This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love JURASSIC PARK at the Universal Orlando Resort. With Jurassic World becoming a worldwide smash (the first film ever to take in a half a billion dollars in its opening weekend. To put that number in perspective, the last Jurassic Park film, Jurassic Park III, made $368M in it’s entire six month theatrical run) we figured it is high time to cover one of our favorite areas in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, 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? Several reasons, and today we’re going to count them down for you 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. 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.
Another recommendation? Consider having lunch at Thunder Falls Terrace. It has large indoor and outdoor seating areas that faces the big drop of Jurassic Park River Adventure, so you can see (and the hear the screams of) guests as they plunge down into the water. It also has a menu that contains many of the items found at the Three Broomsticks, so your family can enjoy something beyond the normal theme park burgers, chicken strips, and pizza. Right now there is also some fun Jurassic World theming in the restaurant.
# 5 – Discovery Center
While Hogwarts Castle has taken its place, there was a time when the Jurassic Park Discovery Center was the “weenie” of Islands of Adventure. It is what your eyes are drawn to as you exit Port of Entry (pound for pound the best “Main Street” in any North American theme park) 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 take 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 (WDW fans should note it has a toppings bar which has NOT been gutted to save costs. RIP Pecos Bill’s toppings bar) and one of the more unique gift shops in the entire park (selling everything from dinosaur plush to high end amber jewelry.)
# 4 – Jurassic Park Suites at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
There is no bigger fan of staying onsite at both Walt Disney World and Universal than me, and my favorite resort of all them is Loews Royal Pacific Resort. It has the great South Pacific theming of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort at a fraction of the cost, it is within walking distance to the entire Universal Orlando Resort, has a great pool area (with a must-do Bula Bar and Grille), a great restaurant with Emeril’s Tchoup Chop and a terrific bar area with Jake’s. On top of all that, the Royal Pacific was also the first Universal property to offer fully themed kids suites, and they are themed to Jurassic Park to boot. Between this and Portofino Bay’s insanely awesome Despicable Me themed suites, it is now official: kids today have it too good.
I absolutely love staying at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort with my family, but there is one big difference between how Universal has their suites laid out compared to Disney’s. At AOA, the master bedroom is separated from the rest of the room and has no access to the main hallway. At Universal, it is the kid’s area of the suite that is separated from the rest of the room and has no direct access to the main hallway. When I’m on vacation with young children in my family, it just makes me feel safer to know that they can not leave the room without me knowing.
# 3 – Pteranodon Flyers
I am going to take some heat for this one, especially from hardcore Universal fans. But that’s okay, and I’m ready to fight my last stand on this hill. In fact, I was a recent guest on the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast having a lively discussion on the five worst attractions at the Universal discussing this very ride. 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 Pteranodon Flyers is also an underrated gem, but it better be since odds are you are going to be standing in it for quite a while if you have the opportunity to ride.
# 2 – Camp Jurassic
Speaking of underrated gems, Camp Jurassic is the #1 most underrated attraction in Orlando. Because there are no rides for adults, many 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 areas. 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 rain forrest 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.
And we’d be remiss to remind you that Camp Jurassic is a theme park blogger’s Best Kept Secret, as it gives the very best vantage point of the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction.
# 1 – Raptor Encounter
Last year Disney tested a walking velociraptor experience at Animal Kingdom, one that was impossible for many of us to forget (no matter how hard we try.) So when it was rumored that Universal was creating their own dinosaur experience, to say I was skeptical was an understatement. I should have had more faith in Universal Creative though, especially after they nailed the Transformers meet and greet over in USF. Turns out the Raptor Encounter is perfect. With raptor puppets designed by Michael Curry (the same genius behind the puppets in Finding Nemo: The Musical and Epcot’s legendary Tapestry of Nations parade) and a themed set that hides the human actor, you will believe a dinosaur can roam 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 in the queue. Similar to Talking Mickey over at the Magic Kingdom, this is magic. We are in a golden era for theme park meet and greets and it couldn’t be more exciting to see what’s coming next.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth like a million, right? So just how good is the Raptor Encounter? Let’s ask The Trackers…
HONORABLE MENTION – Jurassic World synergy with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at CityWalk
One of my favorite places to eat at CityWalk is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, so it was a lot of fun to see the restaurant chain represented in the Jurassic World film (and did you know that Jimmy Buffett himself makes a hilarious cameo?) However, in a genius bit of synergy, CityWalk’s Margaritaville now offers a Jurassic World themed menu and – even better – Isla Nublar Margaritaville merchandise. Pinch me, I’m dreaming.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love JURASSIC PARK at the Universal Orlando Resort. 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 Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, Finding Nemo superfan Brian Carey, Jeff Kyle of Daily Disney Photo, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, #Millenial Trygve Nelson, Universal park Icon Hate To Fly, and – of course – Blogger to the Stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and the afore mentioned Brian Carey.
Also want to make sure Universal fans know about UOR merchandise expert Hedgehog’s Corner. An incredibly resource on seeing what is new at Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and CityWalk, Hedgehog’s Corner also runs a Universal Shopping Store where you can order anything from the parks and have it shipped to your house. Need to satisfy your craving for a Big Pink Donut from Springfield USA? Have three hours to try and figure out how to transform the Transformers EVAC action figure back into a robot? Want to add to your collection of Uni-Minis with the new Frank the Pug and “drunk” ET? Go to Hedgehog’s Corner and place your order today.
Lastly, anytime we cover anything Universal we have to thank the boys over at Orlando United. From a wonderful Universal-based podcast with OURadio, to a completely redone Forum section, to fantastic photo updates of the resort, Orlando United is a go-to place to satisfy your thirst for Universal news and rumors along with being able to interact with fellow UOR fans. And you couldn’t find a better bunch of guys with Bri-Man, Hate to Fly, Drew, Trygve, Sperduto, and Parkscope Joe. Felipe is okay too (I guess.)
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)