This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at JURASSIC PARK! While the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has been the critic’s darling since the day it opened in 1999, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter completely changed Orlando tourism when it debuted in 2010, Jurassic Park has always been my favorite “island” in the park. Why? For as much as a phenomenon that Jurassic World was, those of us a certain age can remember when the original Jurassic Park film was released and the seismic effect it had on not just the film world, but pop culture in general.
The tagline for the original Superman film in 1977 was “you will believe a man can fly,” and the original Jurassic Park‘s might as well have been You will believe that dinosaurs have been brought back. The ground breaking CGI and physical effects work were years ahead of their time, to the point where the movie has aged better 30 years after its release than pretty much any special effects laden film made in the last several decades. The score by John Williams is iconic and well known as those in Star Wars and Jaws. And lastly, it’s about dinosaurs, and everything is better with dinosaurs (at least that’s what Tom Bricker keeps trying to tell us.) So with the release of Jurassic World: Dominion this weekend, we’re heading into Universal’s Islands of Adventure and checking out our favorite parts of Jurassic Park, starting with…
# 6 – Jurassic Park River Adventure
Jurassic Park River Adventure hits a lot of great beats for me and it all starts with the attraction being a boat ride. From the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom to Living with the Land and Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros in Epcot, if it’s a boat ride, it’s probably one of my favorite attractions in the park.
There are several things in the River Adventure queue worth checking out, including a wonderful scale model of Isla Nublar.
Outside of Mark Twain, Walt Disney may be the most quoted man in the world. Some of our favorites include, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” And of course the SATURDAY SIX motto: “Everyone needs deadlines.”
Ol’ Walt even gets credit for things he didn’t say, such as “If you can dream it, you can do it” and “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”
But without a doubt the most famous Walter Elias Disney quote of all is: “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” Guests in the Jurassic Park River Adventure queue have an opportunity to see Universal have a little fun with this quote during the cheesy video loop playing.
Our journey on JP River Adventure begins by passing through the iconic Jurassic Park gates and proceeds to give a Jungle Cruise-like leisurely ride while enjoying some larger-than-life dinosaurs. As theme park rides will do, “something goes terribly wrong” and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a raptor attack and surprise, you’re NOT the alpha. In fact you just may be dinner. It is during the second half of the ride when the tension gets amped up, highlighted by the incredible T-Rex animatronic and a huge drop to cap off the ride.
Regular SAT 6 readers know how much we love bringing LEGO to the theme parks for our Plastic in the Parks series, and Jurassic Park is filled with great places to shoot pictures of these little guys.
# 5 – Photo-ops
Speaking of taking photos, get out your cameras while in Jurassic Park, because the land is filled with places to take some fun pictures with friends and family. We start off with the very entrance to the land itself, featuring the iconic Jurassic Park arch.
One of the most memorable scenes from any Jurassic Park movie was in the very first one, when we got our first look at the T-Rex as it went after two jeeps.
The T-Rex/jeep photo-op is currently located outside Thunder Falls Terrace.
# 4 – Thunder Falls Terrace
One of the most underrated quick service locations in all of Universal is Thunder Falls Terrace. It has large indoor and outdoor seating areas that face the big drop of Jurassic Park River Adventure, so you can see (and hear the screams of) guests as they plunge down into the water. This is even more fun to watch when guests walk by this area not realizing they are about to be in the Splash Zone and get soaked.
Like the restaurants inside the Wizarding World, Thunder Falls Terrace strays far away from the traditional theme park quick service menu with offerings such as rotisserie chicken, roasted pork, and rice bowls compared to burgers, chicken fingers, and pizza.
Talk about a meal with a view!
Roasted Pernil – “A generous portion of slow roasted pork served with onion mojo, black beans, cilantro rice, and plantains.”
You can get alcohol inside Thunder Falls, including some selections of beer and wine. You can’t go wrong with Isla Nublar IPA, which features possibly the best beer tap in the history of theme parks. Isla Nublar is also made by the Florida Beer Company, the same people who brew Duff beer for Springfield USA and the various brews inside the Wizarding World.
