I’ll never forget that feeling of fear and excitement as I sat in the movie theater and watched the massive T-Rex break free and step down onto the soggy earth in Jurassic Park so many years ago. When Islands of Adventure opened 16 years ago, this exciting and frightening world was made real. Over the years, as Islands of Adventure has evolved, the Jurassic Park island has changed, and perhaps lost a little of it intriguing nature. After all, the boy wizard’s original domain now neighbors this mysterious jungle. It’s hard to stand out when you’re next door to the destination that changed theme parks forever.
Now that Jurassic World is about to escape into the theaters, many have hoped and wondered if Island’s of Adventure’s Jurassic Park will receive some upgrades to coincide with this next generation movie. Already there have been a few updates that have breathed a bit of new life into this land, though there is certainly potential for more to be done. Let’s explore the wilds of the jungle and see how Jurassic Park is being reborn.
Jurassic Park River Adventure
The landmark attraction of the Jurassic Park island is the River Adventure ride. This past Spring the attraction went through a refurbishment, and while a refurbishment of some kind usually takes place each year, it seems this year a little extra attention was paid. The dinos themselves and much of the rock structures are richer in color. The overall appearance is definitely improved.
Many theme park and Jurassic Park fans are still hungry for an updated version of the attraction, however, hopefully with improved effects and audio animatronics. And of course there are others who hope for a new attraction altogether, one that more closely recreates the Jeep tour (and its inevitable disaster); or perhaps an even more evolved attraction that recreates something we’ll soon see in the Jurassic World movie.
While we’re still in a “wait and see” mode wondering if more, greater enhancements will be made as a result of Jurassic World, it is nice to see the River Adventure getting at least a little extra love.
Okay, so these additions are about a year and a half old, but there still relatively new. More importantly they are a bit of a sore spot for many a theme park fan. To me they feel awkward and very gimmicky, but they are an added source of entertainment to a part of the island that didn’t previously have much going for it.
As land was cleared out to make way for the Skull Island / Reign of King attraction, the Jurassic Park archway at the border of Toon Lagoon was removed (then replaced, then removed again) and a chunk of the jungle was cleared out. This meant that the T-rex — and whatever the other dinosaur is — photo opportunities needed to move. These photo opportunities are now closer together, essentially flanking the Discovery Center.
Though these rearranged photo ops aren’t necessary an element of the “rebirth” of this area, they have changed the flow of traffic and the overall feel of this area at least a little. What is worthy of note is how the T-rex has gone from ferocious to photo bombing smiley T-rex (see photo comparison below) in its new location. I can’t help but giggle any time I pass it.
My visits to Universal Orlando take place primarily on the weekends, when I’m ready to kickback, let loose, have some fun…and enjoy an adult beverage or two. So when I noticed that the Watering Hole, a underutilized outdoor snack and beverage location had much improved mixed drinks I was quite excited.
Admittedly, the drinks are a little on the fruity and sweet side, but still better than the extremely limited options that used to be offered. Personally I prefer to cut out the fruit juice (hello sugar and carbs – no thanks!) and go for club soda instead (not every bartender is willing to do it though). These new drinks rolled out around the end of April 2015.
Perhaps the greatest addition thus far, and the true mark of a rebirth of Jurassic Park, is the Raptor Encounter. I cannot believe I haven’t been able to see this in person yet! I’ve tried twice so far and both times the bad weather caused the raptor to want to stay indoors. The fluid, quick movement of the raptor is pretty incredible. The set and scenery are detailed, providing a good sense of place and proper camouflage to hide the magic that makes the raptor “real.”
At the time of the writing of this post, the Raptor Encounter is still in soft opening and thus is not published on the app, map, website, or schedule. The times of the meet and greet have typically been 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:00 PM (subject to change, yadda yadda). The Team Members really add to this experience as well, hopefully their level of enthusiasm and commitment to the theme remains strong as time goes on. There is also an appropriate soundtrack, narration, and impressive sound effects. All in all the Raptor Encounter is another installment in Universal’s portfolio of really cool meet and greet experiences like Transformers, Stan at the Knight Bus, and Donkey from Shrek.
A few classics not to overlook
That about covers it for the recent changes and enhancements to Jurassic Park, but while we’re taking a look at this island, I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out two of my favorite things inside this land. First, Camp Jurassic: you really don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this area. There’s so much to explore here it’s even worth a visit sans kiddos. You can catch some great views, get into a dino water cannon fight, and explore caves and caverns that give Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyers Island a run for its money. You just gotta check it out and explore.
Universal promoting Jurassic Park with Jurassic World
Universal Orlando sent out a promotional email highlighting the Jurassic Park island as a way to get ready for Jurassic World in theaters. This synergy is hopefully a sign that if the movie is a hit there could be more enhancements to Jurassic Park. You can also find lots of Jurassic World merchandise at the shops at the Jurassic Park island.
Other ways to get your Jurassic on at Universal Orlando
Besides a visit to the original Jurassic Park land, there are a few more ways to quench your monstrous, jurassic hunger. Rolling out very, very soon there will be Jurassic World limited time offerings at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe. Right now you can enjoy the Indominus Rex Burger and very soon they’ll be more offerings on the Jurassic World special menu. During a recent visit I got to sample the “Off to see the Velociraptor” cocktail which is a reboot of a classic Margaritaville cocktail with melon and lime flavors. There will also be the “Mesozoic Margarita” and “Lava Flow” cocktails.
And if you really want to immerse yourself, don’t forget about the Jurassic Park themed rooms at Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort.
With all this activity at Universal Orlando, everything’s coming up dinos. So if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park or dinosaurs in general, now is a great time to visit Islands of Adventure. Just keep your wits about you, this is Jurassic Park after all.