride has been one of the most anticipated in the park since the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in 2014. Although many tourists will flock to the resort to experience Kong in person for the first time this week, the ride itself has been open sporadically during a technical rehearsal for a few weeks prior to its opening date. World of Universal’s very own writer Tyler Murillo was lucky enough to catch a ride on Reign of Kong earlier this month and has a detailed review of the entire experience below. The review will be broken up into three categories: Queue, Ride Experience, and Overall Opinion.
NOTE: This post may contain spoilers.
I have been a huge fan of Universal Orlando Resort since I was a little kid. Over the years I have seen the parks grow and change quite a bit. Having heard a few years ago that Kong was making its way to Islands of Adventure, I was very very excited. Over the course of 18 months, I have visited the construction site and have seen the progress of the ride in just about every stage of the building, from dirt to steel and eventually its final appearance. When I received word that Reign of Kong was under technical rehearsals before the grand opening, I seized my opportunity and made my way to the park. This review is what I saw and experienced firsthand.
Upon seeing the site without construction walls for the first time, I was blown away by the detail before entering the queue. Skull Island does in some ways operate as its own separate “island” in the park but it certainly feels more like an annex of Jurassic Park versus a full land like Hogsmeade due to its shared foliage and sightline of Pteranodon Flyers. Nonetheless, Skull Island’s entrance replaced the old Jurassic Park gate with a stone archway featuring a fearsome Kong carved into it. The entire area feels more ominous than it did previously, with a blanket of fog rising from the foliage. The giant wall that makes up the ride’s façade is one of the most impressive buildings Universal has ever designed. It seems enormous in size and has a multitude of carvings and fire effects throughout its surface. Once in line, I certainly felt like I was separated from the entire park, much like Diagon Alley feels like its own world within the resort.
The queue is split into two halves; the outdoor “base camp” and the indoor cavern portion. Reign of Kong is set during the 1930’s much like the Peter Jackson film and is home to the fictitious Eighth Wonder Expedition Co. Guests are whisked into the base camp of this explorer group as the first wave of adventurers to find Skull Island. While waiting under a covered queue, I soaked in my surroundings. Every so often I would find skulls littered around the queue, tucked away in corners or on bamboo spikes. These visuals plus the great amounts of fog certainly made for a creepy atmosphere. The speakers in the line sounded like an old-fashioned 1930s radio broadcast, explaining the types of creatures we would encounter on our journey and detailing the bios of every “driver” of the trucks. The best part of the outdoor queue is the ability to see each ride vehicle full of guests pass by and enter the wall of the island. All of this bright and noisy atmosphere changed once I got into the temple ruins.
This part of the queue is very dark and is more themed than the exterior. Carvings of skulls adorn just about every wall of the inside and human bones are strewn all over the place. Universal has been known to make smells a bonus to their theming and in the caverns, my nose was met with the scent of peat stones to make the cave as authentic as possible. The further along I traveled through the winding queue, the more ominous it became. For those who get scared at Halloween Horror Nights, be warned as some parts of the queue walls are open for scare actors (dressed as island natives) to jump out and scare guests and yes, I got startled quite a bit. The best room, in my opinion, was the “witch room”. Without revealing too much, this room is very large; it has very interesting practical effects and animatronics. After a few more pathways, I reached the ride station.
The ride station is very large and open to accommodate the massive ride vehicles that pull in every few minutes. Just before you get into your rows, trays of 3D glasses are provided for guests. One thing to note about the rows for boarding is that they are split in 2, left and right. I was put toward the right in the second to last row. The leftmost rows place you more towards the front of the truck while the right is the opposite. From what I had heard, the right rows give you better views of the screens on the ride. This is something to keep in mind while boarding. The truck seats are very comfy and do not require any restraint, making movement rather open and relaxed. Each truck is operated by a different “driver” as mentioned earlier. This allows for re-rides to be somewhat different every time you go on. For my ride, I got Jinx, a sarcastic driver with a New York accent. Once the ride begins, you make your way outdoors on a bumpy road and enter the giant gates of the wall. Once the gate closes behind you the real ride begins. I know some of you are most likely planning on riding Reign of Kong in the near future, so keeping that in mind I won’t reveal too much of what happens once from this point on. What I can say is that the ride features several individual screens and one very large screen similar to that of King Kong 360 3D, as well as several practical sets/effects. The truck does tilt and jar as the ride goes on and there are plenty of moments of water and smell effects as well. After the ride ended, the truck pulled into the exit station and a pathway leads to a gift stand selling Kong merchandise right next to the Thunder Falls Terrace restaurant in Jurassic Park.
After taking the time to digest what I experienced I began to form my opinion. The pros of the ride were the screens, the detail of the entire ride/queue, and the ride tech itself. Screens are nothing new to Universal attractions, as many utilize them for their ride experience. On Kong, I rank them as the most realistic in appearance next to TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D. All the creatures are incredibly detailed and feel like they are really within arms reach of the truck. The effects such as movement and spray effects really made me feel as if I was hurtling through the forest at fast speeds. The entire experience from the time I stepped in line throughout the ride and its finale are some of the most detailed in the entire resort. Universal has really stepped their game up with theming since Potter and has raised the bar even higher this time around. I honestly felt like I was at Skull Island during my trip in line. The ambiance of the whole area puts you right in the heart of the film and the lore of Skull Island. The technology behind Reign of Kong is the most interesting for me. This is Universal’s first trackless ride system, giving it the most realistic feel to any ride vehicle on other attractions. Having no track allows for each screen to operate independently from the truck and makes each movement and tilt unique to its surroundings.
Some cons of the ride were the actual time on board and the lack of balance between physical sets and screens. Although Reign of Kong is billed by Universal as the longest ride in the park at over 5 minutes and 50 seconds, the ride felt really short for me. Not knowing what was coming may have had something to do with it but it just seemed to end rather quickly. The other issue was the ride sets. The first room inside the ride building is a detailed physical set with animatronic creatures and fire. It set the tone for the rest of the ride, but as it went on, it focused more on screens and never returned to another room like the first cave. I personally believe that the ride could have benefited from another room with animatronic creatures to balance out the screens.
Overall, Skull Island Reign of Kong is an amazing ride that was better than I had anticipated. Universal has outdone itself yet again with another breathtaking attraction. In my opinion, it has the best queue in all of Islands of Adventure and the most visually stunning inside and out. I highly recommend this to anyone making their way to the park as it is definitely worth the long wait. Universal will continue the trend of new innovative ways to design rides and involve guests in the entire experience rather than just the ride. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for upcoming attractions and I know I will be there as soon as they open. I look forward to giving more ride reviews in the future so be on the lookout next time an attraction opens.