Let’s take a closer look at the Isla Nublar beer tap from one of the beer kiosks in Jurassic Park. This is straight up E-Ticket. Wow!
# 3 – Camp Jurassic
Time to say it: Camp Jurassic is the #1 most underrated attraction in Orlando. Because there are no rides for adults, many guests completely skip this area, but I implore you to check it out on your next trip to Universal. This is the most immersive play area I have seen in my entire life, with two completely different components to explore AND a ride. Think of it as a dinosaur themed Tom Sawyer Island, except with a lot more stuff to interact with. Slides, rope bridges, water cannons and more are mixed along an insanely elaborate rainforest theme. Forget kids, I have gotten lost in this area several times… it’s incredible. But the real draw here is the amber mines. It’s almost impossible to believe these actually exist in a theme park, let alone a kid’s play area. The caves are so detailed and immersive it is as if you stepped into another world. Highest possible recommendation.
I am going to take some heat for this next one, especially from hardcore Universal fans. But that’s okay, and I’m ready to fight my last stand on this hill. Pteranodon Flyers makes the “worst” list for many guests, mostly because of its horrendous loading time. I’m not here to defend that, but I think that it is awesome that a theme park has an attraction which caters directly to small guests, especially Islands of Adventure. One of the knocks against Universal, and one they have made great strides in overcoming, is that the parks are not kid friendly. At IOA, there is one ride after another that they are told “No” to, but not only is Pteranodon Flyers a “Yes,” it is the one ride at either park where you have to be with a small child to ride. I think it is fantastic that there is an opportunity to make these smaller riders feel special, that they can go on a cool ride that their older brothers and sisters can’t, because it’s almost always the opposite. And Pteranodon Flyers is cool, having that Magic Kingdom Skyway-feel that many of us of a certain age miss.
The queue for Flyers is low-key great.
# 2 – Raptor Encounter
Some readers may remember the time several years ago that Walt Disney World tested a walking velociraptor experience at Animal Kingdom. It was something that was impossible for many of us to forget (no matter how hard we tried.) So when Universal announced they were opening a Raptor Encounter, to say we were skeptical is an understatement. We should have had more faith in Universal Creative though, especially after they nailed the Transformers meet and greet over in Universal Studios Florida. Because it turned out the Raptor Encounter is flawless. With raptor puppets designed by Michael Curry (the same genius behind the puppets which were used in Finding Nemo: The Musical and Epcot’s legendary Tapestry of Nations parade) and a themed set that hides the human actor, this is a meet and greet that will bring you right back to the days of When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. The raptor sound effects and the Team Member “Gamekeeper” are the cherries on top of this awesome theme park sundae.
What I love about the Raptor Encounter is that it is one of the few theme park attractions where not only is your experience fun, but it’s great just watching others interact with the raptor while waiting your turn in the queue. Now that Talking Mickey has taken a vow of silence, it has become the best pound for pound meet and greet experience in the theme parks. When Jurassic World came out in 2015, Universal ramped up the SYNERGY MACHINE with an insanely great line of t-shirts that you could get in CityWalk. For Fallen Kingdom, Universal Creative topped themselves as the character “Blue” was then added to the Raptor Encounter.
Also added in after Jurassic World was another meet-and-greet featuring a baby raptor. One of the li’l raptors is named Sierra, while the other is Tango.
# 1 – VelociCoaster
For the longest time it seemed there were good roller coasters in the world and Orlando roller coasters. The good roller coasters were found at the Cedar Fair, Six Flags, Kings, and Busch parks while the “well, at least they tried” coasters were in Orlando. In the early 2000s, Islands of Adventure added Hulk and Dueling Dragons to the mix, and then SeaWorld Orlando built Kraken, but those always felt a little older and not as grand as other coasters. Other parks built coasters over 400 feet tall, with a record number of inversions, having new launch technology types, along with coasters that hug the ground & speed around, mind-bending air time machines, and out-of-this-world experiences, while most coasters in Orlando you could still ride with your backpack. It was hard not to see Orlando as just falling farther and farther behind the pack.
