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Skull Island: Reign of Kong is both an attraction and an entire “island” unto itself, located between Toon Lagoon’s Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and the Thunder Falls Terrace restaurant in Jurassic Park. The ride is an original adventure set in the 1930s, casting guests as explorers with the 8th Wonder Expedition Company, which has set up its jungle base camp in an ancient temple inhabited by a hostile, Kong-worshiping indigenous tribe. The queuing experience is phenomenal, featuring both lifelike animatronic figures and live haunted house–style actors who aggressively startle unwitting guests.
The winding, skeleton-strewn path eventually leads to your transportation: an oversized 72-seat open-sided “expedition vehicle” that superficially resembles Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris trucks. It's helmed by one of five different animatronic tour guides, each with its unique personality and backstory, which lends the attraction additional re-rideablity. Your ride begins with a short loop outside through the jungle (which may be bypassed in inclement weather, abbreviating the experience by almost 2 minutes), ending at the massive torch-framed doors in the center of Skull Island’s imposing stony facade. The doors open, allowing you passage into a maze of caves and caverns; there, you’re swiftly assaulted by all manners of icky prehistoric bats, bugs, and beasties, brought to gruesome life through a mix of detailed physical effects and razor-sharp 3-D screens (even better than the ones in Gringotts and Transformers). After barely surviving a preliminary series of multi-sensory near misses, you’re thrust into the center of a raging battle between vicious V-Rex dinosaurs and the big ape himself, in a climactic sequence similar (though not identical) to the King Kong 360 3-D attraction on Universal Studios Hollywood’s tram tour. Finally, just when you think it’s all over, you’ll have one last face-to-face encounter with the “eighth wonder of the world,” only this time in the fur-covered flesh.
Reign of Kong is a remarkable achievement in immersive attractions, but crucial creative missteps hold it back from being a home run, resulting in a ride that sits slightly behind Forbidden Journey and Spider-Man. The queue’s atmosphere is unimpeachable, but muffled radio reports do an inadequate job of establishing the plot and characters before boarding. The initial scenes introduce a crisis that is completely abandoned once Kong arrives midride. Finally, while the coda’s animatronic Kong has stunningly fluid facial expressions, his movements seem anticlimactically passive, resulting in an attraction that seems oddly brief despite being (at nearly 6 minutes) one of one of the longest in the resort. There’s no shame in being among the top half-dozen rides in Universal Orlando’s impressive lineup, but Kong’s long-awaited return turned out to fall slightly short of the world-beating game-changer his faithful fans may have expected.
For those brave enough to board, the experience is far better in the back half of the truck (ideally rows 7, 8, or 9), with guests on the right side getting the best view of finale. If directed to one of the first few rows, politely ask to wait for the next truck so you can sit towards the rear. Sitting at either end of a row reveals the edges of the screens, so sacrifice the enjoyment of your friend or family member by forcing them to sit in the outside seat. The ride uses the same 3-D glasses as Spider-Man and Gringotts; don’t put them on until you enter the first interior scene, and remove them after the 360 projection tunnel to best appreciate the ending’s animatronic.
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