The next generation of King Kong attractions at Universal Orlando will take riders into the jungle island home of the gargantuan beast rather than bring the colossal ape to civilization as a chained captive.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is set to open in summer 2016 at Florida's Islands of Adventure theme park in what Universal officials describe as a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory and multi-experiential dark ride.
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While Universal has worked with Peter Jackson on the story and look of the new attraction, the standalone backstory of Skull Island: Reign of Kong won't be based on the director's 2005 film -- or the 1933 original, or the 2017 prequel, for that matter.
Kong has had a long history at Universal theme parks.
Kongfrontation debuted with the opening of Universal Studios Florida in 1990. Set in New York City, the attraction featured an open-air aerial tram ride and a massive Kong animatronic with a bad case of banana breath. The ride closed in 2002 to make way for the Revenge of the Mummy indoor roller coaster.
The Florida ride was based on the original Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tram tour attraction, King Kong Encounter, which was destroyed during a 2008 fire. The California attraction was replaced in 2010 with the King Kong 360 3D drive-through film experience.
Universal Orlando officials say the new Skull Island attraction will be more advanced and immersive than the previous Kong attractions.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong will combine massive 3D screens, larger-than-life physical sets and huge animatronic figures, according to blueprints seen by Theme Park Insider.
During my recent visit to Islands of Adventure, scaffolding surrounded the towering Skull Island ride building located between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park as crews continued to work on the new attraction, which has been under construction since last summer. Faux rock work frames the entrance of the show building with menacing-looking eyes carved into the stone facade.
The backstory of Skull Island: Reign of Kong starts in the attraction queue. Riders are enlisted to help a group of explorers on a 1930s jungle expedition searching for some legendary prehistoric creatures.
Traveling by foot through the queue, riders traverse a mysterious island jungle, pass through ancient temples and fend off hostile natives. Throughout the queue, cryptic messages hint at a monster that the visitors will soon encounter.
At an outdoor loading station, riders board a large expedition vehicle that seats about 25 people in a caged cargo area with a canopied roof. The six-wheeled off-road vehicles are designed to handle the rough terrain of Skull Island and protect passengers from predatory creatures.
As the expedition approaches a 70-foot-tall stone wall, wooden temple doors swing open and the vehicle enters the attraction building amid burning cauldrons and spiked skulls.
Inside the building, the vehicles enter a highly themed series of caves, caverns and chasms crawling with prehistoric creatures. Eventually King Kong fights off the predators, allowing the riders to barely escape with their lives.
Based on what I've seen so far, it looks like the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure will combine elements from the older animatronic-based attractions with the newer drive-through movie experience.
If that turns out to be the case, I think fans of the old and new attractions will be pleased and thrilled with Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
Which leaves one big question: Will Kong still have banana breath?
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