To say Universal has been KILLING IT on theme park queues is the understatement of the decade. With attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and Escape From Gringotts they built the first ever queues people want to spend more time in. Think about it. For 50 years all of us theme park guests have been doing everything we can to get through lines faster, and here comes Universal and builds queues that makes us want to stop and admire them. The impudence! The audacity! The unmitigated gall!!
The VelociCoaster is coming off the heels of the wildly successful Jurassic World films, but one main character featured in the ride dates all the way back to the very first Jurassic Park movie. Mr. DNA was an immediate fan favorite when he made his on-screen debut back in 1993, despite only being featured on screen for a relatively short amount of time. Mr. DNA was the cartoon character used to explain the science behind Jurassic Park to the park’s guests and – more importantly – us, the audience. Who knew that a simple DNA helix with arms and legs could be so charming?
Mr. DNA made his triumphant return to pop culture in the VelociCoaster, as he meets us in the lobby to introduce us to the ride, and reappears later to show us one of the coaster’s coolest features (but we’ll get to that in due time.)
We are a huge fan of Easter Eggs hidden inside the theme parks, and the queue for VelociCoaster is loaded with them, both for the fans of the Jurassic Park brand and theme park fans in general. Take for instance, the book Dinosaur Detectives written by Dr. Alan Grant. This was the book Tim was referring to in the original Jurassic Park when he mentioned to Grant, “I read your book.”
A book from another character in Jurassic Park, the fan favorite Dr. Ian Malcom.
This radar gun is reading the number 79.1. The VelociCoaster was codenamed Project 791, which means very little to most people reading this, but means a heck of a lot by people obsessed with the construction of theme park rides.
The raptor animatronics inside the VelociRaptor queue are beyond great. Plenty of guests walk by this area of the queue nervously thinking they could get loose at any moment.
The E-Ticket Lockers. Over the last several years, Universal Orlando has done an incredible job at improving the situation of lockers for their thrill rides. When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village originally opened in 2010, you could make a case for the only negative in the entire land was the complete Cluster F of the locker situation for Forbidden Journey. People don’t like using lockers in the first place, but making the entire experience miserable can sour what would have been a great ride experience. In the following decade we’ve seen Universal create some amazing things at the resort, from world class attractions like the Bourne Stuntacular, to incredible hotels like Sapphire Falls, to the best water park in Florida with Volcano Bay, but the thing that has probably had the biggest impact on the most amount of guests is completely fixing their “locker situation” at thrill rides including The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Revenge of the Mummy, and Forbidden Journey. Getting in and out of the thrill ride lockers is now simple, easy, and – most importantly – stress free for everyone.
The VelociCoaster takes the locker situation to the next level, incorporating lockers into the actual ride experience. Midway through the attraction, we meet our friend Mr. DNA and he’s here to tell us how to keep our belongings safe.
Here’s where the VelociCoaster goes above and beyond. Guests put their stuff into a locker before they get onto the ride, but when they retrieve their belongings it is from the opposite side of the locker bank. Just an ingenious idea that should be replicated for every single attraction going forward in the future.
Throughout the queue for VelociCoaster we get to see the actual actors and actresses from the Jurassic World films, including BD Wong playing Henry Wu.
Late we are treated to a great sequence involving the two main characters of Jurassic World, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt). The two have some fun interplay as Owen is losing his mind about a theme park ride being built around his velociraptors. Behind Claire, we can see she is in front of the VelociCoaster.
What’s absolutely AMAZING is that when it becomes night time in real life, the background behind Claire reflects that it is night time in the ride as well. There are only a couple rides currently at Disney and Universal which use this level of immersion – changing throughout the course of a day – but this is the future of theme parks.
Oh yeah, there’s a ride too. And it is AWESOME.
There are raptors throughout the VelociCoaster experience.
The twists, turns, and speed rushes are pure exhilaration.
The definition of twisted steel and sex appeal.
There’s a lot of “favorite parts” about the VelociCoaster ride experience, but for many the highlight is the Mosasaurus Roll over the lagoon.
This perfect is what I think is the best representation of what going through the Mosasaurus Roll is like for a rider. It is so wonderful!
A ride on the VelociCoaster at night is life changing for the rider, but because of the various lighting elements on the ride vehicle, photographers can get some really cool shots.
The VelociCoaster “top hat” is another pretty great part of the ride, and also one that you can see from various places across Islands of Adventure.
My favorite photos are the ones where skilled photographers are able to catch the VelocCoaster and Incredible Hulk Coaster in action at the same time.
This past week brought us the one week anniversary of VelociCoater’s grand opening and it is running better than ever.
HONORABLE MENTION – Discovery Center
While Hogwarts Castle has replaced it, there was a time when the Jurassic Park Discovery Center was the “weenie” of Islands of Adventure. It is what your eyes are immediately drawn to as you exit Port of Entry and does an incredible job of replicating the feel of the visitor center from the original Jurassic Park film. Because there are no rides at the Discovery Center, many guests now pass it by, but it is worth checking out to experience all the interactive elements inside. With tributes to Mr. DNA and Dennis Nedry’s Barbasol can, this area is a must for any hardcore JP fan, but even your average park guest is going to enjoy seeing an animatronic raptor being hatched. Also underrated is going out the back entrance of the Discovery Center (the side you see from Port of Entry) and just taking in the gorgeous view you have of IOA. The area is relaxing and a fantastic place to take photos. Also located in the Discovery Center is the Burger Digs restaurant and one of the more unique gift shops in the entire park (selling everything from silly dinosaur plush to high end amber jewelry.)
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – Skill Games
To justify their existence in a theme park, skill games need to have two main components. They need to be themed to the land they are in AND they need to offer great prizes that also relate to the area they are in. For years both Universal and Disney completely mailed it in when it comes to skill games at the park, making them feel like tacky cash grabs you would see at places like Fun Spot or Six Flags. The tide has turned and now – for the most part – the skill game areas at Disney and Universal are worth going out of your way to experience (including the games at Pixar Pier at DCA, Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom, and of course the best of the best Springfield at Universal Studios Florida.)
Several years back, the skill games in Jurassic Park had a major glow up in terms of how they look and now are all currently themed to Jurassic Park/Jurassic World franchises. However, despite the new theming and presentation, for years the prizes were still outright junk and not worth your time. Recently they have started to incorporate Jurassic World themed prizes, greatly elevating the experience.
Triple Thread Honorable Mention – Royal Pacific Resort’s Jurassic World Kids Suite
We’re going to leave Islands of Adventure to finish this article and head on over to the nearby Royal Pacific Resort. At RPR there is a Jurassic World Kids Suite that makes sure that both kids and adults alike remember the sage advice: don’t lose your dinosaur.
A kids suite at Universal hotels is basically comprised of two separate living areas A main bedroom and space for adults, and an ultra themed bedroom for kids. The adult’s bedroom has a king size bed, a love seat, a desk area, and the suite’s bathroom. The attached room is for the kids and has two twin beds modeled as gyrospheres from Jurassic World.
I am a huge fan of the family suites over at Disney’s Art of Animation, however one thing I never understood was that the main bedroom – where the adults sleep – is separated from the rest of the suite, giving kids unsupervised access to the hotel door. Universal’s kids suites are the complete opposite, with the adult bedroom having the only access to the room’s entrance and exit, while the kid’s room door only opens into the adult’s room. It is a minor thing, but it helps me sleep better at night.
Imagine yourself as a kid again and opening the door to your and seeing this…
One of the more interesting thing we saw when staying onsite at LEGOLAND Florida was that the room had a “price sheet” if you took things from it (including the flat screen TV!) I chuckled about it at the time, but if Loews would have given a price for one of these Mosasaurus bed pillows I think it would be in my house right now.
Speaking of things I would have purchased, how about this incredible Isla Nubar map on the wall!
So there you have it: 6 Reasons We Love JURASSIC PARK! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.